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Codger’s column: Paradise Lost and Found

Eight days ago, at exactly 4:47 p.m., Codger’s best pal on the Island, Jules Feiffer, called to say goodbye.

“You already said goodbye,” snapped Codger, who is not happy about this.

“That goodbye was for when we were leaving at 11, but it took all this time to get the three cats into crates.”

Jules was calling from the car, parked outside Marie Eiffel’s while his wife, Joan, got food for the six-hour trip.

“You should listen to the cats,” said Codger. “They don’t want you to move either.”

“We have to,” said Jules. “I leave to breathe.”

Is breathing everything, thinks Codger? Jules was leaving just when Codger had gotten really used to him. Codger doesn’t get used to people easily.

Five years ago, Jules and his wife, Joan, fled the Hamptons for Shelter Island, for cheaper housing, for “peace and quiet,” and “a generosity of spirit” they hadn’t found on the South Fork where the mantra was “I am bigger and richer than you are.” It sounded like a resounding vote for the un-Hampton island. Welcome.

Codger has taken their latest migration personally. For nearly five years, Codger and Jules have been having breakfast together almost every Sunday. Jules made the scrambled eggs and coffee, Codger the toast. They ate inside the house when it was too hot or cold, on the back deck overlooking Klenawicus Airport when it felt like paradise.

The only problem with outdoor dining was making sure the three cats, Joan’s cat, Mimi, and Jules’ Desdemona and especially his rambunctious big boy, Jackson, didn’t slip out of the house.

Once settled, Jules and Codger ate and solved the problems of the world. They were still struggling with the problems of Shelter Island, which are far more complicated.

Because Jules’ macular degeneration makes reading the Reporter impossible, and his hearing loss cancels out listening to Town Board meetings, he was dependent on Codger’s take on the local muddle over water, community housing, rich-guys-with-lawyers housing and the lack of long-term planning.

Appropriately, Jules was mystified, outraged and amused. But Codger never thought that would be enough to make him leave. Jules loved and used Senior Services.

In retrospect, Codger was in classic denial of plans to sell the Feiffer home on Emerson and buy a house and barn on 25 acres near Cooperstown, N.Y.

How could Jules leave Paradise, thought Codger, ignoring Jules’ rhapsodic accounts of breathing more freely on an upstate hill, of the excitement of a new adventure.

And so they chattered on. When it came to national and international affairs, Codger listened to Jules. At 93 years old, Jules has lived through the Great Depression, World War II, Vietnam, the Cold War, COVID and the Trump Insurrection.

In the 60s and 70s, Jules’ anger had fueled his famous cartoons. He was considered the country’s leading political satirist. He wrote books, plays and that #MeToo harbinger movie, “Carnal Knowledge,” starring Jack Nicholson, which happens to be playing this week at the Sag Harbor Cinema.

These days, Jules said, he was just fed up. How can you satirize a country falling apart because of stupidity? America was being destroyed by people more worried about inflation than losing democracy. He was as harsh on the far left as on the far right.

The most important book in his life had been the autobiography of Lincoln Steffins, the great muckraking journalist who advised his readers to unlearn what they had been taught, especially in school, good counsel a century later when kids still learn that the Civil War was not about slavery.

No wonder Codger has been gloomy. How will he fare without his pal, who not only had an opinion on everything (“Under attack, liberals defend and retreat, conservatives deny and retaliate”) but approached his own vulnerabilities and disabilities as challenges.

Because he couldn’t see directly in front of himself, he learned to keep walking and drawing by looking around the corners. He worked every day, an inspiration.

“It’s wonderful,” he would say, “that I’m still doing what I dreamed of doing as a kid.”

And then he left.

Six days ago, at exactly 11:45 a.m., there was a voicemail from Jules. “Calling from Paradise, give me a call when you get a chance.”

Ninety minutes later, Codger called back. “I’m calling back from Paradise.”

This time there was terror in Jules’ voice. “This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived, maybe ever saw,” he said. “But nothing’s perfect. Jackson is missing.”

“Jenny Zahler would find him,” said Codger, wistfully.

At exactly 5:43 p.m., in his second day in his new home, shaky and a little weepy, Jules reported that Jackson had been found, hiding, trembling, in the house. “He wants to come back,” said Codger.