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Codger’s column: On the level

This is the year Codger will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the discovery of Shelter Island.

By Codger.

Well, O.K., there were inhabitants on the Island when Codger arrived, but they were mostly summer people and the locals who cut their lawns. They lived together as happily as Pilgrims and Indians.

At least that’s what Codger was told by the colleague who had invited Codger and his family for a weekend on North Cartwright Road. Last year, Supervisor Gerry Siller told Codger pretty much the same thing. Those were the days.

Whatever, said Codger.

It was a pleasant weekend and Codger was, of course, entranced by the Island’s beauty as he joined other carefree weekenders walking three abreast the wrong way. They were delighted seeing deer so close.

There were no cellphones then so they talked, discussing the quaint charms of picking up your own mail, dumping your own garbage and decompressing while waiting for ferries. Wasn’t this how it used to be in America, they said, before Vietnam, all the assassinations, Watergate?

Perhaps because so much of Codger’s time that weekend was spent brushing sand out of diapers, he didn’t return for almost two decades. Thus, that first visit stands for him as an example of Level One in the evolution of an Islander from casual, touron-esque Daytripper to Level Five, the all-in all-year-rounder. In tracking his own development, Codger thinks he has gotten a better handle on the Island’s transformation.

Codger didn’t attain Level Two — Summer Visitor — until sometime in the late 1980’s as the recurring guest of a generous second homeowner.

This included all the perks and none of the responsibilities. Shelter Island projects a theme park quality when you don’t know the supervisor’s name or that there is one and you take marathon showers because you don’t know about wastewater and aquifers and you bike between the double yellow lines because why else are they there?

When the generous second homeowner was selfish enough to marry another Islander and sell her house, Codger, by now hooked, was forced to rent one of his own, taking him to Level Three, Summer People (Some ‘R’ People).

He started reading the Reporter; there were so many four-poster stories that he spent most of the month cowering on his landlord’s deck exploring himself for ticks, leaving only to shop at George’s or Fedi’s.

That’s where he learned about the supervisor and the Town Board and how squabbling rivaled boating, golfing and fishing as local recreations.

And then he bought a house. Owning property brings Level Four, which means fixing things, groveling for plumbers, complaining about having to pick up mail, dump garbage and wait for ferries. It means re-evaluating the relationship between Indians and Pilgrims.

That supposed rapport seems to have unraveled. No surprise that Codger’s concept of Levels was flawed as well. Owning a house was not enough information on which to rate a resident.

How much did the house cost, what neighborhood was it in, how much time did you spend there? Did you lean South or North fork? Were you on a committee to save the aquifer, destroy the ticks, support Senior Services, the school and community housing, keys to the Island. Were you worried about the lack of a comprehensive plan? Had you read the last one? Are you registered to vote? 

And then Codger and Crone met at a Shelter Island housewarming.

They eventually became full-time residents as two summer houses became one all-year home. Codger began to wonder if he had become liberated or marooned at Level Five. Was he just in the place or truly of the place?

In any case, the place had changed in a half-century. The Levels didn’t make as much sense anymore.

There was COVID, of course, with its tide of refugees, some of whom stayed, others who ghosted off as the pandemic seemed to ebb.

Now there were affluent tourists, not quite White Lotus guests, but at $1,000 a night feeling justified in their demands. Why can’t we walk three abreast and let the traffic watch out for us?

That kind of Level One thinking seems endemic lately in the public gasbaggery of Level Four and Fives with their aggressive whines;  Why do I even have to think about community housing, other people’s water issues, and the school, which I pay for but don’t use? Why?

Only to be decent useful citizens, says Codger, who is also becoming exhausted simultaneously rooting for and against the supervisor’s seemingly well-meaning but clumsily non-inclusive attempts to get something (anything?) done.

Codger hopes, in the next 50 years, not to depend only on picking up mail, dumping garbage and waiting for ferries as an incomplete plan to keep the lesser levels at bay.