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Codger’s column: Pickle and slap

Codger’s lumbar region attempted to secede from the rest of his back around the time when pickleball lines were being drawn on the school tennis courts, so he has never gotten to try this currently hot game.

Even as a former tennis player, he felt deprived and envious; not only did pickleball look like fun but there was something so positive, inclusive, daffy yet sensible about it that he thought it might be a progressive step forward.

He recently became more convinced of that when slap boxing, a clear step backward, appeared as the regressive, dark side of the sports spectrum, possibly a demonic attempt to counteract the goodness of pickleball.

That seemed a fairly paranoid view, even for Codger, so he ran it by his president in one of their weekly telephone chats about anything. She assured him that everything would be O.K. and being generally disinterested in sports she diverted the conversation to their more familiar topics of back pain, the obsession of doctors to refer us to other doctors, what town government could possibly be thinking about and how different what they were thinking about could be from what her dogs thought about while they watched the Nature Channel.

It was that streak of whimsicality, and her willingness to play with it, as much as her steady rationality and stealthy smarts that frequently persuaded Codger that everything really would be O.K. as long as she said so.

Now Chris Lewis is gone, and he’s not so sure.

Chris Lewis’s mind was sometimes breathtaking in its edginess, especially when she was slicing and dicing a local politician in her soft mumble.

A veteran of nearly 30 years of School and Town Board skirmishes, she had strong opinions not only on botched decisions and missed opportunities but on the routine arrogance, narcissism and misogyny of some of her elected colleagues.

It was the misogyny that might have kept Chris from being supervisor, and still flares from little men in local meetings.

Chris was one of three accomplished women Codger and Shelter Island mourned this month — add Georgia Griffis and Eleanor Oakley. They had the upbeat pickleball spirit in an ugly slap boxing time.

If you’ve fortunately missed this, slap boxing is a passive-aggressive “sport” in which people take turns smacking each other across the face with an open hand presumably until one of their heads rolls off. You’re not allowed to defend yourself and you lose points if you flinch.

It’s promoted by people who sponsor martial arts shows. Like pickleball, it’s not new but is flourishing in its time.

Codger never had a chance to talk slap boxing with Chris, but they both agreed that pickleball — especially if it isn’t over-commercialized — is a nice pastime for families and for seniors. Could it be too nice for our times?

Codger had promised to keep Chris’ opinions private, but he wonders if that extends to topics they never discussed. Hadn’t they talked enough for Codger to extrapolate opinions? Codger has always talked to the dead: His Dad, a former wife, a best friend, and Chris rates right up there with them. She’s the only Islander.

Codger started carefully, mindful that Chris might still be getting adjusted in her new place, catching up with dogs, old friends and husbands.

But right away he heard her signature throaty chuckle. Codger tried to imagine how she might have responded to the Island’s flash reaction to the Medicaid non-scandal at the pharmacy, especially the way people were quick to accuse owner Stacey Soloviev of caring more about renewing the lottery than assuring life-saving drugs for poor old people. It seemed to indicate how slappy some people have become.

Even nastier was the reaction to “Cross the Line,” the program in which schoolkids are herded toward empathy by answering sometimes intrusive questions about their private and family lives. It seems like an over-reaching teacher (doubtlessly well-meaning) and/or a slack administration that inadvertently gave the haters-in-waiting a chance to turn something that felt like pickleball into a slap boxing match.

Codger thinks Chris would not have been surprised by the backlash. She was a nurse from the Midwest and made of tough stuff. Her loss to the community was a sad one, especially as president of the Shelter Island Senior Citizens Foundation.

This has been a very bad month for losing smart, strong, compassionate old ladies with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world’s gone mad. Codger grieves for Georgia, an actress, theater impresario and community volunteer, and Eleanor, a retired social worker, national and international champion for justice and a pillar of senior services.

They were special in the same ways Chris was.

They could have been pickleball teammates. The slap boxers wouldn’t have stood a chance.