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Codger’s Column: The lost week

Crone began to feel symptoms on Monday, just before the first welcome wave of Codger’s and Crone’s family arrived by train. The home tests came up positive for COVID.

What timing! Kids, grandkids and the senior kids had been looking forward to a week of July 4th partying.

The first wave of family borrowed one of the cars and split.

A masked silence settled on West Neck. Codger went upstairs to “the children’s room” and for whatever reason climbed into the smallest bed. Since childhood, he has responded to untenable events by going to sleep. Of course, in the early days, Mom and Dad would handle the problem by morning while little Codger huddled in a bed his own size.

COVID seems to be about sucking it up, waiting it out, hoping for the best, while denying the worst, thinks Codger, sort of like life these days. Denial? He recalls reading that the plague was on the rise lately, but who listens?

He can’t remember seeing too many face masks at the IGA or the Pharmacy. Maybe it was just too hard to think of COVID, that old news, while the Supreme Court’s coup was shredding the country. It was too hard to think about the post-debate fallout amid reports the Shelter Island Reporter was facing extinction.

Codger had not taken that seriously at first since the paper was not losing money and its publishers had seemed like responsible stewards of community journalism.

For the Island, in the throes of Town Board tumult and a lack of transparency, not to mention ongoing water, affordable housing and long-term planning issues, the loss of a local news source would be a catastrophe — for most residents, that is, although a boon to most developers and the politicians who love them.

It would also be part of a national trend that has helped subvert democratic government, from school boards to Washington.

What to do? Characteristically, Codger went to sleep. But he was quickly awakened by the jingle of the ice cream truck coming up from Crescent Beach. His past was following him. It was a disquieting sound that reminded Codger of the last time a newspaper he worked for was shot out from under him.

Codger has worked on six different newspapers since high school, the most fun being Liberty’s Lamp, the proud organ of the Seventy-Seventh Infantry (Statue of Liberty) Division, whose final publisher, one Major Wayne, killed an edition rather than print (actually, mimeograph) a front-page scoop: The owner of an ice cream truck was peddling his wife along with colder treats to bivouac troops in the boonies.

It was apparently not news fit to print and it ended Spec 4 Codger’s career in military journalism. Liberty’s Lamp never appeared again. The 77th Division was also soon deactivated, declared unfit just as the Vietnam War was heating up.

The Division had been heroic through two World Wars. What happened? Maybe if the Lamp had survived, we would have found out in time to whip Liberty back into fighting shape.

Maybe a rescued and rejuvenated Reporter could do that before the Island sinks into a deeper morass of dither and delay. What are they talking about at Town Hall? Why aren’t they moving faster on Death Valley (the Center)? Why are they shutting down residents who might actually have something to say at Town meetings that would lead to regulation, enforcement, a fresh idea?

Luckily, before Codger went back to sleep, Duff Wilson, chairperson of the Board of Ethics, stepped up. A former investigative reporter at Reuters and the New York Times who grew up in a family that owned and ran weekly papers, Wilson ([email protected]) has taken the lead in searching for a new owner, probably a smoother solution than starting from scratch.

Codger thinks an existing news organization would be the optimal new owner, but a community-based nonprofit might work as well. Like the library, senior services and first responders, a local news source is a foundation of a livable community.

Codger kept testing negative that July 4th week, while Crone was suffering a nasty, enervating illness. Separation was hard; the comfort of kvetching together through tough times is a critical remedy. With Cur II recently gone, there was no buffer, no comforting conduit. And what’s the protocol for a dog in the house?

Friends brought food, which helped. Codger thought it might be a good time to clean up the basement since he couldn’t concentrate on working or even reading. But he couldn’t rouse the spirit.

Reassuring old movies, like “Casablanca” and “Shane,” equivalent to sleep, were merely numbing. A lost week, talking to Crone through a mask, waiting it out, sucking it up, cringing at the jingle of the ice cream truck.