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Kate Feiffer illustration

—Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Nicole-GallandBemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.

Dear Nicole:
I’m a deer hunter. Twice now in the past couple of seasons, I’ve had a youngish (yearling?) doe in my sights, and I haven’t been able to shoot because I find myself wondering if it’s wrong to shoot a deer that young. I don’t want my kids accusing me of killing Bambi. How young is too young?
Confidentially yours,
Softie

Dear Softie:
Legally speaking, the answer to your question is, “There’s no such thing as too young.” As soon as a fawn is born, it qualifies as fair game. In contrast to edible marine life, the (female) deer population has virtually no regulations protecting it — nor should it. There are too many of them. The Vineyard and Nantucket have the highest density of deer in the state. The herds need to be culled. The bag limit is (I’m citing a state website here) two antlered deer per year “and as many antlerless deer as the hunter has valid antlerless deer permits” — which on the Vineyard is four per day. In other words: MassWildlife wants you to kill does. The younger a doe is brought down, the fewer offspring she produces in her lifetime, which is a nonviolent way of helping to manage the population.

But you’re a hunter so you probably knew the legal answer; you’re asking from a more subjective angle. If you — or your kids — have ever eaten lamb or veal, then it’s a romantic hypocrisy to bewail the killing of a young doe. That yearling had a much better life than almost any lamb or calf that ended up on your dinner table (yes, there is humanely raised local livestock, but the supply and price tag mean that’s not a broad-spectrum option yet). If you’re concerned about being humane (an excellent thing to be concerned about), but don’t want to give up the succulence of young mammalian flesh, stop eating lamb and veal altogether, and instead get out there and shoot more young deer.
That’s my take.
Nicole

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Nicole-GallandBemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com

Dear Nicole,
I bow hunt for deer. Last year, while I was on stand 20 feet up in a tree, a female hiker came sprinting through the woods. Before I could say anything, she ran right underneath my tree and squatted (I assume to pee). I averted my eyes. Awkward to say the least. I did not make a sound while all this was going on. Should I have said anything? I also carry toilet paper in my backpack to aid in tracking deer. Should I have offered her some?
Confidentially Yours,
Hunter

Dear Hunter:
First of all, I dearly wish you were here in person to explain the statement, “I also carry toilet paper in my backpack to aid in tracking deer.” How does that work? Do you toss a roll onto a stag’s antlers, like a carnival game, and then follow the roll in hopes it will lead to his harem of does? Do you season the roll with eau de mown grass, and leave it lying around in the woods, in the hopes it will attract a cervine herd? Having never been a hunter, I want to know. How very tantalizing.

Regarding your actual question: Generally it is considered déclassé to interrupt someone who is responding urgently to the call of nature — especially if the call is so urgent that they don’t notice a deer stand directly overhead. (Also, gender plays a role in this — the most awkward arrangement of genders in these circumstances is probably a male telling a female he can see what she’s doing.)

However, context is everything. The hiker is in the Great Outdoors and could relieve herself pretty much anywhere, while you are stuck in one particular tree. Once the hiker — however innocently — “marks” the area with human scent, that will have a negative effect on your chances of getting a deer. Not just for those few moments while she is squatting beneath your stand, but probably for the rest of your cold, lonely, uncomfortable tenure in the tree, given that a deer’s sense of smell is even more acute than a dog’s. By not asking her to relieve herself elsewhere, you probably guaranteed yourself a bootless day out with your bow, just for the sake of avoiding a potential passing embarrassment. You are certainly free to sabotage yourself that way, but this isn’t Regency England and acts of secret decency are not trending. Under the circumstances, you absolutely get a pass if you decide to call out to her and ask her to take her business elsewhere.

In fact, it could be argued that alerting her to your presence is the only truly decent course to take. There are a number of complications that could arise from your not letting her know you’re there. If she looks up and sees a hunter (even just a bow hunter who is averting his eyes), she will feel at least as awkward as you already do, if not alarmed. Even if she doesn’t realize at the time what’s going on, this is Martha’s Vineyard, so there’s a good chance that eventually she will hear that her uncle’s plumber’s apprentice’s best friend was bow-hunting last Thursday when suddenly, a female hiker…etc… and she’ll realize, after the fact, that it was probably her, and she will be overcome with a ludicrous semi-embarrassment that she’ll never be able to put to rest. For the rest of her life, she might shudder briefly whenever venison is mentioned. You can pre-empt all such misfortunes by just calling out to her (faster than she can drop trow, ideally) and politely ask her to move along.

I don’t know if you should offer her any toilet paper, though. I suppose it depends on how badly you need it for deer-tracking.
That’s my take.
Nicole

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

NickiGalland-headshotBemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Interested in Nicole’s take on your messy Vineyard-centric ethics or etiquette question? Confidentiality ensured. Send your question to OnIsland@mvtimes.com

Dear Nicole:
I’m a recent transplant and I am fishing in the Derby for the first time. Let’s say I land a huge bass. Then let’s say someone, maybe even a good friend, asks me where I caught it. Am I ethically obligated to be truthful?
Confidentially Yours,
Hooked

Dear Hooked:
First of all, you’re not a transplant, you’re a wash–ashore.

The one inviolable Derby rule is not to elbow your way into anyone else’s turf, on the beach or in the water. That’s why people never leave their primo fishing spot for years at a time, not even to eat or sleep: as long as you are where you are, nobody else can get too close, but as soon as you leave, somebody else moves in, and then you’re the one who can’t be too close.

Anyhow, keep in mind: fish do this thing called “swimming.” They’re biting off Noman’s … until they’re not. They’re practically offering themselves up on the North Shore… until the tide changes.  Your honesty wouldn’t help your friend, or anyone else, find where the fish are – only where they were. In fact, if you send someone to a bogus spot, it could turn out to be a bonanza for him or her.

But that’s not really the heart of your question, which is: Is it okay to lie? Even to a friend? Isn’t that awful? Well, yes, generally… but as you said, it’s the Derby, so anything goes. Even St. Peter would probably obfuscate to throw other fishermen off the scent during the Derby. And as Nelson Siegelman (revered author of the Gone Fishin’ column) assures me, “During the Derby, a fisherman asked where he or she caught a fish is likely to answer with one of four locations:  up-Island, down-Island, the north shore and south shore. (Furthermore…) fishing may be one of the only sports where it may be expected that participants will lie. But just as skillful casting is a talent, lying well requires a certain style so that the person you are lying to does not walk away insulted.”  I know a man who knows a man who caught a 40-pound striper on Chappy… and immediately drove to the Squibnocket parking lot for everyone to see it. By the standards of Derby Shenanigans, that’s wicked awesome. If you’re going to BS somebody, try to top that. Worse case scenario: your friend still manages to hook a bigger fish than you, and buys you a beer.
That’s my take.
Nicole

Dear Nicole:
This is one of those Vineyard Shuffle questions. My summer landlady asked me to leave a day early because her cleaning lady is fishing in the Derby and needs to do the “moving-out clean” the day before I’m scheduled to actually move out. But I can’t get into my winter rental a day early because those summer renters will still be there. Is it ungracious or un-Vineyardy of me to refuse to leave? I want to support anything Derby-related but I have nowhere to go.
Confidentially Yours,
Stranded in Oak Bluffs

Dear Stranded:
Legally, of course, you have a right to stay till the end of your lease. And while it would not be ungracious of you to refuse to leave, it would be very gracious of you to agree to the arrangement. If you want to “do the right thing” by old-school, Vineyard Shoulder-Season standards, consider this:

Anything involving the Derby gets instant street cred. That’s how the Island is wired. If your only hesitation is that you need a place to stay, consider the ultimate form of Vineyard Shuffle: staying on a friend’s couch for one night. Looking unkempt because you’ve been fishing gets the highest marks, but looking unkempt because you’re facilitating someone else to fish is also pretty good.

I don’t know why the cleaning lady had to change her schedule for the Derby, but given that she did, it was pretty cool that your landlady said yes and it would be pretty cool if you said yes, and so by extension, if you need to crash on someone’s couch or guest room and they say yes, that makes them cool too – because it’s the Derby. The more people are involved in the great Derby Chain of Roughing It, the greater the collective Insider Cool factor is.
That’s my take.
Nicole

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

NickiGalland-headshotBemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Interested in Nicole’s take on your messy Vineyard-centric ethics or etiquette question? Confidentiality ensured. Send your question to OnIsland@mvtimes.com

Dear Nicole,
My only daughter has left the Island for college and I’m having a hard time letting go. (I suspect I shouldn’t be driving by her elementary school every day and repeatedly downloading the ferry schedule.)  I am trying not to text and call her too often. It’s a struggle and my waistline is expanding because of it.  But what makes it even worse is all my so–called friends who keep saying their kids call and text and, isn’t it so great they’ve  even skyped with their child’s roommate. How can I get them to stop talking?
Confidentially yours,
Empty-nester

Dear Empty–nester,
You can’t get them to stop talking. Even if there was some way to get them to stop talking to YOU about it, they’d all be talking amongst themselves, without you, and you’d know it (it’s a small Island), and then you’d feel like a pariah.

So the real problem to tackle here is either your own rate of texting/angsting, and/or your expanding waistline.

I haven’t seen your waistline so I don’t feel qualified to comment on it, but maybe it’s a good time to mention that many Island yoga, dance and Pilates studios and gyms are moving into their autumn schedule — as are you — and it might not be a bad time to sign on. Or at the very least, when you drive obsessively in front of your child’s school, do it on a bicycle to burn some extra calories. Or better yet, whenever you feel the urge to drive by her school or call her, divert that energy into something you can now do that you could not before you were an empty-nester. Go skinny-dipping in the afternoon. Take a nap. Watch Jerry Springer. Throw a gourmet potluck.  Get overly–invested in town politics. Go out dancing. Fall in love (all over again with your spouse, if you have one). If none of these appeal to you, look to your childless friends or friends with long–grown kids for inspiration.

You’re preoccupied with your absent child mostly because you love her very much, but maybe also just a little because you’re the Helicopter Parent Generation, and you’ve probably invested more energy and self–identity into your kid than your parents’ generation did, so you don’t have that generation as a model for how to cope. How to cope is: see above.

And keep the long view in mind: Congratulations if your kid isn’t constantly checking in with you! Let your friends gush over how effectively they are prolonging their children’s dependency on them. Proudly let them know you have a child who is self–sufficient enough that she doesn’t need to check in with her parents on an hourly basis. Some day soon, when your friends’ kids have also attained that level of independence that yours has already achieved (I’m guessing second semester freshman year), all your friends will look to you as a model, and that will feel awesome. It’s a win all the way around.

That’s my take.
Nicole

***

Dear Nicole,
It’s picking season and I found the beach plums. Must I ask the property owner on whose land I found them for permission to pick?
Confidentially yours,
Oak Bluffs

Dear Oak Bluffs,
There are two schools of thought on this topic, neither of which I agree with.
One of them says: Of course you have to ask! Otherwise it’s stealing! And also trespassing, which is always illegal and immoral!

The other one says: Of course you don’t have to ask! It is set down in the Constitution of the Republic of Martha’s Vineyard that we’re all allowed to forage for beach plums!

If we were anywhere but Martha’s Vineyard and it were (almost) anything but beach plums, I’d easily side with the first position. Actually, I do side with the first one — but because it is Martha’s Vineyard, and beach plums — a certain karmic grandfather clause applies.

If you have discovered (either from trespassing or use of easements) beach plum bushes on the property of someone (a) unfriendly (b) with an enormous bounty of beach plums, who (c) has never shown any interest in harvesting said beach plums, it really doesn’t matter what anyone says about it, we both know you’re going to go get those beach plums, so why are you even asking me?

If you choose to tread that path, however, maybe offer beach plum jelly to the property-owners, with a note saying, “If you like this, I’d be honored to keep you in a steady supply in future years, and here’s how you can help me do that…”

That’s my take.
Nicole

— Illustration by Kate Feiffer

NickiGalland-headshotBemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Interested in Nicole’s take on your messy Vineyard-centric ethics or etiquette question? Confidentiality ensured. Send your question to OnIsland@mvtimes.com

Dear Nicole:
What do you do when you mistakenly break into the middle of the Presidential motorcade? Should you stay with it or try to veer off?
Confidentially yours,
Clutching the Wheel in Chilmark

Dear Clutch:
First, the official response: I have no idea. I’m sure there is some official caveat but nobody bothered to inform me. Second, the practical response: It’s true that you won’t get held up in traffic, but tourists will gawk and locals will roll their eyes, which — if you’re a real islander — are two of the few things worse than getting stuck in summer traffic. So there is no net benefit to staying with the motorcade. If you can get to your destination some other way, divert.

Third, my actual response: To quote a professional wise–guy friend: “The value of any life experience can be determined by how good an anecdote it makes.” So, in the interest of having a good story, stick with the motorcade as long as you possibly can. Forget about your actual destination; just go with the flow. Eventually, some member of the Secret Service or the police escort will question you. Depending upon whom the President is hanging out with, this is the perfect opportunity to pitch your television series, request a puppy playdate (“Hey, I also have a Portuguese Water Dog!”), or offer your helpful and well–informed views on the situation in Iraq.  I have no idea what will happen, but I bet it will make a better anecdote than simply driving away.
That’s my take.
Nicole

Dear Nicole:
Some people seem to manage the whole Presidential Visit thing just fine without any headaches or inconveniences. What is their secret?
Confidentially Yours,
Stuck in traffic

Dear Stuck:
They vacation on Nantucket.
That’s my take.
Nicole

Dear Nicole:
I think it’s rather nice that President Obama and his family vacation here, however I am sick and tired of hearing about all the Obama sightings. I really don’t care that my friend’s friend’s houseguest saw the President golfing. How can we put a stop to the incessant chatter about Obama sightings?
Confidentially yours,
Edgartown

Dear Edgartown,
There are a number of ways to stop “the incessant chatter about Obama sightings.” One option is simple honesty. Say, for example, “You know, I must admit I’m tired of hearing about all the Obama sightings.” But that seems rude, and we all know nobody is going to do it, so let’s move on to other options.

The tried and true Vineyard MO is (as I have perhaps suggested in earlier columns) passive aggressiveness. If you want to be passive aggressive as a form of politeness, you could simply pretend not to have heard or understood the statement, and respond with a pensive silence or perhaps a bland comment such as, “Hm, hasn’t the weather been lovely lately.” If you want to be passive-aggressive as a form of contempt, the best approach is, “I bet people who talk about Obama sightings have really boring lives,” (or some other demeaning remark). But I won’t like you very much if you go that route.

Or you could be more pro-active in your refusal to engage in such banter. Distraction is a good way to do this. If, for instance, somebody says, “My mother’s best friend’s dog-groomer saw Obama at the package store,” a recommended response might be: “Look! A raccoon!” This should be followed by a lively narrative about a raccoon cub you took into your house as a child, who ate through both the linoleum and the insulation in the kitchen. It’s almost certain that somebody else at the gathering will have a story about raccoons, insulation, linoleum or kitchens, and so you will have successfully diverted conversation, at least for the nonce.
That’s my take.
Nicole

— Illustration by Kate Feiffer

NickiGalland-headshotBemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Interested in Nicole’s take on your messy Vineyard-centric ethics or etiquette question? Confidentiality ensured. Send your question to OnIsland@mvtimes.com

Dear Nicole:

I am what you call a seasonal resident, which is, in my opinion, a resident without any of the perks. Yet, I buy locally, donate locally, volunteer, recycle, etc. I feel like I’m actually a better “community member” than people who flash their Islander Club card at Cronigs, and everywhere else they can, and get excursion rates on the ferry, yet still whine about how expensive everything is. I find it’s unfair that aside from the gift of just being here, seasonal residents don’t get any additional perks. Don’t you?

Confidentially yours,

Seasonal

Dear Seasonal:

You’re absolutely right. It’s unfair. It’s also unfair that seasonal residents don’t get the unspoken burdens of year-rounders. Feuds, grudges, shared tragedies, dysfunctional town politics that cause neighbors to give each other the cold shoulder for years. We’d really love to hand some of that off to you. If you figure out a way to earn year-rounder status while enjoying your winters elsewhere, please feel free to write again and explain it to us. Have a nice day. Don’t forget your bok choy!

That’s my take.

Nicole

***

Dear Nicole:

How do you negotiate group gatherings where you have to share the space with your ex-husband, your ex-in-laws and your ex-teacher whose class you used to cut and everyone else you’ve spent a lifetime avoiding?

Confidentially yours,

Exed out

Dear Exed out:

If you have successfully avoided them for this long, I am really impressed. But I’m not sure why you want my advice – I have no idea how to avoid them, and you do. I’d love to know your secrets!

Perhaps you mean that you’ve avoided them by being a hermit (or their being hermits), or the rare fluke that somehow small-town life has not caused your paths to cross for years – until suddenly one day (at the Artisan’s Festival or the CSA pickup or a potluck wedding) you find yourself in a perverse version of This Is Your Life.

It’s true; this can happen on the Vineyard. It’s one of the karmic quirks of living here a long time, so don’t rail against it. If you can’t actually walk away from the face-off, then consider it a fantastic opportunity for self-reflection. Literally. Vineyard society can be like a funhouse mirror – it often brings out one’s more distinctive qualities, sometimes to an exaggerated level.

For instance, if you tend toward loner status, it’s pretty easy to avoid humanity completely for nine months out of the year. On the other hand, if you lean toward overcommitting yourself to too many worthy causes or social opportunities, that’s easy to maintain here, too. Hold grudges? C’mon in, we have an aisle just for that. If you’re a name-dropper, you will never have more opportunities to drop names than while living here. You can also mix and match all of these qualities: for instance, I know a loner who has an Arya Stark-like List of all the famous people he wants to kill, which he brings out whenever he crashes fundraisers that his civically-minded overinvolved cousin is hosting. Otherwise, nobody ever sees him. So we think of him as crazy, but we know he isn’t really: it’s just that he lives on Martha’s Vineyard.

All of which is just to say: when you find yourself having to face people from your past whom you’d rather not face, just be chill about it. They’re either equally uncomfortable (which allows for mutual magnanimity) or else probably oblivious to your awkwardness. They’re probably not sitting there thinking, “Ha ha! That person is so uncomfortable with the fact that I’m here! I win!”

If they actually would think that, then, by default, they’re sort of losers anyhow, aren’t they?

That’s my take.

Nicole

— Photo-illustration by Kate Feiffer

Nicole-GallandBemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Interested in Nicole’s take on your messy Vineyard-centric ethics or etiquette question? Confidentiality ensured. Send your question to OnIsland@mvtimes.com

Dear Nicole:

We have friends we are fond of who are not as financially comfortable as we are, and we find it a strain to maintain the friendship when they so often cannot join us for the things we tend to do that are beyond their means (benefits, Taste of the Vineyard, etc). We never know whether or not to invite them to join us for things, and it’s really taking a toll on our sense of comfort with them. How do you recommend we handle this?

Confidentially, Edgartown

Dear Edgartown,

One of the best things about living on Martha’s Vineyard is the bounty of free or nearly-free Things To Do. (Spoiler Alert: there is a shameless plug coming along in a few lines.) A soul-satisfying social relationship can easily be nourished on a shoestring budget here. Instead of fretting about the awkwardness of inviting your friends to a posh event, why not take the opportunity to luxuriate in the non-posh offerings the Vineyard is so rich in?

Besides the miles of glorious beaches and woodland trails, there are cultural events all year long that cost next to nothing – for example, this very weekend, Shakespeare for the Masses will be performing their (okay, full disclosure: our) free screwball version of Cymbeline at the Katherine Cornell Theatre, produced for your enjoyment by the Vineyard Playhouse.

This weekend also features free readings of local writers at the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore and a free costume ball at the Chilmark Tavern. And we’re not even in the shoulder season yet. There are art openings throughout the spring and summer, and not-infrequent musical offerings such as the Chilmark Community Potluck. Come summer, The Yard, the Vineyard Arts Project and Featherstone all offer free or “little-ticket” presentations as well. Any of these events can be enjoyed equally, and together, by people from lots of different tax brackets. You could fill your social calendar without ever reaching for your checkbook, so don’t use the socio-economic divide as an excuse for discomfort with anyone. It suggests an almost willful ignorance.

I’m not saying to eschew the big-ticket events. If you’re in a position to enjoy the full spectrum of what the Island offers, then by all means, enjoy it! But don’t judge the worth of an event by the cost of its entrance ticket; that displays a failure of curiosity and a very narrow cultural appetite on your part. Even if your friends can’t make it to the high-end benefits, there is plenty of scintillating, fulfilling Stuff To Do with them.

That’s my take.

Nicole

***

Dear Nicole:

I have an issue at Town Meeting. I’ve noticed that when certain people get up to talk, they emphasize their importance by noting the number of generations that their family has been living here, as if therefore what they have to say matters more than what I, a long-time washashore, have to say. Is there some decent way to retort?

-Almost resentful, Oak Bluffs

Dear Almost:

I’ve never experienced this but I feel for you; it sounds pretty silly. I don’t know why their ancestors are being invoked, but you might point out that the wisdom of 19th century Islanders has little bearing on the issues that we face today; even when it does, wisdom is not genetic, and someone’s suggesting that it is really only proves that it isn’t. Yes, the repository of knowledge grows with each generation, but let’s not pretend only direct descendants have access to it. If that were true, only Florentines  would understand Machiavelli, and only the Founding Fathers’ direct descendants would grasp the workings of the American government. Which clearly isn’t true because Kevin Spacey beats them all in spades.

My family roots on the Island go back to the 1600s, but I would never suggest that gives me any kind of special insight. If I ever were to display particularly good insight into something, I would prefer to credit myself for it, not my great-grandparents. Perhaps these people you’re describing suffer from extremely low self-esteem and don’t think their ideas are good enough to stand on their own. You might ask them about that. During Town Meeting. Just for fun.

Finally, to point out the obvious: if somebody is really pulling rank this way, and implying they have extra clout because of their Island lineage, please remind them their Island ties are about as deep as a fingernail compared to that of the Wampanoags’. If they feel family tenancy implies entitlement, logic suggests they want the Tribe to determine all civic matters on Noepe.

That’s my take.

Nicole

— Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Nicole-GallandBemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Interested in Nicole’s take on your messy Vineyard-centric ethics or etiquette question? Confidentiality ensured. Send your question to OnIsland@mvtimes.com

Dear Nicole,

Should we return the shopping carts to the queue in the grocery store or is a shopping cart valet service built into the high cost of groceries here?

Confidentially yours,

West Tisbury

Dear West Tisbury:

There is no shopping cart valet service. I’m sure that when a grocery-store worker sees an orphaned cart out in the parking lot, they will take the time to go outside and return it to the queue. Or other shoppers might grab it on their way in to the store. That these behaviors reflect well on the people retrieving the carts doesn’t somehow make leaving a cart in the parking lot an okay thing to do.

You’re paying so much for groceries because you live on a “seasonal resort” island with inflated prices that are reflected in, not caused by, the high cost of groceries.

The grocery stores are not gratuitously charging more than they need to and pocketing the extra change. If they were, then I’d encourage you to petition them about providing valet service to justify their prices. (I stand by that – if I’m wrong, and you can prove that grocers are gratuitously overcharging and simply pocketing the extra, I will personally write to them asking them to provide valet service for their shopping carts. But remember, valets expect tips).

When grocers thrive on Martha’s Vineyard, they pay the community back quite generously – for example, by supporting locally-sourced enterprises or making significant donations to local causes and charities. They do not pay the community back with shopping cart valets. It’s all about priorities. If that’s the kind of perk you want for buying organic kombucha, try Los Angeles. On Martha’s Vineyard, the perk is that you get to have a grocery store.

That’s my take.

Nicole

***

Dear Nicole,

It’s March on Martha’s Vineyard and I feel like it’s not safe to leave the house. Are people prickly or what? I feel like I can’t breathe without someone snapping at me to stop. Yesterday, I got yelled at by a friend, a co-worker, and someone I didn’t know in a store. I got honked at twice. Even my dog growled at me. Should I simply ignore the March madness or should I play ball?

Confidentially yours,

Oak Bluffs

Dear Oak Bluffs:

If you’re asking about basketball, I’m not qualified to advise, but I think the real gist of the question is: “Wow, why is everybody so cranky this time of year?”

Before I go further, excuse me, but I have to ask: Is it possible that your pals feel cranky toward you all the time, but this is the only time of year when there aren’t a thousand distractions keeping them from showing it? Or could it be they’re being unpleasant because of their own internal sensors, and your internal sensors just happen to be hypersensitive right no?

March (and early April, for many) is an uncomfortable time for most Vineyarders. We like a life of heightened significance; we prefer to be so overwhelmed by External Stuff that we seldom have time to just sit and wallow with our own personal mess. Generally this island provides exceptional amounts of External Stuff, from summer crowds to ferry schedules to winter storm watches… but this is the time of year when wallowing with our own mess is most likely to happen. The preparations for summer haven’t begun; the glow of the Christmas season has faded; there’s no cordwood to lay in; major planting awaits a few more weeks. Having no External Stuff to get cranky about, we channel our crankiness in more intimate directions, like our friends and neighbors.

As much as we like to say this is the season of renewal and regeneration, the truth is, this is the season of mud and muck – metaphorical as well as actual. Traditionally, Town Meetings took place in April because that was how long it took the roads not only to thaw, but to drain from the thaw. In March, the roads went from frozen to impassable due to the sticky mud. We are all creatures of our environment, and thus, we’re all currently in our own sticky mud – and wow, do we all hate that. If only there were deadlines: logs in need of splitting, a rental property in need an emergency paint job, all the seedlings needing to be planted NOW, charity auctions to order tents for. But no, it’s our last moment of calm, and for all the Vineyard’s bucolic public image, few of us actually do calm very well.

Look on the bright side. Soon the mud will dry up, and there will be lots of External Stuff to be cranky about. In no time at all, you and your friends will start being cranky together about summer people, and stop being cranky at each other.

In the meantime, just try to be nice.

That’s my take.

Nicole

— Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Nicole-GallandBemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Interested in Nicole’s take on your messy Vineyard-centric ethics or etiquette question? Confidentiality ensured. Send your question to OnIsland@mvtimes.com

Dear Nicole,

A close friend recommended my husband for a job at a house site that she was working on. When he got the job, we all went out to dinner and celebrated — burger night, State Road — delicious. We paid. But now our friend is undermining my husband every opportunity she gets. I desperately want to say something to her, but my husband asked me not to, so I won’t. I am fuming. In my fury I sent my soon-to-be-former friend an email telling her we are short of cash and would she mind paying us back for her burger. Was that so wrong?

Confidentially yours,

Edgartown

Dear Edgartown:

Yes, that was so wrong. So very wrong.

When you treat someone to dinner, you are displaying generosity not only from the wallet, but from the heart. (In this particular case, you are also displaying gratitude, since she helped your husband get the job.) The subtext of your email wasn’t just: “We need to take back our money” but also, “We need to take back our kindness.” Even if you are very upset at this woman — even if it’s justified — why would you want your retribution to consist of showing her you’re just as unkind as she is? Is the “win” here to be the unkindest person? Well, the race isn’t over yet, but you’re definitely gaining on her. Does that make you feel better?

Except, hang on: her unkindness (undermining your husband) has real-world impact, while your unkindness, at worse, sets her back about 15 bucks. If you really need to be unkind to her, at least be savvy and get more bang out of your nastiness buck. Watch House of Cards if you need some inspiration. Or go to a selectmen’s meeting.

But let’s backtrack, because there are so many moving parts to this scenario before we even get to your unfortunate email.

First, how exactly is she “undermining” your husband? Is she talking trash about him to colleagues? Physically sabotaging his work? Any idea what her motivation is for doing so? Why doesn’t your husband want you to confront her about it? And why are you “obeying” him even though the stress of doing so is clearly causing you to lose all sense of perspective?

Regardless of the answer to any of those questions, what you did is most unfortunate. You don’t ask someone to repay you for a meal that you treated them to, period. If that $15 is actually going to make or break you, then ask her (or someone else) for a loan of $15, but don’t make it about the burger!

That’s my take.

Nicole

***

Dear Nicole,

Is trespassing really trespassing when the seasonal resident is away?

Confidentially Yours,

West Tisbury

Dear West Tisbury:

Well, technically and literally, yes, it’s still trespassing, but the sensibilities of trespassing change. (I’m sure I’ve just enraged several readers, but I’m in this deep already, so I’ll keep going.)

I assume you are talking about trespassing in uncultivated nature and not somebody’s vegetable garden or, God forbid, house. That’s an important distinction. Legally it’s not an important distinction, but on a practical level, here on Martha’s Vineyard in the way-off-season, it’s an important distinction. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

So with that in mind: It is never okay to violate somebody else’s privacy. Trespassing in somebody’s living area — even external spaces, like a yard or garden — shows complete disrespect for their private space. Would you like somebody sunning themselves in your driveway when you’re at work?

Please notice that I didn’t say “shows complete disrespect for their private property.” I’m talking about people, not their property. People have feelings of violation. Trees and stone walls aren’t so sensitive. If your presence in a place makes you a happier person while doing no harm to that place, or to its absent owner, who but a petty tyrant would take issue with that?

When I was a kid, my best friend and I routinely romped and had spring picnics within the boundaries of Seven Gates farm, blithely disregarding the “No Trespassing” signs. We also romped around in other wooded and overgrown areas that were owned by others — we had no idea who. Nobody ever saw us, we never did any damage, we never left any trash. I see nothing wrong with what we did. The purpose of a no-trespassing law is to protect the owners and their property; no harm was done or intended to either.

By coincidence, thirty-five years later, newer friends of mine have bought property in Seven Gates and built their house in almost precisely the same spot where the childhood friend and I used to have our spring picnics. It is no longer uncultivated wilderness. They are year-round residents, but even if they weren’t, I’d never dream of going near that spot now without an invitation from them. To do otherwise would be to violate their space — and that is harmful. Even if I intended no harm to them, it is disrespectful, and disrespect is a harmful thing.

That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t consider romping in certain other parts of Seven Gates in the off-season — areas where I would encounter nobody, and leave no evidence of my presence. The trees and lichen-covered stone walls would welcome me as they always have. As I said above: who but a petty tyrant would object to that?

That’s my take.

Nicole

Nicole-GallandBemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on Martha’s Vineyard. Nicole,  who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Got a question on Island ethics or etiquette? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.

Dear Nicole,

What’s the appropriate amount of time to sit and idle, before sounding the horn, when the car in front of you stops to engage in a lively and long-winded conversation with the person in a truck coming from the other direction?

Confidentially yours,

Up-Island

Dear Up-Island:

Don’t honk. Period. We’re not off-island.

Let’s say instead that you’re asking how long to wait before holding your arm out the window with an attention-getting gestures – perhaps a wave of the hand (or perhaps one-fifth of a wave, if you get my drift).

There’s a lot of variables, starting with just how far up-Island you actually are. Your expected wait-time will be inversely proportional to the proximity to yacht clubs. In Aquinnah, you might be considered pushy if you make a fuss within 2 minutes; in Edgartown or the Chops, feel free to blow a gasket after 15 seconds. (A gasket, though. Not a horn.)

Other important variables: How big is the truck coming in the other direction? What kind of car is in front of you? A hood-a-hood between two pick-ups is different from a hood-a-hood between a landscaping truck and a Mercedes convertible. Actually in the latter example, it might be alright to honk briefly, since the driver of the landscaping truck should know better, and the Mercedes driver is probably used to getting honked at.

It also depends on your own vehicle. The more of an “Island car” vibe you emanate, the more receptive other “Island car” drivers are likely to be to your need to keep moving. (It’s sort of uncouth to say that but we all know it’s true.)

Finally, of course, it depends on circumstances such as time of year and your own agenda. If you are about to give birth and are trying to get to the hospital, you don’t have to wait at all.

But even then, don’t honk.

That’s my take.

Nicole

***

Dear Nicole,

I’m not terribly good at backing up, so when I encounter another car on a long dirt road, I hope they will back up to the nearest turnoff. Recently, I was on a dirt road, and the other car absolutely refused to back up. I got so flustered that I tried to back up myself, but it was taking an extremely long time because I kept turning the wheel the wrong way, having to go forward, which I thought would be a hint to the other driver for him to back up, but he didn’t take the hint. Consequently I’m sure that because I had to do the backing up, both of us were late to our destinations.  What should I have done?

Confidentially yours,

Tisbury

Dear Tisbury:

This might sound extreme, but I think you should have gotten out of your car and – wait for it – explained to the other driver that you were having a hard time backing up.

Gallons of blood and ink have been spilt in Dukes County alone on the issue of who should back up on a narrow dirt road. Common courtesy and common sense should largely dictate this answer, but it often ends up resembling an awkward mating ritual.

COMMON COURTESY: If you have just passed a turn-out and you see a car approach you from the other direction, back up right away.

COMMON SENSE: If you passed a turn-out a tenth of a mile back, pause, and see if the approaching car will back up.

COMMON COURTESY: If you’re nose-to-nose with a car driven driven by someone who seems like they’d have a harder time backing up than you (they’re wearing a neck brace, they’re hauling a trailer, they have the panicked look of a lost tourist), back up.

COMMON SENSE: If you’re in a neck brace hauling a trailer, or there are other cars coming up behind you, or your children have smeared pond slime all over every rearview mirror, see if the other person will back up first.

I’ve heard the argument made that if you are inward-bound, you should give way to someone who is outward-bound, especially if there is a caravan. I support this principle when the inbound destination is a parking lot or field with limited room – it’s like letting people off a train before boarding it yourself. But if you’re a half-mile down a mile-long road, let the common sense/common courtesy ethos prevail.

Remember that although it feels good (for most of us) to be the considerate driver one who does the right thing, sometimes it really doesn’t make sense to back up. I’ve been in situations when both cars backed up into turn-outs, and then waited rather a long time for the other car to give in and drive past them. It can become a sort of anti-standoff. That’s silly, and as much a waste of time as an actual stand-off.

Finally, I’ve heard the argument made – by people who drive large vehicles – that whoever has the bigger vehicle gets to hold their ground while whoever has the smaller vehicle has to back off. This might be true ipso facto, but if so, it sure makes a statement about the owner of large vehicles, doesn’t it?

That’s my take.

Nicole