Derby Dilemmas

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Bemused 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 Sigelman (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