Shoveling my neighbor’s snow

Designed 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. Nicole’s latest novel, “Stepdog,” has recently been published. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.

Dear Nicole,

I live here year-round, and my neighbor is seasonal. I see landscapers come and go from her place during the off-season. During the blizzard weekend, I watched what I would describe as an army of shovelers fastidiously clear the snow off her driveway. To be honest, I was surprised they didn’t bring in torches to melt the particularly stubborn snow. It seems like an excessive amount of work for a driveway that’s not going to see much action this winter. I don’t know if my neighbor knows how much work they’re doing. Should I tell her?

Confidentially yours,
Concerned Neighbor

Dear Neighbor,

It’s possible you mean, “Should I let her know how hard those people are slaving away at a modest hourly rate, in case she wants to tip them?” But I’m pretty sure that’s not what you mean.

First, a practical consideration: It is perfectly reasonable to maintain a summer house’s landscape throughout the winter, including removing snow from a drive that isn’t going to be driven on: Maintenance is maintenance is maintenance. The drive will probably be fine if it’s not shoveled, but it will probably be slightly finer if it is shoveled, and if she can afford that, she has every right to purchase it. Especially since she’s adding money to the winter economy by providing work for people who otherwise might not have enough to get through the off-season. Speaking not as a driveway specialist but as an Islander, I think that’s great.

But to address your question more directly: Either the Shoveling Army is working for free, or else your neighbor is getting billed for the work. I’m guessing the latter. If she’s getting billed, she’s aware that there is work being done, in which case you don’t need to tell her. In fact, hearing from you about something she’s already aware of might strike her one of two ways: Either you are passive-aggressively expressing jealousy (she is better able than you to afford services that to her are a luxury but to you are a necessity), or you are spending a little too much time assessing somebody else’s property and circumstances (which also suggests jealousy, or envy, or both, or perhaps just a friendly neighborhood stalking habit — but none of these are really commendable qualities). So the simple answer is: Don’t say anything.

Unless …

It is possible that the landscaping company bills her quarterly, and that she won’t realize for a few months how high her winter bill is going to be. If you genuinely think that is the case — if you absolutely, truly believe that she is going to feel sucker-punched when she gets her bill, and that the landscaping company is taking advantage of her — then here’s something you can do. Since you seem to have a knack for that classic Vineyard quality of passive-aggressiveness, use your powers for good. Do not call her and say, “Hey, are you aware of how much work is being done at your place while you’re not here?” Rather, call her and say, “I’m so impressed with all the work I’ve noticed being done at your place. I’d love to hire the same people — they’re so conscientious and diligent and thorough! Can you give me their contact info?”

This expressing your awareness of the landscapers as admiration, rather than suspicion, reflects well on you. In transmogrifying your nosy, passive-aggressive envy into friendly, assertive neighborliness, you’ll have performed a brilliant act of social alchemy on yourself!

Or you can give the benefit of the doubt to both your neighbor’s intelligence and the landscapers’ integrity, and just leave well enough alone. The only thing better than social alchemy is the lack of need for it.

That’s my take.
Nicole