Boundaries and Burgers

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

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,


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.



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.