Furniture shuffle puzzle

How quickly can someone demand his stuff back?

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

Dear Nicole:
A friend has been doing the so-called “Vineyard shuffle” for the past, well I can’t even remember how many years. When he first lost his year-round housing, we told him he could store his stuff with us. We put his boxes in the basement and have been using his furniture, which includes a dining room table and a couch. Here’s the issue. Our friend just got housing and wants his stuff back, which is understandable. But he wants it right away! I asked him if we could have a transition period so we have time to replace the furniture we’ve been using. But he said he wants it right away. I feel he should treat this this the same way he would treat quitting a job — you give two weeks’ notice, or enough time until your employer can find a replacement. Nicole, what’s your take?
Confidentially yours,

Dear Couchless:
Not sure from your question: Have you two discussed this at all, or did you leap to the nuclear option (writing me) as soon as you realized there was a conflict? If the latter, stop reading this right now, call him up, and say, “Can we talk this over?” And then — this is so crazy, it just might work — talk it over. Find a compromise. Maybe you go to his house for dinner and couch-related activities until you, with his assistance, have found replacement furniture. Or something. Work it out. (Did you not have a table and couch before he left his with you? Maybe you’ve got some furniture of your own gathering dust in the basement?)

However, if you have in fact asked for a compromise and he’s not budging — let’s say he wants to call Trip Barnes and come by tomorrow afternoon — there are two different answers to this.

First, the answer that matters most among humans: You’ve done him a favor, and it’s exquisitely inconsiderate of him to repay your kindness by leaving you abruptly couchless. While it’s inconvenient to have a house without furniture, it’s even more inconvenient to have furniture without a house, and you helped him out when that was his situation. It doesn’t reflect at all well on him if he’s not willing to work this out with you.

Second, the answer that would matter most in court: Legally, it’s his stuff and he’s entitled to have it when he wants it.

Second-and-a-half: that said, possession is 9/10ths of the law. If you really wanted to make things inconvenient for him (change the locks and go antiquing off-Island until you find a better dining table, etc.), you could. But I don’t recommend this for two reasons. First, it makes you a jerk. Second, it’s winter on Martha’s Vineyard, meaning there are too many people with too much time on their hands who might helpfully leap to abet either of you, potentially escalating this into one of those tawdry stories that ends up on the front page of the paper, prompting readers to say, “Wow, it must be winter on Martha’s Vineyard.”

Of course, since it’s the Vineyard, and the Vineyard shuffle never ceases, maybe the simplest answer is to put a shout-out to see if anyone else needs a furniture sitter for the next year or two.
That’s my take.