Welcome to Thatz Not Okay, a regular column in which I school inquiring readers on what is and is not okay. Please send your questions (max: 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "Thatz Not Okay."
I lived with a roommate in college for four years and, as can happen, our various household stuff got mixed together. We moved apart amicably and now, 3 years later, find ourselves living in separate apartments in the same city again. She's been over a number of times since then.
On her latest visit (dinner at my place!) she looked at the fork I was holding and proclaimed it was hers and she needed it back. In fact, she asked for all the silverware with that particular style to be returned.
I thought she was joking at first, but then she explained they were her mother's and she needed to return them. Am I wrong that this seems ridiculous? Her mom has now been without this special cutlery for over 7 years. I've been to their house and I can promise you they have plenty of silverware to go around.
What is my obligation here? She's referring to the majority part of my silverware, so I'd have to go out and buy more. She didn’t even offer to replace the silverware she's "retrieving.” Should I tell her the statute of limitations has passed? Is that okay?
Thatz not okay.
I can’t believe your friend is still ON YOUR CASE, calmly asking you to return a family heirloom you stole from her when you lived together. You really have no choice but to take it up with the police at this point, so that they might use the full power of the law to confine her madness. “Trial of the Century” gets thrown around a lot, but this courtroom spectacle shall be truly riveting. Nancy Grace will live and die by these spoons. The next time your friend brings up the issue of your her-your silverware (perhaps next week when you host Taco Tuesday—a meal pointedly devoid of cutlery), ask for the name of her lawyer and yell "YOU'LL GET YOUR FORKS IN HELL, BITCH."
Or you could just give your friend back her freaking silverware.
The proper response to learning you stole something from a friend is “Oh, God. I'm so sorry! Here, take it back!" Not. “Okay, we need to talk terms."
Imagine being your friend. For three years, she’s been thinking that her mother’s cherished silverware was lost forever. Then, one day, she looks down and realizes she's holding one of the pieces. What luck—the entire set has been under the care of her close friend all this time! “Finally!" she thinks "I can have my silverware back.”
"Well," you say, "I’ve had this stuff for a while. So. It's mine."
The silverware has not developed Stockholm Syndrome. It will not miss you when it is returned to its rightful owner.
If I were you, I wouldn’t bring up your opinion, based on moonbeams and dewdrops but almost certainly not the laws that govern the United States, that the statute of limitations has run out on your friend’s claim to her own silverware that you stole. For one thing, if the crime sounds too boring and soft to be even a Nancy Drew title (“The Case of the Purloined Cutlery That I Kept in My House for Three Years”), you probably shouldn’t prosecute. More importantly, this isn’t civil court. This is you having dinner with one of your good friends. What was your plan, exactly?
“Possession is 9/10ths of the law. Eat it bi-atch! So, you wanna watch Breaking Bad on Sunday?"
Silverware isn’t hard to find. What are the odds you will enter another store at some point over the course of your natural life? Pretty good. The odds that some of that store’s wares will be of the silver variety is also pretty good. Even dollar stores sell disposable cutlery. You can get a decent set at Target for $30. But maybe you don’t want to downgrade back to ordinary department store brand now that you’ve tasted the delicious cold steel of expensive silverware. All the more reason you should return this silverware to its rightful owner. If something is worth stealing, it is wrong to steal it. And “I’d have to go out and buy more” is not a valid excuse for not returning something you stole.
Your friend does not have to offer you restitution because she is reclaiming the silverware you took from her. If you find the burglar who stole your car, you are not obligated to buy him a replacement car before you can get yours back.
On a personal note, this sentence really breaks my heart.
"I've been to their house and I can promise you they have plenty of silverware to go around."
Do you realize this makes you sound like an old timey street urchin? “A chicken in every pot and a spoon in every bowl! Graceful taper candles, never before used – and more in the closet besides!” Did you burst into song when you entered their home? Did you think you were gonna like it there?
Don't begrudge your friend's family the silverware that is their silverware. Maybe someday you will have a dinner set of your very own. I hope no one steals it.
On Saturday night, my roommate and I were heading out for the evening. As we walked down the sidewalk, my roommate accidentally bumped into another man who happened to be carrying a bottle of liquor in a plastic bag. As a result of the minor collision, the man dropped the bag and the bottle shattered. My roommate apologized and we continued to walk, only to be followed and approached by Broken Bottle Man. "Excuse me," he said. "That was a full bottle of gin. I'm going to need you to replace that." My roommate immediately pulled out his wallet and handed him a twenty (the only cash he happened to be carrying). Broken Bottle Man was satisfied and left.
As we continued on our way, I told my roommate I felt it was crazy that he so readily forked over the cash. More specifically, I thought it was ridiculous that the man asked to be paid back and that my roommate felt obligated to pay him (as opposed to my roommate offering the money out of his own volition as a sympathetic gesture). Sure, the situation was unfortunate. And sure, I would probably be irritated if someone bumped into me on the sidewalk and I dropped a perfectly good bottle of gin. But I also realize that this is New York: sidewalks are crowded and sometimes shit happens. It was clearly an accident.
Basically, I felt his sincere apology should have been enough to mollify this dude and that my roommate was under no obligation to pay him back for his booze. Is that okay?
Thatz not okay.
Bumping into someone is not an act of God unless a tornado sucks up your body and flings it on top of another person (or you trip over a rock or something). One of the quirks about growing up on Earth is that you develop a feel for the planet's gravitational pull. Maybe you bump into another person because you—or they—weren’t paying attention; maybe you were rushing; maybe you’re a dick who likes to body check people. Under normal conditions, though, humans are able to walk on sidewalks (even crowded sidewalks) without careening into one another. “Stumblebum” is not a condition recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
So, yes, if you bump into another person, they drop whatever they were carrying, and you are clearly at fault (I’m assuming your roommate was, since you say he bumped into the man and not the otherway around), you should offer to pay for whatever you broke. You can't just walk around adversely affecting other peoples' lives, and then shouting, "Let that be a lesson to you about the impermanence and fragility of all things, random stranger!” as you disappear into the night. When you're exchanging information with someone after a car accident, you can't just hand them a scrap of paper on which you have scrawled "C'est la vie!"
As for this:
More specifically, I thought it was ridiculous that the man asked to be paid back and that my roommate felt obligated to pay him (as opposed to my roommate offering the money out of his own volition as a sympathetic gesture).
Do you mean to imply that the situation was ridiculous only because the man asked for payment, and that it would not have been ridiculous if your roommate had simply offered payment, unasked? That is ridiculous! That is nonsensical. You’re fine with this guy receiving reimbursement, but only if your roommate offers it? The act of the injured party’s vocal cords vibrating to form a request of payment renders the situation ridiculous? I think we’ve already established that your roommate was never going to offer to pay him, by virtue of the fact that he did not do that. If this guy had waited for your roommate to make an offer to pay him, he would be waiting there still, a small puddle of gin drying rapidly at his feet.
Speaking of which: always be sure to sniff the puddle before paying up, because filling empty gin bottles with water and then hitting up strangers for payment when they "make" you drop them is a smooth way to make a quick $20. Gin and water look a lot alike, but only one of them will produce a puddle that smells like gin when you smash a bottle of it on the street.