Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 04.23.06
Stanstead, Quebec


OK, but whatever happened to 'Dibs on that!'

It's not entirely clear to me what is meant by "possession is nine-tenths of the law" but I'm pretty sure it has nothing to do with class-action suits against shoddy exorcisms. I think it means the fighting over who owns what.

With that in mind, what a better world it might be if only we followed a simple method of determining property rights known as "calling it."

My children are pros at this method, using it to lay claim to everything from food items to travel seating.

"I call the seat next to Abby on the way," one will shout - let's call her Caller A - as we prepare to leave on a journey. (The key is to say it very fast: "IcalltheseatnexttoAbby!" It seems to reinforce the urgency and authenticity of ownership.)

"I call it on the way back," Caller B will reply.

Why the older siblings vie for the seat next to the 4-year-old is beyond me but it has been that way since she was born. I suspect it's because she is more likely to have food thrown her way that might ricochet off into their laps.

Or maybe it's because she usually has more props (a minimum of two purses), which could come in handy during a long boring drive. Whatever the reason, they call it.

"Calling it" is almost never challenged. Even if Caller A has sat in the seat next to Abby for the last five outings, the fact that she called it first is binding.

At the same time, there is an unwritten rule of fairness.

Caller A can't say, "I call the seat next to Abby going and returning."

No, that would be an illegal call and would render Caller A's entire claim null and void.

One of the few areas for possible conflict is determining what constitutes "on the way" or "the way back."

What happens, for example, if on the way back there is a pit stop at the pharmacy to pick up Dad's latest round of psychotropic drugs? What happens when Caller B vacates his called seat to attend to the errand and then returns to continue his journey?

Often, Caller A will try to reclaim the called seat, arguing that vacating said seat renders it eligible for a new call.

Such situations sometimes require the intervention of a third-party mediator, namely me.

"Get in the van now," I suggest.

"But she's in my seat," Caller B submits.

"You left," Caller A retorts.

"I don't care. I called it," Caller B rebuts.

Stalemate requires swift intervention.

"Neither of you are sitting there. Now get in back," I declare and we drive on, secure in the knowledge that the "call" system has been saved from irrevocable damage.

"Jerk," Caller A mutters to Caller B.

"Shut up," replies Caller B.

"Don't make me pull over," I conclude.

Surely such a virtually infallible system of claim could be used in other realms. I can see it working beautifully, for instance, in divorce proceedings as couples divide their assets:

"I call the SUV and the condo in Barbados," Spouse A would say.

"I call the house and the kids every second weekend and holidays," Spouse B would reply.

Lawyers would still have to be on hand to ensure equality in the calling process.

"I'm sorry but your client can't call both the DVD player and the stereo. Under Statute 5, Article IV of the Salt Lake City Protocol on Calling Provisions, that is considered 'totally not fair.'"

Calling it could be used on the global stage as well, playing a critical role for a revitalized UN:

"All right, that's enough fighting. Israel, Palestine: who called Gaza first? Be honest, now."

And how different things might have been if in 2000 Al Gore had been quick and bright enough simply to say, "I call it!"

It's so simple, it just might work.

Next week we'll look at the health benefits of blowing germs off foods that fall on the floor and the socio-political ramifications of the Three-Second Rule.