Way up here, we stand on shoulders

mail500.jpeg
Poste Maroc, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

I found this post languishing in my Drafts folder, dated nearly 2 years ago. You all seemed to enjoy my previous post on Open Letters to My Fellow Commuters so much, I thought I would post something similar again, this time open letters to a series of people I’ve encountered or appreciated.

Dear Butcher at Indus Market on San Pablo Ave., Berkeley:
Remember me? I’m the girl who wandered in a minute before closing, on the Friday evening before a long weekend, and announced, “I need ten pounds of ground beef and ten pounds of chicken breast, in two-pound bags, please.” Thank you for being so patient about my order, even though I have no doubt that in your head you were relegating me to a special place in hell. Thank you for also being sweet enough to carry all twenty pounds of meat to the front counter for me, so I could pay there. I’m stubborn enough to have insisted on picking up the bags and lugging them around myself — but the meat counter was too tall and I couldn’t reach them. Please consider installing a pulley or something for short people like me.

Dear Gil Scott-Heron:
Stop snorting cocaine and getting arrested, and please go back to making beautiful, hard-hitting music.
Note: Soon after I initially jotted down this note, Gil Scott-Heron died in May2011 of undisclosed causes.

Dear (would-be) gentlemen:
You don’t have to pull out chairs for me. (Although I’m sure plenty of other women may appreciate this. See, I never know how to gracefully fold myself into a chair pulled out and held by someone else.) But holding doors open is always lovely and highly necessary. And don’t walk in front of me, if we’re hanging out together. I hate that — I don’t care if your legs are freakin’ longer than mine. Also: Tip well. I believe anything less than 20% is completely unacceptable, unless the service was terrible. Finally, when you’re dropping off a woman, stick around just long enough to ensure she enters the building safely, before you drive off. It’s a classy and chivalrous thing to do. Feminism is grand, but that doesn’t mean you should be any less a gentleman. It’s about common courtesy, and basic respect. Keep it up.

Dear man selling handmade earrings on Shattuck Ave., downtown Berkeley:
You’re going to make me broke if I keep spending my bus/train money on your wares, all that beautiful plastic, wood, metal, and string creatively welded by your hands.

Dear little girl:
I think you must have been 7 years old, but I could be wrong. Regardless, on the days when my nose looks too big (or too crooked) for my face, or I’m not as tall as models and mannequins suggest I should be, or my eyebrows are unruly as if prepared for war, I think of how you skipped right up to me one afternoon in my beloved N’s kitchen, stared me in the eye, and exclaimed, “You’re so pretty, mashaAllah!” before skipping away again. Anyone who hopes to win me over with flattery would be hard-pressed to compete with your innocent yet sincerely-delivered compliment. And that’s the thing — you were so sincere, it was clear you told the truth. Years later, I still remember this encounter and believe your words. Thank you — and a thankyou to your parents, too, for raising you so beautifully. You’re so pretty, too — not only on the outside, but on the inside, where it counts.

Dear guys at Copy Central in downtown Berkeley:
You’re the best. Thanks for always dealing with my print orders on such short notice and with such rocking quality — this goes both for my professional projects as well as personal ones such as wedding invitations — and for having the most amazing turnaround time in the whole Bay Area. And for shouting out my name whenever I enter your shop.

Dear hot chocolate:
Thank you for warming my hands and uncoiling the lump in my throat on too many days to count.

Dear newspaper man at the El Cerrito del Norte BART station:
I have a confession to make: I rarely buy print news anymore — but sometimes I do, just to see you smile. I wonder what your story is, how old you are, how long you’ve been selling newspapers, what the process is for setting up a table directly inside the train station, how early you get there in the mornings. At an age where it seems you should be relaxing at home and playing with your grandchildren, you’re instead selling papers. Some mornings, you look awfully tired, and the lines on your face are more pronounced. But then someone walks by, and you nod in greeting, and flash that amazing smile that lights up your face. Next time, I will ask for your name.

Dear people who think it’s perfectly acceptable to reply with “Yeah” when I say “Thankyou”:
You’re rude. Also: Stop it.

Dear foxycart:
I still remember that when I pointed out that your email about scheduled maintenance/system downtime referenced October rather than November, you took my corrections graciously. Thankyou for immediately sending out a corrected email to the masses, and a separate note to me that read:

Hi Yasmine.

We’re really sorry. We proofread it internally, and even had a 3rd party proofread it. Clearly we need a better proofreading plan.

Or a time machine.

We realize that for an error like that to occur on an email describing a major change perhaps isn’t confidence-inspiring, but please rest assured that this migration is expected to go smoothly.

Best,
B

I love that there are real-deal humans (with a sense of humor, no less!) behind all the technology and machinery. You have rocking good customer service.

Dear people who rush from the platform into the train before those who need to exit can do so:
Stop it. You clearly don’t know proper public-transport etiquette. Also: You must be related to those who don’t understand the concept of “stand right, walk left” on escalators.

Dear people at Au Coquelet:
There are only four electrical outlets, and they’re placed in such a way that only the lucky four of you who snag those tables can access them. I tried sitting five feet away and plugging my MacBook cord into one of your open outlets once, and everyone in the vicinity gave me a dirty look because they feared someone walking by would trip over my cord (rightfully so). So I good-naturedly unplugged my cord, and retreated back to my only-half-charged laptop, deciding I was okay with this.

What I was not okay with was looking up several minutes later to realize that you — yes, you, one of those who sit at the lucky four tables — was doing nothing more amazingly important than browsing Facebook. I was writing a final paper that, at that point, was 22 pages long. I would have loved an outlet! And you, with your laptop plugged in and charging away, were just clicking through your Facebook minifeed. I frowned and sent black vibes your way, without being too obvious about it, and was relieved when you packed up and left half an hour later. I promptly shifted all my stuff over to your abandoned table, sat down, plugged in my MacBook — and began writing a blog post.

Dear people who answer their phone with “Hello?” as if they don’t know who it is that’s calling:
I know you know it’s I! What’s with this questioning “hello?” I expect personal greetings, dammit! Also: If you don’t leave a voicemail, I will never return your phonecall.

Dear Damien Rice:
I love your songs, and have absolutely no idea what you look like, or what your story is. Thankyou for reminding me that your music — and my appreciation for it — should have nothing to do with your looks. (Although now I’m tempted to Wikipedia you.)

Dear Benicia Public Library:
Thankyou for having comfy couches in front of a fireplace. Could I stay forever, please?

Dear Mills College library:
Thankyou for floor-to-ceiling windows that make me feel like I’m in a forest, and for work-stations that actually make me productive.

Dear Walnut Creek library:
Thankyou for restrooms that smell so delicious, I feel like I’m at a spa.

Dear opera-singing girl standing in front of the downtown Berkeley BART:
You looked relatively well-dressed in your polka-dotted dress and flats — were you a Cal student? I wanted to ask where you got your stylish coat. It was a drizzly afternoon, but the rain didn’t faze you, and you sang beautifully, eyes closed, not even watching the people who stopped for your voice.

6 thoughts on “Way up here, we stand on shoulders

  1. I was so excited to finally see some sunshine being swept, I practically ran through the post devouring every word voraciously – if indeed one can devour words voraciously. It is absolutely lovely how you pay attention to and are able to remember all the people you randomly run into, and it is even lovelier that you have these little conversations with them – often without them knowing about it.

    Have I ever mentioned how big a fan I am of your writing, and have been for some 8 years now?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>