Category Archives: Conversations and Encounters

But I don’t want to write a love song for the world

post office errands
Post office errands, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

3 Beautiful Things, the downtown Berkeley post office edition

I. One morning, I was at the post office and somehow got into a conversation about languages with the woman at the counter who was helping me with my express-mail packages. And she told me that her now-29years-old grandson, almost 30, asked when he was 5 and they went out to dinner and saw a family who was communicating in sign language: “Mama Rita, are they speaking Spanish?”

And I, who have dreamed for years about one day learning to sign, couldn’t help but smile for reasons she probably wouldn’t have even guessed.

II. Another day, my co-worker and I ended up at the post office during our noon lunch-break, when, of course, the entire rest of the world who works in downtown Berkeley had the same brilliant idea. It was busy and crowded, our flimsy little ticket had the number 90 printed on it, and there were already 30 people in line ahead of us.

“God, I hate the post office,” I grumbled to R as the inexpressive employees at each window called people up one number at a time. There’s a reason why some consider visiting this post office to be equivalent to time and space travel to the Eastern Bloc, circa 1970.

No one got up, but people shuffled their feet impatiently.

No one moved.


“80!” shouted a man sitting on one of the benches against the wall, waving his numbered ticket in the air.

“80!” said the woman at the window.

The entire building erupted in whistles, cheers, and applause as the man raised his fists in success and victory-walked to the window.

Everyone around me was smiling as we watched the lucky man swagger across the room, and I was laughing so hard I could feel my face turning red. “This is why I…freakin’ love…Berkeley!” I gasped to R.

“It’s like they called the winning number, and he won the lottery!” she exclaimed.

III. One afternoon, just as I settled on a bench with yet another numbered ticket, I felt a light punch on my shoulder, and turned around to find Nipun at the post office. I gawked. I know he and Guri live in Berkeley, but to run into him outside our usual context of Silicon Valley was mind-boggling.

“What are you doing here?!” we both exclaimed.

In the midst of catching up, I told him about the organization for which I now work, and how it’s an exciting time to be at the place, since it’s going through some great projects and transformations. “So they brought in Yaznotjaz to handle it, eh?” he grinned.

“Yeah! And, dude, I’ve already got half the staff saying ‘rockstar’ and giving highfives!”

We talked about the Wednesdays, and I mentioned we’d just moved, which is another reason to add to my list of reasons for having missed months worth of the beautifully soothing Wednesdays.

He squinted at me uncertainly. “Who’s ‘we’?”

I laughed. “The parents and I, that’s all. No, there’s no one exciting in the ‘we’ usage.”

He looked disappointed, and I laughed again. “Find me a rockstar, and there’ll be a ‘we’!”

“Should I put the word out in the community? I’ll have to blog about this, you know.”

I left the post office still giggling, and when I slowly strolled down the block back to my office, I sighted a pistachio-colored vespa – my latest favorite – parked in front of the building, and decided the day couldn’t get any better.

I think the shade of you is on the brink/of changing all the ways I see the world

Purple at Casa420, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Walking out of work the other evening, I crossed paths yet again with everyone’s favorite security guard, he of the 86,400 seconds in a day.

As I strode past, he called out after me, “Purple is in!”

I turned back, confused. “Oh?”

“Yeah! Didn’t you know that? Purple is the color of the year!”

I laughed. “Well, clearly I’m off to a good start, then!”

This exchange, albeit brief, got me thinking about my style, which rarely follows the latest trends. I like wearing dark nailpolishes even in summer (on the extremely rare occasions I can actually manage to be non-lazy enough to paint my nails), and I hate skinny jeans, and I never know anything about the color of the year. On this particular day, I was wearing a pink dress, jeans, red shoes, and a blue-purple headwrap.

I have a lot of scarves, all organized by color in a dozen clear drawers for easy reference. Approximately thirty seconds of every morning are spent trying to figure out which scarf to wear; if I’m running late (as I usually am), I strategize this while in the shower.

Shoes are secondary. I never base an outfit around shoes, which is probably why I wear the same two pairs over and over. My main rule for shoes (except for fancy-schmancy high-heels which I wear to weddings or professional events and then promptly take off in the parking lot afterward) is based off this simple question: Would I be able to spend a day walking around the City in these? Granted, I’m not in San Francisco all the time. But any shoes that can withstand a day-long session of meandering through city streets (whether Berkeley, DC, Toronto, or Toledo) and up and down steep inclines (oh, hi, San Francisco and Granada and Fez) are the ones I want — and so far this has always meant flats and flip-flops. I may be short, but I’d rather be short and comfortable.

My only rule for pants of any sort: They must flare out from the knee. The wider the flare, the better, which is why I lovelovelove bell-bottoms.

A couple of years ago, my boss at my last job once scrutinized my outfit, head cocked to one side, and asked, “So, can you explain to me the thought process that goes through your head every morning when you’re getting dressed?”

I glanced down: Red dress, dark-pink tshirt, black cargo pants, my favorite gray sweater, unzipped. “What’s up with the way I’m dressed?”

“Nothing,” she said. “It’s just that I would never have thought of wearing those two shades together, but somehow you pull it off. And the headwrap just pulls it all together. And the earrings!”

Like much of the rest of the world, I, too, roll out of bed in the mornings after hitting ‘snooze’ too many times and stumble bleary-eyed towards the closet. Some days, the “What should I wear?” question is so overwhelming that I just opt for the most reliable combination of items. There are several things I wear together over and over, because I know they work. Other days, I spend a few extra minutes on this. But regardless of how long it takes to pull an outfit together, rarely do I not make the effort to get ready — even if it’s the weekend and I’m just going to be sitting on the couch, watching old Hindi films. I love pajamas just as much as the next person — but only at night.

And, of course, there are a few “rules” I swear by. Here, then, is a little bit of my methodology, for those of you who may be interested as well.
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Nobody said it would be easy now/we live in a lucky town

Basically, I have a slight obsession with bright colors and leading lines
Public library, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

It’s afternoon, and I’m sitting inside a coffeeshop, right beside the large window overlooking the street. I’ve been here for hours, watching the way the light shifts and feeling the sunshine and shadows spill across my table.

The two men sitting right outside my window seem to know nearly every other person who walks by, and I’m intrigued and a little bit jealous. It’s a mid-size city that they’ve managed to imbue with a small-town feel, just in the past couple of hours of sitting out at the sidewalk table. How do they know everyone, and seem to fit in here so seamlessly? Ten years back in this city (wow), and I have only one friend who lives here.

Note to self: Find some good food places around here, and stop hanging out in Berkeley so much.

Actually, ignore that part about Berkeley. Not happening.

Forks were invented for a purpose

For Hashim: The better to stab you with
The better to stab you with, originally uploaded to flickr by yaznotjaz.

Last night, I joined ZMan and my sister and our friend F in Berkeley for dinner and dessert (gelato!) and a catching-up session. I’d not seen Z since our South Bay dinner back in November, and we decided it must have been a year (or even two) since I’d crossed paths with F.

The sister hadn’t been able to resist & refuse the Half Price Books down the street, so she came armed to dinner with a bunch of rocking books (including much poetry! and headwrap photos!) for us to flip through. Z was the mastermind (I mean, muthafuckle) behind this gathering, and celebrated his temporary return to Berkeley by calling us together on good ol’ Shattuck. Thanks to GChat, it didn’t even feel like it’d been so long since we last met. And F – well, F is by turns caustic, sarcastic, and hilariously inappropriate. Some people just never change, even though he would defensively retort, “No, I’m not!” whenever we groaned at his jokes and said, “Oh, F, you’re still exactly the same.”

Midway through the evening, after he had figured out I’m 27 years old, his response was basically along the lines of Whoa, you really need to get married. I just rolled my eyes and laughed, and F added with a wink and suggestive glance, “May you should just marry me.”

“Umm, you’re younger than I am.”

“But I’m taller!”

End of the evening: “Yasmine, let’s make a pact. If you’re not married in a year, I’ll let you be my second wife.”

“Dude,” I said, “what makes YOU think you’ll even have a FIRST wife in one month…err, I mean, one year?”

F: “I can get a wife in one month!”

I came home and changed my GMail status to:

still laughing about F telling me i need to marry a “rich man with a big army.”

As always, I love it when friends chime in with their own commentary:

Here’s HijabMan:

HMan: you do :)
BIG army.
china big.
not guam big.
me: hahahaha
WHY do i need an army?!
HMan: stabbing lessons.
me: ahhh, that’s right
so i can train the army, and then they can conduct the stabbing sessions for me, wherever necessary

Here’s fathima:

so when you say something that belies your height and someone demands “yeah, you and whose army,” you can be all, “my husband’s! that’s whose!”
and then make feminists cry

Here’s Adnan:

but then he’ll go out and marry a richer man, with a bigger army.
let him marry first, so you can get the last laugh.

Here’s Anjum:

Anjum: dude
you do not need a big army for that.
you need a ninja army for that!!
c’mon yaara
for ultra secret stabbing
this is why you should listen to me always
not HMan
well, let me know when you get an army
cuz i am a ninja in training.
me: you are SO my first recruit!
Anjum: success!


And one last, hilarious memory of last night’s dinner, a disapproving comment from F, who refuses to engage in physical contact and only gives me “air highfives” (and that, too, only after I harassed him): “If you’re going to go around highfiving guys, you might as well move on to dating them.”

This, coming from a guy whose conversation is peppered with double entendres. I was so flabbergasted, I really had no response.

One morning, I woke up and I was suddenly twelve feet tall

One morning, I woke up and I was suddenly twelve feet tall
Originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Last Wednesday, I went to a Mohja Kahf poetry reading at Mudraker’s in Berkeley (it was rocking, by the way!), and ended up seeing some old buddies and making a couple of new friends. One guy I shook hands with towards the end of the evening exclaimed, “You have a really firm handshake!”

I laughed. “I get that a lot.”

His friend said, surprised, “Oh, yeah?”

“Here, I’ll shake your hand, too, so you can see.” So, I did.

“Really strong!”

“I have to compensate for my short height in some way, you know,” I joked. “At least I have strong handshakes.”

A few minutes later, the first hand-shaker asked curiously, “How old are you?”

“How old do you think I am?”

He thought about it for a minute, then confessed, “I can’t really tell. You’re short.”

SIGH. As my friend, Hashim, says of my photography, “You seem to be looking up a lot (trees towards sky) – or down (at grates or odd pink cemented things). This implies you are short…”

Someday, I will grow up to be tall, and Hashim will stop making basketball-related jokes at my expense, bastid. One can only hope. Meanwhile, I’m content with lots of fist-shaking.