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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | VENTURA COUNTY LIFE

Kindness Is Giving Just Dessert

October 18, 2000|STEVE CHAWKINS

She sat alone in the midafternoon torpor of an all-but-empty Ventura cafe.

An older woman, she was reading a romance novel over a cup of coffee. Nothing about her looked particularly needy, but an air of melancholy hung over her table, and you never know when someone can use a little bucking up.

So I did what anyone who has read the current agenda of the Port Hueneme City Council would have done. I hailed the waitress and said, "I want to buy a tapioca pudding for that lady in the booth. "

The Port Hueneme council is not looking at tapioca, specifically. But tonight it will vote on a measure declaring the second week in November "Random Acts of Kindness Week." The proclamation, engineered by the Denver-based Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, also is to be considered by a number of other local governments, which will be asked to put their full faith and credit behind big smiles, spontaneous hugs, cordial No,-I-insist-after-you's on the freeways, handing out M & Ms with change, whatever feels right.

Mayor Murray Rosenbluth anticipates no opposition.

"Who could be against kindness?" he asked.

Well . . . not me.

I think it would be unkind to suggest that a week devoted to kindness could make it seem as if day-to-day life is more brutal than it really is, and people more indifferent to the suffering of others than they really are.

After all, citizens have been performing random acts of kindness long before the bumper sticker ever told them to. People who fall down on the street are usually helped up, not kicked. Drivers with flat tires are more often helped than mugged by passing motorists. And supermarket cashiers these days always ask if you "need any help" out to the parking lot.

(When I first heard that, I admit, I thought it was ham-handed sarcasm: Do I look like I need help with a 5-pound sack of cat food and a can of tuna? What are you, a comedian?)

But with a kindly spirit, I won't dwell on petty objections. Because, frankly, I think there's a value in reiterating the obvious, no matter how air-headed it sounds: Kindness is good. It's good to be kind. And if I hadn't read the Port Hueneme plan to endorse kindness, I wouldn't have been emboldened to make the tapioca offer that you started to read about, oh, 10 or 12 paragraphs ago.

The waitress reacted without betraying surprise, as if to say, "Oui, monsieur, we have seen every act in the fantastic human comedy and we are quite accustomed to strangers purchasing cool, deep, soothing bowls of pudding for one another."

"Whipped cream on that?" she asked.

"Sure. And a cherry on top."

There's a certain excitement in such transactions, because you never know what to expect. Buy a drink for a stranger in a bar and he'll hoist his glass in appreciation. But buy a bowl of tapioca for a stranger in a cafe, and she might just come over and tell the painful story of her life, more poignant than a blues refrain. Or she might decline the pudding politely, citing lactose-intolerance. If she were both lactose-intolerant and insane, she might come over with her face squeezed up like a fist, bellowing: "You trying to kill me, you miserable piece of meat?"

But none of that happened. The woman demurely remained in her booth; after all, she might not have had any desire to hear my painful stories. But she conveyed her thanks through the waitress, saying nothing like this had ever happened to her before.

"Maybe today will be my lucky day," she said.

By that I don't have a clue as to whether she meant finding $5 on the sidewalk or something more substantial, like rising to No. 1 on the heart-transplant list. Maybe she meant it generically: Now something good--who knows what--will come my way, she might have figured, in her post-pudding indolence.

I don't know what she was thinking. I just know that a day when you give a stranger a bowl of hope with a cherry on top is not a day altogether wasted.

*

Steve Chawkins can be reached at 653-7561 or at steve.chawkins@latimes.com.

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