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Kind Acts Tell This Cynic a Thing or Two

Every now and then while writing this column, the cynic in me is put in her place.

Politicians, unfortunately, rarely do it. Neither do small people hiding behind large titles, or anybody who confuses being mean and nasty with “just looking out for No. 1.”

Such people can make the cynic in me bloom. Everybody’s got an angle; listen closely for the sound of an ax being ground.

And then I find out that the cynic can be wrong.

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Last week, I wrote about Jenny, a mother in Irvine who is trying very hard to do what is best for her three kids. Irvine is a better place than most to do just that. Good schools, low crime, lots of parks; Irvine is very nice.

Except Jenny, with a college master’s degree, is poor and unemployed. She is a former battered wife, on welfare for six years. This makes Jenny feel ashamed in a place like Irvine. Her children, two boys and a girl, feel this too.

All of which, the cynic might say, is fine, just fine. I mean, my God , haven’t we heard quite enough about the poor? One Irvine lawyer wrote me this:

“The Irvine woman feels that she is entitled to live in Irvine. . . . When the Irvine woman’s kids grow up, they will believe that they are entitled to an ocean-view condo in Newport Beach and a Mercedes . . . and without challenging those beliefs, a columnist in the next generation will put it in a column in the newspaper and people will read it and they will believe it!”

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But this is a reaction that I expected. (Who is more cynical? Me or the lawyer quoted here?)

Yet such reactions to my column about Jenny were rare.

Far more typical of the calls I received was that of a Huntington Beach man who wanted to pay for the expensive dress that Jenny bought, on time, for her daughter to wear when she graduated from the sixth grade.

The $144 dress was an impulse buy, an extravagant gesture that cost what it may, went a long way toward bolstering a girl’s self-esteem.

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The Huntington Beach man told me that he felt lucky to be able to give. He hasn’t always been able to part with such a sum. He wanted to give anonymously, as did seven other people who called wanting to pay for the same dress. So I was put in the position of having to choose who could write the check.

(The winner was whoever I got ahold of first. One realtor spoke to me from her car phone. She was near my office. Couldn’t she please just stop by and write out a check?

(Another money order arrived in the mail. The note accompanying it said that if Jenny wanted to say thank you, “tell her to try to lay off smoking.” It was signed “An Irvine friend.”)

Many other people called too. One man, from Irvine, wanted to pay for Little League for Jenny’s 7-year-old boy. The reason? Simple. He has a son, too. Another woman offered furniture, several people offered clothes. A woman in Leisure World had a nearly new sofa bed in her living room--"no one visits me anymore"--that she thought Jenny’s family could use.

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And, most important to Jenny, there were many leads on jobs.

Jenny is extremely grateful and very surprised. And, more true confessions, so am I. The unexpected kindness of strangers is often the very best kind.

Other recent columns, too, have shown that the people of Orange County ain’t half bad. Among the readers calling after reading about Randi Weber were two family law attorneys offering free legal help. Randi, who is very ill with AIDS, recently got the short end of a divorce and now may lose her house.

Randi just wants to stay put; she wants to die at home.

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I’m finding out that people love to make a difference. Many just need to be given suggestions on how. Volunteering is big. People call all the time asking how they can help. I give out what information I can.

Sometimes, people will call sounding a bit ill at ease. They’ve never phoned anyone from the newspaper before, is what they say.

A Marine called not long ago. He had read what I’d written about Jennifer Dawson, a 3-year-old who nearly drowned in her back yard pool. Jennifer cannot talk or move. Her doctors had advised her mother to just let her die.

The Marine said that he plays in a band. Maybe he could make Jennifer a tape? He asked me what songs Jennifer might like. Another woman, a physical therapist, said that she believes in the laying on of hands. She had a prayer cloth for Jennifer that she thought might help.

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An executive of Disney Productions read that column too. He asked actress Jody Benson, who plays the Little Mermaid, if she could visit Jennifer at home; “Ariel” said that she would. She is due to stop by as soon as she returns from London next month.

I have many other examples of straightforward kindness from readers who have been moved to offer their help in whatever way they can. There are too many to list here. But I just wanted to let everybody know.

And to say thank you very much.

Dianne Klein’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Readers may reach Klein by writing to her at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626, or calling (714) 966-7406.

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