A kickstand and random acts of meanness

By Wickham Boyle

On occasion I see those bumper stickers that exhort us to “Practice random acts of kindness.” They always make me consider if I have done anything recently just to be kind, a good neighbor or whatever the current parlance is.

Certainly all the religious texts encourage their followers to be kind, do unto others and practice kindness. Sometimes we are told to do it so that goodness will come back to us tenfold or to garner a place in the next world. Often we are told that there is an invisible tally kept by some omniscient being and in our final moments we will have a quick accounting and be praised or damned.

I am a fallen Catholic; a kid who was kicked out of Scared Heart School in sixth grade. I believe this occurred largely because I was a very raucous tomboy who questioned everything. Sister Mary Rose, my hapless teacher, who herself had no more than a sixth grade education, was poorly prepared for me. I used the boys bathroom and played on all the boys’ teams. But I finished her off with my finely honed diatribe of anti-Catholicism that ran counter to the idea of goodness and heaven. I reasoned aloud in front of the entire class that if I could not bare being in sixth grade with the likes of Peggy and Richard, whose goody-goody attitude and outright toadiness was appalling to me, why in the name of anything that was holy, would I want to spend eternity with them. I believed at 12, that I had to do whatever I could to be rejected at the gates of heaven, because that was where all the stultifying, boring perpetually praying people were destined to end up.

No, I would go to Hell with Michael Barone, Ivy and Fran Savarese and with my father, Billy Boyle, who swore all the time, but would let me drive the car when he was drunk. This was the crowd who stole from the candy store, slid into second base in skirts rolled up to show scarred knees, read “East of Eden” and drove foreign cars. These were my people.

Then in my forties I discovered and began to notice Karma. I began to read those bumper stickers that wanted me to practice random acts of kindness, and to practice them long enough presumably to get good at them. And I started to be more aware of what I said that was hurtful, and where I was dishonest and what I could do as a minor player to help the world be a little kinder, rather than meaner.

Today when I came out of the gym I noticed that the kickstand on my bike had been sawed off. It was there when I parked it, and in the two hours I was sweating, trying to find my melting center, someone had sawed it off. The kickstand was not totally removed, so it couldn’t be used for another bike or even sold by a desperate person needing a fix. It was hacked off, and it took a good amount of work to cut and saw through metal and let me add; it was raining today. I didn’t park in front of anyone else’s bike or store or walkway. In fact I parked attached to a pole, in the same spot I use twice a week.As I rode back down Seventh Ave. I mused that I had been the recipient of a random act of meanness. I had never seen a bumper sticker or T-shirt that encouraged random acts of meanness, but perhaps with our world becoming so polarized, there now exists a cult of meanness practicing acts in order to move up the evil hierarchy.

I am wondering if tonight in some cult meeting, a member will step up, wanting to share their fabulous act and be applauded by all the mean cultists. It did make me cry, but I was having one of those days where the rain is a good cover for what I have come to call emotional storms. I felt incredibly hurt by the cutting of my kickstand. I have a very difficult time understanding deep meanness; kids who hurt animals, men who smack women, moms who ignore babies, and societies that leave people hungry or sick while others loll in luxury. Am I naive or is there a cult practicing these random acts of meanness? How do I park my bike and further how do we all protect ourselves from their random violence?

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