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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Since the semester started, there have been 12 fights. I'm afraid someone will try to pick a fight with me just for the fun of it.

I have never had to fight before and never want to. I never start trouble, but if someone tries to pick a fight with me, I won't know what to do.

How do I avoid being in a fight without looking like a wimp or having to suck up to people? I don't want to back down in front of everyone either. Please help me. -- WORRIED IN TEXAS

DEAR WORRIED: It's time to sign up for some lessons in self-defense -- judo, boxing or tae kwon do -- so if you have to protect yourself you will be able to. You may never have to use what you learn, but having the know-how will build your confidence. Once you know you can defend yourself, you will appear less afraid. Bullies usually avoid people who are not afraid of them. They prefer easy targets. Good luck.

DEAR ABBY: I wonder if it would be too much to ask to have salespeople and other businesspeople speak a little more slowly and clearly? I wish there were something I could wear, like a pink button or something, to show that I can hear, but not very well. People who can't see have the white-tipped canes, so why not something for those of us who have difficulty hearing?

I have gone the route of hearing aids, but all they do is amplify the sound. They do nothing to clarify it.

Many large businesses like Sears, J.C. Penney, etc. employ young girls with accents who speak in very high-pitched tones that are impossible to hear, and they usually get angry if you ask them to repeat themselves.

It's just a thought, but if someone could think of a universal signal to let people know they have trouble hearing, a great number of people would thank you. -- BETTYE MEEKER, MCKENZIE BRIDGE, ORE.

DEAR BETTYE: Many people have some degree of hearing loss, which is nothing to be ashamed of. The solution to your problem would be to simply tell the salespeople (or strangers) that you have a slight hearing loss and would appreciate it if they would speak a little slower and more distinctly.

DEAR ABBY: I have noted several "random acts of kindness" mentioned in your column lately, and thought you might appreciate what we, as employee/owners of Phelps County Bank, are doing.

We are divided into 12 groups, and each group has been assigned a month with one day designated "Random Acts of Kindness Day." In January, the group went out to highway construction sites and served hot chocolate to the snow removal crews. The February group arrived early in the morning at the Veterans Hospital in St. James, Mo., and baked chocolate chip cookies and visited with the residents. Our March employee/owners went to the local fire stations and brought them goodies.

Every time a group goes out, the rest of us wear our "Random Acts of Kindness" shirts. It tells the citizens of Rolla that Phelps County Bank, their employee-owned community bank, is again thanking them for their support. It's a great way to help the community while contributing to it through public service. -- KAREN DOPHER, ROLLA, MO.

DEAR KAREN: Hats off to the employee/owners of Phelps County Bank! If I lived in Rolla, I'd put my money in your bank.

For Abby's favorite family recipes, send a long, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Cookbooklet No. 1, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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