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DEAR ABBY: This is in reference to "In a Quandary" -- the person who saw an older woman who resides in a retirement home shoplift a couple of inexpensive items (a lipstick and bottle of nail polish) in a shopping center store.

As a court reporter for more than 20 years, I have seen it demonstrated over and over that shoplifting is very often a sign of stress -- especially in older people. It covers all social strata: movie stars, executives -- people with plenty of money in their pockets at the time. A little investigation will usually uncover the recent death of a spouse, illness, depression or some other emotional distress.

The same is true of exhibitionists -- as in the case of Pee-wee Herman, for example. I couldn't believe that no one came forward with this bit of information. Check it out. We need to put our arms around these people and ask, "What's the problem?"

To haul them out publicly and label them "criminals" is ignorant and unsympathetic. -- KAY D., SAN FRANCISCO

DEAR KAY: Orchids to you for pointing out that good people will often behave uncharacteristically under pressure or stress.

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