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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Your advice was on target to "Grandmother of Five in North Texas," who warned the woman on her cell phone in the restaurant that important information overheard by the wrong person could endanger her daughters at home.

My wealthy uncle was dining out with friends one night when he mentioned an upcoming trip out of town. He also shared a funny anecdote about his housekeeper, and a story about how the cleaners had ruined his favorite suit. Little did he know the man in the next booth was a drug addict and was hearing every word he said.

The eavesdropper followed my uncle home to find out where he lived, then returned when he knew my uncle would be out of town. The man acquainted himself with the housekeeper by teasing her about the funny incident my uncle had mentioned -- and brought over a suit he claimed the cleaners had repaired. He told the housekeeper he had been invited by my uncle to stay a few days, and she fell for it!

He then took over the house, and when a neighbor grew suspicious and called the police, the intruder convinced them the house was his and that my uncle was delusional and had been hassling him.

My uncle finally had to go to court to prove the house was his. By that time, the addict had nearly destroyed the house and had wrecked my uncle's car. Believe me, Abby, the worst CAN happen. A house and car can be repaired, but precious children cannot. Sign me ... CAUTIOUS IN WASHINGTON STATE

DEAR CAUTIOUS: That's a chilling story. However, not all of my readers viewed that letter from the same perspective. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: "Grandmother of Five in North Texas" was surprised that the woman cell phone talker, her husband, and "Grandmother's" own husband were upset with her for speaking up. She asked, "Don't people care about one another anymore?" Something I have never seen in your column is a principle I learned many years ago and teach to my psychotherapy clients: "Help that isn't asked for never works."

Unsolicited advice -- no matter how well-meaning -- usually flies back in a person's face if he or she doesn't have agreement from the receiver that the help is wanted. An easy way to determine if it IS wanted is to say something like, "I have some feedback for you -- would you like to hear it?" If the other person says anything other than a clear "yes," consider it a "no" and do not offer it.

We all learn through experience. Some people derive more from experience in their learning process than others. The woman in the restaurant clearly did not want "Grandmother's" help. Since she is good at writing, perhaps a better thing for her to do next time would be to submit a letter to the editor of her local newspaper.

"Grandmother's" insight was helpful to me -- I learned something I never considered before. However, she needs to stop wasting good information on those who don't want it. -- ILENE L. DILLON, L.C.S.W., KENTFIELD, CALIF.

DEAR ILENE: You're absolutely right. And I particularly like your suggestion about writing a letter to the editor to warn others if the situation warrants it. For another "take," read on:

DEAR ABBY: The grandmother's tale reminded me of the story about a man driving from Toronto to Quebec who stopped at a rest stop.

When he entered the men's room, he saw that the first stall was taken, so he proceeded to the second and was no sooner seated than he heard someone in the next stall call out, "Hi, how 'ya doin'?"

The traveler, not used to conversing with strangers in rest rooms, replied hesitantly, "Not bad." The stranger then asked, "What have you been up to?" The traveler answered, "Well, like you, I'm driving east."

A moment later he heard the stranger in an irritated voice say, "Look, I'll call you right back -- some idiot in the next stall is answering all the questions I'm asking YOU!" -- ANOTHER TEXAN

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