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DEAR ABBY: Last night, my husband and I had dinner at the only "good" restaurant in our small town. Seated at the table behind us was a couple with three small children. During our entire meal, those children screamed and carried on -- while their parents did nothing. The disruption was so incessant that another couple walked out without finishing their dinner.

The manager offered to seat us elsewhere, but the children's high-pitched voices could be heard throughout the place. I repeatedly looked over at the parents, and the man shot me a sarcastic remark implying that if I was annoyed, it was "my problem."

If you were the manager of the restaurant, what would you have done? -- ANNOYED IN THE SUNSHINE STATE

DEAR ANNOYED: Had I been the manager, I would have approached the parents and said it was time for one of them to take the youngsters outside for a "time-out" until they were ready to behave themselves in the restaurant. I would rather risk losing one couple's business than that of a room full of patrons.

DEAR ABBY: My friend, "Beth," set a trash can on fire at school. I was there and didn't tell on her. Then she turned around and told the principal I did it! The surveillance camera shows both Beth and me walking out of the girls' restroom where the fire occurred, but the tape doesn't show who set the fire.

Now I'm in major trouble. No one believes I'm innocent. Beth lied and left me in the dust! We're both suspended from school and have to appear in court with our parents. What if the judge blames it all on me? How should I handle this? I don't want to ruin our friendship. -- INNOCENT MIDDLE SCHOOLER

DEAR INNOCENT: Your friendship was ruined when your "friend" accused you to keep herself from being punished for what she did. Speak up and defend yourself. Offer to take a lie detector test if necessary -- and for heaven's sake have nothing more to do with Beth. She has burned you. Badly.

DEAR ABBY: "P.O. in New Jersey" was angry because her sister-in-law purchased an identical wedding dress after seeing hers. Here's another way she could handle the situation:

The wedding day was fast approaching. Everything was ready and nothing could dampen Jennifer's excitement, not even her parents' nasty divorce. Her mother had finally found the perfect dress and would be the best-dressed mother of the bride ever!

A week later, Jennifer was horrified to learn her new young stepmother, Barbie, had purchased the same dress. She asked Barbie to exchange it, but Barbie refused. "Absolutely not! I'm going to wear this dress; I'll look like a million bucks in it."

Jennifer relayed the conversation to her mother, who graciously replied, "Never mind, dear. I'll get another dress. After all, it's your special day, not hers." Two weeks later, another dress was finally found. When they stopped for lunch that day, Jennifer asked, "What are you going to do with the first dress? Maybe you should return it. You don't have any place to wear it."

Her mother grinned and replied, "Of course, I do, dear. I'm wearing it to the rehearsal dinner!" -- JUDITH K., HOUSTON

DEAR JUDITH: I like her sense of humor.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more sociable person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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