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by Abigail Van Buren

Non Drinker Doesn't Want a Party Pooper Reputation

DEAR ABBY: We live in a very nice neighborhood frequented by walkers and runners. For the second time in just a few months, several women who regularly walk past our home have approached me at neighborhood events to ask about items I can only think were found in our recycling bin. Specifically, how did I like a particular brand of pasta sauce, or would I recommend that bottle of chardonnay?

Abby, our recycling bins have lids and our bin is never left open, which means these women must be peeking inside to check out our eating and drinking habits. I am now so self-conscious about our recycling I have begun burying bottles and cans under the newspaper and watching the bin to catch them in the act. My husband suggested leaving a nasty note on top of our recyclables. Any suggestions? -- FOR OUR EYES ONLY IN MILWAUKEE

DEAR EYES ONLY: Once garbage is put out for collection it is no longer private property. A certain celebrity was embarrassed to learn this firsthand when some paparazzi rooted through her garbage and discovered to their glee some empty containers of meds to treat a private health matter.

It's possible the walkers are just trying to be friendly and strike up a conversation. But if your suspicions are correct, there are several ways to handle the situation. The first would be to delay putting out your recyclables until just before they are to be collected. Another would be to visit a novelty shop and pick up some fake hands or feet -- or a large rubber rat -- and place . them strategically in one of your bins. Or, affix "sweet" Post-It notes to your jars and bottles reading, "This was great!" or, "Don't waste your money ..."

If that doesn't discourage them from inventorying your trash, then there's always the direct approach. Respond with, "Why do you ask?" And when they tell you, let them know how you feel about their answer.