Dear Ann:

I am writing this letter to alert parents (especially those who have teenage daughters) of a danger we never knew existed until our own daughter had a mental breakdown. She took five different diet pills and laxatives -- all legal, over-the-counter drugs. Our daughter is now on the road to recovery, and the doctors tell us she is a very lucky girl. Had she continued to use these pills and laxatives, they could have killed her.

While most parents worry about illegal drugs, pills that are as easy to purchase as a candy bar can do just as much harm. Please, Ann, tell your readers not to take diet pills unless they are prescribed by a doctor who will monitor them periodically. Let them know that taking more pills will not help them lose weight faster, but will only speed up their metabolism temporarily -- increasing their appetite and causing them to eat more.

We consider ourselves very lucky that our daughter was given a second chance.

-- Long Island, N.Y.

Too many people, especially young women, will do almost anything to be thin. They don't realize they may be risking their health, and possibly their lives.

Dear Ann:

"Lawrence in Burbank" wrote to tell of his annoyance with the laugh tracks on TV sitcoms, and asked about a device he could use to block them out. He already has one. It's the off button. I think all newer electronic equipment refer to it simply as "power."

-- Ron in San Antonio

If "Lawrence in Burbank" presses the power button, as you suggest, he will sit there in front of a turned-off TV. This does not solve the problem. The next letter makes more sense:

Dear Ann:

Before you put your money into the electronic device proposed by "Lawrence in Burbank" to block out the canned laughter on TV sitcoms, let's finish designing it on paper first, so it will do the rest of the job.

Fake laughter can be annoying, but how about all the other sounds added in the background for "realism"? I'm talking about crowd noises, traffic, rain, wind and crashing waves. And if that doesn't blot out the dialogue, the masters of realism can always plug in a full orchestra to erase the last of the audible conversation.

If you could come up with a device that would tune out those effects, along with most of the fake laughter, the hearing-impaired would rise up and call you blessed.

-- C.D. in Brookings, Ore.

I'm sure there are many out there who agree with you. Count me among them.

Dear Ann:

Here is another one for your "stupid crooks" collection. It's an Associated Press story. I hope you enjoy it.

-- Hagerstown, Md.

I did, and I'm sure my readers will, too:

For nearly 20 years, he feasted for free. Now, the man the Dutch have dubbed "The Dinner Pirate" will have to make do with jail house grub for a while. A judge in the city of Leeuwarden ordered the felon diner to serve a three-month jail term after he confessed to ordering meals and wine at restaurants around the Netherlands and pleading poverty when the bill came. Police said the 54-year-old former tour bus driver with a taste for Chinese and Indian cuisine began his caper in the early 1980s, and now has a police file 33 pages thick. He was arrested after visiting the same restaurant twice within two weeks.

(C) 1999, Creators Syndicate Inc.