KATHY MITCHELL AND MARCY SUGAR \ Annie's Mailbox She shouldn't feel obligated to be disabled friend's roommate

Dear Annie: I am a single woman with a huge problem. My best friend, "Jackie," is disabled and lives with her elderly mother. While visiting me a short while ago, Jackie asked if I would like a roommate after her mother dies, since her modest pension would prevent her from keeping their home. I replied that I didn't think it was possible, given that I live in a small townhouse and Jackie has custody of her three teenage children on weekends. There simply isn't room for all of us.
Jackie seemed quite miffed and left soon after. The next day, I received a nasty phone call from Jackie's older sister, saying it was my "duty to help out a friend in need." When I asked about her duty as a family member, she snapped, "The duty of a friend takes precedence!" and hung up. Since then, I also have received calls from two of Jackie's children, saying my selfishness has condemned their mother to die on the street.
Am I being selfish? I work two jobs, and the only peace and quiet I have is on the weekends, yet I'm feeling weighed down by this barrage of guilt trips. What should I do? A Private Person in Toronto
Dear Toronto: What colossal nerve. While you no doubt care about Jackie's welfare, you are not obligated to let her live with you. The phone calls from her sister and children are provoked by their guilt, not yours.
Nonetheless, Jackie obviously needs an advocate. Can you help her search for more affordable housing? Does her disability allow her to receive government assistance? Please do what you can to ensure that your friend can manage when her mother is no longer a source of support. You won't regret it.
Dear Annie: I now need a screwdriver and pliers to open a can of soup with one of those new pull-tab lids. Also, I have to use pointed sheers to cut through the plastic-and-cardboard packaging in order to take a cold capsule. How are other octogenarians handling these packaging problems? Al in the Midwest
Dear Al: It isn't only octogenarians. It's also those suffering from arthritis and other debilitating diseases. And any woman with a manicure has to be a contortionist to get those pull-tabs off. We know safety concerns prompt some of these changes, and pull-tabs are convenient for folks who don't have a can opener handy. If any of our readers have some practical suggestions, we'll print them.
Dear Annie: I read the letter from "Fed Up," the school coach who detailed the shameful behavior of some parents. I had to let him know that for every loud and obnoxious parent, there is at least one quiet, appreciative one. Maybe we need to be less quiet. Here is an open letter to all volunteer coaches:
Thanks, Coach, from those of us who learn the rules of the game along with our children, from those of us with two left feet and twice as many thumbs, from those of us who wish we had more time to play with our kids. Where would our children be without people like you who give their time and energy?
You teach our kids about respect for the rules, the referees and one another. You teach our kids about teamwork, even when they are sitting on the bench. You teach our kids that the best man does not always win -- but that you still do your best.
You teach our kids that there is no shame in losing. There has to be a special place in heaven for the patient, caring person my children call "Coach." A Parent in Penn State Territory
Dear Parent: Every coach should frame this and put it where all parents can see it. On behalf of coaches everywhere, thank you for saying it so well.
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