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September 27-October 3, 2006

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Ask Sydney

This advice column is penned by a Sonoma County resident and our new weekly sage. Go ahead! Ask her anything.

Dear Sydney, my sister and I are in the process of organizing a party to honor our parent's 50th wedding anniversary. Our intention is to invite all of our aunts, uncles and cousins, including their spouses and children. The problem is that one of our cousins has a schizophrenic husband whom I would rather not invite. I feel bad about this, for he is often a pleasant man who can be funny and a joy to be around. However, he also has a dual personality that is moody, belligerent, drinks to excess and thinks that he is a karaoke king. He couldn't hit the right key with a flamethrower and replaces the original song lyrics with his own, which too often involve graphic discussions of flatulence.

My sister thinks that it will work out OK as long as we specify on the invitation that only my cousin "Pam" and her husband "Bob" are invited. She foolishly believes that Bob's schizophrenic alter-ego "Bobby" would honor our wishes and remain hidden during the party.

Unfortunately, what my sister fails to understand is that Bobby is extremely jealous about being treated with what he feels is second-class status. I would not put it past him to intrude at the worst possible time and ruin what should be our parent's special day. To make matters worse, we have hired a DJ who will have a karaoke machine as the entertainment. Please tell me how I can convince my sister that inviting Bob is not worth the risk of receiving Bobby.--Schizophrenic in Cotati

Dear Schizophrenic: You can't not invite Bob. The only way to not invite Bob is to not invite your cousin Pam. This is one of the things that makes families so difficult--you have to put up with their sometimes questionable social behavior. But they're family, which means that they get an invite even if they like to get drunk and piss off the deck onto your perennials.

This leaves you with three options. One (and this is the most functional) is to talk frankly with your cousin about your concerns. Surely she is aware that her husband can be the death of a party. Let her know that you want her and Bob to be there, but should Bobby rear his unwelcome head, you need to agree upon a plan of action beforehand. How will your cousin help to deflect the situation? After all, she's the one married to the guy. Could she just take Bobby home?

If honestly is not in the offing, enter option two: Cancel the party. Instead of having a huge event, plan something extra-special for your parents that involves immediate family only. And if you must have the party, try option three: Get rid of that damned karaoke machine. It might make all the difference.

Dear Sydney, I am very close friends with my brother's ex-wife, who left him for a younger man many years ago. I renewed my friendship with her, with my brother's blessing, because she has been in my life since I was five years old. She practically raised me. My brother had a daughter with this woman (my niece), who is now 24 years old. She hates her mother and has not spoken to her for over a year now. My niece has the same issues and resentments toward her mother that I have also experienced and felt, but I have come to forgive her over time. My niece hates the fact that I speak to her mother, and says that I am betraying our family by having a relationship with her. My brother's ex-wife lives a very sad and lonely life, and I try to explain to my niece that I feel sorry for her. She is too young to understand, but it puts a huge strain on our relationship. My family and my blood are the most important things to me in life, but I think it's silly that I have to choose here and break ties. Am I being a "bad aunt" and a "bad sister," even with my brother's blessing? --The Good Aunt

Dear Good Aunt: Your niece is plenty old enough to understand. She needs to call her mother up and try to work it out, not take her pent-up frustrations out on you. You have every right to have a relationship with whomever you please. From what you have said here, it seems you are a caring person, and your compassion and commitment to your brother's ex-wife is just another expression of this aspect of yourself. Try not to allow someone else's dysfunction, or your own self-doubt, squelch such a wonderful personality trait.

By remaining steadfast in your commitments, you are setting an important example for your niece about forgiveness and moving forward. The next time she hassles you, tell her so--but leave out that part about feeling sorry for her mother. Any way that you can come up with to stress the positive over the negative is for the best. As for your brother, let's assume that when he gives his "blessings" he really means it, and just leave it at that.

Dear Sydney, lately I've been noticing people standing in queues leaving a lot more space between themselves and the man or woman ahead of them. First time I saw this was at an ATM, and the reason seemed obvious enough, but now, it's all lines everywhere. I'm from New York, and if you do that in my town, a half dozen people will squeeze into that space before you can blink. Geez, here they sometimes leave 10, 15 feet of air! What's up with that? I think I've ruled out body odor as a factor.--Baffled NYC Alien

Dear Baff: Haven't you ever heard of personal space? It's considered just as tacky to hover over someone in line as it is to tailgate. You just don't do it unless you're pissed off or in a real hurry. Your average Californian prefers to have about one arm's length between themselves and any other human being outside of their direct pool of family members and intimate friends. Granted, there are those exceptions. Which of us hasn't been smothered by a person who does not share the arm's-length approach, stepping forward with every step you take back, until it is possible to actually count their nose hairs? This is the Wild West, and most of us natives still want to feel the open air. Besides, you never know who might be coming down with something, and most of us don't trust strangers anyway.

No question too big, too small or too off-the-wall. Ask Sydney.