James Werrell

If you plan to slack off, get excuse first

It was a carefully planned truancy. The four of us, all in the 8th grade at the time, figured we'd skip school, hitchhike to the mall, stay there most of the day, eating lunch at People's Drug Store, then go home when the school day was over.

As an added precaution, we coaxed my friend Willie's younger sister to call the school and pretend to be our respective mothers. She made four separate calls, each time explaining that her son was sick and would not be able to matriculate that day. We assumed we were home free.

That assumption was dashed when my parents happened to drive by and see us hitchhiking. They were kind enough to give us a ride -- back to school. We actually were not even late.

As we had promised my parents, we turned ourselves in to the principal. I think, with the failure of Willie's sister to put across her portrayal of the universal mother, he was expecting us.

There was, of course, no Excused Absence Network in those days. The Excused Absence Network, according to a recent Associated Press story, is an Internet service that, for about $25, will provide slackers of all ages with a plausible excuse for missing school, work, traffic court, your mother-in-law's birthday party, whatever.

The Web site features templates for excuse notes, usually from a doctor. Customers fill in the name and address of a local doctor or emergency room, and then print the excuse.

Another template allows customers to choose jury duty as an excuse. In that case, the customers type in the name of their county courthouse on the form.

The company that offers this service includes a disclaimer on the Web site saying the notes are "for entertainment purposes only." But the site also features pictures of people sunbathing and playing golf, as well as testimonials such as, "I've managed to take nine weeks off using these templates! It couldn't be easier!"

The site apparently doesn't include pictures of middle-schoolers hitchhiking to the mall. But this service could be a godsend for students who didn't do their homework or want to play hooky and get away with it.

Excused Absence Network might consider adding templates of handwritten notes from parents. The excuses could even be variations on old classics: "I know this sounds crazy, but our dog really did eat (your name here)'s homework. I wouldn't use a lame excuse like that if it weren't true, would I? (Put your mother's name here)."

Or: "(Your name here) has contracted a fever that will prevent him from attending school this week. He became chilled after rescuing his younger brother, who had fallen through the ice while skating during a weekend trip to Vermont. Doctors expect a full recovery by Saturday. (Put your mother's name here)."

Or: "I am saddened to report that (your name here) will miss school today to attend the funeral of his grandmother -- again. I know that (your name here) missed school last month to attend his grandmother's funeral, but, as it turned out, she had merely been in a temporary coma. We are grateful for the extra time we had with her after she awoke. (Put your mother's name here). "

My wife is a teacher, so she is an old hand at detecting phony excuse notes. For example, she becomes suspicious of any note written in crayon.

My favorite, though, was one she got a few years ago, a short note explaining that so-and-so had been sick the day before and had been unable to complete his homework. It was signed: "My mother."

I'm not sure even the Excused Absence Network could have helped that kid.