By Carolyn Bahm
From bashful baldies to bungee-jumping financial wizards, some Northeast Mississippians have waded neck-deep through inventive excuses.
We threw out an open request for these memorable tales of woe, and more than 30 readers snowed us in with their favorite snow jobs. Here are some of their unforgettable cover-up stories:
- Caught with your pants ... on?: One Northeast Mississippi police officer found illegal drugs in a suspect's pants pocket when he was patting down the man.
The officer was taken aback when the man looked astonished about the drugs and insisted, "Sir, that's not mine!" The suspect continued hopefully, "You see, I'm not wearing my own clothes."
The officer laughed and said this unlikely excuse has surfaced at least twice with different people.
- "Hello, officer": Excuses for driving too fast range from "I'm late to work" to "I've got to go to the bathroom!" but most rationalizations don't work. Law enforcement officers are skeptical of oh-so-familiar claims that the oven is on, the iron's plugged in and the cat has been left outside.
Sometimes they are able to catch people in their lies, too. One area police officer said he just loves it when a speeder claims to have a relative in dire straits at the hospital.
"Nine times out of ten just as a courtesy I'll give them an escort," he said, grinning slowly. "I'll tell them, 'Come on, then, let's get there! Fall in behind me and I'll turn on the lights and siren.' "
Then they race to the hospital. If the driver is lying, the shamefaced person often gives up when the officer walks up to the hospital desk with him, "just to make sure everything is all right."
- Ticket taker: A Tupelo resident explained how she got late payment charges removed from her parking ticket, although she still had to pay the original fine. She lied to the clerk, "Someone else was driving my car that day, and I just now found the parking ticket crumpled on the floorboard."
- The purr-fect alibi: Willie Pearl Fortune of New Albany revealed this personal milestone, a "worst excuse" (and a true one) for tardiness. "I was late for work because my cat got in the car, and I had to take her back home after I was at the plant."
- Check mate: Larry L. McLendon of Tupelo said his wife, a homemaker, was baffled by her first household checking account years ago. Her account was overdrawn by the end of the second month.
"Her excuse was that she thought the bank would pay all the low-numbered checks before paying any high-numbered checks, and that she would be safe with the next deposit only a few days away," McLendon said.
- Heading off to church: The Rev. Ron Barham, pastor of St. Luke United Methodist Church in Tupelo, heard a doozy when he was a minister in Georgia. A parishioner there rationalized his long-time absence from church: The man was too embarrassed to show up bareheaded in public because he was balding.
Barham gestured at his own fading hairline and grinned at the irony. "And he was looking at me, 'Shiny Top,' when he said that."
- Brushing with heart and sole: Dawn Ventura, a dental hygienist in Tupelo, hears plenty of standard excuses for not brushing and flossing. One tale took the cake.
A young girl scheduled for several visits was given a new toothbrush and advised to improve her brushing habits. The patient returned a week later and told why the new brush hadn't helped.
"Her dad had taken her new toothbrush and was using it to clean his boots," Ventura said. "This time we gave her two new brushes: One for her, one for dad's boots."
- Homework? What homework?: After working 20 years as a teacher, Martha S. Tubb of Amory has heard it all. One of the lamest excuses surfaced when a student shrugged off a major class project.
Tubb knew the child had been working on the assignment, so she asked about the missed deadline. "The student was very self-assured and answered, 'It's my birthday!' "
The result: No project was submitted, and the student failed that six weeks.
- Huffing and puffing: Doctors probably rank right up there with teachers in the number of excuses they hear daily. Dr. Dwalia South of Ripley sadly recalls the top 10 excuses for patients who do not stop smoking.
1. An example is one man who was nearing death from lung cancer. He had smoked a pack or two of Marlboro's daily for more than 40 years. He said he still smoked because, in 62 years, no doctor had ever told him to quit.
"Since he told me that, I have made a point to tell every person who passes through my portals to stop smoking," South said. "To me this is such a sorry excuse when in big bold letters it says on each pack that the ... things will kill you!"
Other popular excuses for not quitting include these:
2. "I might gain weight!"
3. "I don't have enough willpower."
4. "I'm just under too much stress right now."
5. "My wife (or husband) smokes, so it won't do me any good to quit anyway."
6. "I'm too far gone already."
7. "No one would be able to stand me."
8. "I'm not 'psyched up' mentally yet."
9. "What's it to you? I'm not hurting anyone but myself."
10. "Yeah, I'm going to quit smoking, when I'm 6 feet under."
South commented, "The list is endless. You get the picture."
- "I spent it all": Mitch Hester, a Tupelo used car dealer, recalled an unlikely money excuse. At Tupelo's Oleput festival a couple of years ago, he saw a man who was late in paying his car note. Hester asked about the money. The customer said he was flat broke: He had just paid $70 for him and his girlfriend to bungee jump.
- Oh, the pain: Another of Hester's customers claimed he couldn't pay a car note because he had a pulled muscle and couldn't work. The customer soon excused himself, saying he was late to go play in a basketball game.
- "The check's in the mail": Excuses are prime conversation topics for collection agencies, and Franklin Collection Service in Tupelo is no exception. Debbie Powell takes care of the billing department there and is a former collector. Some clients' tall tales still stand out in her memory.
One customer was summoned to appear in justice court for medical bills amassed over a year and a half. "His excuse for not paying was that he got his check late on Fridays and never had time to get to the bank, so he couldn't write a check to pay them," Powell said.
The court date came; his money didn't. The man received his garnishment notice at work, and he called back: Could he clear the debt? His boss wouldn't tolerate a garnishment.
Powell hesitated, then asked why he had not honored his past payment arrangements. He launched into his story:
"Well, ma'am, you see, my wife left me. And, well, when I went looking for her, I had a car wreck. I hit my ex-mother-in-law head on. During the confusion, my dog jumped out of the car and got hit by a diesel truck. I never found my wife, but she found my savings account and my girlfriend. Now my girlfriend and my wife are friends, and they're making my life a terror. Oh yeah, and I spent my last paycheck on a new dog. His name is Broadcast. I'll try to pay you next week if I get my paycheck before the bank closes."
Nice try, Powell thought. The man finally paid his bill in full.
- Big deal: Powell also recalled another client's familiar excuse for not paying a medical charge. "Well, this bill is only $25. Why should I pay it? The hospital is more concerned with larger bills than that."
- Wheeling and dealing: The view from the parking lot stopped one customer from settling his debt. Powell said this man kept breaking promises to "come in today and pay." Finally, the company contacted him again and firmly asked if he really intended to cover the bill.
His annoyed reply was, "Now listen, I came by your office and started to pull in. But I looked in your employee parking lot and y'all have got brand-new cars parked there, and y'all don't need my money!"
- Something's phony: Crafty bill dodgers try different creative schemes. Powell remembers one client's yarn, "Well, I couldn't pay my phone bill, so I got it disconnected. But since I have a small child, I need a phone, so I had another phone installed in my son's name."
The woman seemed proud of her ingenuity, Powell said, despite the fact that the ploy was illegal.
- Finance company wheedling: Republic Finance in Tupelo has heard its share of laborious excuses. One man couldn't pay his bills because he had to buy his children clothes to attend a funeral in Detroit.
Seasonal excuses also crop up, said Cathe Cooper, Republic's credit manager. "Of course, Santa Claus gets their money every year because people just can't figure out Dec. 25th comes every year."
- Just don't argue: Lou Moore, office manager for Comcast Cablevision in Tupelo, remembers one customer who wanted her television cable disconnected. She was tired of all those people on tv watching her all the time.
Moore laughed and said they tried to clarify the situation, and they even sent out a serviceman to her home. The distressed woman had made up her mind; the cable got removed.
Other usual bill-paying excuses she hears often include deaths, hospital stays, being out of town on vacation, failure to get a bill and that old favorite: "The check's in the mail."
- And the strictly humorous: Bobby Edwards of Mooreville delivered this tongue-in-cheek whopper for the workplace. "I need the day off to pick up my one-armed grandmother at the bus station; she has two suitcases."
(Who knows? Maybe the boss will die laughing.)