Fishing for an excuse

Today’s column was going to lampoon the presumptuous incompetence of governments simultaneously micromanaging our affairs and bungling their own. But while diligently procrastinating, I discovered in the pages of a rival newspaper the hot new trend of online alibi retailer. Apparently I can e-purchase fake plane tickets, a real reel and a dead fish to prove I was angling for trout, not a deadline extension.

Hang on. A fake fishing trip wouldn’t be any better than a real one for filing a column late. But then, I’m an amateur. Doubtless the pros would get me some fake surgery or a dead relative or a large-scale cataclysm. No, wait, scratch that last one too. My editor’s in the news business. He’d know. Better go with the medical emergency.

Especially because I was all set to write a health-related column ridiculing Dalton McGuinty’s recent promise to the Women’s Executive Network in Toronto that, as such women face more challenges than ever, he will make fertility monitoring tests available to women over 28 as part of their annual physical. Or over 29; newspaper accounts differ. I was going to look up his speech. Honestly. And check the fine print in the Liberals’ “Strong Women for a Strong Ontario 2007” document (subtitle: gosh, no, we didn’t focus group that name to bits) which offers women fertility screening “earlier in life as part of their annual check-up” unless, of course, they have no family doctor, in which case George Smitherman will yell at anyone who says our health care system isn’t perfect and a sublime confirmation of how great he is.

Or not. Maybe it doesn’t say exactly that. I was going to check. And verify that Mr. McGuinty has firmly intended to do something about this pressing problem for the past four years, but was too busy closing coal-fired reactors and avoiding tax increases; he can’t just have realized suburban career women are a key demographic. I was going to wrap up with a clever way of asking whether anyone out there, like his partisan adversaries, thinks maybe taking this one on now is an overstretch.

I think that would have made for a darn good column. But it would also have meant hard work. Which I didn’t get around to, so now I need a cover story. Quiiiiick. How fortunate that I can get one online. One tailored to my specific circumstances, at that. Thus the fishing trip is out because it’s to help you cheat on your spouse. All the sites I checked are pretty explicit about that aspect of what they do.

It sounds pretty brazen. But it turns out these people do have scruples. One of the online alibi sites specifically promises to help you conceal “an extramarital relationship” (in three different languages), but its founder told a journalist she had refused to help a student skip his exams. That would be cheating, whereas adultery is self-actualization. O tempora o mores. We shall die in the spirit and be born again in the flesh ... online. And to think Osama bin Laden considered us decadent.

I’m not saying there didn’t used to be dishonesty. Yes, Pharaoh, we intended for the pyramid sides to bend half-way up all along. Sire, I have no idea how your armada ended up on the bottom of that channel. But I miss the old days when a lie was both personalized and hand-crafted. In Kay Nolte Smith’s short story Caveat Emptor, the devil refuses to bargain with a man because all his worst desires are so unoriginal that Satan concludes he has no soul to sell. What kind of world is it where a man tells you a generic lie he bought off a website? Doesn’t anybody care any more? We’ve got scanners and fancy printers. What kind of people are we that we can’t even fake our own receipts?

Which reminds me. While I’m here online with you, I need a convincing excuse for being a hollow, amoral replica of a human being. “Everybody else was doing it” strikes me as overdone. You’ll sell me something convincing, right?

At this point I start to get uneasy. If I purchase one of these guaranteed excuses and it misfires, it may be hard to get a frank admission of responsibility and a refund from the retailer. After all, they’re in the excuse business. What if they’re not just the president, but also a client?

Frankly, I’m sunk if my editor discovers my slick forged documents are as phony as a Dalton McGuinty campaign promise. (Parenthetically, maybe he should have considered using one of these services.) If more than a few of our grannies have the same emergency gall-bladder surgery on the same day, he may detect something fishy. About our excuses, ourselves and the whole modern world.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

Columns, HumourJohn Robson