A scratchy throat, a fever sounds like it's a school day


The 13-year-old appeared in the kitchen at 7:15 in the morning, holding his head and clutching his stomach. In mournful tones, he announced that he was too sick to go to school.

L "Nice try," I said, and quickly went back to my corn flakes.

The thing about corn flakes is, you have to get to them the instant the milk is poured in the bowl. Otherwise they quickly become soaked and you're left with a brown mush that tastes like Purina Puppy Chow.

The point is, if I'm eating my corn flakes and the person next to me has anything less than a grand mal seizure, I won't even look up.

Unless you're twitching on the floor and turning blue, don't bother me, pal.

Anyway, I thought I'd made this policy clear, but apparently I didn't make it clear enough.

Because now the 13-year-old staggered over to where I was sitting and began shivering uncontrollably.

"Oh, come on!" I said. "That's the oldest one in the book!" At this, the boy left in a huff and went off to find my wife. A few minutes later, she said he was running a 103-degree fever and that she was taking him to the doctor.

Some people will do anything to get out of Social Studies. Meanwhile, with all the interruptions, my corn flakes had gone limp and achieved the consistency of day-old gravy.

"Well, thank you very much!" I said as they walked out the door. But they didn't hear me, I guess, because no one turned around and apologized.

The incident, though, illustrated the great dilemma facing every parent: How do you tell when the little brats are really sick, or when they're just faking it to get out of school?

Let me go on record as saying that in 99 percent of these cases, the little brats are faking it.

How do I know this? I'll tell you how I know this. I know this because I was a little brat once myself. And I used to fake being sick all the time.

Oh, I knew all the tricks. I'd smother myself in blankets to appear flushed and feverish. I'd sneak ice into bed and when my mother checked on me, she'd find me hunched in the fetal position, a series of random, ungodly chills coursing throughout my body.

Look, you're not talking to some hayseed here. I knew so much about illnesses and their symptoms as a teen-ager, I could have gone to medical school.

Excuse me? You don't think I could have been a crack pediatrician? Or some hotshot gastro-intestinal specialist?

Well, I could have. I just didn't want to.

The thing is, back when I was a kid, there wasn't a whole lot to do if you stayed home sick from school.

You could read a book, but what was the point? If you wanted to be around books, you would've gone to school in the first place.

Or else you could turn on the TV and watch "Lassie," who was always saving that dope Timmy after he fell in a well or was trapped in a barn fire.

But "Lassie" got old in a hurry. I got tired of hearing her bark "Woof, woof" and Timmy's old man answering: "What's that, Lassie? You say Timmy fell off a rock and slipped into the river? And he was swept away by the raging current and is now two miles downstream? Let's go, girl! There's no time to lose!"

How anyone could get all of that from "Woof, woof" was beyond me.

After "Lassie," you could watch Monty Hall and "Let's Make A Deal," featuring a lot of money-hungry people in the studio audience willing to dress up as mutated chickens and giant tomatoes to win an Amana frost-free refrigerator?

But after "Lassie" and "Let's Make a Deal," there wasn't much else to watch on TV, unless you liked soap operas.

Today, kids have Nintendo to occupy them, and computer games and CD players and cable TV and "Terminator" videos.

I could go on and on, but you see the point. A kid stays home from school today, it's like an electronic Mardi Gras.

Anyway, long story short, my wife and the 13-year-old finally returned from the doctor's office. It turned out the boy had some kind of viral infection. At least that was their story, and they were sticking to it.

"Oh, yeah?" I said. "Show me the results of the lab culture."

Which, of course, they couldn't do.

Viral infection. They must think I was born yesterday.

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