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The Non-Expert

Photograph by Marianna McKown

Cocktail Flu

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. We offer tried-and-true excuses for calling in sick to work, including examples of the maladies we can claim to hide the malady we have.

Have a question? Need some questionably expert advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is updated on Fridays, and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.


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Question: What are the best excuses to effectively call in sick to work? Sometimes I party too hard but I don’t want anyone to know it. —Ken

Answer: Diarrhea.

Seriously. Diarrhea is the best. It is the only call-in-sick standby that 99-percent guarantees there will be no questions asked, no supervisorial sass, no “you don’t sound sick.” Why? Because it is gross. Really ask yourself: Would you question someone calling in sick with explosive stools? Exactly. And with your current condition, depending on what you imbibed the previous evening, there’s a good chance this isn’t even a lie.

I personally have used this excuse hundreds of times in my decade or so of employment. Only once has it ever been challenged, and poorly at that:

ME: Hey, I’m really not feeling well today. I think I’m just going to stay home and take it easy.

BOSS: Yeah? What’s the matter? You don’t sound like you’re dying or anything.

ME: I’ve got…you know.

BOSS: What? No, no I don’t know. What?

ME: A stomach flu or something…

BOSS: What? What does that mean?

ME: Diarrhea.

BOSS: So suck it up! It’s not like we don’t have a toil—


BOSS: [Long pause.] OK. See you tomorrow.

The point being that, should anyone dare to question your sincerity, you’ve ultimately got the upper hand: diarrhea. No one in their right mind enjoys dwelling for more than two or three seconds on the imagery this word summons (excluding fetish types, of course, which, if that’s your boss’s thing, means you might have a raise coming this year). From the Greek for “flowing through,” the word’s very pronunciation seems…you know what? Never mind.

So now that we indeed have dwelled on the topic for a good minute too long and I’ve managed to offend/disturb/arouse all of my readers, let’s consider other options, since not everyone seems to be as comfortable discussing malodorous bodily functions with their employers as I am. If you happen to be the more reserved type, there are plenty of additional ways to bow out gracefully from a day of hung-over misery at the office and keep hidden the fact that you are an irresponsible ne’er-do-well. Here are my top five:

1. I’ve got a really bad—achoo!

The oldest trick in the book, but an effective one if performed correctly. According to my made-up statistics, if people working in close environs such as offices, kitchens, and the like would just stay home every time they actually were sick, there would be, like, 90 percent less contagion floating around and everyone would be healthier and happier. But there is always that one asshole. You know the one. The “hero” who comes into work despite the fact he has respiratory staph? And then uses the water fountain as a makeshift neti pot? Nobody likes him. And they will respect you for not being him. So a bad cold is actually a great reason to call in sick.

But, since it’s also the most common excuse, you really have to sell it over the phone. Here is what you do: Get up about an hour early. (Hey, if you want to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs. Suck it up.) Smoke three cigarettes (or inhale one cigar) in 15 minutes’ time (double that if you are a smoker). Then down a tall glass of milk and eat five servings of cheese (this will help to thicken your saliva, which will make you sound more nasally and throatier). After this, take a feather duster to the top of your book shelf and go crazy, while alternating between deep breathing and singing the White Zombie song of your choice. (Really strive to emulate Rob Zombie.) Once you’ve done all that, smoke one more cigarette in less than 30 seconds. Finally, stuff your nose with cotton balls.

You now are ready to call in sick. Also, there is a strong likelihood that you now really are sick.

2. “Migraine”

Everybody knows migraines are awful. But how many people really, truly know what a migraine headache is, exactly? This term, used to describe a real neurological condition, has been so irresponsibly bastardized as to simply mean “bad headache” that it is an affront to actual sufferers of the disabling syndrome. When your vapid blind date complains she has a migraine while eating her overpriced roast duck and sipping her cosmo, she is trying to say that she has a common headache, or cephalalgia (and that she is bored). When she is curled up on the floor of the restaurant bathroom, moaning in a pool of her own vomit, hands over her eyes to block the intense white glow of the overhead lighting as she writhes in acute pain (like maybe she deserves to be?), then she has a migraine. Ahem.

So do your research. On the off-chance simply saying “I have a migraine” does not work (perhaps your boss gets them—the real kind—”too”), you’ll need to be able to describe the sheer horror of these cranial onslaughts. If you can fake crying, this will make it all the more believable.

Bonus: Since these things can last up to three days, feel free to go out carousing once again that evening.

3. Some Sort of Rash

Like diarrhea, this one relies on playing the “gross” card. Usually the mere utterance, “some sort of rash,” will be sufficient to end a conversation, unless you’re talking to a dermatologist or your significant other. What is also awesome about this little song and dance is that there is a certain fear factor involved.

Did you ever see Outbreak? (I know! Kinda underrated, right?) Maybe, just maybe, you are the host of a rare, communicable South American mutagenic monkey disease. At least that is one possibility the person on the other end of the phone will consider, especially when she remembers from a casual conversation weeks before that you DO, in fact, own a monkey. (Remember when Rene Russo’s character got the dreaded mahumba or whatever and then suddenly she wasn’t hot anymore? Bummer.) Be sure to describe to your manager, in detail, where the rash has occurred. This will lend realism to your ruse, and will also equate to good times.

Result: You’ll be asked to go ahead and stay home till it clears up. Your manager has a hard enough time as it is getting people not to run away from her in fear. She’d probably prefer not to spend the rest of her numbered days in quarantine, even on a remote chance.

4. Weasels Ripped My Flesh

What is the likelihood one of your coworkers has heard of this Frank Zappa album before? Slim to none, I would venture. Plus, after the bottle of Jameson and the Zappa-listening marathon your visiting artsy younger brother subjected you to last night, it seems only appropriate, no?

So if you’re feeling a tad adventurous, and maybe want to impress the hot girl at your office, saying weasels ripped your flesh is an awesome way to get out of work. Not only is it an outrageous lie (which makes it fun), but it also makes you sound sufficiently hurt and surprisingly badass. And, it tips the scales of weirdness just enough to discourage any prying by nosey superiors. Weasels? Are you fucking kidding me? OK.

5. Ennui

Seriously, whose work does not cause a bit of general malaise at least occasionally, if not daily? Some days, hangover or no, the very idea of having to sit in that creaky, rigid chair and stare at the awful phosphoric glow of your monitor is enough to stoke crippling disinterest in even the go-getting-est of folks. Calling in ennui-stricken not only leaves truth on your side, it makes for a fun story to tell your existentialist friends.

Plus, because it is a foreign, sort of naturally disease-sounding word, there is probably a good chance your manager won’t even ask.

If he does, just tell him it’s French for “diarrhea.”