I haven't gone mortgage-shopping in a decade, and I give thanks each hour. Not only is it devastating when loan committees say no (and, kiddies, they sometimes do), but the whole application process can be ridiculously detailed, not to mention excruciatingly personal.

Inheritances I expect from my wife's great-aunt? Savings account numbers from the time I lived in North Walla Walla in 1957? Contributions I made in 1962 to a city council candidate in Cicero, Ill.? Open-heart surgery is probably more fun.

More fun, that is, until Terri Goren got a brainstorm.

Terri is a Levey loyalist from Adams-Morgan. She's also a recent first-time home buyer. Therefore, she has just had the pleasure of enduring a houndstooth credit check. And guess what?

The sleuths discovered that Terri was late in paying Sears once -- once! -- in 1982. That was the only blot on her record. But it was almost enough to sink the homeowning ship.

Terri says she honestly can't remember why she failed to pay her Sears bill on time nearly a decade ago. "However," she writes, "the bank demands an explanation." So Terri of course supplied one that was sobersided, serious and accurate.

But what if she hadn't? What if Terri (and all others in her shoes) invented great, billowing, clever, hilarious lies to explain why they missed a payment long, long ago?

As Terri puts it, the idea would be to come up with something so disarmingly involved -- and at the same time, so disarmingly phony -- that one bank staffer would turn to another and chuckle, "Hey, Sam, wait'll you hear this one."

Terri, of course, has a few candidates.

We are afflicted with a mutiple personalities disorder, and on the day in question, Terri had simply never heard of Sears.

I was in a coma.

I was crossing the international dateline.

I was away for a month having an out-of-body experience.

Our family dog had attacked the mailman and no mail was delivered or picked up that day.

Levey has a few candidates, too.

The babysitter's former boyfriend jilted her in the dishwasher department of Sears, so she got mad at the bill and threw it out.

A rabid rat stole the bill from the mailbox, and the county health department advised me not to chase either the rat or the bill.

I was so depressed after watching Maria Shriver try to conduct an intelligent interview on TV that I simply couldn't summon the energy to pay the bill.

My girlfriend left the bill beside the microwave, and I was afraid that gamma rays had contaminated the envelope and the contents.

I was trying out for the road company of "Annie II," and was so absorbed in the wonderful script that I forgot to open my mail.

I was chewing sugarless gum, and the Nutrasweet vapors addled my brain.

I was watching an X-rated video on the VCR with my wife when the mail arrived, and, well, you know . . . .

I spent a month caught in traffic on I-66.

I was bicycling across North America to promote clean air, and I couldn't be bothered with such cloying, mundane matters.

I had to pay the bookie, because he threatened to break my thumbs.

Got any others? The column readers of America will thank you, even if the bankers of America don't. Please mail your inspirations to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.

As I told Carole Gee, of Northeast Washington, I don't think the writer said exactly what he or she intended to say. Chucklingly, Carole agreed.

The matter in question was a news story in the August issue of "Today's Nurse" magazine, to which Carole subscribes, since she's a nurse herself. The first paragraph of the story reads:

"The amount of coffee that women drink while having intercourse affects the chances of their becoming pregnant, according to a Harvard University study."

A large hiss to the Montgomery County elections office. And a large thank-you to James R. Wachob, of Chevy Chase, for his eagle eye.

The elections staff distributed a flier to previous Montgomery County voters shortly before the Sept. 11 primary. A sentence about one-third of the way down, which James spotted, reads:

"Voting is one of the most important freedoms and rights included in the United States Constitution by our forebearers."

James says he has never met a "forebearer." Maybe they're parents of forebears, he suggests.

I have a suggestion myself. The elections people ought to send the flier out for corrections before next November.