Many kitchens across America have small ceramic vessels on countertops: garlic keeps, butter bells, and of course, the good, old fashioned cookie jar. A venerable stash of good treats, many hold store-bought cookies. Others hold cookies that are homemade. Still, others are a place to store dog treats for the family pet. My parents have a large cookie jar on their countertop, but unlike many, there’s no lid. The gaping hole on the top is large enough to accommodate a large, oversized fist. But in addition to not having a lid, it doesn’t hold cookies, or even anything to eat. It holds excuses. The excuses are printed on large pieces of paper. They’re large enough, and so cleanly cut that you wouldn’t call them “scraps.” On each one, in a clean yet uninteresting typeface, is printed a unique excuse. They used to use one of those “Magic” 8-Balls for excuses, but you soon run out of excuses with one of those. That’s when the old cookie jar, beautiful really with a handcrafted ceramic glaze on the outside (and in, for that matter), was converted from serving snacks to holding a sundry number of… excuses. The kitchen seems a logical place to keep such a jar, not only for the connection to its previous use as a cookie jar, but also for pragmatic reasons. Frequently, my parents need excuses while on the phone, and since many phone calls are answered in the kitchen, any number of excuses are at the ready. At first, they used the excuses to maintain a lifestyle of limited sociability. If someone called my dad to golf, and he’d already cut him off his list of potential golfing partners, the jar was at the ready. He might stick in his hand as soon as he detected why his friend called. “Joe… what’s up… What? Tomorrow tee time? Ah gosh… [rumble, rumble], listen tomorrow’s no good for me… I have to take my wife to the dentist… yeah, they’re going to put her out… I’ll have to drive her there and back and all… yeah… sorry!” So, once the excuse is used, it’s clipped onto a magnet and attached to the refrigerator. That way, everyone is aware of the “excuse” that was used. After all the excuses are used and posted on the refrigerator, well, they can be recycled. Because the jar holds so many excuses, the whole cache will last for some time, many times up to a year. There’s rarely any problem, then, of repeating the excuses. Because some of the people my parents consort with are so old, some excuses may only get used once before the person dies. Since others have forgetfulness, they never remember the excuses at all, no matter what. In fact, they may call a second time to go golfing, and because my parents are sharp, they can give the same excuse since it’s on display on the fridge. Once my parents used a fresh excuse for the same request, but that was okay, because Mrs. Johnson has Alzheimer’s and didn’t remember the first excuse pulled from the cookie jar. The kitchen seems a logical place to keep such a jar, not only for the connection to its previous use as a cookie jar, but also for pragmatic reasons. I have no doubt my parents have used these excuses for all kinds of sticky situations, from giving donations, to refusing party invitations, to canceling eye appointments. Yet, as their younger (not to mention astute) son, I became aware of this practice when the jar got used on me. Suspicion followed my request for a visit. “Why don’t you come up and visit for a spell?” I asked. There was a pause on the phone, the rustle of a piece of paper, then a plausible reason why they couldn’t visit. “Okay, perhaps another time,” I told them. My suspicion faded quickly, until the next time I tried coaxing them up north. “Fancy a visit? It’s been some time, you know…” I hinted. Then my mother said she was walking into the kitchen. I said, “So?” but she paused for a time, saying “Hold on, I have to get something here in the kitchen for your father.” When she finally reached the jar, she found safety in a fresh excuse. “Oh, John, we can’t visit now. It’s too cold up there, up north… we’ll visit when it’s warmer.” Yeah. Warm like a freshly-opened package of Sausalito cookies. Suspicions turned into confirmation when some of the excuses for not visiting turned into major illnesses. There are less illnesses in a city hospital. If it wasn’t mom’s knee, or the arthritis, it was dad’s teeth, a supposed delay of surgery, or a re-emergence of the shingles. When no sickness but death remained, it was the method of transportation. “We can’t drive!” Okay, “I will buy plane tickets. What day?” I wagered with them. “Oh, your father can’t fly on account that he’s afraid someone will scratch his car if it’s parked at the airport.” Hmm. I tried more and more to reason with these excuses, but the jar seemed to have an endless bounty of them. “Get my uncle to drive you to the airport, you can leave the car at home.” Suddenly, uncle was too ill himself to drive to the airport. Sometimes multiple excuses issued forth, on account that one of my parents must have had sticky fingers before my call. Multiple slips of paper were sticking together. Mom would just use them all. “Well, yes, your uncle is sick, but his truck isn’t working, I don’t think… he can’t pay to repair it.” I suggested that my uncle drive my dad’s car. Now, he is protective of the thing, so she didn’t even need to waste an excuse on that one. “Well, your dad won’t let anyone else drive that car, you know that.” That I did. He makes my mother drive a 17 year-old car. I didn’t even get to ‘test-drive’ it on my last visit. After exhausting half a dozen excuses in one call, then giving my mother false confidence that she had me beat by extrapolating on the possible plight of my dad’s car in my uncle’s hands (and feet), I tried another angle. “Mom, I’ll send a limousine service to pick you both up!” This sudden surprise caught her off guard. First, she mumbled about “the current state of the economy,” which was an excuse she already had used. She mistakingly broke one of those rules with using these excuse papers. The re-use of a rule put her into a confused state. She ran out of steam, and simply reverted to the “emergency rule.” I haven’t seen it for sure, but I imagine they have this excuse taped to the actual jar, on the front of the jar’s fascia. It reads: “Say the signal of the cordless phone is breaking up, and you cannot hear the caller.” Yeah, she used that one. “Something’s wrong with your phone, son!” I hung up on her, knowing I had achieved a small victory. I’ve tried everything to get a visit out of my parents. I’ve tried getting them to come alone. Together? We’ve tried every season known to mother nature. It’s either too hot, too rainy, too cold, or else the weather in their neighborhood might cause stress for the pet cat. “Since you want to drive, bring the cat!” “Oh no!,” they opine, “you’re allergic to the cat, we can’t do that.” Nevermind that the cat’s dander was of little concern to them when I paid them a visit. I bought that one hook, line, and sinker. This past summer, we thought another curve ball might upset the seemingly unstoppable power of the excuse jar. WIth surprise, we announced getting married. I mean, parents come to visit for major life-changing events, right? Baptisms? Funerals? Marriages? It seemed like it might work. “Oh, I just don’t know about your father,” my mom went on. Then while I searched my mind for another angle, she suavely dipped her hand in the jar a second time. “Look, I’d love to come and all, but I don’t have time to get my passport renewed.” I bought that one hook, line, and sinker. I only found out later there was a 3-week turn-around time on passports. Foiled again by the bottomless cookie jar of excuses. Next, we changed the dynamics here at home. One of us would be leaving for a period. “Why not visit when I’m here alone?” I asked. It was a new year, and that’s when it became firmly cemented in my mind that the old excuses had been all dumped back into the cookie jar. We were on repeats now. Unlike Mrs. Jones, my memory was fresh still with so many of the little printed inscriptions on those papers. This time around, we revisited dad’s pulled groin, the cold weather, and the high price of plane tickets. You could tell she was getting wise about that I was figuring things out. I kept my cool this time, only the excuses were read one after the other with more desperation in her voice. I called another time, when I knew my mother liked to watch TV. My father picked up. While he too uses the excuse jar, he’s far less prone to go running into the kitchen to use it if it’s inconvenient. I caught him at an excellent time. I used his laziness against him. He reverted to a personal emergency excuse. “Why don’t you guys come for a visit?” He stalled with a long laugh, then said, “Ah, gotta check with your mom… do you think she’d go for it?” Although less than 100 feet away, she couldn’t be bothered. This excuse is a classic. You defer the decision to another person. If you wait long enough to consult, you’ve forgotten about what they were avoiding and what you asked. The excuse jar is filled with variations on this classic excuse. “Party tomorrow night? I’ll have to check with my husband. He’s out right now.” “Donate $100? We’d love to, I’m sure. Let me have my wife call you back. She holds our checkbook.” Sorry fraternal order of police. You’ll never see that check. You’ve been served by that big ceramic jar of excuses. So, my question dear reader, is where do these jars come from? I have no doubt that they are as ubiquitous in homes across America as the standard keepers of cookies. My parents aren’t likely clever enough to invent this little mechanism. Perhaps they are sold in varying styles by a catalog put out by the A.A.R.P.? Maybe it’s a prize for the debut cashing-in on your I.R.A. by the local bank? “Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Smith! We’re pleased to present you with the jumbo sized excuse jar. Because you are preferred members of this branch, we’ve stocked your authentic terra cotta jar with 50 complimentary excuses.” It sounds so plausible that sooner or later 20/20 will likely uncover the scheme for viewers on TV. It’s a shame the hosts of these “exposé” television newsmagazines are so old, however. They’ll likely want to keep the secrets behind the excuse jar industry under wraps. When you think about it, revealing the truth behind all the creative excuses our parents might provide us would be a major setback. Imagine how you’d feel when you would learn that portions of your conversations were pre-scripted? That instead of snacking on wholesome oatmeal cookies, grandma and grandpa were gorging on lies and fabrications? I’m sad to say I have no proof of just how widespread this phenomenon is, but be warned. Should calls to your older relatives’ homes involve “going to the kitchen,” pauses, the sound of crinkling crackling paper, or photos depicting a beautiful, ceramic cookie jar on the kitchen counter surface, know that I expect you give credit where it is due. You read it here first!