KICK THE CAN: a game from childhood; a phrase used in politics

kick the can

As a kid in a small, middle class community it was our responsibility to create entertainment.   Sometimes we just sat in the park in the middle of the village and watched the cars go by.  We invented a game about identifying the make, model and year of the car before it was right in front of us.  Exciting, no?

We played all kinds of games, some of them traditional, like tennis, basketball, softball, badminton, croquet, and even hide-and-go-seek.   In those days it was fun to be out in the neighborhood until it got really dark.  Games were the agenda.  There was little to divert us from them.

We didn’t always have the right equipment for some games, so we invented substitutes.  Such was the case with kick the can.  It was a variation on softball, without a bat, and without a ball.   We found a used can (usually a soup can) and used it as the subject.  Instead of batting, we kicked the can .

The person who was “it” had to close (his) eyes and count to a designated number.  Everyone else went and hid.  When “it” opened his eyes, he scouted out the locations until he spotted someone hiding. They raced back to the can and if the hider got there first  he could kick it and run again. If “It” got there first and kicked the can, he could go hide and the person found was the new “It.”

“It” had to retrieve the can to its original place and start all over again.  The winner was the last one spotted.  Then (she)  became “it” and we started all over again.  It was great fun.  And we played in the street.  Not that many cars around.  Traffic was all on Main Street.   Younger boys, older boys, girls, sometimes even parents played.

There was a sense of creativity and innovation in our lives “back in the day.”

The other meaning for kick the can, however, is more contemporary. It is played by Members of Congress, who, instead of acting on a controversial bill and alienating voters, will “kick the can down the road” by creating an alternate bill.  It usually delays final action on the subject (usually having to do with finances) until a future date, at which time it will be necessary to again deal with the controversy.   It is a negative comment, not a fun one.   Establishing the debt ceiling of the nation is the most common kick the can down the road  measure.   But, given the standoff in Congress between Democrats, moderate Republicans, and the Tea Party Republicans, it has been applied to any number of other bills, only some of which have economic implications.  Some are ideological in nature.

I much prefer the kick the can we played as a kid.  It was inclusive rather than exclusive.  And it was fun.   It didn’t take a great deal of athletic ability…only a creative mind in finding good hiding places.  My favorite was in the midst of the buggy ferns that grew next to our house.   I was much less fussy about things that crawled in those days.   In today’s world, those creepy, crawly things seem to be found in government.  They are much scarier…and much more dangerous.


Illustration Credit: Nostalgia

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