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Don't kick the can, pick it up instead

Don't you just love it when a new phrase takes hold in our sheepish public lexicon?

I'm thinking today of the beloved phrase "kick the can down the road." I just Googled (another great modern verb) the phrase. There are about 12.8 million responses. You've got to love it.

There is, somewhere, another site that ranks the hottest phrases of the day. Can't find that one, but "kick the can" has to be right near the top.

It's a great phrase. It describes what happens perfectly, both in the immediate action and in the long-term implications. According to the rules of the game, you can kick the can as far as you can, but it always stays on the road.

Here in Long Beach, we've kicked the pension can, the budget can, the infrastructure can. In Sacramento, they've kicked every can in sight, but most significantly the prison can, the education can and the balanced budget can.

There are more cans on the national level, and most of them are getting pretty good kicks, as well. The can of the day seems to be health care, but Social Security, budget deficits and national defense aren't far behind.

We've kicked a few cans down a different road here at the Gazette. Seems like when there isn't time to get something done, the easiest thing to do is to kick it.

Innovations on the Web site, in-depth articles about everything from the government to the health and welfare of our children, computer streamlining and upgrades — they've all been kicked well down the road.

I probably shouldn't start on the list of personal cans somewhere down the road thanks to my strong left leg. There's the typical stuff — getting out of debt, painting the master bedroom, finishing the great American novel — that I suspect pretty much everyone has kicked now and then. There are the books I haven't read, the sights I haven't seen, the exercises I haven't done.

In fact, it can get downright depressing thinking about all the cans ahead of me on the road. And when I start thinking about the bigger roads the newspaper and the nation are following, it can be enervating. (That means not able to function — I think. I've kicked my dictionary down the road.)

So when I'm tempted to stop and get off the road, I try to recall the real game the phrase came from. In order to kick the can, you have to keep walking up to it. You kick it, then walk up to it again.

Ultimately, you have to decide whether to do something with the can, kick it again, or leave it where it is. The only way to avoid the decision is to stop walking down the road.

It's my choice to keep walking. I'll still kick some cans, but I'll pick a few up and deal with them, too. If I keep walking.

The same is true for those bigger cans on those bigger roads.

We can postpone the decision by kicking them again, but the only way to get them off the road is to deal with them.

Individuals, even businesses might have the option of stepping off the road. But governments of most any size and society in general don't have that option. They keep walking whether they like it or not.

So we can kick the can we're not ready to pick up. But let's remember it is still going to be there down the road.

So maybe it's time to start picking one or two up.

Saltzgaver is an opinions columnist for the Grunion Gazette in Long Beach.

McCLATCHY-TRIBUNE

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