Day 1,004: Summertime Can-Kicking

It’s at least 150 degrees in this stuffy upstairs office, and I have no topic at the tip of my fingers. I turned on the fan behind me, and it laughed at me. I have spent my adult life making a show of how much I love extreme heat, but without air conditioning, and after having endured an unprecedented wave of record-setting hot days, I’ve had enough. Alas, my exhaustion at this perpetual sweat-fest will not help me scrounge a thousand words from the lint-pile of my brain-pocket.

I considered writing about stickball, a beloved pastime from my grandfather’s youth. I quickly learned that stickball is pretty much baseball with a stick (and an appropriately bouncy ball), and no kilograph can be wrested from something so simple. What else did he play? Kick The Can? Isn’t that just about kicking a can? Nope – digging up a topic on this sweltering Friday will be a bit of a challenge.

Then I found a site that explained the rules to Kick The Can “in 14 steps”. Okay, I’m just curious enough to want to break that down.

Proper footwear is, of course, recommended.

Like a stupid person, I assumed Kick the Can was just street-soccer, played with a can because kids in the Depression couldn’t afford proper sports equipment. When we were young we played snow-soccer with a frozen juice-box, which was always fun until someone fell on the thing and oozed tropical punch slush all over their pants. But a more complex and intricate game intrigues me. This was the site I selected to learn the 14 steps to can-kicking wonder. I could tell it was a great choice when I learned that step 1 was to gather your players. It suggests inviting kids to play Kick The Can and offers the helpful tip of saying, “Hey, we’re going to play a game called Kick The Can. Would you like to play?”

I’d have never thought to include the word ‘Hey’. This is why research pays off.

Step 2 is finding a plastic bottle or can to play with. Obviously this is a trick step, because if you select a plastic bottle you’ve already lost at Kick The Can. So pick a can. Empty would be best.

Advanced players may wish to opt for ‘gigantic’.

Step 3 involves choosing the boundaries of the playing area. Playgrounds and cul-de-sacs are suggested, with the tip that you also want plenty of places to hide. I’m not yet sure if this is because hiding is part of the game, or if you’ll just need a place to lay low in case you accidentally kick the can into the wrong person’s face and they get violent.

Step 4 says to designate a ‘jail area’ where players who are caught must stay. At this point I’m convinced that this game has nothing to do with kicking a can at a goal. Is it too late to switch topics back to stickball? Probably. Besides, at this point I want to know how to send my friends (or random strangers who responded positively to my carefully-worded invitation) to this jail place.

The fifth step involves designating one player to be “the seeker”. Not in the Quidditch sense – this is really looking like a game of hide-and-seek, but with kicking a can. Okay, so we’ve got one seeker and a whole bunch of hiders.

Just like John Wick! But with a can.

Next, you set up the can somewhere in the open. I’m starting to see how this game will unfold – with the can receiving one lone kick – and I’m going to hop right out in front of what you’re probably already thinking, and suggest you fill the can with glitter. In fact, even if you’re going to play soccer-style with a can, get some glitter in there. Have some fun on a hot day.

Step seven involves the seeker counting while everyone hides. Hopefully your playground and/or cul-de-sac and/or department store where you’re playing has plenty of quality hiding places. Once the counter has reached the apex of his or her allotted number-quotient (counted to 100 or whatever), they must go searching for the hiding people. Once a hider has been spotted, the seeker announces the person’s name and hiding spot to let everyone know. That’s when shit starts happening.

Both hider and seeker sprint toward the sacred glitter-can in the middle of the playing area. If the hider gets there first, they kick the can, thus satisfying the game’s title. If the seeker gets there first, he directs the hider into the pre-designated jail area.

Another fun idea: play in an actual jail!

The kicking of the can effectively swings open the jail doors. If a hider lands his or her boot on that shiny aluminum, society essentially collapses and all criminals are set free. This means that hiders are free to run out and boot the can even without being found, assuming they have an opening and wish to free their incarcerated brethren. The seeker has to keep constant watch on the thing. Step 9 involves resetting the can after it has been kicked – the seeker does this while the hiders hide again.

Step ten explains that the winner of the game is either the last hider to remain free from jail, or the seeker once they finish catching everyone. Another option – and this will be adopted by the kids who lean more toward being an asshole – is to ‘jail’ one kid you don’t particularly like, then to take a seat beside the can and read a book. The kid in jail can’t move and no one will sneak up to kick the can and free them. Bonus points if you plop the jail in the hot sun while the can rests in the cool shade.

Glitter clean-up is, of course, optional.

Step 11 suggests variations, like having multiple seekers. This is a great idea if you’re playing with 60 or 70 people. Step 12 is just stupid, suggesting you can tag players to send them to jail. This does away with the can concept, except as a means of liberation. It also invites kids to smack one another. Come to think of it, they might enjoy this. Step 13 says you can play in the dark with flashlights, which is always a great idea. Actually, you could play this game quite effectively in a cemetery, and after dark it would be all kinds of fun.

The final step isn’t a step at all, it simply offers an entirely new game involving knocking over a can with a ball. Nope. No kicking, no way.

Or, you can do the really smart thing on a day like this and simply find some air conditioning and read about Kick The Can instead. That’s my recommendation.

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