Reluctant Townie: We're about to open a big can of fiscal cliff
Where the can originated from, nobody knew. Some believed it had always been there, planted in the middle of that cliff-side road for some unlucky passerby to stumble into its trap. Others hypothesized that it was the litter of some ancient astronaut who had traveled the road long before mankind.
Wherever the mysterious tin can had come from, one thing was for certain: The can itself hadn't the slightest idea. Some days it entertained vague notions of a past life as a can of beans or nacho cheese, but most of the time it fancied itself to be exactly what it was: an empty can leading an empty can's existence of unfulfillment and solitude on a boring road that nobody ever used.
Until one day, a group of politicians emerged from the wilderness and found their way onto the road. They discovered the can and agreed it would be a great place to stuff overdue bills they didn't want to pay. And so it was.
Some amount of time passed, and eventually the can filled up, prompting one of the politicians to say something along the lines of:
"Hey, maybe we should do something about the overdue bills we stuffed in that can over there. It's starting to look pretty full."
"Oh yes, I agree," a second politician said. "By all means, you should pay some of these bills."
"Well, uh, that's not really what I had in mind "
"Here's a better idea," the second politician said. "I have bills in my pocket that I don't want to pay, so how about we just stuff them in the can like we always do and forget about it."
"But there is literally no more room," a third politician said. "We'll need another can."
"Balderdash. I have an idea," suggested a fifth politician, who was standing next to the fourth. "We rewrite all of the bills on smaller sheets of paper. That way there will be more room."
"Brilliant," the first politician said.
"Visionary," the second politician said.
"A brilliant vision," exclaimed the fourth politician, who was not well-liked among his peers.
And so the politicians rewrote all of the bills onto smaller pieces of paper, and when they were done they had plenty of space left in the can.
"Eventually the can will fill up again," the first politician said.
"Then we will rewrite the bills on even smaller sheets of paper," the second said with a wink.
"That doesn't change the fact that someday we must also pay them "
"Enough about the can," the fourth politician said, and in a desperate bid to inject himself into the camaraderie, he ran forward and football punted the can.
It flew through the air in a perfect line and landed some distance down the road.
As time passed, politicians came and went from the road. But as a group they continued ever onward, and on occasion they would encounter the can, fill it up with unpaid bills, rewrite the bills on smaller paper and then kick it down the road. This happened time after time, year after year.
To its credit, the can hardly ever wondered why it was being subjected to such abuse from the universe. The label had long since torn from its body — if it is to be assumed that it ever had a label in the first place — and with that label went any form of identity the can maintained and also its will to fight.
As the years took their toll, the bills grew physically smaller but continued to multiply, and each time the can was refilled, it grew denser, heavier. Until one day it felt less like a can of paper and more like a can of bricks. Then, less like bricks and more like boulders. Then mountains. Then asteroids.
As the politicians continued to kick the can down the road, it became impossible to launch any amount of distance from them. As such, the can needed to be kicked more often, and each time it required more effort, a more Herculean foot.
Finally, the politicians decided the can was too heavy to kick anymore. So they walked ahead a few paces, planted some explosives and blew out a portion of the road.
"This will force us to confront the problem," they said to themselves.
Afterward, they rewrote the bills to be smaller than ever and crammed them into the can until it was so dense that it caused light to bend inward. There was no way to imagine the number of bills in the can anymore, at least not for a human being. The human mind works on too small a scale.
The politicians kicked and kicked at the can — using man, mule and machine — but in the end, all they could manage to do was to set it on a slow roll toward the blown-out roadway.
"Well, there it goes, barreling toward disaster," one politician said.
"We have to do something, or it will go over the side and flatten everything that gets caught in its path," another said.
The politicians stood quietly and watched the can inch its way toward the drop-off.
"I've got it," exclaimed a young politician. "I've figured out how to pay all of those overdue bills. And not a single one of you will have to pull out your wallets."
"Oh? Do tell."
"We'll crowd-source it through Kickstarter —"
But before he could finish, the can collapsed in on itself, forming a black hole that annihilated every living thing in the solar system.
Except for one Mayan dude who turned to no one in particular and said:
"Told you so."
Ryan Jackson's wallet likes to take long walks off short fiscal cliffs, and he can reached at email@example.com.