James Lileks
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Because I’m always eager to fill up the yawning void of existential dread with a new gadget, I got one of those video doorbells. The picture is crisp and clear. My doorbell broadcasts a better image than CBS circa 2001. At night it shows stars; it’s like I bolted the Hubble to my house.

I can’t wait to use it with a visitor, but no one’s shown up yet. For once in my life, I actually want someone coming around the house to sell me magazines so I can get rid of them remotely, from my phone, wherever I am.

Here’s how I imagine the interaction will proceed:

Bothersome person presses bell.

Me: “Hello, sorry, I can’t come to the door.”

BP: “OK, thank you.” Leaves.

Here’s how I fear it will work out. The doorbell rings and goes to my phone while I’m in line at a fast-food drive-through.

Bothersome person: “Hello, I’m an earnest young person whose idealism has not yet been eroded by the indifference of the world. I want you to sign a piece of paper to encourage someone to do something.”

Me: “I’m sorry, I can’t come to the door right now.”

BP: “OK, I understand. But can I just tell you about the Project for a Clean Sustainable?”

Me: “No. I’m busy. I’m downstairs. And I broke my leg. It’s in a cast. A very heavy cast. I have to go up the stairs backward on my butt.”

BP: “I can wait.”

Me, after muting the phone to order my meal: “I’m ... in the middle of something. I’m putting up some preserves.”

BP: “Do you mind if I leave some literature?”

Me: “What, like Balzac or Dickens? No. But, what do you mean, Project for a Clean Sustainable? Aren’t you missing a word?”

BP: “Sir we’re all missing a word, and that word is community. The Project for a Clean Sustainable Community wants to work to empower communities to project sustainability in a clean way that ...”

And then I realize that nothing will get rid of this person, so I shout: “I cannot see you now! There are owls here, and the owls are angry with the sour juice of your lies.”

The guy leaning out of the drive-through window with my bag has a curious expression, so I take the bag and drive on even though I really want to ask for some mustard for my hamburger. They never put mustard on anymore.

BP: “OK, I hear you about the owls. What would be a good time to come back?”

So the device doesn’t work very well with pushy community activists. But I also was promised that I could use it to see when packages are delivered. That’s great. I’ve always wondered when packages are delivered. I get the paper off the stoop in the morning, there’s no package. I come home, there’s a package. How did that happen? Winged Oz monkeys? If I catch one of those in action via my video doorbell, it’s YouTube fame for certain.

Of course, then I’ll have to monetize the video and allow ads, and people will click on my video — Oz Monkeys Work for Amazon: The Shocking Proof — but there will be an ad for insurance beforehand, and even though you can click to skip after five seconds, people think: “I’ve got things to do. I mean, I’ve seen Oz Monkeys in the movie. So they’re delivering a box. Wake me when they’re going down a waterslide.” And then they hit the back button.

As for using the video if my packages are stolen, you know how that goes.

Me: “Hello, Police? I have high-quality video of some miscreant taking a box off my porch. I figured you could compare it to other citizen submissions, compile a dossier, send out an all-points be-on-the-lookout-for bulletin and bring a temporary sense of closure to our general fears about rising crime.”

Police: “Thank you. Please e-mail it to majorcrimes@whoopdeedo.com and we’ll send the SWAT van shrieking to your house.” (Click)

As much as I love the device, I think the manufacturers have it backward. The doorbell should have the screen, like a modern gas pump. It should play video the visitor can watch until I get to the front door. News, weather, sports — with ads, of course. And I get a cut.

After two ads for insurance, anyone uninvited who’s come to the door will leave.

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks