Lileks: When that Earnest Young Person comes to your door ...

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 15, 2012 - 8:06 PM

I'd get signatures to ban people from going door-to-door to get signatures, but I'd have to go door-to-door to do it.

At least I'd know when to do it: supper.

The other night, while cooking a meal that required exact and precise calibration -- the item must be removed from the microwave after two minutes, stirred and replaced -- the doorbell rang. Behold: a fellow wanting my help to make Minneapolis pick up organic waste for composting.

The idea of one more thing to sort and save and drag to the curb, combined with a general unease over adding "decomposition management" to the daily chores, made me disinclined to drop everything and listen. But apparently saying "thanks, good luck, but I'm a bit busy" came out as "I find your proposal compelling and intriguing; do go on."

Because he did.

I know we're supposed to be impressed by an Earnest Young Person who has a cause, but there are limits.

Imagine: "Hello. I care deeply about the problem of unchecked moral decay in our trees and back yards, and am gathering support for a program to fit all squirrels with chastity belts."

You don't think, "Oh, it's nice to see that apathy hasn't clutched an entire generation with its limp, moist grasp. He cares."

You do think: If his foot is in the door when I slam it, that's his problem.

But he's already describing the bill before the Legislature, and you nod, and nod, and wait for him to finish.

"... after the pilot program we'll request funding for small shock collars that deliver a mild-yet-instructive jolt when impure thoughts occur."

You hear the timer go off in the kitchen. He thrusts the clipboard. It has several of your neighbors' names on it. Hasty scrawls, as if they thought "Earnest Young Person, Petition, Whatever, Good Luck," and signed just so they could get back to the lives they were leading.

The EYP notes that he's just trying to get squirrel carnality on the ballot, so a signature isn't an expression of support per se. Let the people decide.

A minute ago you were roasting potatoes; now you're standing athwart Democracy.

Not everyone who comes to the door is unwelcome. Scouts, for example.

Everyone loves Scouts. "Hello. I am from Troop 666, and I am selling enormous boxes of grapefruit." This makes sense, somehow. You pay the kid, get a receipt, and six months later there's 40 pounds of grapefruit on the doorstep.

The kids could show up and ask for $20, in return for which they promise not to deliver 40 pounds of grapefruit, and people would pay them. Pure profit. For another $20, they could also offer not to deliver a crate of pears.

The migratory magazine scammers are different. Vans pull up; 50 scrawny kids emerge and fan out to hawk that rare, hard-to-find item, the magazine.

The salesman begins by waving a laminated badge to prove he represents a legitimate firm. They don't let just anyone laminate, you know. Lamination is your guarantee!

They're always weird mags, too -- Bon Appetitot, Newswack, Tome, Prayboy, and so on. I've had a few of these salesman turn downright mean on me, but once you ask "You got 'Guns and Ammo' on that list?" their tone changes.

Then there's the Wood Guy. He comes in the fall. Drives up from Marshall in a truck held together with Bondo and duct tape. You need wood? No? OK, then.

He leaves and you think: Why just wood? Why not add salsa, or AA batteries?

He's the last example of the true peddler, a long-vanished urban character who wandered around with a cartload of crap, calling out his litany of wares: DENTED SHOES. HALF-SPOONS. KNIVES DULLED WHILE YOU WAIT. HORSE PARTS.

But he's gone, along with all the other professional door- knockers: the telegraph delivery boy in a crisp uniform, touching his cap when he got a nickel tip; the Fuller Brush Man, filling all your unmet brush needs; the door-to-door encyclopedia salesman, who represented a line that cut costs by eliminating letters you'd probably never need. C, ma'am? Well, C stands for Communism. I can put you down for C if you'd like, but the home office would have to report it.

C is also for Compost.

And yes, I signed. It was the only way to get back to cooking.

If Minneapolis garbage collectors are going to pick up organic waste, great: They should start soon.

We're only halfway through the 40 pounds of grapefruit, and they're starting to turn.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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