I have no idea what my phone costs. I don't even know if it's mine.

There's a bill once a month, and I pay it, and my phone works, so I guess ... we're good? But I was curious if I was eligible for a new one, because I had a dim memory of signing up for the Yes You Are Eligible for a New One Of Course Plan for an extra $1.37 every six days. (Conditions apply, the primary condition being you accept that you are not, in fact, eligible for a new phone.)

I know that I also enrolled in an international roaming plan, which is best called "Heart Attack Prevention Plan." If you do not sign up for a plan, and you go abroad, it costs approximately $17 per millisecond to use your phone, and you get a bill a month later that rivals the cost of your phone, or would, if you knew what this was.

I do not jaunt off to Rio or Monaco with any regularity, but having suffered through one painful bill when Daughter was in Brazil, I put everyone on the plan. I mean, if my wife is kidnapped and taken to Sinaloa, I want her to be able to call to beg for her life without worrying about the bill.

"They want $20,000!"

"The kidnappers or the phone company ...

"Wait — I just remembered that we have international roaming. Say, maybe we have kidnapping insurance. That's like one of those things you find you have through AAA or AARP and you never knew it. Hold the line, I'm going to check."

Anyway, I wondered about getting a new phone, because it was made of titanium. The glass will still crack if you drop it or google "Rocks" on a fast connection, but that titanium case, man, that's the latest. It also has a better camera. The camera on my current phone not only can take a good picture of the moon, it can capture the remains of the Lunar Lander we left there in 1969, but you can't make out the text on the craft. NESA? NASE? Obviously, I need the new camera.

So I went to the store to see where I was in the contract. I expected it would be in the middle. I am always in the middle of a contract. The contract is never over. I think back to the first guy who told me to sign here, and I wonder if I just overlooked the horns and hooves and the faint whiff of sulfur.

The clerk called up my details on a computer and said I was eligible for a new phone.

"And it's titanium?"

"Oh, it most certainly is."

"Good. I've been feeling a noticeable lack of titanium in my life. What do I have now? Cadmium? Uranium? Polonium?"

"I think you have Space Gold Brushed Nickel."

"Really! I saw Space Gold open for Brushed Nickel in 1975 at the Fargo Civic Center. So, I give you this phone, and you give me another one?"

"Yes, if you pay it off."

"Ah. What do I owe?"

"Just $767."

But I had the replacement insurance, so I could smash the phone with a hammer right there in the store and owe nothing on it, but I owe $767 on a new one, which I could space out in monthly payments that would be the same as I was paying now. Or, I could pay it off all at once, and get a $767 credit for the titanium phone. Or, I could take advantage of the new promotion, get the titanium phone for an upfront price of $767, which would be reduced to zero if I gave them the old phone at midnight in a wooded grove where the hooting of owls and chanting of robed figures around a fire committed my soul to eternal indenture to this particular carrier, unless I bundled the wireless package with fiber-optic internet.

"Is there any package where I safeguard my eternal soul and get a new phone without a $767 charge to my credit card that will be immediately offset by a $767 credit?"

He peered at his tablet. "Yes, but I see you have international data roaming, and that would increase by $10."

"Well, I can get kidnapping insurance through AARP for $7, so I'm ahead three dollars."

"You have AARP? You should've said something! That entitles you to a 1.8% reduction in the insurance plan." He tapped the tablet again and turned it around so I could look: by some miracle I could get the new phone right away for no additional cost, but I would owe $767 for the rest of my life.

I said no. He said the new phone had a better camera. It was practically NASA grade.

Of course! NASA! That's what the letters said.

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