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The Truth, Mainly - 03/15/1993

Dropping Cablevision

I've watched enough television to know that when Heroic Self-Deprivation strikes, it helps to talk endlessly about it in public. So listen: we had our Cablevision cut off last week.

It's a major change of life for me. For the last ten years or so, I've spent most evenings with the remote control, flipping through the ever increasing number of channels Cablevision has piped into our house. It's not only been a way of avoiding useful thought—it's been a real power trip.

"Wow, did you see that?" I'd say. "Did Madonna really do what I think she did with that microphone?"

Then just as my wife would look up from her book, I'd change the channel to the Home Shopping Network. It'd drive her crazy.

She doesn't much like television anyway. She agrees with Fred Allen that it's chewing gum for the mind.

But when the wind blew down our antenna a decade ago, I argued it was a sign that God wanted us to have cable. Whole new worlds would open up to us, I said. Not only could we see reruns about talking horses, we could watch mating habits of pubescent Canadian waterbugs. There'd be MTV and Pat Robertson and Hulk Hogan right in our living room. She wasn't impressed.

"Most antenna TV is crap," she said. "Most cable TV is crap squared."

Then she'd go back to her book. Occasionally she'd hide the remote control long enough to watch MacNeil-Lehrer or Bill Moyers, but mostly she'd let me play my power games with Cablevision while she read. She even got some earplugs so she wouldn't have to listen. She says crap squared makes ugly noises.

But I'm a tightwad and as Cablevision's bills got higher and higher, I got crankier and crankier. The remote control wasn't fun anymore.

"Well," she'd say, "I suppose we could always let the invisible hand of the free market take over: we could switch to one of the other cable companies."

Then she'd laugh.

It came to a head two weeks ago when we got our notice that the "Full Cable Service" we'd been getting was about to go up to $19.15 a month for 39 channels. But this time, there were options. The one that appealed most to my tightwaddedness was something called "Broadcast TV Service"—which would cost only $5.19 a month for 21 channels.

"Hey, look," I said. "We can get half the channels for a fourth the price."

"Sounds good," she said, not even looking up from her book. "Less is more."

So I called Cablevision. A nice lady answered.

"We'd like to change from Full Cable to Broadcast TV," I said. "You know—from $19.15 to $5.19."

"There's a $75 service charge for that change," the nice lady said.

"But your letter says one change of service a month at no charge," I said. "That's what we want."

"That's for a service change from our office," she said. "For what you want we'd have to install new equipment at your residence."

The Truth, Mainly


"But we don't want any new service," I said. "We just want less service."

"To give you that," she said, "we have to install new equipment to filter out the service you're getting now that you don't want anymore. It costs $75."

"Gee. Yeah," I said, slapping my forehead. "What if we want more service?"

"We could do that from the office," she said. "There wouldn't be any installation charge for that."

"Gee. Yeah," I said. "I'll have to think about it."

I hung up and explained to my wife that there was a $75 installation charge to get less service, but no installation charge to get more service. Maybe, I said, it'd be cheaper to get more service.

"Your brains have dried up from watching TV," she said. "If you get more service, the monthly service charge goes up."

"Gee. Yeah," I said. "So what'll we do?"

"Well," she said, "I suppose if it costs $75 to filter out half the channels, it'll cost $150 to filter out all of them. Did you ask about that?"

So I called back and asked the nice lady what it would cost to filter out all the channels. Nothing, she said with a little edge in her voice, but we'd have to give back our Cablevision control box.

When I told my wife, she said they must have made a mistake, but if I'd call them back real quick before they caught it, we'd get a helluva deal.

I was a little confused by then, so that's what I did. Now I spend evenings flipping around the three or four channels we pick up with the rabbit ears.

"Wow, did you see that?" I say just before I push the remote control button. "Did Ken Siemek really do what I think he did with that microphone?"

We're trying to figure out what to buy with the $150 we saved. It's a tough job since we don't have the Home Shopping Network anymore. My wife wants to buy books, but she says if I really need something for the void in my mind where Cablevision used to be, $150 would probably buy enough chewing gum to fill it.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.


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