I sat nervously cradling the small slip of paper in my hands, waiting for the number printed on it to match the number on the digital “now serving” sign in front of me. On the wall beyond it, on the far side of the room, was a gigantic Time Warner Cable logo. The stylized blue swirly eyeball hovered there unblinking, watching my every move. With a cold, piercing gaze, it pried all the way down into the very fabric of my soul, then impossibly whispered, “there is no escape.” The numbers ticked away like the last seconds of a life that was poised to begin anew on some ethereal, proverbial “other side” where friends and family were said to be waiting to welcome me with open arms. A computerized voice cut through my thoughts like Chris Christie cutting through a buffet line. “Now serving A90 at window number two,” it droned. I collected my belongings and my composure, and bolted across the room in fear that any hesitation would prompt the 23rd Street Time Warner Cable Store overlords to call the next customer. I imagined the voice mocking me: “Too slow, asshole. Now serving A91.”
I reached the counter to find an intense-looking 20-something dude. Though every other employee behind the counter was seated, as was every other customer who they were helping, my guy was standing at attention. I would have liked to have sit down, but I didn’t want to make him feel any more superior to me than he probably already did. I attempted to mask my uneasiness by opening with a terrible joke about the long wait: “Man, is this the Time Warner Store or the DMV?” It became excruciatingly clear from his lukewarm reaction that this guy was all business. There was only one thing left for me to do — the only thing I had come there to do. I took a deep breath and sheepishly revealed, “I’d like to sign up for digital cable…again.” He looked up my account information. “I’ll get you a box,” he said as he pivoted and disappeared into a backroom, but all I heard was, “I knew you’d be back.” He was right. Like a drunk dad in the delivery room, my clumsy attempt at cutting the cord had failed. And like a thirsty newborn, I was back suckling the sweet teat of cable TV.
The reason I chose to cancel cable last year was purely economic. Growing up, I had always assumed that cable television was some kind of free service like firemen or the mailman. For all intents and purposes, it was. My family on Long Island traded “hot” Cablevision boxes — boxes that were hotwired to pick up the scrambled cable channels for free — like they were Christmas cards. But in adulthood, in 2013, my monthly cable bill was higher than what I was paying in healthcare premiums. It would’ve cost less for me to have an infected appendix removed than it was costing me to watch Alan Alda diagnose one on a rerun of M*A*S*H. So, with bills mounting, my fiancée and I opted to do away with Time Warner last winter and take our chances with a meager 13 over-the-air local stations…like savages.
For the next 10 or so months, we subsisted on whatever cop dramas and quirky girl comedies the major broadcast networks chose to bombard our bodies with. (Really, did you know TV waves in the air are actually passing through us all the time? Shows like The Bachelor and Sean Saves the World are floating through our bodies right now, which is probably what’s really causing all that cancer.) Friends and co-workers would routinely ask me what I thought about the previous night’s Mad Men or Sons of Anarchy, and I’d routinely blow their minds every time I awkwardly reminded them I didn’t have cable. To avoid embarrassment, I’d act like they were the weird ones — that they had been bamboozled by a money hungry suicide cult and that only I was smart enough to see through the ruse and escape. However, all the while I secretly wished that I could be right there alongside them, drinking the poisoned Kool-Aid and watching the final season of Breaking Bad. Sure, I had Netflix, but it was a poor replacement. After binge watching every single Battlestar Galactica episode, I was becoming desperate. One night I watched an 80-minute documentary on Helvetica. Yeah, Helvetica — the fucking keyboard font. I guess I could’ve read a book if I was that bored, but I write and read all day for a living, so fuck that. What’s more, I’d recently started writing for a new cable TV show…a show I’d have no way of watching once it debuted. When I realized that working in television but not having cable was like working in a coal mine all day but not paying to heat your house, I knew what had to be done.
Saving money was nice, but walking out of the Time Warner Store with a cable box — a golden ticket to 250 channels, some of them with naked women — felt so much nicer. I cradled it in my arms like a Sally Struthers baby I had just adopted for $49.99 a month as I cut a giddy path to the subway. And yet, I couldn’t help but feel guilty. I felt like I had let my fellow cable-cutting, digitally-savvy generation of smarmy hipsters down by crawling back on my hands and knees to a mega corporation that held entertainment hostage for a monthly ransom. But then I went home and watched two stoned kids beat the shit out of each other over a bong on Tosh.0 and I forgot all about it.
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