I knew we needed to end things. He was never there for me. I’d come home after a long day at work, wanting nothing more than a glass (well, a bottle really) of wine, a couch, and some of his sweet loving, and he’d give me nothing but grief.
“He” was my cable TV provider. (I’ll let him remain anonymous, but let’s just say his initials are TWC and he’s sort of a big deal.) We were together for just over two years (at least in our last incarnation, but you know, there were several more years of “on and off” stuff before that). There were good times (many of them having to do with Bravo or Tina Fey), but there were bad times too. Oh, were there bad times.
“I just can’t take this anymore,” I tipsily told a customer service representative one night. There I was, wanting nothing more than to erase my workday with some Viognier and Top Chef, but it wasn’t working. The sound popped in and out of the recording, rendering it tragically unwatchable.
“I’m sorry to hear that m’am,” the representative replied in a sweet southern drawl, its mellifluous tones deepening the chasm of cliches between us. Me: angry, wine-soaked New Yorker; her: a sweet lady’s lady with a husband and kids and no fervent desire to watch Top Chef or 30 Rock or No Reservations RIGHT NOW GODDAMMIT. “Can you tell me what the display on your cable box says now?”
It was always the same. They were always “sorry to hear that.” Sorry to hear that I didn’t have sound or picture or channels despite the ungodly sum I handed their evil employer each month. I could hear hours of training in their voices and their perfectly chosen words; a memo about better customer service, role playing exercises in as soulless conference room teaching a faceless army how to deal with enraged customers. This only infuriated me further. “Let’s try resetting your box… I don’t see anything on my end… I’ll have to send a repairman… the first available appointment I have is two weeks from tomorrow smack in the middle of the work day.”
The final breaking point came not with Tom Colicchio or Tina Fey, but Jon Hamm. It was the Mad Men season finale. I invited a dozen friends over to huddle around the glowing box, to eat, drink and rejoice in television, as man has done for ages. Someone made Chicken Kiev. Everyone brought wine. I turned on the television, eager to watch Don Draper screw up his pretty little life yet again. The picture sputtered to life and then continued to sputter, a sticky stream of pixels and disjointed audio. The crowd grasped. We took a deep breath, and switched from hi-def to the standard broadcast. Surely TWC could at least give us that. But it couldn’t…
We battled for about 90 minutes. With TWC’s cheap, unresponsive remote control in hand, I tried valiantly, clumsily to provide the finale we desperately wanted. It was out there in the ether, but we couldn’t bring it into my cozy living room. If we could watch it live instead of on DVR, if we could catch a later feed, surely it could work somehow… but it didn’t. I walked my guests to the door defeated. Then I picked up the phone, dialed the number I knew all too well, and ended things.
The next day, I came home from work to find that my boyfriend had pulled the sickly cable box from the entertainment center and replaced it with an AppleTV. It had the feeling of a dead hamster being swapped out for a fresh one for an unsuspecting young child. But of course, I am an adult (sorta), and I knew this wasn’t the same hamster.
It sprang obediently to life, offering up a clean, crisp interface with happy chirps, like any Apple product. The boyfriend showed off the new baby joyfully, see it can play Netflix Instant or anything in your iTunes library, it’s so easy. I wanted to be happy. This was right. This was healthy. But, I couldn’t help but think of him.
What if I want to watch 30 Rock on the night it airs, not the next day? What about The Daily Show? Or the CNN Magic Wall? Memories of the good times flooded back to me.
The boyfriend curtly reminded me that I’d rarely been able to make it to the end of The Daily Show without falling asleep, and that I’d wasting hours each week engaging in dysfunctional behavior with TWC, from phones calls and hold times to “technician appointments.” I couldn’t go back to that. We couldn’t go back to that.
They call the increasingly popular act of ditching your cable TV in favor of cheaper entertainment options, from Hulu to AppleTV to a good old antenna, “cutting the cord,” and it’s all too fitting a phrase. It implies we’re all just little babies tied not so much to an evil cable provider of a boyfriend but really an evil, omnipotent mother… a crack mother perhaps. “How do you manage?” friends and colleagues will ask when I tell them of my big cable break-up, as if there’s some sort of struggle to survive without the TV teat to suck.
But I am surviving. Yes, there’s an occasional strange sense of disconnect, to, say, not being able to watch the election returns on that CNN Magic Wall or have a sit down with Andy Cohen to review the latest Real Housewives train wreck. And there’s an odd new awareness of just what I’m viewing. Watching a TV show on the AppleTV, either buy buying it off iTunes or through Netflix Instant, feels like more of a deliberate act than scrolling through TWC’s offerings. That’s probably a good thing, and, as the (human, not cable provider) boyfriend is quick to remind me, it’s not like TWC ever really worked when I wanted him/it. True, but those times when it was good, those few, rare times, it was really good.