I’ve got cable.
Like, the disease.
I didn’t get it on purpose. I used protection and everything. Kept that broadband Internet connection clear of the television for years.
See, in my area you have to get basic cable for your TV to even get the local channels, 3, 4, 6, the WB — you get the picture. We didn’t have basic anything. Not even local channels. Black and white snow unless a DVD was playing.
A while back, I spent four years in college without television. So when I turned it on after graduation, I was transfixed. This is my generation?! Then I moved in with Ruby, and she had CABLE. Not just 3, 4, 6, the WB — we’re talking Animal Planet, Lifetime, MTV. And it was a Real World marathon that weekend.
I didn’t leave the couch for two days.
A year later I was living with Shannon and we got cable because we lived in Winter Hill and there’s nothing else to do there but watch television. I was still new to this whole TV thing. But Shannon, dear, sweet girl — introduced me to the wonderful world of Friends.
This is a closet secret of mine that I’ve just let out of the bag. Most people who know me would expect Friends to be the last thing I’d watch. But I soon discovered that most days of the week you could watch two episodes of this crack-of-all-TV-shows. One magical day of the week, Thursday, you could watch not only the regular two re-runs, but the new season too, for a total of three episodes of Friends.
We lived in Winter Hill, remember?
I still haven’t put my finger on what exactly drew me to that show. I guess I have always wanted to date someone as cute and dorky as Chandler. He pulls off the charming, cleaned-up nerd quite well. Or maybe it’s the fact that they live in New York City and none of them ever work. Anyway, I didn’t tell anyone about my secret Friends obsession. Only my roommate knew this dark truth. The best part was, Shannon brought me in about 8 seasons deep, so there were millions of episodes to catch up on.
If 7:00 drew near and someone was keeping me on the phone too long, or I was late on my way home, I’d get frantic and edgy and start making excuses to end the conversation or take a cab. I realized there was a problem here. But I couldn’t help it. I didn’t know what to do. And with a roommate enabling me… well, I began hiding this addiction from family and friends. They’d never understand. They’d never expect that poor behavior from me. The lack of standards. The questionable morals. It was not only out of character, but troublesome by itself. But wait — it gets worse.
Okay, well — Shannon and I mainly watched Dawson’s because it enfuriated us and we could drink gin and tonic and scream at the TV. “Dawson, you look like a fucking golden retriever!” “And your girlfriend’s a CabbagePatch Kid!” “Look — she’s got that one fucked up eye!” “Grams! Grams!” “No for real — I was that eloquent at 15.” I would get worked up and she would get pissed off, we’d chain smoke and show up next week, same time, same channel.
And then, Felicity arrived.
What could be more charming than a cute wide-eyed girl who looks like a wet bunny appearing magically in New York City, a starving student with a sprawling apartment and perfect clothes who works at a coffee shop and has to decide between two adorable suitors? When this show appeared on the scene, we were already prepped by Dawson’s, and now had to add another hour to our television schedule. Back to back. I loved Felicity because the lighting was always dim and flattering and the music was good.
Then things got really ugly.
I moved into a different apartment, without Shannon who deserted me for a Back Bay zip code and life with an angry glam rocker, a gay man, and a dog. Okay, well they had a roof deck, too.
The apartment I moved into was on the broadband Internet grid. That was four years ago, and that was pretty rare. I was like fuckin’ A! Set me up! The apartment already had basic cable, local channel 3, 4, 6, the WB, so they just had to augment the line.
When you get broadband Internet, they run a cable into the house for the modem, and the TV runs on the same line but with a data filter. When the guy comes to install the cable, he hooks up the filter and programs the little box. There are all sorts of complex codes entered, requiring dexterity, that limit what channels you get. The service was installed the day after Labor Day.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
The cable guy, barely able to make it into the house on account of his hangover, already 4 hours late despite the generous “between 10 AM and 5 PM” time slot, was in a shakey-handed rush and kind of forgot to do whatever he needed to do to screen out what channels I was supposed to get. I am naming my first born child after this man. What did we get?
That’s right. Pay Per View, baby. Any channel. Any time. Free.
We also got about 6 subscription packages; HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Sundance, IFC, and three dozen other paid channels.
And free porn, 24/7.
I made a few very good friends at that point in my life. It became an excellent way to get room service. “Sure you can come over. I’m in bed. Bring me Tostitos and the latest Cosmopolitan. I’ll leave the door unlocked.”
I was skeptical about all this free cable. I know it’s one of the biggest federal offenses available to the responsible citizen, along with removing those labels from mattresses, and I didn’t want to get busted. I opened my first bill dubiously. I winced in preparation for the blow. Those channels would easily have cost over $150, never mind the always-on Pay Per View.
But there it was in red: “Cable television: $8.95.”
How could I rationalize leaving the house?
I was suspicious about the cable box so I wouldn’t let anyone near it. It was shelved in glass. No one was to turn it on or off. It would stay as is. I ripped the power button off the remote with a knife.
I watched every single movie that came out in 1999.
And I got really sick of fake breasts, awful plot lines, bad costumes, seventies bass lines, and constipated squeals. But I did see a few decent pornos. The lesbian ones tend to be more interesting than the hetero versions. There’s something about a guy being that excessively hygenic that turns my stomach. Women traditionally shave… well, almost anything. But guys that clean and hairless are just plain creepy. Plus they’re all tan and look… well, gay.
The porn was fascinating in the beginning, and I was riveted. It was the car crash I could not look away from. Then after a while it got to be just another channel I skipped over, like QVC.
Animal Planet, however, I couldn’t take my eyes off.
I’m a total animal freak. I would watch Animal Rescure 911 and then K-9 to 5, which was on right afterwards, and cry through both of them. K-9 to 5 is about dogs trained for working, and usually there’s some kind of tragic child involved that can’t lift his arms or legs. My favorite was the Border Collie who learned to recognize when her master was about to have a seizure before the woman even knew herself. She could sense the change in brain chemistry or something. She’d take the woman by the hand, lead her somewhere safe, and guard her while she was unconscious. I bawled over that one for days.
After three years of luxuriously free cable, my Internet connection went down. I was installing a wireless network in my house and messing with my Vaio. The modem disconnected its communication from the mothership. I’d never seen that light go off. I did the usual unplugging the power, unplugging the cable, reconnecting, which would normally reset the modem. It wasn’t working. I didn’t know what to do. I hate talking to the people at MediaOne. I was a guilty, paranoid individual surrounding this whole free cable thing, so I avoided contacting anyone at any lengths. But this time it was necessary.
After walking me through what I’d already done a thousand times, the woman said unceremoniously, “Okay let me reset your cable. It’ll shut off the modem and the box too for about ten seconds.” And I scream,
“Nooooooo! You can’t!!!!!”
“I’m sorry, m’am?”
“I mean, nevermind!!! I’m hanging up now. I don’t want you to fix anything.”
“Well, I’ve reset your cable. Is your little light on the modem blinking now?”
I stared in horror across the living room and the light was, indeed, on. And the cable box was off. I hung up the phone and crawled across the floor toward the TV. I removed the glass. Bracing myself, I flipped the switch. Yup, 3, 4, 6, the WB… static. Static. Static. Snow.
*Please pause for a moment of silence.*
After falling into a deep depression over my loss, I cancelled the basic cable and stopped watching TV altogether. Cable television was dead to me; the TV dormant, hulking in the living room gathering dust, except when we watched a DVD.
Then they told me I had to have cable.
“You know you want it,” the guy said. It made me uncomfortable. I squirmed. But the price of Internet access has gone up, and MediaOne is actually trying to get people to subscribe to cable packages, which will no doubt also go up in price later. Right now, however, it’s cheaper to have cable TV and Internet together than Internet all by itself. I can’t quite figure that one out, but I signed up out of common sense.
The cable guy came while I was in New Orleans and my roommate handled it so I had forgotten about it. I came home yesterday feeling edgy and needing to get out of my head for an hour or two. I was searching for a good book. Then I saw a few DVDs had come in the mail from Netflix, but I had already seen two of them and the third was Malcolm X, which I ordered, but it was a bit heady and long for an ornery Monday night. And then a little light bulb went off.
I ran over to the TV like a kid on Christmas, crouching on the floor searching for the remote. The power button was no longer missing. I pressed it.
And then I saw the little logo for Animal Planet in the lower right corner. It brought tears to my eyes. The time came up on the screen and it said 6:57. Out of a long-buried instinct I knew: three minutes until Friends. I was hoping it would be the episode where Joey and Chandler get free porn on cable because the cable company screws up. That would have been creepy, huh?
Half an hour was enough. I felt like one of the blind people in Plato’s cave who has been dragged out into the light, not understanding the brightness and wanting to go back where it’s dark and safe. TV land moves too fast for me, is too loud — too bigger better faster more. Being a well-trained advertising person, I overanalyze the ads, simplifying them into one sentence, which is how all commercials begin. Put menthol strips on your tongue, get laid. Do karate while your clothes are in the washer, get laid. Drink carbonated sugar water, get laid.
The final ad I saw made me miss Shannon so much: I remember us sprawled in the living room scrutinzing a commerical break during Dawson’s Creek, agitated; she on the couch, me on the love seat, a glass of Pinot in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The ad for Pizza Bites comes on. My dear sarcastic friend snaps, “Because pizza isn’t fast enough anymore. You have to stick it in the toaster. It’s already digested for Christ’s sake. Why bother eating it? Just open the box and throw it in the toilet.”
Eat crap, have more time to get laid.
I’ve got cable.