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TV Hell

Years ago, when we lived in an apartment with ceilings low enough to make us both feel tall, we learned something important about cable television in Iowa City: Pay for Basic, get Family.

We learned this formula quite by accident in a concentrated effort to save money. “What can we do to save?” I asked.

Kathy replied, “Cut the water. We must have cable television.” I thought it strange she would say this since I was the one who every day caressed the television’s cold glass face with adoring lips. In fact, until she brought it up, I was going to suggest that we ride the bus and clip more coupons. But—she mentioned the cable. We could downgrade our subscription! My long-dormant asceticism took control.

“That may very well be,” I said, “but if we don’t have water, how will we bathe?”

Our shower was as wide as this cat is long. He liked to sleep there. She said the cable must stay because the Weather Channel helped her cope, and because she needed Fox, CNN, and MSNBC together to set her world in order. “Besides,” she added, “We don’t bathe. The shower is the size of a TV cabinet.”

It was a fair point, but it was one that landed short of its mark. I took the offensive, and with impeccable logic and ascetic zeal I convinced her that the $39 per month we paid for TV was much more than we could afford. Soon she capitulated, and with heavy hearts, but also with dreams of heavier wallets, we called the cable company and asked to have our service changed from Family to Basic.

Basic! Little more than subsistence television! The only reason the major networks are still “major!” How can anyone who has been engorged by F/X’s daily two-hour dose of Buffy the Vampire Slayer be satisfied by one fresh episode of Smallville on Thursday and one stale episode on Saturday morning? How can anyone who has wallowed in the slop of late night, uncensored showings of the South Park movie ever be satiated by C-SPAN? How can a man who has been treated to Dexter’s Laboratory ever find Masterpiece Theatre sweet enough? We were to become basic subscribers, consigned to our own TV hell just between those who order Pay-Per-View wrestling porn and those who buy DVDs at Target! The night we made the call, we wept in turn; we wept continuously. Our nights, not to mention our afternoons and early mornings, were never to be the same again. We steeled ourselves for the day—surely, soon it would come!—when the big white van would draw up alongside our house and our television fates would be sealed.

Then… nothing happened. Channels 21, 24, 25, 35, 36, 53?—Still there! Had our request been filed? Must we continue to pay for each saturated morsel of broadcast content? Every day we waited for the bill. Every day we waited for the big white van. But when the bill came, it was for only $13.89! Our request had been filed! We knew our time was short: surely the TV gods had graced us only for a limited time; soon their destroying vans would come; meanwhile, we would steel ourselves against the inevitable and watch BVS every afternoon at 3 o’clock. Eventually, another bill came: $13.89. Then another, and another, each the same as the last. First we suspected, then we knew: the white van would never come.

So it is that we learned to pay for Basic, get Family. Was it sinful? Perhaps, as a sin of omission, yes. Should we have called to remind the cable company that they were giving us more than we were paying for? Probably. Yet in our sin we felt justified: our cable company had been sued by our city and convicted for artificially inflating its prices. They were bilking us; why should we not bilk them? Besides, we would soon move to a larger apartment, and we could then accept our television fate.

And soon, we did move. We transferred our Basic subscription to our new apartment. How surprised we were when our television told us we had more channels to search! 21, 24, 25, 35, 36, 53, even 45, 46, 54, and 65! This was not a fluke: this was unwritten policy! For three years we have lived in an illicit TV orgy. We have watched Stephen Colbert’s rise from Senior Political Correspondent on The Daily Show to erstwhile anchor of The Colbert Report. We have watched with glee Keith Olberman belittle Bill O’Reilly. As BVS has been cycled out of everyday rotation, we have switched, without shame, to all the drama of Charmed, broadcast twice a day on TNT. We have rejoiced to hear Kenny G usher in our “Local on the 8s” every morning for three years, and we have done it all for only $13.89 per month. Every day for three years has been glorious because of it!

Until yesterday. Yesterday, the big white van pulled up in the median on our street, and with it, a gray cloud settled. The TV gods’ destroying angel leaned a ladder against our house. Then, without saying a word, he cut our wire.

We now live, finally, in TV hell.



welcome to life with the rest of us loosers!

so, i thought of changing it to losers…but realized there is a truth to loosers.

you have been set loose, freed of your sin and your addiction.

it is quite appropriate that on valentine’s day you were set free from adoring the images of success and whitened teeth and fake pecs and boobs.

it is God telling you to gaze into eachother’s eyes and be charmed by spells that the irony of colbert could never encant.

Thankfully, today we received our first issue of the Atlantic and Harper’s, so in addition to POAL, we’ve got a lot to read.

so are you going to keep the basic subscription, or are you going antenna, as the pic suggests?

we are antenna-ites, living in the middle of nowhere, and can get ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS, UPN, and the WB (along with some religious stuff we don’t ever look at) for the cost of a cheap antenna or two. (We have one powered one and one regular one hooked up serially.)

I’ve lived the antenna life around here, and it’s not great: fuzzy PBS, good WB, decent CBS, and that’s it. We’ll probably stay with basic—although, if history is any indication, we might be able to cancel the cable altogether and keep the basic for a couple of years yet. And we don’t intend to be in this apartment that long…

what? no spanish station with your rabbit ears? we, at least, get a fuzzy spanish station, with really bad mexican soaps and variety shows with very buoyant, scantilly clad females,

No, no spanish station here. We’re not metro enough, in spite of several fairly large spanish-speaking communities around. We have to get our scanties on the WB, or not at all.

yeah, i think we have to have real cable for the spanish channel, which i always intend to watch to try to improve my spanish and then don’t because it seems like work.

well, we were indeed spoiled and getting more than we were paying for for some time, so we shouldn’t complain (anymore). but i do sometimes still wimper and shed the random tear at the loss, i confess.

It’s the arbitrariness of the loss that gets me, I think. I’ve been in similar weird cable situations where there doesn’t seem to be much correspondence between what you’re paying for and what you’re getting, and then suddenly the white van appears, and it’s all gone without warning. TV is very drug-like that way. Why did I never assign that as a Rhetoric of Drugs paper topic?

Well, to be fair, the demon who drives the white van had been summoned here, albeit not by us: one of your run-of-the-mill Chicagoland (proud graduate of New Trier, likely as not) blondes is moving in beneath us. She probably brought him here. We plan to exact our revenge soon enough, when she’s fast asleep mornings, we’ll be turning Robert and Michelle up louder than is really necessary.

By “Robert and Michelle,” I of course meant “Steve and Renée.” But I suspect you knew that.

would you feel ethically queasy about hooking your cable up to the blonde’s connection? my sicilian host family in belgium did this, and they were otherwise upstanding moral paragons.

Ethically queasy? I think so. Even if I knew how to do it, I wouldn’t. I find it easier to justify abiding by others’ error than my own deceit, which is to say that some sins of omission are more ethically acceptable to me. Exception: if someone counts out the wrong change to me and I know it, I return the extra. All sins of omission are not equal. Oh, the webs we weave!

However, your suggest reminds me of a friend who, just after he moved into an apartment in Iowa City, received a knock on the door. It was his downstairs neighbor, who promptly said, “I’ll give you cable, with HBO and everything, if you pay me $10 a month.” The entire building, it turns out, had been taking advantage of this guy’s cable for some time: CoAx cable ran up the edge of the stairs and underneath all the doors.

Ah yes. . . “I went to New Trier High School; I don’t get Cs” (although as I recall, she didn’t use semicolons either, but I can’t seem to avoid them). Steve and Renée will be good for her.

I agree with you about sins of omission—tangled webs indeed.

Our little New Trier matriculate is also, apparently, one of those students who adopts pets she does not know how to care for. Today for an hour she chased the dog, what looks like a lab or lab mix, through the median and into the street. Cars passed; the dog ran in front of and behind them. Every time she would get near, the dog would run away, turn around, and bark at her. New Trier patted her knees; New Trier stomped her feet; New Trier enlisted the help of a boy walking down the street. The dog loved the game. Probably she adopted the dog, a puppy, How cute!, and never managed to do anything like, you know, discipline him.

On the plus side, the cats enjoyed the show.

i guess i must have really ignored my students from chicago, because i’ve never heard of New Trier. it doesn’t really matter. what matters is that greg is always quick to discriminate against these unnaturally blonde suburban girls, which of course leads me to believe that he secretly loves them.

Well, if I wanted it to remain a secret, you’ve gone and blown all hope of that now…

i guess, that mr. i don’t care for the olympics has found a reason to watch.

Sure, and there’s women’s girls’ figure skating tonight—always a charm. And I say that despite 1) my earlier blaisé attitude about the O; 2) the fact that Bode has let us all down; and 3) the cable demon took away my chances of watching the O on MSNBC, etc.