That’s how the letter always begins. And when I see that opening phrase, I know I’m about to get screwed. Again.
This time it was a love note from Cablevision, the corporation that lets Jimmy Dolan be generous to his friends. To better serve me, they were requiring a set top digital box for any television on which I wanted to actually see a picture. The FCC, in its infinite wisdom, decided a while back to require television broadcasters and cable providers to digitize everything to free bandwidth so that early adopters could use their iPads and smartyphones to watch Three’s Company reruns whenever they were bored. Progress.
The letter wasn’t exactly clear, mostly because it was written in marketerese, telling me how I would have a more wonderful life, grow taller and more handsome if I only got a set top box. Being quite satisfied with how things were going without the box, I assumed that I didn’t need one. That lasted until the other morning, when I put on the TV to see the news and instead got a blue screen informing me that Jimmy Dolan was laughing at me.
I got the message, and off I went to the Cablevision store. Apparently, Jimmy was doing an awful lot of laughing that day, as the line was out the door. People had spouses and relatives bring them food so they didn’t die of starvation while waiting on the line. There was an armored car outside, a very bad omen for me.
The very sweet, overworked girl at the counter told me that I was “entitled” to gaggle of boxes, free for a year. Free is usually such a nice word, but never when uttered by an employee of Cablevision, even a sweet one. Free is the prelude to “we’re going to charge you once your year is up a fee for the rest of your natural life.” It’s the lube, the Santorum, that precedes the pain.
My relationship to television, and hence to cable, is a curious one. I turn it on when I’m curious. Then I usually fall asleep. Since I like sleep, it serves a valuable purpose in my life. There are also televisions around the house for others to watch, including the occasional guests who invited themselves to stay for periods that make fish smell good. The guestroom televisions don’t get used very often, but it’s important that they’re there so the guests don’t spend their time watching with me and preventing me from my much needed sleep.
But when my year ends, there will be a bill to pay. The cost is $6.95 at the moment, though when Jimmy realizes that for an extra quarter per month per box, he can rule the world, there’s a good chance the price will go up. Either way, it’s a cost that will be levied for what I already had working just fine. To better serve you.
Since coming to the realization that Jimmy had made me his butt boy against my will, I sought alternatives to paying for Cablevision’s box (plus remote, even though you can’t use one without the other). I considered whether a digital to analog converter would do the trick. Nope, they told me at the store. Tried and failed.
I googled for an answer, and google came up empty. There was a thread that discussed getting a new television with a QAM tuner, which merely needed a cable card to make the pictures flow, but that struck me as even dumber than getting cable boxes, since my TVs all work just fine, as they have since 1975 when I did away with the rabbit ears. That was when I first signed up for cable, which promised commercial free television. Remember that?
It’s hard to imagine that some entrepreneurial soul hasn’t come up with a way that I can buy a box from them and beat Jimmy Dolan out of worldwide hegemony. If you’ve got an answer, I’ve got a little less than a year before charges start appearing on my bill. But don’t tell me unless you really have an answer. I couldn’t bear another Cablevision disappointment.