A year ago I cut the cord from cable, joining the legions of people whose TVs are really oversized computer monitors. It was paradise, this land of Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime, and I coolly rebuffed the occasional entreaty from the cable company trying to woo me back. I was binge-watching Breaking Bad for $7.99 a month, and cable was just something old people used, like AOL addresses or those lighted magnifying glasses that let you read menus in dark restaurants.
There was just one problem: football season. Yes, I bought a digital antenna, which worked if I wanted to watch Fox on a clear windless day and I sat on just the right part of the couch during a harvest moon. But eventually I came to loathe the finicky antenna and sought ways to circumvent it, going to bars or inviting myself over to friends’ houses. There’s a subtle but important difference between hanging out and watching football for fun and doing it out of necessity because you’re too cheap to pay for cable. I felt like an outcast, a live-sports-mooching leper. “We can’t watch the Super Bowl at my house” is something no American male should ever have to say. It’s in the Bill of Rights.
But I’d taken my stand against cable, and I couldn’t stomach the defeat, the admission of wrongheadedness, that would come with the return of a cable box. Away, ye sirens, for you cannot coax the good ship Roku onto the rocky shoals of bundled TV!
Then my phone rang with a number from Minnesota. I don’t know why I answered. I have no reason to expect any good tidings out of the Land of 10,000 Lakes. I don’t know Prince. And yet I answered, soaking in that momentary pause of dead air that signals a computer handing you off to a telemarketer. It always takes a second, as if even the computer is surprised that you actually picked up.
I know everyone loathes telemarketers, but I always let them get to a point far enough through their spiel where I can politely decline instead of just hanging up or screaming profanities. Look, whoever’s on the other end of the phone surely didn’t wake up in the morning bursting with enthusiasm over another day of fury and rejection. They’re just grinding through that script so they can make the payments on a Mitsubishi Mirage, go home to microwave a burrito and take their Faded Glory jeans to the laundromat. They don’t need me making their day even sadder by acting rude about how glorious my life is without their product.
So when this lady informed me that she was calling from the cable company, I didn’t immediately interrupt her or hang up. I let her launch into her pitch while idly perusing Facebook and awaiting my chance to let her down easy. No, I don’t need faster Internet. No, actually I’m all set. I’m all set with everything. If I had to write an epitaph for my own tombstone, it would read, “He was all set.”
I’m not sure how she found her opening, but in a fit of hubris I might’ve bragged about how I have Roku and Netflix and need cable about as much as I need new tapes for my Walkman. She said, “What about broadcast TV, though?” I told her I had an antenna for that—I told you, all set, I win. She replied, “But the antenna doesn’t always work that great, does it?” Right then I might’ve started crying. No, no it doesn’t work that great. I miss… I miss Al Roker in the morning. What’s happening in my neck of the woods? I have no idea! I’ve made a horrible mistake!
And there she was, the siren beckoning with a sultry offer. For $19.99 a month, I could watch football again. Just the broadcast channels, baby, nothing too crazy. Almost like not having cable at all, really. “Perfect picture, clear sound, without messing with the antenna,” she said. No contract. No hookup fees. And then her tone of robotic persuasiveness changed for a moment, as if she were going off script and commiserating with a fellow human being’s shared existential angst. “I have Roku too,” she said. “But it’s nice to flip through the channels and watch shows when they’re actually on. It makes you feel connected.”
A few minutes later, I agreed to get connected too. When Heather got home from work and I told her that the cable man was coming, she yelled, “Nooooo! We were free!”
I know. It’s not about $20 a month. It’s about admitting that they’ve got you and you can’t escape and you’re not that clever after all. That’s the truth, as crystal clear as a Patriots game on CBS. Or the menu through my lighted magnifying glass.