“THIS SERVICE IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE TO THIS SUBSCRIBER.”
There it was, in full high-def, and worse yet, CAPITALIZED text — just for tick-me-off emphasis. Cable television as I’d come to know it for virtually my entire life was now gone. I saw it disappear before my very eyes.
And, I felt alone. Adrift. Cut off. Like a scorned lover or as if I’d just called it quits with a trusty lifelong friend. It even reminded me of a Sinatra song — the intro part to Send in the Clowns where The Chairman talks (maybe even raps) as the piece begins:
This is a song about a couple of adult people who have spent, oh, quite a long time together, till one day one of ’em gets restless and decides to leave. Whether it’s the man or woman who left is unimportant. It’s a breakup.
My TV and I had just broken up. And, I wanted to tell her (it?) that it was me, not her, and that I just needed my space. But then I thought better, because it actually wasn’t the TV itself and I didn’t want to give my forsaken love such a non-original, obligatory and throwaway breakup line.
For she’d done just fine. She met all expectations. She didn’t complain about my friends. She never asked me to pick up my socks or leave the toilet seat down. We also had similar interests, too: sports, cooking shows, things that expanded the mind.
And, I wasn’t upset with the cable line that fed her, either, since that too worked as expected. Rather, it was the cable bill that I really broke up with. You see, it just seemed the cable bill was dramatically higher than the month before. It always just kind of happened that way.
Seemed like the cable company and I had what I thought was a gentleman’s agreement: I pay the bill we originally agreed to (let’s call that amount “X”) and it provides the channels I signed up for. Yet, as is the story in so many failed relationships, it always wanted more than I could give — “X” plus far too much — and seemingly more than I had in the tank. Like an insecure lover, whatever I gave last time just wasn’t good enough this time.
“You want how much? Really?”
For the longest time, back when I had a full-time, corporate gig, this little cat-and-mouse game of financial musical chairs with the cable company really didn’t matter much.
Oh, yes, I’d complain when the bill would creep up to some insane level, always threatening to leave, threatening to find someone who’d treat me better. So, I’d make the every-eight-months-obligatory-call that I hated, and they’d put some supervisor named “Jack” — whose thicker-than-syrup Indian-ish accent was nearly indecipherable — who’d predictably say to me:
“Good afternoon Mr. Antleers. How’s the weather there in, um, ahhhh, where do you leev again…oh yes, here it is, wait a minute. Okay, got it: Meeetchigan?”
And then, without him really caring or listening to what my answer was, he’d volley this next-breath, scripted obligatory: “Let me see what I can do to keep you a happy AT&T U-Verse customer, okay.”
Ugh. No. Not really “okay,” Jack.
Then “Jack” would look on what was no doubt some pre-programmed chart of both talking points and a matrix listing save-the-customer-at-all-costs discounted fees, we’d bicker back-and-forth, and about 17,951 minutes later — when I’d rather be doing something, anything else, including getting a tooth pulled — I’d tiringly and exhaustingly leave the conversation with what I thought was something resembling a reasonable bill and an expected timeframe in which that bill would stay the same.
But, it never did. They never do. It’s never enough — not to the cable company. Just like a bad relationship.
Nope, I thought. Not this time, I muttered — mouth agape at this most recent and out-of-this-world bill. Gotta cut the cord. Or, more appropriately in this case, cut the co-ax. So that’s just what I did.
So now, the TV’s blank, particularly since we also don’t yet have an antenna, working DVD player nor any Apple TV, Netflix or other similar such services. Painful as it is, I’m looking at a glistening, gleaming, 52 inches of high-def nothingness — which is staring, nay, laughing at me in all of its vacant, totally black, flat-screen splendor.
Like in the opening moments of a just-ended love affair, I just sit there asking myself, “Okay, what now? Whom will I love next?”
Maybe, though, I really do just need the clichéd “time to myself.” A little TV space.
And, just like in other first post-relationship moments, I have questions. A lot of questions:
- Will — gasp — my personality alone be enough to keep my wife’s 9:45 p.m.-after-the-kids-are-in-bed interest?
- Will no more Family Guy make me more of a family guy? Will no more Modern Family make us more of a modern family?
- How will we fill the time without TV?
Then, as a PR guy whose job is dealing with the media, my thoughts immediately turned to my favorite news programs. I’m jonesing about not getting my FOX fix — feeling that I need them to report and me to decide. I need NBC Nightly News to tell me the news, well, nightly. I feel I actually, physically desire to Meet the Press. I want Today — today!
Yet, in many ways, I’m already feeling a sense of ease. A calmness. An “I-don’t-have-to-watch-that-drivel” feeling anymore. That uncomfortable purging feeling when the cable was first cut — the one that seemed like a late-summer Lent — now, after this realization, became liberating in a way that made me think that this no-TV-thing actually could be a positive experience and not just a place of pain.
As my thoughts increasingly turned more forward-looking about the positives of life without TV, I decided to really think through and write down how my life would continue to be different, better — coming up with three key ways. Since this list has a future-oriented and predictive nature to it — and because I want to share this new-found goodness with the world — you could say that I want to “tell-a-vision about television.”
Oh, and for good measure in recounting for my human frailness, I’ve also listed at the end where I think I may just fall short.
So, here goes. Without TV, I believe I will:
- Experience a calmer existence. This one’s pretty easy to imagine. Without television, no longer do I need to see poor, innocent children bloodied on the streets of Syria, Tel Aviv and Iraq. And, I’m no longer forced to listen to politicians slinging their vacuous, uninspiring rhetoric that’s so transparent, so off-putting.
- Have more enriched, engaged, productive life experiences. Will I really remember another American Idol rerun when I look back on my life? Or, would I maybe be more inclined to remember taking my girls to, say, some local water park — watching them dip their tiny toes into the pool for the first time? Or what about trudging to some blizzardy, toboggan-calling hill, eating a snow sandwich as we hilariously fall off the sled and into a drift? And then, afterward, grabbing hot chocolate and listening to them squeal about how much fun they had and watching their now chocolate-stained mouths, hands and shirt that are increasingly covered with sticky marshmallow pieces and whipped cream smearing their tiny noses? I’ve already resolved to appreciate the everyday and to use change to become more present with my family and others around me — and to a good degree, I already have done this. Yet, I’m predicting, life sans TV will deepen this resolution further.
- Examine my defaults. Will I read more? Maybe. Will I have deeper conversations — and deeper laughter — with my wife, my kids, with you. It seems so. Will I seek out new ways to not only entertain myself and my family? I think so, yes. Will I seek ways to further disconnect, to engage in old-school activities that, by modern standards, would seem quaint, vintage even? Yup. Maybe all of this means actually playing solitaire with, gasp, real cards. Maybe it means taking more walks, absorbing and embracing the changing seasons. Maybe I’ll write more hand-written letters…just because. My old TV default was to just sit there and watch mindlessly with the clicker flesh-welded to my left hand and fall asleep on the couch until abruptly awakening to the 2 a.m. screams of “Jerry!, Jerry!, Jerry!” But now, since I’m now forced out of that habitual mindset, things will change. They have to change. And, they already are changing. Looking back, especially after a few weeks now without television, it seems that TV was almost a job — like it was something I had to do. I never really thought it through before because I never had to, but not watching TV every night actually is a choice and an option. Crazy.
Okay, that’s my vision regarding how my life will change for the better. But regardless of these three points I envision learning, I’m truly not certain how long my cable holdout will last. It’s already been about three weeks and I’d like to think that we’d give it at least two months — or much more.
But here’s where I just might fall short — where I think I might give in and come back to my jilted friend. My TV Kryptonite and Achilles Heel that’ll attempt to lasso me with a rope made of coaxial cable, I’m predicting, will be sports. For just about any way you slice it, it’s just not easy getting real-time sports without some version of a cable-based delivery system.
You see, when grown men throw or swat something round that’s either white with red threads, made of pigskin, wound by Titleist string or constructed of hard, icy-cold rubber, I’m entranced. I can’t help it and I make no apologies for it.
It’s just a guy gene, I guess. It’s how I’m wired. It’s the sports- and guy-world versions of “you can take the man out of the diamond, gridiron, course or rink, but …”
This is especially true for October — God’s annual gift to sports and entertainment — where I don’t know if I’ll have the strength to hold off calling AT&T back, hat-in-hand, asking for a second chance with my old lover. I can see it now:
- thinking about every pitch, every stolen base and every bullpen strategy — especially with the cool, nighttime fall breeze wafting through the half-open window that makes me grab a blanket before the next fastball;
- seeing Animation Domination commercials of new shows;
- hearing in my mind the smack of the puck on the freshly Zamboni’d ice.
The spirit is willing, but the flesh (of my clicking finger) is weak.
But life without TV has, in fact, been a truly and unexpectedly nice existence, a revealing experience and one that I hope will make me think more once the TV’s back on about the fact that television really is a choice, not a job.
Hey, I like vegging out in front of the tube as much as the next guy. But, I’ve learned, it’s also great — every once-in-a-while — to shake up your norms, re-think your rote habits and force yourself to try new things.
I’ve also learned that television really is a series of votes — votes of finite minutes, in fact — that we choose to spend with it at the cost of spending those same minutes with others, our kids, our spouse, ourselves.
Sounds elemental, doesn’t it? Yet, every now and again, it’s just good to force yourself think about it.