The End (?) of the Cable Saga

You may well ask, “What’s the beginning of the cable saga, then?” It goes back several years and predates Polytropos, but I’ll give a quick rundown for those unfamiliar with the tale.

When we moved to Arlington, Polytropos HQ needed to get bare-bones cable service in order to get any sort of reception at all. The guy who put it in installed an ugly piece of 1980’s tech, the Cable Box, on top of our television. Because the TV signal had to be piped through the box, it prevented us from taping one show and watching another. Worse, the guy put these little plastic cylinders over the spots where the cables went into the back of the box, effectively preventing me from removing them – and, since the cable eventually disappeared into the wall, also preventing us from ever moving the TV if, say, we wanted to rearrange the living room.

After a couple calls to shifty cable customer service people, I discovered that this box wasn’t actually helping us – it was their kludgy way of giving us only the bare-bones channels we had paid for, by filtering out the other ones. On and off for the next several months, vanquishing the Cable Box became a obsessive goal of mine. My tactics proved futile – they included trying to make custserv reps appreciate the fundamental problems of the Box, and even of getting a cable guy out to the apartment and trying to talk him into getting rid of it. (He probably would have if I had bribed him, but that would have been admitting defeat.)

The solution came from the wevious* mind of Matt Sahr, who at the time was working for the then-bankrupt information infrastructure company Teligent. All sorts of cable catalogs crossed his desk, and in one of them he found the special tool, the one that all cable guys must have on their belts, the one that defeats the nefarious plastic cylinder. So I ordered one, and it worked, and for a couple of years we enjoyed cable without the box, which gave us some extra channels that we probably weren’t supposed to have, though not the whole suite of “standard cable” channels.

As I mentioned earlier, our local cable company upgraded their system a few weeks ago, and we suddenly found ourselves with all the standard cable channels. Then, last week, it all went kaput, and the only channel we could get was Snow Without Sound. This was a pain in the butt, because I’d have to call the cable company to come fix it, and consequently I’d have to yank the cable box out of storage and re-affix it. I did this anyway just to see if it automagically made cable work again – it didn’t. Then I realized that I had lost the plastic cylinders.

“Lost” isn’t quite accurate; I don’t recall what I did with them exactly, but at the time, getting them off had represented the culmination of a months-long struggle. I probably performed some sort of victory dance and ritually desecrated them with an Xacto knife before hurling them from the roof. But there was nothing I could do about it now – hopefully it wouldn’t be a big deal, and I could fast-talk the cable guy if necessary.

From here on, it’s all anticlimax. The customer service lady was quite friendly, actually. I explained the problem to her.

CSL: Do you have a cable box?
ME: (ruefully) Yes.
CSL: Are its buttons on the top or on the front?
ME: On the top.
CSL: Yeah, we’re not using those anymore. That may be the problem. Are you able to remove the box? Have you tried plugging in without the box?
ME: (trying to sound nonchalant) Uh, yes, I tried without the box too. Still doesn’t work.
CSL: OK, we’ll have to get someone out there. I can do a Thursday all-day appointment, or Friday 12-3.
ME: What does “all day” mean?
CSL: Any time between 8 AM and 9 PM.
ME: (laughing) Seriously?
CSL: (seriously) I’m very serious.
ME: Uh, OK. Friday then.

So the cable guy arrived earlier today, and he flipped a doohickey in the cable box down the hall, which made the TV work again. He also noted that the Cable Box was defunct, and took it with him. It all seemed too easy. My assumption was that the cable company had simply got its act together, and now didn’t need a box to filter in only bare-bones channels. Which was fine. Foregoing Jon Stewart seemed like a small price to pay for getting being rid of the dread Box once and for all.

After he had left, I took up the remote and surfed up and down the channels, just to see what was there.

We are still getting all the standard channels. This time, though, it’s not through anything of my doing, and thus nothing that might be construed as f-r-a-u-d – which is why I feel reasonably safe putting the story here. Thus the saga of the Cable Box ends in total victory. Until, that is, our next cable bill shows up charging us for everything we’re getting. Time will tell.

* see above entry