April 29, 2008

A Diatribe of the Digital Sort (subject to change)

I f*cking hate my cable company. In fact, I hate cable and I hate the FCC and I hate the bastards who are making everyone 'go digital' in 2009.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love tv. I love it and I can honestly say I can't imagine my life without it. That's probably not such a good thing to admit, and I have to say I'm a little appalled by it myself. But whatever. It's true. I enjoy the mind candy like no other.

And so when my 1995 Magnavox's remote control broke back in the early 2000s, I went to their website and ordered another for 80 bucks. And when that remote control went belly-up about 3-4 years ago, I went back to the Magnavox site to lather, rinse, repeat. But alas, it was not to be. They no longer made this remote control.

I could go on about how I tried getting a universal remote from Walgreens and Radio Shack and how they didn't fricking work, and how I went on a big fat Internet search for a replacement remote blah blah blah but I think we all know how that ended up so why even bother.

Okay, fine. That's when I began my daily jaunt back in time to the early 50s, when folks still had to get up to turn the set on, off, and control the volume. (For the perfectionists out there, yes, I know, remotes did exist in the 50s, they were just unwieldy, imperfect, and not in widespread use. So shut up and let me have my rant.)

So whatever. I've been watching tv just fine, thank you very much, sans a cable box and sans a remote, for a number of years now. I'm not saying it's a great life, but my sofa's only about 3 feet from the tv anyway so I consider it my daily exercise.

Now, you might be asking yourself: If Flapjam loves tv so fricking much, why doesn't she have a cable box?!?

Good query. And it is precisely *because* I love tv that I didn't. Because before the advent of DVR devices (digital video recorders) it was hard to tape one thing and watch another at the same time. If you had a cable box, you needed an A/B switch. If you didn't have a cable box, no problemo.

So blah blah blah I've been taping and watching and taping and watching as the need has arisen. (Though truthfully, since Buffy, Angel, 24, and Gilmore Girls (the early years) are no longer all on at the same times on Tuesday, there's been little need to do so. Although there is the occasional Kyle XY/24 conflict. Or there would have been, had the Writers' Strike not transpired.)

That was a digression.

Back to the transgression (by the cable company).

Back in March, I got a notice saying that I'd lose programming (dun-dun-DUN) if I didn't order a nice fat digital cable converter box for my system.

Well, shit.

I didn't want any cable box and I think going digital sucks and call me whatever you want but not all progress is progress, get me?

But fuck. I need to be able to watch my shows, k?

So I called the damn cable company and made an appointment. I asked the guy all these questions. I told him I needed to tape stuff and watch stuff at the same time. He was very polite and helpful. It's probably because he works in the local office here and isn't some dumbass yutz who memorizes a fricking script and can't deviate from it even if the conversation demands deviation.

So one fine Saturday morning, technician Johnny arrived on the scene (40 minutes early) to hook me up to the fabulous new cable box with DVR capability and two tuners, whatever the fuck that means.

(I think it means I can tape 2 things at the same time, but what the fuck do I know?)

You can tell by all the 'fucks' that I'm about to get angry. Just wait for it.

Johnny was pretty cool and helpful. I got a brand new box and fancy remote. A remote? Uh-oh.

Me: "Um, does that remote have to work with my tv?"

Johnny: "Uh...yes."

"That might be a problem."

"What do you mean?"

So I told Johnny the abridged version of the remote saga.

"Remotes don't seem to work with my tv."

I then went on to tell him that if it didn't work with my tv, he'd have to take me to Best Buy to get a new one. He probably thought I was kidding.

But I wasn't.

I was unprepared for what happened next.

Johnny smiled and pointed the remote at the tv for a few minutes, and gosh-darned if he didn't fricking get it to work!

It was totally awesome.

Then he started showing me how to control the cable box and use the DVR and blah blah blah. I took some notes.

Then he showed me the Second Coming of Jesus (because the Torah doesn't really have anything comparable that I'm aware of) or what I like to call: Video on Demand.

Video on Demand is a green shiny beacon to the wonders of entertainment. Just push the button and be sated by new releases. Movies you never saw because you didn't feel like going out to have chuckleheads ruin everything by talking or having their cell phones go off. Movies you never saw because frankly, they looked boring. Movies you never thought about seeing until you saw them in front of you, on the VOD menu.

Of course, each movie costs about $4.99 or $5.99, and you know, that shit can add up. So you gotta be careful. I'd just put my Netflix account on hold and I vowed I wouldn't be using any of that VOD stuff. Unh uh. No sir.

That vow lasted about 7 hours.

Later that night, I ordered "Hairspray" (the updated musical version with Christopher Walken) because I needed a laff. I don't know if I laffed all that much but I admit there were some toe-tappin' tunes in there. And when the movie was over, I went to the "Free Extras" menu and watched a few of the extras about the flick. I'm glad they were free, because they sucked.

A week later, I ordered another movie. A mindless dumb Amanda Bynes flick because what the hell, I wasn't in the mood for anything heavier or Oscar-worthy. It wasn't even that bad of a flick, but I'm still not telling you what it was.

When I got my cable bill, the two movies showed up on there. I decided to renew the VOD Vow or at least temper my use of said beacon. It worked, for a while, until my friend came over one night and we ordered another flick. It wasn't something I really wanted to see, because I knew it was going to be terrible, but I'm all about sacrifices.

We saw "No Reservations," and I can tell you without any reservation at all that it sucked.

A week or so later, I clicked the VOD button and nothing happened. I could see the little box at the left showing previews, but no menu showed up. No words. No way to see or sample the fare. And if that weren't bad enough, all of my channels went kablooey too.

I was going to put some fancy metaphor or perhaps an interesting simile here but I couldn't think of anything good enough (I'm at work here, k?) so you get what I got: bupkes.

I called the RCN Tech line and after about 12 minutes, a real person (I think) came on the line. She told me I'd have to "power cycle" the box.

For the uninformed, anytime someone tells you to "power cycle" something, they're basically telling you to unplug the fucker and leave it unplugged for 10-15 minutes. Then when you plug it back in again, voila, everything is hunky-dory.

I hate the term "power cycling." But damned if it don't work.

The next day, Saturday, the tv was on so I could check the weather. For some reason, I pressed the "mute" button.

The mute button didn't work.

Panicked, I pressed it a couple more times. Then I tried turning the cable box and tv off.

The cable box turned off.

The tv didn't.


Fortunately, I could still change channels and use the DVR buttons and all the buttons for the cable box.

But shit, man. I'd just gotten used to being able to turn the tv on and off at my leisure, not to mention the wonder of the mute button, and now? Poof.

It was like being at a fancy hotel where they serve you free breakfast every morning, but one morning you go down and there's nothing left to eat. You've been banned from the table. No oatmeal for you.

No Raisin Bran either.

Not even a croissant.

Or a glass of juice.

I don't really drink juice that often, but you know what I mean.

So fuckity fuck fuck, later that evening I called the RCN Dreck, I mean, Tech, line.

I waited for about 20 minutes and listened to the same damned annoying voiceover message about how some dumb baseball game was being blacked out in Philadelphia blah blah.

Then some biatch with an accent came on the phone. She wasn't a biatch at first, but she did have an accent.

Alls I wanted to do was call the tech line and schedule a service call so Johnny My Savior could come out and work his remote control magic. I know how they take you thru a rigamarole and try to "help" you over the phone, but I know when I can be helped, and when I need someone to come out, so if I can cut through the bullshit then dammit, that's what I'm going to do from the outset.

Yeah. If they let me.

It's been a while, but this is pretty much how that conversation went. M is me and B is RCN Biatch. For fun, try to guess when I am exasperated and annoyed.

M: Hi, I'm having a problem with my remote control. I'd like to schedule a service call to have a technician come out.

B: What is the problem with your remote?

M: It's not controlling the tv or any of the tv functions, but it *is* working for the cable functions.

B: Is it working for the cable? Can you change channels?

M: Yes, I can change channels. I can work the DVR, and the Video on Demand, and the menu guide functions. What I can't do is turn the tv on or off or control the volume.

B: The remote is not working with your television?

M: No.

B: What is the make and model of your television?

M: Um...can I just schedule a service call? I've had remote problems before and the guy who set me up with the box, Johnny, was able to get it to work, so if you can just schedule a service call for me...

B: I can't schedule a service call right now, we need to see if we can help you over the phone.

M: But I don't think you're...

B: What is the make and model of your television?

(She had an accent, but I think she was getting annoyed with me. Whatever.)

M: (Sigh). It's a Magnavox. It's kind of old. 1995.

B: I'm going to put you on hold and give you some codes to punch in when I come back.

M: Okay.

Five minutes later....

B: I have some codes for you to punch in. Tell me if anything happens, like if your tv set turns off.

M: Okay.

B: 054

M: Nope.

B: 187

M: Nope.

B: 096

M: Nope.

B: 020

Insert 10 more minutes of this pointless task. After about 20 more codes, B tells me she's going to get more codes from a manager or someone and puts me on hold.

I'm on hold for, I shit you not, 23 minutes. And then I'm disconnected.

By this point, I am changing tenses in the blog and I'm pretty fricking miffed. Like, what the shit? I just called and had to wait a while for a person, then the person I got wouldn't do what I asked (schedule a service call) and then she makes me go through a sequence of bullshit even tamed lions wouldn't do (unless they're going to get to bite the head of one of the trainers and even then, I don't think I want to bite an RCN employee that much) and then I'm dropped????

Angry, I called back, almost in tears, as I waited 18 minutes before some man with an accent came on the line. I was hungry, angry, miffed, and beyond annoyed. I have worked in customer service and I know people can be a-holes. I didn't want to be an a-hole but I didn't really think that a) I had any other options, and b) I couldn't prevent the A.H. from escaping me at this point even if I wanted to.

RCN man (R) came on the phone with his cheery good nature and asked what the problem was.

So I told him. I am afraid it came out with the Flapjam Shaky Confrontation Voice (SCV) which probably sounds kind of defensive. And comes out fast.

M: I just called over an hour ago and was speaking to someone about my problem and she put me on hold for 20 minutes and then the call got dropped and I don't really want to have to go through all of the same things again, she had me put in a bunch of codes that didn't work, and I just want to schedule an appointment with a technician to come out and fix my remote control.

R: (Pause). Okay, what is the problem?

M: Can't I just schedule a service call? If you're going to have me do the same things she did, I can tell you right now that they're not going to work.

R: Well, we need to try to fix it over the phone.

M: But I don't think it can be is what I'm telling you. Can I just get a service technician to come out? I didn't think it was this hard to schedule a service call.

R: What is the problem?

M: My remote doesn't work with the tv anymore. It used to, but now it doesn't. It still works with the cable box, though. That part is fine. I just can't turn it on and off or control the volume.

R: Let me have you put in some codes.

M: If they're the same codes like 054 and 187, they're not going to work.

R: Oh. Let me put you on hold.

M: I don't want to get dropped again.

R: I'll be right back.

He was right back. He was probably shitting a brick wondering how he could pacify or get rid of this crazy biatch (aka me) on the phone. Only I wasn't crazy. And I wasn't a biatch. I was just telling the truth. And I *did* remember a few of those codes, too.

R: Let me have you try something else. It's the point and click method and...

M: That's where you hold the remote, press Select and Mute at the same time until everything lights up and then you just hold the Channel Up button until your tv turns off?

R: Uhh...yeah.

M: I read the back of the remote before I even called you guys and I tried it. It didn't work. I even changed the batteries.

R: Oh. Well sometimes it can take a while.

M: How long?

R: Well, I couldn't really say.

M: Oh, sure you can. Is it like five minutes, six hours, what?

R: I couldn't really say.

M: Can I just schedule a service call please??

R: It's $49.95.

M: That's fine, I don't care. Whatever.

R: That's four nine point nine five.

M: Got it, 50 bucks. Okay.

R: Let me put you on hold for a moment....

He comes back on and he says this:

R: Ma'am, I'm sorry, but I can't schedule a service call for this.

I couldn't say, "Are you fucking kidding me???" even though I was thinking it. So I said this instead: "What do you mean you can't schedule a call for this?"

R: Well, ma'am, we don't do service calls for remote controls.

I'm sorry, but no one could have fucking told me this a bajillion hours ago? What the hell?

Then he was all helpful, suggesting that I trade in the remote at my local RCN office which is only in BFE (that's bum-fuck Egypt) for the carless. I explained that that wasn't really an option, and even then, I probably couldn't get it to work like Johnny did.

But I had another idea. The number on the flyer I'd gotten only went to an answering machine now (and they never called me back, btw, after I called with a question the day I got the box). So I'd looked in the phone book but was unable to come up with a number for the local RCN office. It only listed the 800 number. Maybe I could get this guy to give me the local number, and schedule the call through them.

M: Can you give me the phone number for the local office here so I can call them?

R: I don't have that in my system.

After the top of my head exploded--I mean really, RCN does phone, internet, and cable service, so pardon me for NOT BELIEVING that they wouldn't have the phone numbers of the local offices SOMEWHERE in their systems!--I regained my composure. Somewhat.

M: Oh, come on. You guys are a phone and cable company, and you don't have the phone numbers to the local offices?

R: Bullshit explanation.

I don't remember how the call ended, I don't recall if I was rude or said anything about canceling my service (empty threat) but I don't think I did. I think I just expressed my annoyance and whatever, packed my bags for my stay in the '50s.

End of story, right?

Not by a longshot. But I need a break so I need to do some work, so hold on.

Ok. I'm back.

A few weeks passed and I got used to my old ways of enjoying television again, and even ordered a few more VODs just 'cos. ("Enchanted" and "The Namesake" and "Eastern Promises.")

La-la-la, it's good to be me!


Except yesterday I got the mail which has been sitting in the box probably since Saturday, since I didn't even check it 'cos I've been sick with a cold. (If I don't leave the house to get toilet paper, what are the odds I'm going down to get the mail, right?)

In the mail was the cable bill I'd been dreading. I mean, "Enchanted" alone cost $5.99. Yowsers. But at least "Eastern Promises" wouldn't be on this statement.

I looked at the statement and saw the following:

Pay Per View/Impulse on Demand (VOD)

My first thought was, "Impulse on Demand" --? It didn't say that on the last bill, it just said Per Per View, I think. I could be wrong though.

No Reservations (3/28/08) $4.99
Hot Body 10th Anniv (4/12/08) $4.99
Enchanted (4/19/08) $5.99
Namesake, The (4/20/08) $4.99

My blood ran hot then cold. What the fuck? Hot Body 10th Anniv? That sounds like a porn flick and trust me, I didn't rent any damned porn flick! How did this happen? Could I get the charge removed? What if they didn't believe me? Because we all know, computers and cable boxes *never* make any mistakes.

I called the Billing Center immediately and heard that unlike the Tech Drecks, their office keeps normal business hours, which meant I'd have to call tomorrow (today).

So this morning, I came to work and hoped no one overheard my conversation. Actually I didn't really care, I just thought maybe I would laugh if I knew someone was listening.

But during the conversation, I did not feel like laffing. In fact, I felt Shaky Confrontation Voice making an appearance. And I was not pleased. Here's basically how this conversation with dipshits went, wherein M is still me and D is dipshit RCN employee.

M: Hi, I just got my cable bill and there's a charge in the Video On Demand for something that I didn't order, and I'd like to have it removed.

D: I'm sorry, we can't remove those charges. What is the movie?

M: Hot Body 10th Anniv, which I guess is Anniversary, which sounds like porn, and trust me, I did not order that.

D: Do you have kids in your house?

M: No. I live alone and I can tell you that I did not order this. I know I'd been having a problem with something that day and called RCN about it,

D: Did you call to cancel the movie?

M: No. How could I call to cancel something when I didn't even know it existed? I've never even seen this title in the VOD menu area before. I couldn't cancel something that never happened.

D: There's an 8-step process to ordering these movies, so you must...

M: Eight steps?

D: Yes.

M: I've only ever had two steps. You press Order and then you press Confirm.

D: And then you have three minutes to call RCN to cancel.

M: I understand that. But I'm saying I never knew about this so how could I call to cancel? Can you just remove the charge? There's been a mistake, I don't know how, maybe there's a poltergeist or something.

D: I'm sorry, I can't remove this charge. The system won't let me.

M: Can I please speak to your supervisor or manager?

D: He's just going to tell you that I've gone through the proper protocol and that the charge can't be removed.

Okay, first of all, that is fucking bullshit. I'm the goddamn customer and I know I'm always right, and I also know that when someone asks to speak to your manager, you don't fucking say what that guy said to me. You say, "Please hold," or "Just a moment, please." I have to say, this dipshit pissed me off.

DB (Dipshit's Boss): Hi, blah blah blah.

M: Hi. There's obviously been some kind of mistake. I did not order this movie and I'd just like the charge removed.

DB: What movie?

M: Hot Body 10th Anniv. I swear to the lord above I did not order this movie.

DB: Do you have children in your house?

M: No, it's just me.

I was going to say, "And I have not blacked out recently," but you never know, so I didn't say that. Instead I said, "And I don't have a cat either."

I was thinking you know, that a cat could have walked on the remote and done it, not that, you know, I'm a single gal destined to be a cat lady or anything. Because I'm not.

DB: You know, there's an 8-step process and confirmation to order these movies, so..

M: I don't understand that. Anytime I have ever ordered a movie, and I have ordered 6 and I can tell you the names of all of them, in the order that I rented them, it's always been a 2-step process. You click Order and you click Confirm. I don't understand how this could have happened, I'm just telling you that I did not order this movie and I just would like the charge removed.

I held my tongue about how I didn't want the fucking box in the first place, because really, where would that get me, right?

DB: I can go ahead and remove this charge, but it's a one-time complimentary thing.

Like I'm going to order and not cancel and not watch MORE porn flicks?? Make it a habit?

M: Thank you. I understand. Now I'm afraid to even push the green VOD button. I don't know what happened. I've never even seen this title before in the menu. I don't know what could have happened.

DB: It's in an adult pay-per-view area.

M: Oh.

Actually, I did know there was another area of the remote that said PPV on it and I probably knew what it offered, but still. There's no way. None.

DB: Again, if you have to cancel something,

M: I won't be using Video On Demand again, trust me.

DB: Oh, don't be scared. (laughs) If you need to cancel, just call within 3 minutes.

I wanted to say, "Are you out of your mind? Did you know that if you call the Tech Drecks they keep you on hold for 30 minutes before they answer your call? How can you cancel your program then??"

I did tell him I had called the Tech folks on that day for something else, about how the video menu was gone and I had to power cycle or something.

And then it occurred to me.

It occurred to me that this might be payback from Accent Lady or Accent Man for giving them a lot of shit. Only I really hadn't given them any shit.


Is it possible?

Could one of the Techs have purposely put this on my account? They'd know I couldn't dispute it. What's to stop them from doing it again? What if they do it again next month? What if it never stops???

Maybe I'm paranoid. I don't deny it.

But I have had so much fucking trouble with this damned company and I totally blame the FCC or whoever it is that is making everyone 'go digital' in 2009.

I'll go digital right now, alright.

Guess which digit I mean.


Blogger Hannah L said...

OOOH, those f---ing cable companies with their f---ing monopolies! It's bad enough we're paying $113/month for cable and internet, which is outrageous, but now they're just F---ING with you?!?! I'm declaring a strike.

8:25 AM  
Blogger Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Wow. These guys -- & your story -- belong on This American Life. OR SOMETHING.

What an AMAZING bunch of creepazoids.

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who Am Us Anyway is correct. Your blog and this post is a perfect example of something awesome that I wish others would discover. Have you seen some of the shitty blogs that blogger deems noteworthy? How is it that so many shitty blogs get noticed and a blog like yours doesn't? Maybe those assholes at blogger will wake up and make yours a blog of note.

6:54 PM  
Blogger H. said...

hannah l - Thanks for the solidarity, sister!

who - Hm, can you use profanity on This American Life?

anonymous - Thanks for the props! :D I don't need a lot of readers, I'm just happy to vent and have at least one person feel my pain/wrath/ire, but I appreciate the thought! (Plus if I were a blog of note, I might feel weird about cussing all the damn time. Then again...) Heh.

9:36 PM  

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