Tuesday, August 18, 2009

For Your Viewing Pleasure

Tina, 2004

From time to time my wife and I attempt to watch pay-per-view movies on television. We love going to the movies. But at $10 a ticket, we’ve become more selective in what we choose to see. We have a whole rating system, worked out over the years, that goes from “Worth seeing on the big screen” to “Worth seeing on pay-per-view” to “A good HBO movie” to “A waste of time, even if free.”

Considering how briefly some movies stay at the local multiplex these days, we miss some first-runs. Enter pay-per-view. You miss out on the group viewing dynamic, so important, say, when you’re seeing a movie like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and you’re the only person in the theater who’s not Greek. But at $4.99, pay-per-view is not such a bad deal. Plus, the popcorn’s cheaper at home.

The fly in this ointment, as it were, is that our cable company control box doesn’t like us watching pay-per-view movies, or at least watching them all the way through. Within the last week, Milk stopped streaming onto our set just ten minutes before the climactic ending. (Don’ worry. We knew how it ended.) In the case of Gran Torino, we had no idea how the story would end, and had to go to bed wondering what became of Clint Eastwood’s growling Walt Kowalski and his Hmong neighbors.

When Milk came to a standstill, I called the local cable company, which bills itself as my “friend in the digital age.” After getting through the phone tree, ten minutes on hold and a good two dozen VERY LOUD commercials for the cable company, I was greeted by an earnest technical representative.

Usually these tech reps are competent and constitute, in striking contrast to the bland regular customer service operators, an efficient, humane and professional face for the cable company. You describe your problem and they send a signal down the line that zaps your converter into compliance.

That’s how it usually happens. But this past Saturday night it didn’t work. When it didn’t work the first time, the tech rep politely said he’d zap it again. When it didn’t work that time, either, he announced, “I’m doing it again. Watch out.” From his tone you’d have thought he was bringing out the defibrillator paddles. Paddles or not, that didn’t work, either.

Stymied by the failure of the usual fix-its in his arsenal, the tech rep next had me resort to the oldest repair strategy in the book. “Unplug the converter. Stand back for ten seconds. Then plug it back in.” We did this twice. Each time it restored power, but little else. When I relayed this news back, the tech rep got edgy and questioned whether I was even in the same room with the converter since what I was describing, he crisply informed me, “isn’t supposed to happen.” We agreed to disagree on that point, at which time the tech rep said he’d done all he could do.

By the time you read this, I’ll probably have a new cable converter box. I just hope I’ll have been able to figure out how to watch both “Entourage” and “Mad Men.” Grrrrr…..


  1. Oh, God, have I been THERE!! I had a foreign tech who's name was "Tim," with a very strong accent, the last time I had to call. He kept saying to me, "OK, Coach." I think "Coach" was what he thought was a catchy term of endearment to help us bond over the experience.

    It wasn't gonna' happen, trust me. We haven't actually tried Pay-per-view, but I might have to do that. Although I'm not sure I want Coach and me to have too many conversations.

  2. I once had almost the exact same conversation with someone at the cable company! (we're keeping their name out of it, I see - that's okay, I'll play along) I thought when verizon came along, we'd get better service because of the competition, but alas, I've noticed no improvement. By the way, we rented the 1st season of "Mad Men." Having only watched two episodes, there are at least four characters I'd like to see get killed off. Will it get better? Will I start to feel sorry for talented, charismatic Don, (which is what I assume the creators want me to do) even though he's a hopeless, even callous, philanderer? For now, though, we'll enjoy watching everyone smoke - even the OB-GYN during an examination!