It was long ago decided within the cabal of my level-headed family members that big, ground-shaking, life-plundering decisions should never ever be entrusted to me. Under no circumstances should I be the one to shine the light on matters of right and wrong, nor should I be entrusted to pull any sort of plugs — probably even those to floor lamps.
I’m not exactly sure how they came to this quiet accord, but it probably had something to do with the fact that I couldn’t even bear asking strangers to choose flavors of Girl Scout cookies and needed to appoint my mother to be my proxy on all door-to-door endeavors of my youth. It could also be traced back to my tendency to ask someone nearby, usually a roommate but also on occasion the old man sitting beside me at the bus stop, to return any voicemail from my parents that began with “need you to give us a call, kiddo.” Only after my rattled nerves were assuaged by the requisite “everything is fine” could I return to the regular programming of saying words and breathing air.
Any time their voices took on that air of urgency and importance, my body would betray its higher functions and leave me in a state of brittle fight or flight, even though nine out of 10 times they were calling to ask if I could at least consider filing my own taxes that year.
It’s because of my inability to grapple with the tough stuff that I was brought violently to my knees over the gravest life-or-death problem of the modern world: whether to cancel cable.
It was like I was staring down at the withering face of a beloved stuck in negotiation with time and beyond, my hands grasping tired fingers while the doctor leaves a clipboard of paperwork on the end of the bed. In this case, my beloved’s face was more like a flat panel and its hands a remote control with digital video recorder and on-demand capabilities. Nevertheless, a deep and abiding love vibrated between us.
My decision to let cable die has been fraught with terror and self-doubt. How can one live without this thing that has stood by through the dark days and the fat years? When the other teens were out carousing, I was home, safe and warm in the cradle of cable. When the other kids in the dorm were binge drinking in front of a keg, I was binge eating in front of a television. That may sound pitiable, but I assure you — you are a popular figure on campus on “Friends” night, not to mention you are deified by the foreign-exchange students for teaching them English, thanks to the regular exposure you provided to American romantic comedies.
I spent nearly a decade working in media, serving up creative marketing platforms to all the major networks and film houses. They would slip my team a sneak-peek of the latest show coming to the small screen in exchange for plans to saturate the nation with buzz about them. Even the most stoic of abstainers couldn’t resist that drug. And the buzz part was easy because without even realizing it, you were drawn into the network’s glossy fold, new footsoldiers marching all over the world, whispering, “You need to get a boyfriend who has HBO so you can watch this show.”
Then I had to go get a boyfriend who didn’t have HBO and, much worse, didn’t want HBO. My mother always encouraged me to find a man with a 10-year plan, and this guy’s 10-year plan was to never have HBO. He clicked his tongue at my cable bill, which was certainly showing no sign of recession. He used dangerous words out of that modern vernacular I chose to stay immune to, one-word solutions like “Roku,” “Netflix,” “Prime,” “Hulu.” I demurred each time with a crinkle of my nose and a wave of my hand before shrieking, “I don’t want to watch TV like I’m a teenager in Japan!”
I kept the growing anti-cable sentiment at bay for a while, but then I moved into a new home where the owners requested I not enlist Time Warner Cable. It brought me right back to that hospital room, staring down at my beloved, where now the doctor and the estate lawyer are saying, “It’s time.” So I pulled the plug. I purchased an Internet-only plan, and got myself a Roku and Netflix account. I am mostly surviving thanks to a schedule that doesn’t allow for much leisure. But I can’t help but read the television section of the New York Times, a ritual I’ve upheld since my working girl days, and weep softly over the TV renaissance of which I am no longer part. After a few moments, I gather my composure and rebuke the character flaw that allows me to cry over my computer — because if that breaks, then I really can’t watch anything.