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Returning To The Days Of Rabbit Ears And Snow

Michael Grady | Apr 7, 2014, midnight

I was 16 when we first got cable in 1978. By the time it reached Southern Michigan, the technology had achieved an almost-mythical status: cable was this mystical electronic IV, of sorts, that hooked into your television’s bloodstream and made it an all-seeing, trash-talking R-rated genius. Kind of like the drug in “Flowers for Algernon.” (I never actually read “Flowers for Algernon,” but I did watch the movie version of it. On cable.)

Of course, it was the R-rated parts we were interested in. “You can see movies like ‘A Clockwork Orange’ without a fake ID,” a friend, who’d visited cable-enlightened Ohio, proclaimed, “and women walk around topless, for no reason at all. Just like in France!” But cable was only available for the incredible price of $8 a month. (A price that is still incredible today, but for very different reasons.) So, it took some persistent salesmanship to get the nod from my parents. We played up the “all-seeing” and “genius” aspects of cable. “Around the clock nature documentaries!” I told them. “Cultural enlightenment without ever leaving home! Think of the possibilities!”

I still remember us all, sitting tube-side, when the cable first came on. We were staring at the snow on Channel 1, when suddenly it broke into a vivid, breathless Technicolor image of two people getting amorously acquainted in the backseat of a car during “Saturday Night Fever.”

My Dad looked over at me. “So which part of our culture,” he cast a thumb toward the television, “is being enlightened at this particular time?”

I’m remembering all this now because it marked the beginning of a 36 year-old relationship with cable that ended just last month. The break-up went something like this:

CABLE: Don’t leave me. I love you!

ME: It’s not you. It’s me.

CABLE: What did you do?

ME: I noticed you were charging me $180 a month. If that’s for love, the prices make it a felony in some states.

CABLE: Come back! I’ll give you free HBO!

ME: … really?

CABLE: For a whole weekend!

ME: (To the WAITER:) Check, please.

When a long-term relationship ends, it’s usually because someone is willing to grow and someone is not. And while I have remained emotionally sixteen, cable has grown into a 900-channel shop vac that sucks my discretionary income while putting out only “Seinfeld” reruns.

It was time to cut the cord.

I’d recount the highlights of the relationship here, but in truth I can’t remember many. Like many youngest children, I am grateful that cable liberated me from the back-and-forth servitude of being a human remote control. (“Turn it to channel 8, Mike. Now to 13. Annnd back to 8…”) I suppose I saw a lot of landmark movies on cable. But no one remembers where they were—or what cable provider they were using—when Rocky Balboa knocked down Apollo Creed. (“I was sitting at this precise part of the couch, when Willie Wonka said, ‘Good day, sir!’”) My wife and I were big fans of the cable series “Ghost Hunters.” That was appointment television for a while. But the rewards of that show are subtle. So subtle, in fact, that I’m not sure it shouldn’t be called “Sitting in a Dark Building” and “Overreacting to Sounds.” Maybe, as they say, the mortal and spirit realms overlap only in gentle nuances like grainy half-shadows and faintly recorded creaks. But nuance doesn’t feed the bulldog over three full seasons. When I caught myself screaming, “C’mon! Show me a severed hand! A floating organ! Anything!” I started to wonder what cable was doing to me.

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