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Outgrowing insecurities but still paying monthly for them

"It's a big day." I decided I needed to announce to the person who works at the coffee shop I go to nearly every day. It was 3 in the afternoon, so a little late for drinking coffee. Without anyone else in the store, she indulged me. "Why's that?" By the time my words had turned from a mere thought to vocalization, I'd regretted saying anything out loud. Why did I even care, why would she even care about what I had to share. I motion to the stuffed (free with my 3 month subscription) New Yorker tote bag with a cable box and other accessories on my right shoulder and say that "I'm finally getting rid of cable! I've been thinking about it for over a year and I'm finally doing it."


Unsurprisingly for a barista working in Brooklyn, she hadn't had cable in years and asked why I had to return the cable box myself when cable guys usually made house calls. I hadn't questioned the journey I was about to take, but she raised a valid point. Clearly the cable company wanted to make it as difficult as possible to end things. After all, what unhealthy relationship didn't end with shattered hopes of  a clean, easy ending. In the ideal ending, after kindly picking up their belongings and apologizing for their terrible behavior, you'd be offered a refund of the years invested in the wasted depravity of the relationship. Cable being a terrible boyfriend is an analogy that feels truer and truer the more I spend time thinking about it.

Nearly a year ago, I'd laid on my couch happily chatting with a Time Warner customer service representative who I'd grown fond of in our fifteen minute call. After walking me through how to restart my modem so that my internet would begin working after two weeks of no WiFi, he began asking me to describe what life in Brooklyn was like. He hadn't yet been to New York City and was fascinated with the idea of tall buildings, public transportation, and 24 hour stores. Curious about his town, he responded to my questions by vaguely describing a town in middle America where not much goes on. He couldn't believe I even still had cable with all that New York City life had to offer. When he told me how I could finally rid myself of the $160 a month bill, my conviction that cable needed to go grew. The main barriers? I had to drop off the cable box in person to cancel it and as it turns out deal with the real reasons I was hanging on to my cable box.
  
There was a clear image in my head of what the Time Warner office would be like: industrial, white, scuffed walls, grimy tile. Long lines of frustrated customers, crying babies, unnecessary emotional outbursts being displaced on other members of this disenfranchised line. All of us clearly at some type of whit's end, unable to foot the bill for what had become an unnecessary luxury in the day of easy access to Netflix and your exes' Showtime log-in. To be honest, I was no stranger to cutting cable. As a child,  it was at minimum a semi-annual event. When the cable was cut, I'd spend as much time as possible at my best friend's house, where the cable was never cut, snacks like toast with butter, cinnamon and sugar (what a combo, we never had fancy toast at my house) were always provided, and I would stand in awe of the staircase leading to a whole second floor of the house, something I'd never before experienced beyond my grandparent's split level home. 

Surprisingly, my parents did not have a moral issue with television. They had moral issues with just about everything else, from Cabbage Patch dolls (because they were born in a cabbage patch and didn't give the proper credit where it was due for their Creator) to the Smurfs (magic is evil) to the radio ("secular" music). What they had a problem with was money. Or rather, making enough to support four children and a cable bill. The message became clear to me. Cable is status. Nickelodeon is for rich kids. PBS was for us. PBS programming was not what it is today, though lets all take a moment to honor my favorite show Ghost Writer, followed by the scandalous episodes of Degrassi I would sneak in. No wonder so many of us have an affinity for Drake.  

There was a shame I'd feel in having to admit to other kids at school discussing Clarissa Explains It All that I hadn't and couldn't explain any of it. Way beyond the stigma of not being up to date on pop culture was the anxiety created when I'd learn the cable was cut off and realized it meant something bad for the whole family. Would it mean also canceling my birthday party? No new shoes for the school year? 

Living without cable was always painful for the first week. The cable withdrawal pains were heightened by the anxiety of what this meant for my family's financial situation and with the boredom I was left with in my cable-less state. I'd reflexively reach for the remote, turn on a static filled television and see if the antenna could pick up anything worth watching. Then little by little, I'd remember what life was like the previous time I'd lived without cable. There were books to be read, stories to be written, and hours spent by my sister and I creating weddings for our pantry's canned vegetable and soup collection. Canned corn generally had a feminine vibe and would often be the bride, since it was my favorite vegetable. Black olives, the groom. Marrying vegetables or fruits together were allowed, marrying complicated soups to simplistic and brightly labeled veggies was a big taboo. Even in the canned food world, hierarchies ruled and status was important. 

Being so acutely aware of where your family stood in the hierarchy of class status can be exhausting. Wearing clothes donated to you by the sister of your classmate who saw you everyday in his sister's hand me downs made that huge crush you had on him mildly humiliating. Whether or not we had cable was the axis through which my family's status spun. That and whether it was football season, in which case cable seemed to be more of an essential.

Though somewhat irrational, when I first moved into my own apartment, no roommates or significant other to help with any bills, I decided to get cable. I even sprung for a DVR to record all of the television I'd be missing while out there living an actual life. When I told people I had cable, they were surprised. No one in Brooklyn seems to have a television, let alone cable. When you admit to having cable, there's an insinuation that you spend much of your free time mindlessly drooling in front of a television. To fight the stereotype of this, I decided to keep cable out of spite. Then I started watching it less and less. If I was home watching something, it'd be pulled up through any number of television and movie streaming app's rather than going through the trouble of finding a channel to watch on television. When I did end up watching TV, it was typically a repeat of the same House Hunters International episode. 

The weather was grey and chilly when I finally came around to returning my cable box. There was no line, only a staff person greeting me as soon as I walked in through the automatically opening glass sliding doors. She walked me over to an iPad, instructed me to put in my name, have a seat. I sat alone in a nicely decorated area complete with phone chargers for all who waited. At that moment, it was just me waiting. No down trodden line of angry New Yorkers as I'd envisioned. Before I could contemplate the realities of how nice the Time Warner office actually was further, I heard my name from a distance. It was so quick I ignored it at first thinking it must have been someone else being called. Shouts of my name continued and I walked over to the area where I would be handing over my cable box. The box was scanned, the remote was scanned, and it was done. The whole transaction took about 45 seconds. And just like that, my cable was gone. 

As I sit here reflecting on my relationship with cable being finally over, it occurs to me that I no longer know what time it is when in my living room. My cable box always told me that. When leaving my bedroom late at night to head towards the bathroom or kitchen, the green glow would light my way. Tonight the room will be completely dark. And I actually prefer it that way. 

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