Babysitting The Cable Guy

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I promised myself when I started this website that I would put a new essay on the site every month. I also promised myself that I wouldn’t start flamewars or write about politics (no matter how much I’m tempted). So this week, when I sat down to write my monthly essay, I stepped right in the middle of an on-going flamewar. I put that essay aside (maybe it’ll be relevant in six months and the flamewar will be over), and started another essay—about politics—which I abandoned.

Because I used all my free writing time on those two abortive attempts—I make a living at writing, folks, so writing for free, no matter how much fun it is, isn’t something I should do very often—I had a choice. I could skip the new essay this month, or I could drag something out of my files.

I have a lot of nonfiction files. I’ve written a lot of nonfiction (for money) over the years. In fact, I used to make my living writing nonfiction. I also tend to write essays when I’m angry. I never mail the angry essays. But I have an interesting collection of them.

So I decided that in the months when I screw up and write about politics, or participate in a flamewar, I’ll save that essay in the angry essay files. Then I’ll take an unpublished angry essay and put it on the site.

This one’s previously unpublished, and once you finish it, you can probably see what set me off in the first place.

Babysitting the Cable Guy
Kristine Kathryn Rusch

The cable guy showed up early today. That’s one of the benefits of living in a small town. The cable guy not only arrives the day the cable company says he will, but early.

Two hours early.

That was a little annoying. I had just come back from my morning walk — in fact, I was striding up the driveway to our house as he was driving down. I was hot, sweaty, and looking forward to my shower. A shower, a few pages on the current short story, and lunch.

Instead, I spent three hours — my most productive writing hours — munching an energy bar, pricing jewelry to sell in our antique store booth, and calming the freaked-out cat. Occasionally, I had to run downstairs to confirm that yes, I did want the cable box beneath the TV, or no, I didn’t want an additional 8,000 movie channels.

All of which could’ve been taken care of on the phone. The company could’ve sent us paperwork by mail, and we could’ve signed it and sent it back before the cable guy showed up. Then, on the assigned day, someone could’ve simply let the guy in. The freaked-out cat would’ve hidden, and the cable guy — who is bonded and insured — would have been able to work in peace.

I know I shouldn’t complain. He got the job done.

But I’m the one who always gets to handle the cable guy. Which is ironic because, until I married, I didn’t have cable. For years, I didn’t even have a TV.

When I moved to Oregon, I was the one who babysat friends’ houses for the cable guy because my friends had “real jobs.”

That ended when the cable company changed their policy: the renter/owner had to be home to sign away their firstborn. No one informed me of the changed policy. I learned about it at the end of a particularly long installation at a friend’s house—an installation that would have had to be taken out if I wasn’t the person who lived in the house. An entire day wasted.

So I did what any good friend would do. I lied. I said I was the new roommate. I signed away my firstborn for cable I wouldn’t even enjoy, filled in the wrong address, and gave the cable guy a brief glimpse of my driver’s license, and hoped no one would check any of the information.

Apparently no one did. My friend paid her bill on time (always good, since my name was on it), and she kept that cable for nearly a decade, until she moved in with an ex-cop.

From then on, I ceased being the cable babysitter — except for my own cable adventures. My husband and I moved a lot in the early years, and each move required new cable. My husband can’t live without HBO — he channel-surfs from 1 to 2 a.m., never watching entire movies, just “looking for something interesting.” He draws the line at plastic surgery shows, having once made the mistake of watching a man draw all over a woman only to cut her open.

My cable adventures include the time the guy had to leave and come back with an entire road crew to backhoe a hole in my yard (regulations, ma’am: no visible wires in this neighborhood); the guy who finished the wiring — correctly — in less than fifteen minutes and then offered to recarpet my entire house using six inch carpet samples; and the cable woman who climbed a dying tree to remove a wire someone had placed in the upper branches (I stood below, praying, hoping the tree would hold so our insurance wouldn’t have to).

Today, the cable guy wanted to leave work early, so what does he discover? The house we want wired hasn’t had cable for more than ten years. Everything is outdated and worse, because we live in a coastal community, the interior of the wires is rusted.

He had to replace the entire system, from the house to the street. He walked around my house leaving a trail of stale cigarette smoke behind him, mumbling, dripping pliers and wire cutters and black cable.

The totally freaked out cat had vanished, only to resurface from under the couch when the cable guy used a drill to make a hole in our ancient concrete wall. The poor cat screamed, ran in circles, and then decided to retreat. He scuttled out of the room on his stomach, never to be seen again—at least by the cable guy.

Finally the job was done and that’s when cable guy got chatty. He said the same thing everyone else who doesn’t read says when they visit our house. The pithy, insightful, “Sure do have a lot of books.”

How’s a person supposed to respond to that? Embarrass the guy with a “Not really”? Show that we’re weird by saying “Yep, sure have a lot of books”? Or try for self-deprecating with an “I don’t read them; I just like the way they look on the walls”?

I opted for agreement, going for weird because I wanted him out of my house. After he double-tested everything, starting with HBO (what is it with guys?), and hefted a few books to make sure that they really had words in them, he finally left.

I decided to make lunch. The totally freaked out cat couldn’t hide from the smell of tunafish so he eventually emerged, but refused to go into the television room.

And then my husband came home just in time for the cable guy. Or so he thought. Being only an hour late from the original appointment time (cable guys are never on time, my husband said in self defense — which, come to think of it, is true. They’re not usually early either), he couldn’t believe that the guy had come and gone. I had to prove it by turning on both televisions, and letting him surf through the channels.

I went back to my tunafish. Then I got my shower. And now I’m here, trying to remember what the heck my story’s about. I’m finally beginning to understand why someone made a nasty movie about cable guys.
They’re annoying — and oddly necessary.

Even when they show up early and wonder why anyone with a house full of books would like a television with 200 channels.

I used to wonder that too, until I married. Then I found out that it doesn’t matter that the programming stinks so long as there’s something interesting to watch and no one’s trying to cut anything open.

But I have to wonder: Was it worth the loss of my afternoon? I don’t surf. I read, even when the television’s on.

My husband says baby-sitting the cable guy is just my karma.

And, karmically speaking, there are worse things in life.

Like service people who never show up at all.

Copyright © 2008 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch