There are plenty of things to be mad about in this world. Between our government’s collective hard-on for a war (Motto: Well, we’ve got to use our cool new weapons on someone) and the plummeting economy, there are some pretty legitimate reasons to be upset. But the current recipient of most of my malice and ill-will is not the IMF or the oil companies, but the dreaded Comcast, lord of the Engler-granted fiefdom of southeast Michigan.

Paul Wong
Andy Taylor-Fabe

For those of you who have not had the pleasure of visiting Comcast’s office in Ann Arbor, let me briefly describe the surroundings. First of all, I’ve seen bank vaults that were less protected. There is a thick barrier of plexiglass between you and the drone at the desk, and the only possible contact is through a little speaker. If you need to pass something to them, there is a “Silence of the Lambs”-style drawer for security. (Remember, nothing but soft paper – no pencils or pens.)

Why, you ask, does Comcast need such extensive security for dealing with such highly sensitive and dangerous merchandise as remote controls and digital cable boxes?

Because the only people who ever actually have to go down to the Comcast office are people who are really, really pissed off. They are either about to have their cable disconnected because they “haven’t paid their bills in six months” or they have spent approximately 54 hours on the phone arguing about their charges and listening to a customer service representative who sounds like he has been drugged reading a script and refusing to give out any actual information.

So the extra protection is actually somewhat warranted, for there is an increased likelihood that some incensed subscriber will grab the nearest weapon (e.g. a hatchet) and head down to the office. “You think digital cable is broken up into small pieces? I’ll show you!”

Can you imagine if other businesses took a cue from Comcast and fortified their offices this way? Picture this: You happily head down to the DMV to renew your license on your 21st birthday. After you make your way over the moat, past the archers and through the boiling oil, you are met by a full cavity search. It’s a bleak future. But I digress …

I would like to preface this next part by saying that I fully understand that cable installation is more art than science, and that especially in Ann Arbor, where the wiring in campus housing dates back to the Eisenhower administration. (How many of you have houses with those rotating black light switches – all two-prong outlets – and lose power every time you do something crazy like use more than one burner at once?) There is no way to predict exactly how long appointments will take. I understand that Welcome Week is very hectic and can be very ugly for businesses such as Comcast.

However, it’s not as if they didn’t have time to plan for this. (“Oh crap, is it September already?”) There is no excuse for being put on hold for an hour listening to Muzak versions of Rick Astley tunes followed by a surly and unintelligible operator telling you that “the service technician will definitely show up somewhere between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m., so you should try to be there the whole time.” OK, maybe it’s true that I don’t have anything better to do and can and will skip class whenever I please, but how do they know that I don’t have a real job and actual responsibilities and duties aside from cashing checks from my parents. And if you don’t like using the phone, try the website – a wealth of information. This will show you how little Comcast thinks of us, because their explanation of how digital cable works reads like they paraphrased Mike Teevee’s conversation with Willy Wonka.

One of my friends, upon hearing my lengthy and colorful list of grievances against Comcast, said he found it amusing that I could harbor such deep resentment for this company and what it represents and still remain a customer. He thought that if I really despised them that much, I should stop using their services and free myself from their Vader-like grip on the cable market. He also subtly implied that I was something of a hypocrite for patronizing a business that I consider to be more vile than all of the James Bond villains rolled into one.

First of all, my criticisms of Comcast are not part of some damn-fool idealistic crusade against big business and evil corporations in general. My motives are purely selfish. So don’t look at me like I’m a member of S.O.L.E. who was caught drinking an iced mochaccino from Starbucks while jogging in a Nike jumpsuit on his way to go shop at Kohl’s.

And second, just what am I supposed to do without cable and Internet? Sure, I can still watch “The Simpsons” on (shudder) network TV, but what about my thrice-daily dose of “Law & Order” (the good ones, when Chris Noth was still on), those sinful and delicious hours of Phil Hartman-era “Saturday Night Live,” the enlightened commentary and tough love of retired sheriff John Bunnell, C.W. Jensen et al on “World’s Wildest Police Videos” and let’s not forget the Zeus in the pantheon of TV gods, “The Sopranos.”

Oh, there are alternatives, you say? I could always get a satellite dish (ha ha) or get DSL from Ameritech (Oh, stop, you’re killing me). Oh, I suppose next you’ll suggest that I “quit watching so much TV” and “enjoy my life.” Unfortunately, I am not strong enough to carry on this fight myself. We need a hero, someone who does not have the coaxial monkey on his back, to be the champion of the cause. If you find him, let me know. I’ll be at home watching “Future Guns.”

– Andy can be reached at andytayl@umich.edu.

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