Second Thought: Wednesday, March 13, 2003
Luigi, show the nice cable guy how to make this bill disappear.


I used to think Charter Communications hated me, an emotion I warmly returned.

Their channel selection sucks, and cable service stops whenever the wind rises above 5 mph. My internet service has gone down for extended periods at least once a month, and the problem can never be solved in fewer than three phone calls. One time their tech support guy assured me that my modem was bad, and they sent a service person out right away with a new one. Only there was nothing wrong with the modem. He simply had to redo the network settings — which the techie could have told me over the phone, as had been done in the past. Then they charged me for the service call. But I let it go.

When I first got high-speed service, my exuberant sales person told me “No bills for three months!” Two weeks later, there was a charge on my card. But I let it go.

Twice, they cut off a pay-per-view special (ultimate fighting!) before it was over, although they did agree not to charge me for it after I called and complained.

Then I moved. And I realized that, far from trying to make my life miserable, Charter Communications must be madly in love with me. Like a shy third-grade boy, it is trying to keep my attention by constantly doing irritating things. There is no other explanation.

The manager of my new apartment complex switched units on me the day I was to move in, which resulted in mucho phone calls to utilities persons. But I wasn’t worried about cable, because they weren’t due to hook me up for three more days — I had plenty of time to tell them to go to a different apartment. Not much different, mind you. Just two doors down, two little bitty numbers off what they already had.

When Icall to make the change, the first person I talk to is obviously very new and/or still in training. I used to do customer service. I know the sound of incompetence mixed with terror. I’m willing to cut a lot of slack. It would be needed.

Fifteen minutes later, I get a message on Call Notes: We’re sorry, we wiped your order out. Can you please call again?

So I do. And yes, my old order, for the other apartment, is cancelled — but they have no record of a new one. So, for the third time, I go through the whole song and dance.

About two hours later, I get another call. “We’re not sure what you want. Can you please call us back?” WHAT THE HELL?! I just want cable.

I call again. The highly competent but emotionally uninflected person I talk to has no idea why someone has left me that message. She reads me back the order, and it is just fine.

The Big Day comes, and I wait for the next catastrophe.

Flashback: When I initially told Charter I was moving, I was asked if I was going to take “the equipment” — cables, box, modem, etc. — with me. I had no idea you could do that, and was quite prepared to turn it in, but I said, sure, in the vain hope that this would make things easier on down the line. It is to laugh.

Back to the present.

The cable guy is supposed to show up between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. I am afraid to shower, check the mail, or go to the bathroom for four hours for fear of missing CG (as the cable guy will henceforth be known) and having to go through this whole thing yet again.

CG shows up at 3:30 p.m., with a new box and modem. Like an idiot, I show him I already have them, thus turning down brand-new replacements for the old junk. He calls in the serial numbers to make sure I am not a serial cable box criminal and writes them down on the invoice.

This is a very good thing, as we shall see.

We are supposed to have HBO. We don’t. I have to call them back to get that to work — twice. We also no longer have IFC or Sundance Channel or BBC America.

And then I get a bill for $500. Why? Because I never turned in the equipment. Which is sitting in my living room, hooked up by Charter Communications. By this time, I have pretty much had enough. I watch The Sopranos. I become one with my inner Tony.

I then call Charter and explain in polite and copious detail how they are all going to sleep with the fishes if they don’t straighten this out. The Mafia is mentioned. My ethnic background becomes Italian. The customer service person, hearing the authority and capacity for sudden violence inherent in my voice, immediately agrees to take off the charge if only I will spare her life and the lives of her family members. I say OK, but one day, she is going to have to do me a favor, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday.

That’s the way to handle Charter Communications.

PS: Last week, I ordered a movie on Charter’s Video On Demand service. Did it work? Of course not. Will I be charged for it, even after being assured I would not? We shall see. Does anyone know where to get a horse head, cheap?

Amber Rollins’ short stories have been published in literary magazines. The Fort Worth writer is working on a book about women in Japanese Buddhism.

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