We've all seen the bumper stickers that read "Kill your television!" But I didn't kill mine. I mostly took a two-year break.
The problem, as so often happens, was money. After my wife and I bought our new house, we looked for ways to help our bank account recover. TV seemed to be a costly bit of foolishness we could live without. Our previous house, a rental built in 1929, had an antenna on the roof, so our TV viewing in the mid-1990s was circa 1960s. The new house was wired for cable, with TV jacks upstairs and down, but we left them alone. Having never had cable, we had no loss to mourn.
After two years, Shari had had enough—not of the absence of TV, but of the bounty of chauffeuring. She would drop me off on Franklin Street so that I could watch Tar Heel football and drink beer. Only two seasons added up to 26 games, taking into account a bowl game named for mufflers or tires or some snack I couldn't identify. Even when the team was playing in a different time zone, the post-game traffic jams in Chapel Hill rivaled Mexico City. Woody Durham had finished interviewing the coach. Mick Mixon had completed his post-game summary. Jones Angell had given the scores from around the ACC and across the nation. We had driven just three blocks. "Time to get cable," she said.
So I waited as a man on a yellow ladder worked at the top of the utility pole across the street. When he came down, I asked, "Do I have cable?" Not yet. The next week, two guys dug a hole on either side of our street and threaded a cable from curb to curb under the pavement. They left the end protruding from the ground near my garbage can and packed up to leave. I was doubtful, but I asked nevertheless: "Do I have cable?" Not yet.
The following week, two more fellows showed up with a small gasoline-powered ditcher that buried cable along the driveway, around the back of the house, and up past the deck. Now the stub of cable stuck up from the ground beside the house, right below the electric meter and the phone box. Wrapped in yellow tape, the stub caught Shari's attention when she came home from work: "Do we have cable?" she asked.
Several days later, a man emerged from a van parked in the driveway. His tool belt required shoulder straps, so heavily laden was it with pliers, screwdrivers, rolls of different-colored tape, and enough small electronic meters to recreate the cockpit in a B-2 bomber. He filled the gap between stub and house. We went in and turned on the TV set. Oprah Winfrey sat on a couch, telling us about her favorite caramel popcorn shops in Chicago.
"OK, Mr. Kirk," said the technician, "you have cable."