10.3 / May & June 2015

Under Contract

According to her customer service representative, the earliest a Comcast (CMCSA 56.77 ↑ 0.77) customer support technician could be dispatched to repair her television service was Tuesday, December 23rd, between the hours of 10 AM and 2 PM, would this repair window work for Theresa? No, Gopika, it would not. Five entire days had passed since all three of Theresa’s Comcast Xfinity cable boxes, for which she paid a monthly sum of $225, had flat-out stopped working. Over that period of inactivity, Theresa had spoken to seven different customer service representatives, for god knows how many hours, and those seven customer service reps had had Theresa manually reset each of her three cable boxes seven respective times, in turn, living room guest room bedroom, sending her up the stairs and back down again, up-down, up-down, like some kind of defective stairlift. Now every one of her varicose veins was throbbing to a distinct, painful beat. Since the last time her Comcast Xfinity was operational, Theresa had run dry the battery of her Apple iPhone 5 (AAPL 105.99 ↑ 0.83) nine times, smoked an entire pack of Virginia Slims (MO 53.05 ↑ 0.58) six times, and advanced to the next level of Candy Crush (KING 12.75 ↓ 0.10) eighteen times. Her Labrador retriever had gone peeps 11 times and poops seven. Her son and her daughter had required, on average, 4.5 hours to answer her texts. Thus far, Theresa had scheduled and confirmed two separate repair windows. She’d canceled IHOP plans with her girlfriend Terry to be home for the first, no one showed. She’d paid to Skype (MSFT 46.24 ↑ 0.76) with her divorce lawyer to be home for the second: stood up again. Comcast had zapped her cable boxes with mysterious signals 36 times, to no effect, and if she had to endure the 37th zap, she was going to swallow every antidepressant in her condominium (PFE 32.80 ↑ 0.40). So, no. Tuesday between 10 and 2 wasn’t going to work for Theresa.

All Theresa wanted to know, for Pete’s sake, was whether or not she was still under contract with Comcast (CMCSA 56.91 ↑ 0.91). She stood at the backdoor in her Fat Day jeans, iPhone to her ear, watching her dog circle yesterday’s Lincoln Logs through her own ghostly reflection in the glass. Frost clung to her patio furniture. Gopika appreciated her patience. Could Theresa, by any chance, tell Gopika the password for her Comcast Digi-Pay account? Sadly, Theresa could not. Okay then, could she remember which of her four personal emails was associated with her Comcast Digi-Pay? She couldn’t. After all, forgetfulness was listed as a side effect for both her beta-blockers and her antidepressants (ALXN 180.32 ↑ 1.06), but she would just love to list every single email account she has ever had ever, if it was absolutely necessary. And so Theresa called the dog in and toweled the yuck off her paws and did her best to annunciate the alphanumeric combos of her Gmail (GOOG 539.95 ↑ 5.56) and YahooMail (YHOO 48.95 ↑ 0.06) and HotMail (MSFT 46.30 ↑ 0.82) and AOL (AOL 48.49 ↓ 0.54), until a thrice-forwarded email appeared in her Gmail inbox, confirming that her AOL account was the one linked to Comcast Digi-Pay. Theresa hadn’t logged into AOL since—when—her kids were in elementary? Fifteen some odd years. Too many months to do the math. She used to Velcro their Osh Kosh sneakers (OSK 47.79 ↑ 0.34) and send them to the bus stop holding hands. Protect your sissy. Look after your brudda. Act for one second like you love each other. And they’d listen. There had been a time when her happiness meant something to them, her kiddies.

Would Theresa prefer to reset her password now or later? Gopika wanted to know. Theresa wrote “KILL ME” on the back of a Target coupon (TGT 75.71 ↑ 1.75) that was redeemable for 40% off Kleenex Ultra-Soft Facial Tissues (KMB 118.25 ↑ 1.21) and said, I’ve already come this far, what’s another three hours? Her mother’s maiden name was Recchi, her first car had been 1980 Datsun 280Z (TYO 1,020.00 ↑ 8.00), and her father was born in 1938. Theresa kept her share of his ashes in a gold, pocket-sized urn that she kissed every night before bed, but she didn’t tell Gopika that. Instead, Theresa joined her pooch on the L-shaped Home Goods couch (TJX 67.61 ↑ 0.34) and lit another cigarette, the last of her pack (MO 53.08 ↑ 0.61). The pink e-cig her kids bought her last Christmas just hadn’t cut it; apparently, she preferred her self-destruction analog. Would it be all right if Gopika put her on hold for a moment? Why not! Theresa said. She glared at the pile of professionally gift-wrapped boxes stacked in front of her decorative fireplace, gifts from her kids sent ten unnecessary days in advance of Christmas (UPS 100.57 ↑ 0.44), since they wouldn’t—“couldn’t”—join her. Her daughter was spending the holidays with her coworkers in the Adirondacks; her 29-year-old son had busboy shifts to work in California. Both had promised to FaceTime (AAPL 105.88 ↑ 0.72). Their presents had arrived all at once, the same day her Comcast Xfinity went on the fritz. If only Theresa had paid the extra $1200 for the condo’s fireplace upgrade. She could have burned every last present unopened, stained her half-painted kitchen with ash, dropped dead from smoke inhalation. Weeks would pass before her neighbors smelled something funky. Ha, ha. That would show them.

The hold music continued to play, songs for a stalled elevator in hell.

Fifteen minutes later Theresa’s ear was achingly hot from cell phone radiation and Gopika was back with some unfortunate news. To the best of Gopika’s knowledge, Theresa wasn’t under contract with Comcast (CMCSA 57.00 ↑ 1.00). If she felt so inclined, she was free to subscribe to Verizon FiOs (47.83 ↑ 0.03), which her friend Terry couldn’t be happier with. She could sign up with DirecTV (DTV 87.96 ↑ 0.93), without incurring any financial penalty, and have her roof adorned with one of those satellite dishes that always reminded her of sunbathers. It went without saying: Comcast—and Gopika—would be incredibly disappointed to see her opt out of her service plan, especially after nineteen wonderful years together. Gopika extended her deepest apologies for any and all inconveniences Theresa had experienced as a result of her malfunctioning Comcast Xfinity (CMCSA 57.09 ↑ 1.09), and she completely respected Theresa’s choice to cancel, if that was in fact her choice. Gopika would not be able to refund Theresa for the five days of lost HDTV/DVR as she had promised, but she would be more than happy to waive the company’s $60 de-installation fee. A customer support technician could be dispatched as early as January 3rd, between the hours of 8 AM and 12 PM, to discontinue service and collect her cable boxes. Did Theresa wish to proceed with the first phase of pre-cancellation?

Well, Gopika, no: Theresa did not want to cancel her Comcast Xfinity HDTV/DVR service, because, randomly, it was all of a sudden working again. In the living room, the guest room, her bedroom, the stagnant on-screen error codes had turned without reason or explanation into vivid, moving pictures. Theresa flipped ecstatically through the suddenly-there channels, promos for a Sunday Night showdown between the Patriots and the Bills (GE 24.52 ↑ 0.02), commercials for maxi pads with twice the resiliency of their store brand competitors (KMB 109.05 ↑ 0.97), and her shows, oh fuck yes, her shows: Bones, Scandal, The Big Bang Theory, all accounted for like plane crash survivors, beautifully intact. Thirty seconds earlier, Theresa would have loved nothing more than to cancel her subscription, to give Gopika a real piece of her mind, to punish the young stranger who had been shipping her anguish from the far side of the world. She’d rehearsed every sentence down to its punctuation. What self-respecting human being would work for a company that treated its customers with such subtle contempt (CMCSA 57.15 ↑ 1.15)? How well does a passive enabler of evil, like yourself, sleep at night? The words were there for the saying, like poison-tipped arrows in the quiver of her brain. But truthfully she didn’t see why, given the change in circumstances, cancellation couldn’t wait a day or two. Another polar vortex was swirling its slow way toward the east coast. She’d heard satellite dishes don’t fare well in storms.

Theresa sat on the saggy memory foam corner of her queen-sized bed and undid the button on her jeans, so she could breathe the chilly condominium air more easily; these prefab spaces never got comfortably hot like real homes. With her phone still to her ear (AAPL 105.86 ↑ 0.70), she could already feel her excitement giving way under the hollow weight of the winter days and weeks that lay ahead, afternoons with HGTV (SNI 72.32 ↑ 0.56), nights with The Mentalist, the mornings she’d drive to Wawa to buy cigarettes she didn’t need, just to ensure another living person heard her voice. Could she survive thirty-ish more years of that? She could, and would, because her misery was everyday, like everything else about her, and that thankfully left some small space in her for hope. Could Gopika help her with any of her other issues, while Theresa had her on the line? Did Comcast offer support and repair services for wrathful ex-husbands, inconsiderate children, lonely women who worship their dogs? They didn’t currently, but Theresa figured it was only a matter of time. The market would correct and capitalize on all inefficiencies in eventuality. Uniformed men with futuristic tool belts would be teleported to your doorstop, eager and equipped to zap any and all disappointment into nonbeing. Ex-husbands will fall out of love with younger girlfriends, children won’t leave their beds until they call their mothers, dogs will be granted a lifespan commensurate with their loyalty: immortality. All Theresa had to do was wait for better days to come. So as Gopika continued to list cancellation options in her singsong English, Theresa sat waiting in the blue, violent flicker of her television, waiting for the right moment to hang up, ready for whatever sad state her life would revert to without this distraction (CMCSA 56.76 ↑ 0.01).

Carmen Petaccio received his MFA in Fiction from Columbia University. He lives in Austin, Texas.
10.3 / May & June 2015