We watch... so you don't have to.

I, Against Cable

book, for chrissakes?"> There's a scene in "The Wild Bunch" -- the great sort of movie that Ernest Borgnine used to appear in before the cruel fates condemned him to serve as Jonathan Silverman's doorman -- where Ernest, William Holden, Ben Johnson and Warren Oates are holed up in the compound of a sadistic Mexican general who has just beaten the living tar out of their compatriot Jamie Sanchez.

The general has tried to bribe our heroes into pushing on -- first with gold, then with whores. But Bill Holden and the boys will have none of it. With a steely glance around the compound, Holden mutters a simple "Let's go" to his cohorts. The four of them then proceed to spend the next five minutes shooting every living thing in sight before they, themselves, are felled in a hail of bullets.

Some people see that scene as a powerful metaphor for the closing of the frontier, the last stand of the Wild West. Others might argue it's a nihilistic comment about the fate of modern man in an increasingly uncaring world.

Me, I see the end of "The Wild Bunch" as a perfectly reasonable example of how to deal with those that done me wrong.

Like my local Cable Company.

Now, normally, I'm quite a peaceable fella. Slow to anger. Quick with a compliment. Always ready with a kind word and a hearty handshake. To paraphrase Paul McCartney in his masterful duet with ladies' man Michael Jackson, "The Girl Is Mine" -- I'm a lover, not a fighter.

But the cable company out here in L.A. has me stroking the muzzle of a Gatling gun in anticipation of the showdown to come.

Why the festering rage? What's put the blackness in my heart and the bile in my throat? My Cable Company -- whose reach is so powerful and all-encompassing that I dare not mention its name -- wants to come in to my home and replace my perfectly good cable service with some sinister monstrosity it calls a Home Communications Terminal.

In its Soviet-esque literature touting the merits of the Home Communications Terminal, the Cable Company speaks of the wonders of Broadband Technology, which will soon offer customers like me the interactive communication tool of the future. And the Cable Company vows to give me the chance to buy SmartGuide, "A 24-hour interactive program guide featuring parental control, program descriptions and program selection by categories or favorite channels."

Or as technophobes as you and I might call it -- TV Guide.

"Fine, Phil," you may be cooing in soothing tones while frantically gesturing for the guy crouching behind me to make quick work with that dart gun. "The Cable Company's Home Communications Terminal is sucky. No... it's the suckiest. But is that any reason for you to rampage through the streets, cutting down the innocent as well as the guilty? That's not what well-mannered, thoughtful, non-sociopathic people do, now is it?"

Well, all's I can say, is you're wrong, wrong, wrong. And you'll get yours. Right after I finish with the guy with the dart gun.

Because it's not just the inconvenience of letting one of the Cable Company's evil minions in my home to hook me up with a Home Communications Terminal I neither need nor want. My objection comes strictly down to greenbacks, baby... as in the $3.28 per month I'll be paying extra for the honor of having a Home Communications Terminal taking up space on my coffee table. After all, is $3.28 too much to pay for the joys of Broadband technology, for the lip-smacking grandeur of the interactive tool of the future, for the raw but unmistakably sexual thrill of SmartGuide?

You're darn tootin' it is.

So why pony up the extra scratch for the Home Communications Terminal? Why not tell the Cable Company to stick its SmartGuide and its Pay-Per-View movies and its Broadband technology where the sun don't shine? Because the Cable Company, in all its indecent cleverness, has altered its cable signal so that the only way you can pick up ESPN and Turner Classic Movies and those Equalizer re-runs on A&E is through a Home Communications Terminal. In other words, even though I'm shelling out $30 bucks a month for cable channels, if I don't cave to the Cable Company's demands, then all's I'll be able to watch are the free channels... just the like the rest of those non-cable buying chumps.

And that simply won't stand. Because you know how I love Equalizer re-runs.

The Cable Company muscling me around like a neighborhood Mafioso roughing up shopkeepers for protection money -- that's bad enough. But a couple of days ago, the Cable Company walked up to my open, sucking chest wound and dipped a Salt Lick inside. I got a letter in the mail informing me that in two day's time, my cable signal would forever switch to the highly vaunted, little understood world of Broadband, and that unless I got myself a Home Communications Terminal double-quick, all my cable channels would look like the scrambled feed of the Playboy channel that I used to watch on those many lonely nights of adolescence, oh so long ago.

So instead of watching highlights of the Red Wings game right now, I'm watching snow. Maybe that's Red Wing star Steve Yzerman on my TV. Maybe it's a naked woman. I can't really tell.

I made an appointment for the Cable Company to come in and install its hated Home Communications Terminal. What the hell choice did I have? Its emissary be here on Saturday, between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. -- unless, of course, a four-hour window just isn't enough time for it to be punctual.

In the meantime, I just have to sit here without any cable channels and stew in my own juices. I mean, what the hell am I supposed to do? Go outside? Get some exercise? Read a book, for chrissakes?

I would rather die.

But having no TV around to kill off brain cells gives a guy a lot of time to think. And my thoughts -- like the thoughts of any right-thinking person who might be stuck in a similar situation -- have turned to revenge. Bloody, awful revenge.

You hold all the cards now, Cable Company, with your vaunted monopoly and godlike omnipotence. But the more your iron fist tightens, the more power will slip through your fingers. Grow fat on your inflated rates, Cable Company. Grow fat and lazy. Suck down more revenues from your Home Communications Terminals until you become bloated and slow and soft.

Because that's when we'll strike.

Hear me now, Cable Company. Your despotic reign over the once glorious kingdom of TV is drawing to a close. Soon, I and other patriots like me will have our mini-satellite dishes, our DirecTV, perhaps even our illegal converter boxes. And then we rampage, Cable Company. We will march down to your once-impregnable cable fortress and pierce your soft, engorged underbellies with our TV remote controls. We will string you up with your own coaxial cables and dance a merry jig as your eyes bulge and your faces turn blue. Then, after we've set fire to your desks and overturned your cable vans and pillaged your offices, we will march on a road paved with your Cable Company bones back to our Home Entertainment Centers to watch Family Affair re-runs on FX.

But for now, Cable Company, we will bide our time... waiting, under the yoke of your oppression, for just the right moment to liberate ESPN, The Sci-Fi Channel, and yes, even Animal Planet. And that day -- when it comes -- will be a glorious day, indeed.

Gotta go now. The Equalizer's on.


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