In January, I went to the Time Warner Cable customer service center in Brooklyn. My cable modem had finally given up the ghost, so I brought it in to exchange it for a new model. While waiting on line, I started chatting with the woman ahead of me. We were talking about why we were there, and, both being New Yorkers, the conversation quickly turned into a mutual complainfest. That’s how we break the ice with strangers, the way other people might talk about the weather, sports or the latest mass shooting.
After a few minutes of our cartel-bashing banter, a young woman with a clipboard showed up next to us. For the sake of this story, I’ll call her “Adrienne” because that’s her name. Adrienne had kind of a smug look on her face that said “watch me blow this yokel’s mind” as she asked if I’d like to save money on my monthly bill instantly. Because I’m from Brooklyn, my response was “Oh, so now that FIOS is covering more areas, all of a sudden Time Warner is sensitive to its customers needs in this challenging economy?” This made my new complainfriend laugh. Adrienne just stood there holding her clipboard. She told me to come see her at her little table by the door when I was done getting my new modem.
When I joined her at her little table, Adrienne still had the smug face on. She pulls out this long Time Warner Cable Contract and asks what services I currently have. TV and Internet, I say. How many cable boxes? One. Do I have DVR? Yes. As she talks, she writes in giant letters across the contract $84.99 FOR TV + HSO + 1 BOX $10.25 DVR INCLUDED + MODEM FEE $3.95. I guess this bit of theater was for my benefit. Wow! Adrienne is not fooling around! She has been so empowered to make me happy she’s not even bothering to check any of the little boxes! She’s writing in big letters like some kind of cable maverick with no regard for standard form protocol! It’s my lucky day!
At the bottom of the form she writes what would(n’t) be my new monthly rate for a year: $109.19. That’s a pretty solid savings over the usual $197 ass rape. A bill that has steadily creeped up over the past few years and is way too much for anyone to pay for mostly shitty TV channels and broadband. The problem is, I’m lazy. I should have done something about it long ago. Also I used to make a lot more money, and part of me felt that cutting services was admitting defeat. (Full disclosure: I’m my own worst enemy.) My hope was that FIOS would be available in my building by the time this deal expired, giving me at least the illusion of an option for who takes all my future money.
I have worked in advertising (specifically, direct marketing) for over 20 years. A good part of that time has been ruled by the almighty asterisk. I’ve literally spent years of my life picking fonts for legal disclaimer copy, kerning it to within an inch of its life to make it fit on an ad, staying late proofreading corrections on six-point type and going cross-eyed in the process. Nobody knows better than me that a great deal is usually a lot less great once you read the fine print.
That’s why I made sure to ask Adrienne specifically if that price referred to every service I currently have. “Of course!” Remembering all those movies where the devil finds loopholes in what people ask for when they make deals with him, I decided to be even more specific. Does this include HBO? Yes. All my other movie channels that I don’t even like? Yes! So, every single thing that I am now getting from Time Warner will cost me $109.19 for a full year? “Yup,” she gloated.
Smash cut to me opening my most recent bill and turning into one of those cartoon thermometers where the mercury blows the top off to the sound of alarm bells. Turns out, my monthly fee is now $159, not the $109.19 my pal promised me. A quick scan of the charges revealed the discrepancy: Premium Services were not discounted! “BUT I SPECIFICALLY ASKED ABOUT THAT!” I yelled to my dog, who looked at me with a face that said “that’s what you get for trusting Time Warner.” If I haven’t made it clear by now, I read way too much into people’s facial expressions, and, yes, dogs are people.
Usually I deal with stuff like this by getting really angry, then doing nothing. I call it “Kramdening” after Bensonhurst blowhard Ralph Kramden. But this time was different. Maybe it’s because I’m tired of being constantly fleeced, or because I was so careful to reveal any fast ones they were trying to pull, or maybe it’s because I’m always angry and resentful that I don’t have the money I used to have. Whatever the reason, I was going to make this right.
My first move was to call customer service. After working my way through their voicemail menu, I waited to be connected to an operator. At first I thought it was a recording; it’s always unnerving to speak to a live person who sounds like a computer. The woman (?) talked so fast it was like an editor chopped out the pauses, and it was all one long word. I told her my issue and, after a lot of furious typing, she told me no offer matched the one I said was promised to me. I don’t care about that, I said. I want what’s written on this contract. See, I have a signed contract from one of your employees that explicitly describes the deal! More typing. “I’m sorry there is no offer currently available for that price.” She kept saying “I understand your problem,” which just kept making me angrier. I asked to speak to a supervisor.
I was put on hold for a few minutes, I guess, to give the impression that she walked down the hall to a big office where her boss would step out a meeting to deal with my problem. In reality, the operator probably just pressed a button so a different person making $4 a week thanks to outsourcing could field the call. Some new guy answered and did more fast typing. He, too, informed me that no current promotion in his system matched up to what I said was promised. There was nothing he could do since he couldn’t see the contract with his own eyes. A breakthrough! “So you’re saying that I have to deal with this in person at a Time Warner office?” Yes. “Thank you for the opposite of help.” I hung up. Hey, at least I said thank you.
The call was frustrating, but I actually had a glimmer of hope. Maybe the guy on the phone couldn’t do anything because, for all he knew, I was some crazy American whose “contract” was actually a strip of toilet paper with a frowny face written in poop. All I had to do was bring my contract back to Time Warner, and all would be right. Uh huh.
When I got there the next day, I went up to the window and explained my dilemma to a woman behind the window. She directed me to the little table, the very same little table where Adrienne spun her web of deceit. If this were a Lifetime movie, it’d be called “Table of Lies” and I’d get killed in the first 10 minutes.
I was hoping Adrienne herself would show up, so I could slam the contract down and call her on her chicanery. But she must have been off that day. Instead some guy — let’s call him Chad because I forgot his name and he looked like a Chad — showed up with big hopeful eyes. I showed him my contract and my bill. He looked at both.
ME: No! Not great! There’s a $50 difference in the amount on the contract and on my bill!
CHAD: Oh, you see, that’s because Premium Services are extra.
ME: But I asked Adrienne specifically about those, and she told me point-blank that they were included.
CHAD: She obviously made a mistake.
ME: You say mistake. I say overpromised to calm me down because I was complaining about what a bad company Time Warner is. Either way, what are you going to do about it?
CHAD: Oh, there’s nothing we can do about it. Premium Services aren’t included in any promotional offer.
I started to get sweaty. I could have strangled Chad, but I didn’t. I tried again.
ME: See what she wrote? This is the deal, and this is the price. And this is her signature.
CHAD: Yeah, but she just wrote “TV” here. It doesn’t say Premium Services.
ME: So, according to you, “TV” is just basic cable. It could just as easily mean everything that’s on TV. Every channel. Even the Korean ones. It could mean The World Of Television As Provided By Time Warner Cable.
CHAD: It doesn’t mean that. We don’t discount Premium Services.
ME: So what now? You guys just say whatever you feel like, and the company doesn’t honor any of it?
He told me Adrienne would be “dealt with.” Dealt with? What the fuck did that mean? Were they going to kill her or write her up or what? Dealt with. What an asshole.
Chad then showed me that my new bill is actually lower than what I was paying. “See, this amount is $159 and you say you were paying $197. That’s a lot less!” I asked him if he thought he was talking to a moron. He just looked at me with big blank eyes. I wasn’t sure if he thought this was something I didn’t know or if he was being a sarcastic prick. Another thing he did was say “okay” to everything I said. Your company is terrible. Okay. I’m going to dump your service as soon as I can. Okay.
It became pretty clear that Chadbot was programmed to keep saying the same things over and over, and he kept looking at me like he was stunned that I was unhappy. As if we’re all raised from birth with certain life lessons: Don’t talk to strangers, always cross the street at the light and Time Warner never discounts Premium Services. Was I raised by wolves?
Rather than leave with a hearty Fuck You to Chad and his pals, I told him to cancel all my Premium Services except HBO. That will end up knocking almost $40 off my bill, bringing it closer to the amount the Princess of Lies promised me. I have less channels now, but I won’t miss them too much. Thanks, Hollywood, for making so many shitty movies that I’ll never watch no matter how many times Starz shows them.
But this isn’t over. I’ve been tweeting dicky things to @TWC and their automated algorithm @TWCableHelp. Today, somebody named @Directv_lloyd offered to help me “make the switch,” but I’m not into the idea of hanging a dish outside my window. Maybe there’s no pleasing me.
I’m not sure what I’ll do next. I might call Adrienne on the number she wrote on my contract, the number she encouraged me to share with anyone who might want the same amazing deal. The problem is, I’m not very good at staying calm when I feel like I’m being talked down to. And it’s obvious they truly do not give even a fraction of a shit.
Maybe I’ll write a letter to Mr. Time Warner himself, but I have a feeling there’s nothing he can do either. Because, as we all know, they never discount Premium Services.
Anthony DeVito is an actor, writer and comedian. His new short film, “A Box Came To Brooklyn”, premieres at the 2013 Art of Brooklyn Film Festival (May 15-19).