Ma Bell and Me
By Jim Poling
Published Sept. 28, 2017
In the beginning there was none. No television. No electronics.
The lake itself was the entertainment. Swimming in it, canoeing on it, fishing it or just sitting by it listening to loon calls float across its surface.
Just us, the lake and the pleasures of the woods around it.
Then it came. That first piece of electronic wizardry – the television set.
It was a small black box donated by a family member. It had a 12-inch screen and a single pull-out antenna that delivered ghostly shapes moving in electronic mist and snow.
I got it a pair of rabbit ears to boost its draw power enough to provide adequate black and white images and reasonably static-free audio.
That television was not allowed to be part of the cottage furnishings. It lived in a closet, unplugged from any electrical outlets that could bring it to life.
It was only an occasional visitor, pulled out of its closet on special occasions. Major sports events like the Stanley Cup playoffs, the World Series of baseball or the Superbowl. And, of course, major news events like the death of Princess Diana.
It died one day and was replaced by another castoff, a big box tube set the size of a bank vault. It took four people to carry it. It was too heavy to move in and out of the closet so we placed it in the living area where it became a cottage fixture.
It didn’t get many channels so was not used much more than its predecessor. That changed after a visit to a spring Cottage Life Show.
Ma Bell was at the show and offering a sweet deal. She would set you up with satellite TV service at your home and your cottage for the monthly price of one service.
No longer would you have to lug the satellite box from home to the cottage and back to avoid paying for two services. It was irresistible and I succumbed.
The old, chunky TV was not compatible for satellite so another family member donated a wide-screen set being discarded because at 40 inches it was considered too small and outdated. The trend in the city was for sets with screens the size of a tractor-trailer.
That would be the limit of digital electronic intrusions at the lake. Or, so I thought.
Then came the internet. It made sense. If work could be done over the internet at the lake, more time could be spent at the lake.
With the internet came the laptops, the tablets, and those ubiquitous smartphones.
Those machines swallow huge amounts of insanely expensive data. Someone suggested getting Wi-Fi. It would provide more data time and better TV options.
So in came the Wi-Fi box and yet another monthly ransom payment to Ma Bell. Her monthly take became the size of a new car payment.
I decided enough was enough. I unplugged the Wi-Fi box and put it in the closet where the little black television had lived.
Then I called Ma. I explained that I was paying her too much and needed to reduce the monthly bill. We talked for quite a while, me complaining about the cost burden and my disdain of commercials.
Television, I wailed, now was two minutes of program followed by five minutes of commercials. Ma was sympathetic and offered a variety of solutions.
The very next day a young man in a Bell truck arrived. He installed a PVR (personal video recorder) that allows the viewer to record a program and spin through the commercials. The PVR required a high definition satellite receiver, which he installed on my roof.
So my monthly Bell bill, once the size of Toyota hatchback payment, now is the size of a Lexus payment.
I seem to have everything now that Ma Bell has to offer. She doesn’t think so because her marketing people call me almost daily. They call on my landline while I am eating supper. They call on my mobile phone while I am cutting firewood in the bush.
I want to call Ma and tell her to stop calling. But I am afraid to call because whenever I call her it costs me more money.