Fade to Black

The problem with working at home is that when weird things happen, there is no one around to dissect the situation with.

And so it was every afternoon at slightly after 12 p.m. when the satellite would just stop working. Right in the middle of a Hallmark movie or “Flea Market Flip,” an error message appeared on the screen and that was the end of that. This interruption lasted about 4 or 5 hours when programming would magically return with nary an explanation.

My assistant, the dog, was unphased by this turn of events, and his silence made me more keenly aware of the void in my daily entertainment. Not to mention the white noise I am accustomed to when writing.

Each afternoon I dutifully went outside, looked at the satellite dish, stared at the sky, reset every box in the house and generally pretended that I was way more qualified to diagnose this problem than I actually was.

It was like Groundhog Day for the technically challenged and made me miss the days when twisting the tinfoil on the TV antenna pretty much fixed everything.

This all came to a head on a rare Sunday when I had run of the remote. I settled in for some trash TV and got nothing but the same error screen appearing on every good channel. Again.

Now, I realize that it was naïve and illogical to think this glitch only happened on weekdays. However, in my defense, Sundays at Chez Stiles are usually reserved for the NFL that is broadcast on local channels unaffected by this sporadic outage. So we never noticed the gap on a weekend until that moment.

And in that moment, having the house to myself with no access to the 100s of channels I paid for was giving me a nervous twitch.

So, the minute we lost signal the following Monday, I begrudgingly called DirecTV customer service. I avoid such calls like the plague because you can’t just call and say, “Send someone out.”

Nope. Before a tech is bestowed upon you, it is mandatory that you spend 30 minutes—minimum—on the phone with a tech as you crawl around moving wires, finding and reciting serial numbers and running through a battery of tests.

Once connected with my rep, Batrum, all my fears were realized. I was forced to rearrange every transmitter box we had (and uncover a decent amount of dust behind them) in order to find the serial numbers. I performed diagnostics, checked the condition of the dish itself and reported the results and answered a bazillion questions—some of them twice.

Batrum’s script required him to repeatedly inform me of his great dismay at my unfortunate inconvenience.

Making me jump through hoops and diagnose my own problem cast some serious shade on his sincerity.

Finally, Batrum waved the white flag and needed some info to set up the elusive, live, in-person service call. He asked for the account number and password, both of which I had. We were getting so close, I could see the technicolored, 600-channel finish line.

And then he uttered the four words that signaled the end of my status as a favored customer, “Are you the account holder?”

I am the better half of the guy whose name is on the bill and that was no bueno with DirecTV. My friend and compadre, Batrum, refused to speak to me anymore. The ridiculousness of this rule made me snap and I morphed into a prize fighter trapped on the ropes.

Poor Batrum never knew what hit him.

“I have the password and the account number and all the info you asked for.” (Uppercut)

“I have been in this house handling all the equipment for over 30 minutes now. Are you concerned at all that I might be trespassing in someone else’s house because, apparently, it’s not my account?” (Jab)

“This is outrageous, you knew my name wasn’t on the account from the beginning.” (Right hook)

“Oh, OK, sure, I will have my husband call you back. But I warn you, he is not as nice as I am. …” (Left hook)

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he just cancelled our account because this is just unacceptable service.” Phone slam. Click. (TKO)

There was no script on the planet to help as I took out all my black-screened, entertainment-less afternoons on DirecTV’s finest. Despite this episode being completely out of character, I didn’t feel as guilty as I thought I would—but the reality was that I still had no television.


This exchange left my poor husband in the odd position of having to call DirecTV knowing there was a good chance our account had been placed on a watch list or blacked-out because of the unhinged lady who freaked-the-freak-out on them. I am normally the steady one in this duo, which is a sad commentary on my attachment to the flat screen.

In the end, my husband made amends and the tech came out on time and diagnosed the problem in under five minutes. It seems the split in the deck railing that was lingering on the old to-do list caused the dish (which is attached to said deck) to slip down too low to get the signals through the neighbor’s tree every afternoon.

A couple of tweaks and Hallmark popped on the screen thus restoring the balance of my world. I wanted to hug that technician right there in the blue glow, but I reconsidered since it would do nothing to improve my shaky reputation with DirecTV.

Now some might consider it weird that I am working at home and watching Hallmark Christmas movies year-round. But, really, there’s no need to start dissecting that.