Illustration by Denis Shifrin
Just over a year ago, I had one of the more frustrating weeks I’ve experienced in recent years, all due to my own recklessness. Old dogs really shouldn’t try to learn new tricks. In fact, old dogs can be very stupid. The adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is very true. Nevertheless, I decided to fix it.
A charming, (she sounded charming over the phone), young (she sounded young over the phone), woman announced herself as a representative of HOT, Israel’s cable TV company who was about to make me an offer I couldn’t refuse. HOT’s been around for a while, since the three cable companies that had dug up Israel’s roads and footpaths amalgamated to compete with Israel’s satellite broadcaster, YES. As we’d been with cable TV for over a decade and hadn’t had too many problems, I was prepared to listen to the sales pitch.
Illustration by Denis Shifrin
And what was this hawker offering me? HOT Triple. For the princely sum I was paying them to receive a daily dose of depression (Israeli TV has an inordinate amount of current affairs programming alongside quiz shows, wrestling, B and C movies and other rubbish), they would provide me with Internet access and telephone calls to any landline or cellphone in Israel free of charge. And — this was the part of the sales pitch that appealed to me — we could keep our existing telephone number. (It’s bad enough trying to remember 4-digit passwords at my age but an 8 or 9-digit phone number is more than my aging brain can handle. Even though our phones remember these things for us, ego and pride demand that we prove to ourselves that we CAN remember these things!) Anyway, I told her that I don’t make instant decisions based on cold calls and asked her to call back.
I looked at my monthly bills from Bezeq (Israel’s major phone company) and Netvision (our Internet provider) and reckoned that I could save some money. And as we already had the infrastructure in the apartment there would be no need for any drilling. This was a no-brainer! (Little did I know then that “no-brainer” is really a sobriquet for me.) So when the HOT lady called back, I was ready to go with her wherever she wished to lead me.
Having done the deed, another and equally attractive female voice called me to fix a time for installation. Two days later, a young man unloaded his bag of tricks, and got down to the job of connecting our equipment to this super-fast and super-cheap HOTline.
There should have been alarm bells ringing loudly in my ears. Perhaps there were and I just mistook them for my tedious tinnitus, which I have sort of grown used to. The previous summer, I had made a similar decision in our London flat about a comparable deal with Virgin, a retail conglomerate selling everything from flowers to space tourism, who were selling me — you guessed it — TV, telephone and Internet. But more about this later.
Shlomi the technician got down to work immediately. Within minutes, I had a new converter box — replete with video recorder capable of recording hours and hours of TV programs we would probably never watch — sitting under the television. That completed, the easier part of his attack, he set about dismantling the existing telephone and Internet connections, casually casting unwanted routers, plugs and wires aside as he continued his merry march through my apartment. In minutes, we were effectively detached (albeit temporarily, I was assured) from civilization. I breathed easily knowing that the means to re-stimulate our daily depression would be revived shortly.
However, in the course of connecting the telephone, Shlomi noted that there was a button to an emergency call center connected to one of the phone sockets. He informed me that it was forbidden to touch this and that he would have to issue me a new telephone number for the house, leaving the old number connected solely to the emergency buzzer. I misunderstood him, thinking he had told me the opposite, but before I could say Jack Robinson, or its Hebrew equivalent (maybe Bibi Lieberman), Shlomi had done his dastardly deed, informing me en passant that it was irreversible. Needless to say, I wasn’t very happy, for this would entail my having to remember a new sequence of digits. Not only that, but I would have to inform every one of the new number, which by now was being posted up in strategic points throughout the flat and recited like a mantra over the table.
Effectively reconnected with the world, (albeit with a new phone number and a new name for the WiFi network), it was time to test the television. Lo and behold, the almost perfect reception prior to the installation of the new converter was now flawed. In fact so defective on the HD channels that there was no picture of anything recognizable to the human eye. Perhaps an insect with multiple eyes or an arthropod with multiple lenses might have been able to make sense of it. I asked Shlomi why this was and received the plausible response that because two functions (phone and Internet) had been added to a connection that had previously only delivered a TV signal, there had to be an amplifier somewhere. “And where might that be?” asked I. “It must be on the roof,” replied Shlomi. “Ah”, says I — “just a minor problem. The roof belongs to my neighbor with sole access through his flat. Why don’t you go down to his office and ask him if you can get up there?” Shlomi returned a few minutes later to tell me that my neighbor was uncooperative and that he’d try something else instead. He did, but failed to redress the problem — and departed, claiming he was late for his next appointment. What I learned the following day from my neighbor was that he had accompanied Shlomi onto the roof and showed him that the signal amplifier was located on a pole two ladders’ height above the roof — and Shlomi had no ladder.
Another call to HOT and two days later, another technician came. He turned up late afternoon — almost night would be more apt— and announced that without access to the roof there was nothing he could do. On the basis of his white tight-fitting full skullcap and long ringlets, this young man seemed to be a strictly Orthodox Jew and my good lady asked him prior to his swift exit whether he had a TV at home. Though my tinnitus must have been working overtime, I still didn’t hear the alarm bells that were obviously ringing at full volume. He responded in the affirmative, but added that he doesn’t have anything to do with his own employer, HOT.
So the next day I spoke to yet another HOT lady to whom I explained the sad situation. She announced with some authority that we needed the ‘B-team’, i.e. the lads who look after HOT’s access to a whole house rather than just an individual flat, and I was told to be on standby from 09.00 until 11.30 two days later. That day came and my watch began - 11.30 came but the B-team didn’t. So I allowed them half an hour’s grace and called HOT again — just to enquire, you understand. The HOT lady was sympathy personified and undertook to uncover the reason for the B-team’s non-appearance. And indeed she called me back to tell me that they had been delayed but that they had attempted several times to contact me. Upon enquiring after the number the B-team had been trying to reach and on hearing the number of my cellphone being uttered across the airwaves, I checked said cellphone. I might add that the implement had been in my pocket all morning and I had neither heard it ring nor felt a vibration. (Vibrations in the pocket are important for an older man with tinnitus!) Accordingly, I arrived at the only conclusion a long-suffering HOT client (by now tepid) could arrive at: somebody in that torrid region which is HOT must be telling an untruth or fabricating a story.
My own reaction surprised me - I called HOT to cancel my contract. After all, had not the vendor a week earlier told me — as part of her sales pitch — that there was now a law in the State of Israel preventing companies like hers from tying their clients into a long-term contract from which there was redemption only by paying an exorbitant ransom? At this juncture, I discovered that signing out is distinctly more difficult than signing up. The company may no longer have a hold over you but that doesn’t stop them from pestering you into desperation to find out whether there is anything they can do “to help you” — a euphemism for encouraging you to change your already fragmented mind. Six different HOT employees phoned over 48 hours to ask the same question. Finally, I encountered a young lady who admitted defeat by informing me that the HOT equipment would be picked up within a week.
During this hectic week I discovered several other things. I now had an active phone connection to the HOT exchange with a new number as well as the two Bezeq lines (one for phone, one for Internet — but that’s another other story). I called Bezeq to cancel the Internet line (the other one was still needed until I worked out a solution for the emergency button on the former (and soon to be reinstated) home line. A nice young Bezeqnik, obviously used to dealing with sullen overheated ex-Hotniks, suggested that instead of cancelling the line I should “freeze” it for three months at no cost — just in case things don’t work out. I followed this advice, my first sane decision in a week. At the same time, I discovered that without my Bezeq phone line I couldn’t open the gate from the street! I also called the organization that supplied the emergency button on how to proceed. Their answer floored me— “There isn’t a problem”, they said. “We have lots of customers throughout the country connected to a HOT phone line!”
So … Shlomi, where are you? Come back so I can wring your neck! But I have to find a solution to the gate — oh yes, and call Netvision, the Internet provider, because when I signed up with HOT, they informed me that they had an arrangement with Netvision to provide Internet services at a reduced rate through the monthly HOT bill. So … I called someone to come and see if there was a solution to the gate — there wasn’t unless I could locate a Bezeq junction box in the flat. But we couldn’t find it. (A year later, I discovered that it was in a cabinet in my neighbor’s office!)
And — at Netvision, while trying to reinstate the arrangement I had had with them prior to my HOT trip into outer space, I uncovered yet another gaffe. The pleasant lady with the soothing voice on the other end of the phone (she, too, was obviously used to talking with soon-to-be-ex-Hotniks) mentioned that I really should be using not the line through which I had always connected with Netvision but another number that flagged up on her screen. She then read out a number that meant nothing to me until I eventually remembered that about a year previously, responding to a Netvision sales pitch, I had agreed to switch from Bezeq to a Netvision line — but on learning that this required a physical installation (holes in walls, a new set of wires), I cancelled before anybody arrived. Nonetheless, someone had allocated me a number for which I had been billed with the itemized bills being sent to an email address that I had also been allocated but about the existence of which I had not had an inkling. A full refund was eventually paid.
Having reinstated my home phone lines (in other words, rescued my phones from HOT) and reverted to the old Wi-Fi router, I still needed to see to the TV. In this land of make-believe in which we reside there are just two options, one of which I had just banished from our lives. So I called YES, the satellite TV company. Having signed me up, the YESman told me that another YESman with technical skills would connect me to outer space by 10.00 the following morning. This young man arrived on cue and I then discovered a basic difference between HOT and YES. HOT technicians come without ladders; YES technicians come without digital converter boxes! YES, this saxophone-playing technician, whose sole job is to connect people’s TV sets to digital converter boxes had arrived without one. My level of disbelief rose in tandem with my blood pressure. But, nil desperandum, a man of infinite resourcefulness, the technician stole away in his car to a warehouse and returned an hour later, this time with box in tow. Within a short time we were reconnected to receive our daily doses of depression.
Now — not only have you been reminded that old dogs do not learn new tricks but you’ve also heard the one about “once bitten, twice shy”. I mentioned that I had been in contact earlier with Virgin in London. I should have learned a lesson from that but failed miserably when Virgin supplied us with their version of HOT’s Triple pack. Although the Virgin TV and the phone worked wonderfully, Internet gave problems. Put simply, the Virgin technician who wired us up (in our absence, after we’d returned to Israel, our son had graciously became our proxy and wasted a day to be around) had simply used an outlet that some previous occupant of the flat had had installed. He didn’t ask questions — as far as he was concerned he simply chose an option easier than installing a connection de novo. Consequently, by the time the Wi-Fi signal reached the corner where my computer is located, it was breathing its last breath, moving in and out of cyber-consciousness and in need of some computer equivalent of a defibrillator. (We don’t have a London mansion but a small 2-bedroom apartment with a maximum internal distance of 12 meters.)
Illustration by Denis Shifrin
So I called the Virgin client helpline and the empire struck back. As all good Brits know, what materializes when you phone a helpline on an ostensible UK number is that most phone calls for help are directed in the first instance through India. Bookings for “engineers”, as the local British technicians are called, are made from Bangalore or Hyderabad or Mumbai. To cut a long story very short, I made a booking to have them move the digital converter and left our long-suffering and loving son to deal with the physical side of things. In the event, the Virgin man came. The upshot was a series of SMSs in which my son told me, asked me, pleaded with me (while I was trying to comprehend yet another sales pitch, this time for a collective health insurance policy — yet another Israel story):
“He can only run a cable INSIDE the house. Can’t do it from the outside. … would have to drill holes in walls and attach the cable through the living room. … ugly … what do you think? … There would be a white cable going across the top or bottom of the corridor and then drilled into your room … My personal opinion — it’s a very messy job… is it REALLY necessary to go through ALL this?”.
At this point, I raised my hands and surrendered. But I had not learned my lesson; hence my foolhardiness and imprudence during 10 days in Tel Aviv and this story.
My misery eventually came to an end and I returned to the really important issues of the day, like pondering which corrupt and potentially corrupt politicians I should vote for in Israel’s election.
But there is a moral to this whole sad story: When a HOT Virgin calls you out of the blue and attempts to sell you her wares, making you an offer you can’t refuse, keep your cool, old man, and think long before you respond with a YES.