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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Subscription Prescription

I guess I am going to have to stop listening to Pandora and go back to CD’s and self-made playlists. It used to be very relaxing to tune in to my Pandora chorus channel and get lulled into a state of Zen by listening to Gregorian chants and blissful boys’ choirs. So calm, so serene, so soothing, almost like a sweet narcotic lulling me to sleep. Ah, yes, delicious, heavenly, carefree sleep until…


I bolt upright on the couch, my heart racing as I gasp for air. What the hell? Where did my British choirboys go? After a few rounds of self-induced chest compressions, I reach for my iPad to mute the volume. What did this screaming pillow guru do to those mellow, innocent, falsetto voices, and why is the volume for this commercial three times the decibel level of St. Philip’s parish in South London?

Yes, I know I could save myself from being startled, and possibly from future cardiac episodes, by ponying up a few bucks a month for a paid Pandora subscription, but I think subscriptions are a pox on the world’s financial well-being. I don’t want to get to the point where I need a prescription to manage my subscriptions, like a lot of people I know.

I pay a subscription fee every month for my gym membership, my home alarm monitoring, and the cell phone I use less frequently than I attend the gym, and I refuse to dedicate any more of my salary to anything that offers “auto-pay for my convenience.” Yeah, for my convenience. Like they’re inconvenienced by not having to chase me down every month to pay my bill.

And then there’s the yearly anti-virus subscription which I refuse to use again, ever since I got a surprise bill from Norton for a hundred and something dollars. That wasted an hour and a half of my day, which I spent  trying to track down their phone number and then waiting on hold to be told, “when you signed up for the service, it defaults to auto-renew.”

“Well change the default to cancelled,” I told them. And then, of course, I got a virus on my laptop. Then I got an iPad.

The latest offensive subscription menace is brought to you by the wonderful world of Microsoft, which now offers “Office 365”, so you can make sure that the next time they create a new feature for Word, we won’t miss out. So instead of just buying the software, you subscribe, as in yearly fee for the rest of your life. Listen, word processing software has been around for decades. There is nothing more to invent. There are no more features, so quit trying to re-invent the wheel by screwing with the GUI by force-feeding us crap like “ribbons.” I still very happily use Word 6, the ribbonless, menu-driven version, which is faster and easier, and you don’t have to spend half of your time scrolling through an endless supply of buttons for crappy features no one ever uses, like styles or equations. Microsoft, if you are that desperate for my money, howbout reconfiguring that awful way your products import graphics and then immobilizes them, or even better, for the love of God, fix the way you handle page numbering. Every time I even think about having to do a document that doesn’t have the page number on the first page but starts the numbering on page 2, I start cutting myself.

Seems like everyone is jumping on the subscription bandwagon, because most people think: “Well, $10 a month isn’t going to send me to the poor house, so why not?” Click. And the commerce world is well aware of our gullibility. They think that no one multiplies the monthly fee by 12. Just look at Amazon Prime. Who buys into that? Subscribing to Amazon Prime at $10.99 a month is telling yourself: “I want to get free shipping on everything I order from Amazon, so I’m going to pay for it.” Is this Alice in Wonderland?  Where do they get their logic? That’s like saying, “I don’t feel like going to work today, so I guess I’ll just get in the car and drive to my job instead.”

Subscriptions are like heroin. At first they seem great. Everything is wonderful, but as time goes on, you get less and less enjoyment out of them, and they cause you anxiety, so you get more, and then they become impossible to cancel. If you are lucky and find the number to call to cancel, they wear you down with menus and an insane hold time. If that doesn’t have you tapping the “End Call” button and you do eventually reach a human, instead of just canceling your subscription, they try to upsell you on something different. “We’re sorry to lose you as a faithful reader of Playboy, but if you want to subscribe to Hustler at our special introductory rate of ten cents per issue for the first three months, we will give you Playboy for free up until the end of your current subscription. Does that work for you?”

Canceling a subscription is almost as bad as canceling a credit card. Recently I fell victim to signing up for one of those airline credit cards to get “up to four free flights” by paying the $75 annual fee.  What a butt load of crap that was. First of all, it took them 5 months to credit the miles to my account, and secondly, the four free flights evaporated into one free one-way flight to Atlanta. I could have gotten four free flights maybe if I wanted to fly from Minneapolis to St. Paul or LaGuardia to Newark or Tampa to St. Petersburg. So when I called them up to cancel this scam, they took it personally.

“Oh, I’m so sorry you have decided you no longer want to receive the benefits and rewards our card gives you. May I ask why you want to cancel?” Said the lovely Carol Merrill. On the rare times I get a woman who speaks discernible English, I picture Carol Merrill from the original Let’s Make a Deal. I don’t know why. I guess it’s because she spent her early years staying silent and pointing at things, and I hope now she has found a job where she can actually speak to people and interact.

“I don’t want to pay the annual fee,” says I.

“Well, Mr. Wiley, because you have been a loyal member of our program for almost six months, I’m authorized to waive the annual fee for you from now on, but you will still receive the same benefits you have been. Now, how does that sound?”

And then we go round and round and I end up telling her that a 32% APR should not, under any circumstances, be considered a benefit. When she refuses to take no for an answer, I tell her things that are not even credit-card related, like how they are the worst airline I have ever flown, and their seats are hard, and they charge for oxygen and they don’t pay the flight attendants a living wage, and just cancel the damned card already. And Carol runs weeping into the call center break room, which is just a toilet stall with a half sleeve of saltines on the shelf, rolled up and fastened shut with a binder clip.

So I keep my subscriptions to a minimum so I don’t end up like Other Bill. We have a joint credit card, but we also have our own cards that we use to buy our own clothes, nose hair trimmers and novelties with. For years there was a charge on his credit card for $14.99 a month for a website subscription that spread possibly nefarious content to its subscribers. He had only subscribed to get one set of irresistible photographs of an old erotic model heartthrob. But through years of declining libido and both short and long-term memory, he had forgotten what the site was or how to unsubscribe. So then he had to shamefully call his credit card company and admit, after being told that the vendor was Smut R Us, that his adolescent son must have used his card without his authorization.

“You know how teenagers can be, so can you give me their number so I can get them to stop billing me?”

I don’t want to end up in that situation, because I’d never be able to deliver that lie with a straight, so to speak, face.

But I would consider ending up in a career at a call center if I could be assured that I’d get all the calls from remorseful subscribers to websites of questionable taste. “So, sir, is your wife aware that you’ve been forking over a monthly fee to Wet Women of the West Indies dot com? And what would it be worth to you to ensure that she never found out?”

I could have a lot of fun with that. And maybe then I could meet the lovely Carol Merrill. So sign me up.

Or should I just click Subscribe?