The Adelphia Story

"I'D LIKE TO CANCEL OUR CABLE SERVICE," MY WIFE SAID into the phone. There was a pause.

"Permanently," Sandra replied to a question I hadn't heard but could guess at.

"Because John Rigas is a crook, and I don't want to pay for his private golf course," Sandra said after another pause and another question I could pretty much figure out. A few moments later she hung up on the rep from Adelphia Cable. I would have loved to have been on an extension line, but was preoccupied with programming the remote on our new satellite TV service. Like many people, we had gone dish after having had enough of Adelphia's poor reception and diminishing selection -- it had recently moved the Sundance and IFC channels to its pricier digital package and had dropped C-SPAN from prime-time viewing.

The Adelphia story is well-known, now that the country's sixth largest cable-TV provider has become America's fifth biggest bankruptcy and joined the acropolis of bent corporations that includes Enron, WorldCom and Arthur Anderson. Headquartered in rural Coudersport, Pennsylvania, Adelphia was a family-controlled conglomerate run by patriarch John Rigas. The bluenosed Rigas and his clan were celebrated for their business acumen, although some accused them of stifling free speech by their dumping such channels as Playboy and Spice from the cable systems they voraciously acquired and bowdlerized. Then, last March, mighty Adelphia was revealed to be a thing built of chicken wire and tarpaper -- and hiding more than $2 billion in debt that had been run up by the high-living Rigases. Last week John Rigas and two of his sons, all of whom had been free on $30 million bail since July, were arraigned in Manhattan along with a pair of corporate officers, and pleaded not guilty to massive fraud charges. The 24-count indictment, when presented before a jury of their peers, could easily earn the Rigases several days in prison.

The other evening I called Susan Block to find out her reaction to these recent events. After all, when Adelphia took over the L.A. feed from Century Cable, her raunchy, sexsessed program, The Dr. Susan Block Show, was restricted to audio-only broadcasts, despite having played for nearly a decade on public access. Block and her friends had celebrated the fall of the house of Rigas with a party when Adelphia was de-listed from the New York Stock Exchange -- "We had a midsummer night's orgy because we were delirious to see the big guy taken down," she recalled.

By now, though, the thrill of seeing her grandfatherly nemesis cuffed and humiliated had worn off, and there was no gloat in her voice.

"I believe people should be considered innocent until proven guilty," she said from France. "The Rigases could actually be innocent of all of the things they're accused of, and their bail is ridiculously high."

That said, Block noted some interesting discrepancies between the way billionaires and the rest of us are apprehended by the law.

"Everything about their arrest was very ritualistic. They were only handcuffed from the front so they weren't caused any discomfort, their lawyers were already waiting for them and posted bail right after their arrests. That doesn't happen for ordinary people."

With a Jungian eye for symbolism, Block, whose show now airs with both video and audio, found that character was destiny in more ways than one when it came to the Rigases.

"If you're covering up boobs on TV," she observed, "it's no surprise that you're covering up balance sheets as well. They gagged my program on bondage, and John Rigas ended up wearing handcuffs. What I find interesting is that they've started to blame each other -- now that's a new twist on family values. In fact, to the Rigases, 'family values' means serve our family."

A few days after my wife canceled our Adelphia service, the company sent out a notice announcing a rate hike. Then a bill came, even though we were off cable. Then another bill arrived, for double the original amount. When Sandra called to complain, a pleasant woman on the other end of the phone said, "Oh, that's just a mistake, I would ignore it."

AROUND TOWN

ADIOS, AMIGO: "I'LL NEVER SEE THAT GUY AGAIN," SAID RESTAUrateur Carmen Miceli, dabbing at tears as Steve Boardner shambled out of the bar he founded in 1942, while the stereo played Hank Williams' "Honky Tonk Blues." Boardner, who will be 89 next month and is all but blind, had come up from his Palm Springs retirement to help celebrate the bar's 60th birthday . . . Art Imitating Life: For days last week a Fellini-esque gridlock stalled along Hollywood Boulevard in front of the Kodak Theater, with drivers getting out of their cars to check on the holdup. Along the sidewalk people who walked too close to the curb were shooed away by a young man in a windbreaker. "Is this traffic jam real?" asked one pedestrian. "Naw," the kid in a windbreaker replied, "it's just for a movie." . . . Bagging the Four Graces: A quartet of nude female mannequins with plastic bags tied over their heads recently formed a defensive square in the Glendale Galleria Macy's . . . Depends on Who You Talk To Department: Number of newspaper articles appearing last week on the port shutdown in which the phrase "according to the Pacific Maritime Association" appeared: 35; number of articles in which "according to the ILWU" or " . . . union" appeared: 2.