The One Where I Finally Understand

I have an on and off relationship with the TV show Friends and that is as it should be. 

Or, to put it in the lexicon of the series, I’m never quite sure if we truly love each other or are just taking a break.

I see what you did there!

As its creators Marta Kauffman, David Crane and Kevin S. Bright recalled in the new HBO Max special, Friends: The Reunion, the one-line pitch to network executives about the series was always this simple:

That time in your life when your friends are your family.

So naturally there comes a point when you move on, other priorities take over and you begin creating your own family

At least that’s the way Kauffman put it in a series of interviews sprinkled throughout the special.

Hearing it said out loud in such stark terms I finally understood all these many decades later, in the 20-twenties, why a television series that became an international phenomenon from 1994-2004, and continues to this day, and will likely continue for generations to come, was never MY story.

Let’s unpack that Chairy…

I’m one of those people who never thought of moving on from my really good friends.  I knew early on I didn’t want to have kids and wasn’t going to have kids. I knew my real family would be my friends, and whatever relatives I chose to stay in touch with.  I didn’t make a distinction because there NEVER WAS a distinction.

I knew that I could create my own family any way that I chose to.  It would not even for a millisecond occur to me that the people in my life closest to me, who I’d love most in the world, could NOT include those who were my dear, dear friends.

Some of this has to do with being gay and of a certain age.   Many of us LGBTQ baby boomers simply didn’t fit into the hetero-normative margins of the straight world so we fashioned an even more fun, kind and loving one comprised of OUR friends. 

You didn’t necessarily have to be queer to be part of that world.  You just hand to get it, be there and love us.

Sound familiar?

Phoebe gets it

It is important to note this was done not out of resentment but of choice.  If you grew up the way I did, at the time I did, moving on wasn’t on the table.

To have a real, true friend meant you had a forever family.  Especially if you had lived through the eighties and early nineties period prior to when Friends debuted.

A reminder of how painfully 90s Friends is

It was the height of the AIDS epidemic and by 1994 each day was like climbing through the rubble of a nuclear holocaust if you were one of my friends.  Who was alive, who was dead, who was depressed, who was doing well and who was just generally in denial or drifting or drinking/drugging themselves to death?

That was a daily occurrence and just about the only thing you knew is that your friends that remained would be there for you.

Oh Chairy.. ya did it again!

But miraculously here’s what each day also brought you —

Dumb jokes and dumb jobs; hilarious and heartbreaking dates that might or might not turn into love affairs; mortifying moments of embarrassment and secret vices that your good friends would be more than happy to publicly rag on you for…

Terrible fashion choices, silly haircuts, weight gains and weight losses, and relatives who could swoop into town and undo every neurosis you had spent years getting under control in one quick visit.

You wouldn’t think this would be the case at the time but it’s true.  It was also what made Friends work, even for those of us who didn’t quite always get it.

Well we all get bad haircuts…

Unlike other network sitcoms of its era:

  • It was funny, it was clever, it was silly and, every so often, it tugged at our heartstrings.
  • It had six of the most charismatic and adept casts in all of sitcom history – Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow and Matt LeBlanc – who even now, reassembled together again onstage at the Warner Bros. lot, some 17 years later, seem incapable of phoning in a false or phony note when it comes to their interrelationships.
Dare we say.. authentic?
  • It has even managed to rise above all types of the usual show biz b.s. antics since its been off the air, those that have eclipsed and nearly swallowed up the afterlife of almost every other late 20th century show.  To whit:

a. Yes, we knew the actors all got paid a record-setting one million plus per episode and more towards the end of its run.  We were HAPPY for them.

b. Yeah, we know to this day it’s reported the EACH make $20 million per YEAR in residuals and the show STILL generates about a billion dollars a year for WB TV.  We can live with that if it means we get to sometimes see it.

I’m with Janice here #wow

c. Uh huh, we get the friends each received about  $2.5 mill for this special alone; that there’s a lot of cosmetic “enhancements,” and hair dye, to keep them so dewy-looking; that the “girls” are closer than the guys; that some of their careers have fared better than others; and that Matthew Perry, in particular, continued to struggle with severe substance abuse and other health issues that plagued him throughout the run of the show.  Whateva and we’re rooting for him.

But nothing truly tarnishes the juggernaut that is Friends.  And if you don’t think so consider…

a. What other cast would get paid that much money to reunite?

b. Which other show has a worldwide audience ranging from Nobel Prize winner Malala to one of sport’s GOATs David Beckham?

c. And how many nineties sitcoms could get Justin Bieber to dress up live as a potato or Lady Gaga to do a duet on a song called Smelly Cat for no billing on a reunion special?

100% would watch this show

Friends, like our friends, our families, is far from perfect.  Yeah, I wish it was more multi-cultural, economically inclusive and LGBTQ positive, too.  And, um, please, no WAAAAAYY could they have afforded that apartment at that time – grandmother or not.

But I think of everyone interviewed  Matthew Perry got it exactly right when trying to express what Friends continues to mean and how it endures.

He said no matter what party you went to years later, if you ran into another cast member, you were probably going to spend the evening with them.  You apologized to whomever you were with because all bets were off.  You knew, in that moment, you could talk for hours and very likely would do so, as if no time had passed.

The indefinable pull of that type of relationship is what makes real friends.  And what made Friends.  Whatever either of their drawbacks.

Friends Opening – Season 1

Climbing That Hill

After a fantastic week of Joe, Kamala and Amanda Gorman, a 22 year-old young woman who made me love poetry once again for the first time since my early twenties, it started to happen.

I began falling into the…

ABYSS.

to the sunken place I go

Strange the way it creeps up on you.  And even stranger how, once you get to be a certain age and have had enough therapy, you know how to begin to creep out.

What brought me careening down there after this cataclysmic week of exciting firsts?

  • L.A. house arrest to avoid a virus
  • Vaccine searching fatigue
  • Zoom communication (meetings, teaching, and even socializing)
  • Screen watching fatigue (what was once fun and decadent now feels dronish and labored no matter how much YOU liked it and swear I MUST see it).
  • Fascism and other tales percolating from the dark side of nowhere
The true spirit of this week #onlyBerniememeIwillshare

Of course, this is merely a partial list.  Feel free to add on and subtract for yourself as you see fit.

I was sort of embarrassed to write this because of the privilege I enjoy.  White, employed (Note: Well, for now, nothing is permanent), happily married, friends, house, food, shelter and pasta guilt-free more nights than I can count because, more than anything else, THAT’S allowed these days).

Still, living through these times feels like dancing on the head of a pin too often than not.  At any point you can slip and impale yourself.  Perhaps not too badly but just enough that a small puncture slowly turns into a crack, and then a wound, which gets larger and larger and then suddenly emerges as a…gaping hole

Nothing to see here… totally normal day

And, you know, that can’t be good.  Imagine what awaits you when you’re fully sucked down inside.

Um, no….THAT’S not what I mean.

Seriously.

Living in Los Angeles, California has had so many benefits but the most recent downside is navigating at the epicenter of U.S. Covid-19.  We’re averaging well over 10,000 new cases daily and more than one million overall. 

Our home state of California has over 3.4. million cases thus far, the most of any state in the country.  When you consider there are just shy of 25 million people infected in the entire U.S. that means we account for almost 20% of cases.

We’re #1! We’re #1! #uhoh

And yet, we have far less vaccines available than other states. A friend in Florida told me it was easy peasy to register for your shot.  Yet the first day you could register in L.A. county, the site crashed, appointments were cancelled and many of us (Note: ME) spent hours trying to book vaccinations at sketchy clinics that wanted ALL your insurance info online and STILL didn’t manage to offer a definite spot for both shots.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think the Trump administration had it in for California and gave Florida a larger part of our vaccines just cause HE lives there.

But I’m not a conspiracy theorist.

Yet.

Searches Etsy for fashionable tin foil hats

Nevertheless, it did give me a lesson on how others might have begun to succumb. 

This, of course, was countered by watching a kind and decent man being sworn into the presidency pledging that his first priority would be fixing the CoVid mess by listening to SCIENCE and not poll numbers.

But what was even more encouraging has been his appointment of seemingly EVERY top expert in EVERY field of government to do that and much more AND to, in turn, save the Republic.

(Note: It also didn’t hurt that not ONE of them was related to him by either blood OR marriage).

Like magic… BUT REAL!

Call me crazy (and many have) but I found this to be oddly encouraging.  That and watching the unmuzzled Dr. Anthony Fauci spreading honesty on TV once again, particularly about all things CoVid.  He even got down in the weeds and reassured crazies like me that there is NO real difference between the Pfizer and Moderna shot and that the only reason he took the Moderna one was that it happened to be the one available the day he had his vaccination at the National Institute of Health.  But that he would have done either.

Speaking of straight shooters, AND decency, tell your Fox News viewing relatives there is neither to be found there.  Sean Hannity this week had a banner onscreen headline categorizing Joe Biden’s first week as president  “DISASTROUS.”  Not sure if this was due to the one million shots for the first 100 day pledge, which was already being met after several days in office, or the US reentering both the Paris Climate Agreement and the World Health Organization.

My charitable way of saying “you are a moron”

Still, they did surface with two compelling Biden scandals.  Our new president has the temerity to wear a Rolex watch AND owns and exercises on a Peleton bike.

Oh, the no golden toilet of it all!  Oh, the shame!!

The President EXERCISES?!

Sure, I’m being snide but I’ve found that’s one way to brighten up my world and get by.  The other is to take in the fact that after four years DECENCY might actually be back in vogue. 

How do I know? 

Well, when Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff was walking down Constitution Avenue with his wife, VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS OF CALIFORNIA, he made international news just for briefly stopping and doubling back where they had previously been in order to retrieve the earring that had just fallen out of her ear.

So shocking was this act of valor in these days, I heard one journalist this week actually say on air, where do you make copies of a guy like that?

Get yourself a man that would wear your name on a t-shirt! #weloveDougie

Yes, that’s how starved we’ve been and how low the decency bar is.  Which means imagining how high we might get back to during the next four years is indeed something to live on for and celebrate no matter how long it takes to get us all immunized so we can return to hugging (and more) in person again.

Though if all that doesn’t do it for you, reveling in the words and images of our young poet laureate on Inauguration Day was a real, um…shot in the arm for my psyche, not to mention a reliable booster on each awful day since.  And that was even AFTER listening to Gaga sing the National Anthem with a giant Dove on her chest.

It was the gold mic choreography that really got me

I mean, if Amanda Gormans exist in the world – a young person with that much talent, grace and theatrical style – who also overcame a speech impediment – to live perform a POEM(!) she wrote for the ages to the world on Inauguration Day –  how bad are things, really? 

Especially when it leaves us with this life lesson:

..We will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one

We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west,

We will rise from the windswept northeast

Where our forefathers first realized revolution

We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states,

We will rise from the sunbaked south

We will rebuild, reconcile and recover

and every known nook of our nation and

every corner called our country,

our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,

battered and beautiful

When day comes we step out of the shade,

aflame and unafraid

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it

Lady Gaga – “The Star Spangled Banner”

Check out the Chair’s newest project, Pod From a Chair , now available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify!