Part one: The one with the derelict
Professor Ross Geller, head of the Paleontology department at Columbia University, paused for a moment on the sidewalk and looked at the oh-so-familiar words written on the coffee shop window: Central Perk.
He shook his head in wonder: had it really been ten years since he’d last been there with Chandler, Joey, Rachel, Monica and Phoebe? Seemed like yesterday.
“The old place hasn’t changed,” he thought to himself as he walked in. The battered old sofa where he and his friends had spent so many hours was still there. Gunther was still behind the bar. Fatter and balder but otherwise just the same.
Ross walked over to him. “Where is he?” he asked.
Gunther pointed to an armchair in a corner of the room where a man was sitting with his head in his hands, sobbing over an Extra Grande cappuccino.
“So tell me exactly what happened?”
Gunther shook his head sadly. “It was pitiful. He came in off the street, stinking of alcohol and BO. He had, like, vomit and filth and God knows what all over him. His hair was greasy and it didn’t look like he’d washed or changed his clothes in weeks.
“He started going up to all the girls and saying, ‘Heeeyyyy…’ – you know, like in the old days. I guess he thought they’d like it. But they were just grossed out and then a couple of guys told him to get lost and started pushing him around.
“He was going, ‘Don’t you know who I am? I’m Dr Drake Ramoray!’ God, Ross, it was just pathetic.”
Ross nodded, said “OK, I understand,” and went over to the chair.
He got down on his haunches, trying not to gag at the stench, and looked at his old friend.
“Hey, man, it’s me, Ross. I think it’s time we got you out of here, cleaned you up a little. What do you say, pal? Would you like that?”
Joey Tribbiani – failed actor, failed Lothario, failed everything – raised his head and looked at Ross with exhausted, bloodshot eyes. His mouth cracked into a tragic parody of his old, boyish grin.
“Ross… hey, buddy, how you doin’?”
“I’m doing fine, Joey, just fine. What happened?”
“I dunno, man. I was just tryin’ to have a good time, y’know, like the old days. But I guess the ladies didn’t want to play along.”
“Well, we’re not getting any younger, Joey. I was talking to one of my students the other day, just trying to be friendly and I guess she must have thought I was trying to come on to her or something because she said, ‘No offence, Professor Geller, but there are fossils in here younger than you’.”
Joey laughed. “So your mojo’s extinct too, huh? Damn! What’s happened to us all?”
“We grew up, Joey, that’s all.”
“How about Rachel? Damn, you were lucky, marrying that girl. I bet she never got…”
“Yeah, I was lucky. And yeah, she still looks amazing. But she’s getting her first hot flushes and she needs glasses to read a restaurant menu. It’s time, buddy. That’s what it does. Now come along with me. You need to be with your friends.”
Rachel Geller had finally found her niche in the fashion and beauty business. She ran a hairdressing salon called Rachel. Its unique feature was that you could have any hairdo you liked… so long as it was The Rachel.
As she liked to say, “Does Ronald McDonald serve KFC? No, he serves McDonalds and I serve Rachels.”
Her salon had a little in-house boutique that sold flippy little miniskirts like the ones Rachel had worn when she was still a girl in her twenties.
Now she was a mother of three. Still in damn good shape for a woman of 44, though she said so herself, but she left the flirty minis to her junior staff and made sure Ross never came anywhere near the salon.
He might still be the wimpy, geeky nebbish of an academic that he’d always been, but he was still the sly skirt-chaser he’d always been, too. Still, better that than a blimp – like some guys she could mention…
Rachel cried when she came home to her family’s Upper West Side apartment and saw Joey sitting in front of the TV.
Ross had got him cleaned up a little and changed his filthy clothes. But there was something so pathetic about the way he looked at her, still trying to be the same old loveable goofball, the same Italian rogue.
There had been a time when she loved him. It seemed like a million years ago.
The apartment doorbell rang. One of the Geller kids ran to answer it, opened the door and then called out, “It’s Uncle Chandler and Auntie Monica!”