In the past week, I’ve had a particularly dense concentration of deadlines and a growing list of ungratifying errands to be run. In the past week, I also reactivated my Netflix subscription, because the need to binge-watch Friends chronologically suddenly became urgent. I can’t imagine why.
Don’t worry. Despite the rent-centric title of this column, I’m not going to harp on about the economic implausibility of Monica’s apartment as if that’s a creative thesis. I’m more interested in the ease with which the Friends glide in and out of Monica’s apartment, juxtaposed with the (relative) lack of random folks who ring her doorbell. Monica Geller and I may share initials and insecurities, but if a sitcom existed with my Florence apartment as the anchor set, it wouldn’t be called Friends (though I do have some, thanks for asking). A more realistic title would be Random Folks Dropping in Unannounced.
Since switching to self-employment from an office job, I’ve learned that sunlight hours in a ground floor Florence apartment bring an all-day parade of doorbell ringers. Door-to-door marketers; postal workers and water meter readers (they get a pass); prospective building buyers looking for Airbnb flips; Jehovah’s witnesses; people who want me to switch from Enel to Eni; people who have switched from Enel to Eni and are now going around proselytizing about it, presumably to keep the Jehovah’s witnesses on their toes.
No one is obliged to answer the doorbell every time it rings, and I don’t. But I am astounded at the frequency, and at how brazen most people are, particularly those with sales agendas. They’re not flopping on the couch a la Joey Tribbiani, at least not without a pleading “permesso?” first. But by and large, they are unconcerned about taking up the time of anyone who dares open the door. And we ground floor-bound suckers get bit first.
The Friends-y level of casual expectation baked into these interactions always perplexes me. The daytime buzzers launch directly into their spiels, not processing how bizarre it is that we’re ten feet from where I sleep, not pausing to consider that I might be on my way to meet the crew at Central Perk. (Er, Giubbe Rosse.) Like the non-Monicas on Friends, none of the characters on Random Folks Dropping in Unannounced are ever surprised or delighted that I opened the door. My interactions with them have become what congregating at Monica’s was for the gang: not occasions, but nonchalant, intimate exchanges, free of social niceties and contingent upon my being home.
The crucial difference is that good friends (and Friends) are allowed to strip things of pretense. Truth is, I always wanted a home where loved ones floated in and out as they pleased, and I cherish the kind of closeness where friends can gather without the gloss of occasion. But no Eni salespeople are on my Christmas list yet, so shouldn’t they still be laying the social niceties on thick? Or at least feign delight when the door gets answered at 3pm on a Tuesday.