It was an age that begged for adventure and change. Frances and Doran Booth were sitting at their favorite pizza place in the Inner Sunset, enjoying their last pie before hitting the road. It was bittersweet, the site of their first date, and it seemed a fitting place for their last meal. Max, their friend for decades, was here with them as a final send-off, plowing through an IPA and holding court on the virtues of their town.
“Oh, I predict you two will go on your little walkabout and come right back here to live,” Max said with a toothy grin. “There’s no place quite like San Francisco, after all!”
The Booths just looked at each other and smiled. “Oh, we know,” Frances said. “That is true. It’s an amazing city, Max. But we’ve lived here for over three decades and it’s just changed so much, especially in the last ten years. The tech boom has just made it too expensive, and the traffic…”
“Yeah, Max, I mean c’mon. Frances and I can take our retirement dollars, my pension, and live in so many other places, have so much more for the same price we are paying for our little apartment in Noe Valley. It’s ridiculous. Why would we come back here after our road trip? That’s just stupid.”
Max lifted a slice of pizza up to his beaming face, took a big, deep whiff and fluttered his eyes in bliss. “THIS is why, right here. There is no pizza quite like this anywhere else in the world, I tell you!” And with that he took a big bite and chewed slowly, taking it all in, rubbing it all in just a little bit. Mostly he was just sad to see his dear friends say goodbye. They had shared so many good times together over the years and at this age, a good old friend was hard to replace.
Frances took a swig of her ale, set down her pint glass and pointed to the last slice of pizza left on the table, “Anyone?” Both Max and Doran were busy on their own slices and nodded to her to go for it. As they all sat silently chewing in their own private reveries, Frances started thinking about her first date with Doran here at Arizmendi’s, just a few months after Max had turned her on to the place for the first time.
Frances first met Doran at a Warriors game she had agreed to go to at the last minute with Max. Doran was with his then wife, Sheila, and the four of them ran into each other as they were leaving the arena. Max and Doran were friends through work and were delighted at the chance encounter. They all went out for a beer afterward and a spark between Doran and Frances was obvious to everyone within throwing distance. The two would end up meeting at Arizmendi’s for their first date just after the new year, a month after Doran’s marriage officially dissolved.
Things moved swiftly as the new couple became immediately close, finding a natural rhythm and easy love, tying the knot at a Sonoma vineyard just two years later. Now in their early sixties and recently retired, they were about to head out on a road trip in search of a new home. It felt a bit surreal to Frances, sitting here with the two of these men, doing what they had done together more times than she could count, knowing it was the last time the three would experience this together. She released a nearly imperceptible sigh, but Doran felt it, winked at her and patted her thigh reassuringly. She knew he knew just what she was thinking about.
“You know, Doran and his wife have been in counseling for years,” Max had said as they were taking rapid transit after the game the night she was introduced to Doran.
“Um. I didn’t think I asked about him?” Frances said coyly, though she had been thinking about him since they shook hands goodbye at the pub.
“Oh, right, yeah. I felt that current between you two. He’s probably thinking about you right now,” he said with a wink.
“Ok, then, Max. Tell me more.”
Max let out a hearty laugh then got down to business. He told her how Doran and Sheila’s marriage had been on the rocks for a long time and that they were both ready to move on. It just seemed to Max that they were both waiting for the other to make the move. Make it real.
“Doran’s such a great guy, I’ve known him for five, six years now. He and Sheila were never a great match, everyone knew that from day one. But physical attraction is an animal thing, I guess. Anyway, the two of you obviously hit it off, and knowing you both, you have so much in common. My dear,” he said, grabbing her hand, “To be honest? I have always imagined the two of you together but you know how it is, you don’t want to get in the middle of a bad marriage.”
Frances shook her head and laughed. “Max, your intuition is always spot on. But let’s just forget about it for now, ok?” she had said. Then it was their stop and they stood to wait for the train to come to a full stop, filing out behind a group of twenty-somethings chattering excitedly.
“You hungry?” Max asked as they ambled through the station. “Wanna get a slice at my favorite new place”?
“Sure,” she answered. “But pizza is pizza.”
The two walked into the hole in the wall bakery and pizza kitchen just before it was taking the last orders for the night. The sensory shift hit Frances as soon as she walked through the door; the commingling of aromatic sourdough crust and exotic cheeses, a waft of something earthy and sweet in a tomato sauce, roasting garlic in a wood-fired oven. All at once she was wrapped in an incense that was unique to this place, like nowhere she had ever been before. Max looked over at her after he placed their order and smiled, “Yeah?” he nodded. “You are about to learn why this is my new favorite place, my friend. Get ready to have your world rocked and rolled!”
The threesome walked slowly to the Booth’s van to say their farewells and Frances could feel a tightness in her throat as they slowed down to pause on the sidewalk. Max caught her sentimental vibe and immediately drew her into his arms with a big smile, kissing her on top of her head.
“No worries, my sweetheart. I’ll be right here when you get back. With a bottle of wine and a corny joke or two. Right here.” She pulled back from him and said, “Oh, Max. You just won’t quit, will you. But thanks for trying to make it easier for me.”
The two men hugged next, patting each other loudly on the back, as men do, laughing and making little jokes about Max’s latest love interest, Joaquim, the massage therapist from Brazil. Or was it Chile? “Keep us up to date on that one, Maximus, you love machine, you,” Doran said clasping hands together for a final goodbye. Frances started to sniffle, wiping her eye free of a tear forming in its corner.
“Oh, come now, my darlings,” Max said with a laugh. “I know you’ll be back. Like a boomerang. You just can’t defy the laws of physics. Or love,” he said. The couple climbed slowly into their van and off they went away from the Sunset.
“It’s been a long trip, but it’s been incredible so far,” Frances shared with her friend Lee. The two women had been roommates in college and kept up with each other’s lives a fair amount over the years but it had been at least twenty years since they had actually spent time together. Lee lived alone in Vermont, was a real back to the land kind of woman and Frances had always admired her ability to live her life on her own terms. She kept an immense biodynamic garden, planting by the cycles of the moon, she made handcrafted cheese, baked pies from scratch and brewed her own beer. She followed her heart and made no compromises.
“What’s been the best part do you think?” Lee asked, opening another batch of her latest brew at the outdoor table overlooking her land. Doran was in the upstairs bedroom sleeping off his overindulgence.
“Well, lots of things, really. It’s been a real test on our relationship at times, you know, suddenly being in each other’s company 24/7 after years of having very active, independent lives. But we’re doing ok. We’re doing ok. We’re getting to know all of our angles and corners. Our edges. We’re opposite ends of a single piece of wood, in a way, that also slowly bend towards each other, echo each other. There’s a space in the middle that is our counterbalance, does that make any sense?” Frances paused to take a swallow from her freshly filled glass. “Wow! That’s good!” she said to Lee’s smiling face.
“I know,” Lee said confidently.
“One of the best parts is happening right now, girl!” Frances said as she lifted her glass to Lee, saying “Cheers.”
“Yes! Cheers to that!” Lee agreed, lifting her glass.
“And I mean not just this beer but spending time with you. Quality time. With all the people I love all over this country. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I loved my life in San Francisco but most of my favorite people live somewhere else these days, with a few exceptions of course.” And the two looked at each other and said “Max,” in unison and laughed.
“And it’s been so interesting to see what everyone has chosen,” Frances continued. “How each one has defined ‘home’. It’s really food for thought. It’s all so delicious, ya know? Like this beer!” she said, taking another healthy gulp.
“Yes, I do know. There are many ways to define one’s life,” Lee said.
She was a wise soul and she had lived many places in her life, all of which were chosen well, in Frances’ eyes. A tidy sum of broad experiences. The two women had stayed up many nights together talking about this, plotting out just that kind of life during their college days at Reed and during a backpacking trip together across Europe after graduating. Lee had just been the one to actually live out those words and dreams. They were together when Max entered the picture, meeting him at a small outdoor cafe in Barcelona when he asked, “Is this seat taken?” The trio traipsed across Portugal together for a month before he returned to his home in San Francisco but the connection was never lost and Frances found her way to him eventually.
She continued telling Lee stories about her trip so far with Doran: camping in Yosemite, Big Bend and Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Hanging out with friends and family from Salt Lake City to New York City and every place in between. Listening to great music in New Orleans, Chicago, Nashville and Austin, Texas. Every day was different and unpredictable and challenging, all at once. It was a whirlwind.
“So, have you guys figured out where you want to settle?” Lee asked, passing Frances a plate of goat cheese, olives and freshly baked focaccia bread.
“That is the million-dollar question,” she said. “‘For all the money, Doran and Frances, a true daily double: ‘This is where the couple wants to live,’ says Alex Trebec….um, ‘What is…we don’t friggin have a clue?’ Ding, ding, ding, ‘That’s right, Doran and Frances, you’ve won!’ Except that we haven’t won. We’re just having some fun but we don’t know a thing about our future. And I feel like we might not figure that out for a good while,” Frances explained.
Lee nodded her head. “Oh, well, we can’t have all the answers. Then it wouldn’t be interesting!”
“We had this short list before we even left home, ya know? Places we hadn’t even been to yet but had heard great things about. But each time we got to one of those places, we crossed it off the list for one reason or another. It’s weird. I don’t know if you have to spend more time in a place to know but there’s always something not quite right, not good enough, missing,” Frances said, scratching her head. “I just don’t know.”
Lee just sat still, listening. That was her great talent as a friend. She liked to remind those who were less skillful, “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.”
Frances took Lee’s silence as a cue to continue. “What’s also funny is we are in our sixties like so many folks we’ve met on the road, we’re all Boomers. But we always, always feel like we’re younger than everyone else. Like they are all the old, retired people and we’re still in our twenties or something. We’re a bit particular that way, I’d say.”
“Oh. Well. That’s because you guys are younger at heart. Younger and more active than most people our age, I mean, across America that is. You’ve lived life a certain way to stay young, I think. That doesn’t surprise me at all.” Lee said. And with that she poured another round for the two of them. “Except Doran is kind of acting like an old man right now! Up there napping in the middle of the day, man?” Lee said and the two women laughed loudly over that one.
“My little Boomer,” Frances said.
It was a fine time, Doran thought to himself. Well spent adventure, bonding time. He finished up his daily journal entry in bed while Frances read. Three years had gone by since they drove away from Max near the block where they lived in San Francisco. The epic journey that had begun so long ago had come full circle and they were even considering trading in the van, which they had dubbed “Homer” the very first day of their odyssey across America, Mexico, Central and South America and back. The couple had been spinning around an axis perpendicular to the direction of their flight, propelling themselves without being attached to any singular thing. Until now.
Setting his journal down at the bedside table, Doran took in the grandeur of their room, a comfort level they hadn’t experienced in a while. He reflected on the past few days of unexpected change and its definitive answer. They had been in Tucson when they got word from Max that his husband Christos had died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving him emotionally bereft and unable to manage his grief, lost and lonely in the depths of despair. But he was also left with a beautiful three-bedroom home in Presidio Heights and no one to trust in helping him cover the mortgage. The text message to Frances that morning was terse but to the point.
“Christos is gone. I need my good friends. Boomerang.”
Frances could read through even the most cryptic of messages from Max but she felt this one in her bones and was pressing the phone icon on her mobile in seconds flat. Doran was out picking up coffee and muffins across town so she would navigate this one on her own for now. When she hung up with Max, she wondered if she could persuade, no, convince Doran to return to San Francisco, even if just for a temporary stay. To her surprise, he was immediately amenable to the idea, feeling terrible about Max’s sad turn of events. With deep empathy in his voice, he agreed without hesitation, pulling the muffins out of the bag and handing one to Frances. She texted Max right away to let him know they would begin making their way to him in the morning.
The drive was steady and full of purpose and arriving back in the city they knew so well carried that same tinge of bittersweet as the day they left. A light rain was starting to mist the windshield as the fog rolled in over the Bay as they turned onto Max’s street, bewildered at his change of economic status from where they had left him. Parking, Doran turned to Frances and assured her he was open to whatever they needed to do, despite what they had always thought would come to pass. She nodded in agreement. As usual, they were flying on the same trajectory as one. As they pulled themselves together and began walking up the pathway to Max’s home, his front door slowly opened and there he stood. Welcoming them at the door, he burst into tears, hugging tightly to his dear friends for comfort and relief. The three stood in that deep embrace for several minutes before slowly retreating inside.
“Kind of interesting, huh,” Max said as he took a bite of his pizza. A year had passed since they returned to him and settled into a routine.
“What’s that,” Doran asked.
“That you should be right back where you started,” Max said.
Doran’s phone vibrated with a message from Frances saying she was on her way and would be there in a few minutes. “Yeah, well life is strange. And don’t take all the credit for knowing it, either. One never knows where they’ll end up,” Doran chided.
“Except a boomerang knows,” Max said with a little laugh. “Doran. Some things are just inevitable and out of your control. You can’t defy the laws of physics,” Max added.
“Or love,” Doran said, lifting his glass to his dear friend. The two clinked glasses. Max set his beer glass down and folded his hands together, pausing to reflect a moment on love and the cycle of life.
“We’re all going to return to our one true source one day, you know. There’s no getting around it. I take some comfort in that, I think. A reunion of sorts. We’re like….water that falls from the sky evaporating back into itself. I don’t know. I’m getting all philosophical again,” he said. He waved his hand in a circle.
“No, I get it,” Doran said. “From whence we came.”
Just then, Frances appeared in the doorway of Arizmendi’s, floating in on the aroma of the place, just like the very first time, landing at the table where her two favorite guys were.
“Ah! That delicious fragrance just never gets old!” she said, taking her place at the table once again.
© 2020, Mary Corbin
Boomerang is from the “Geometry” collection. Featured artwork: “Home Away” – color drawing by Mary Corbin. No reprints without permission.