There he was at the end of the counter.
On television, it would be the Cheers set. In Salem, it was the neighborhood coffee shop.
Not one of those fancy coffee shops. This was the type of place where a bottle blond waitress in her sixties walks around with a glass pot of Boyd's coffee. A plastic name tag announcing her name as "Maxine."
I have seen Phil there ever since I started stopping in for lunch. That was over twenty years ago. Perched on his regular red pleather stool, he looked old. But he looked old twenty years ago.
"Howdy, Mexi-boy." His favored nickname for me these days.
"See the paper this morning? It looks like the health hysterics are all upset that American young men are killing themselves and each other. From what I can make out, what bothers them most is that it makes our health numbers look bad to the Europeans."
For Phil, that was an inclusive statement. He usually just takes a swipe at the French.
"If I read it correctly, the health guys want government to do something about guns, cars, and drugs. They seem to be shocked that young men tend to end up on the wrong side of the lifeline while shooting, speeding, and shooting up. That was the top of the story.
"You know how the newspapers are. They hide the truth lower in the copy.
"But if you read a little further, there are a whole list of health culprits. Compared to the hoity-toity Europeans.
"Teen pregnancy -- three times higher.
"AIDS rate -- nine times higher.
"If cars, guns, and drugs don't kill us, sex will."
I knew this soliloquy was leading somewhere. It always does.
"OK, Phil. What's the answer? The people discussing guns have all sorts of simple solutions. Confiscate all the guns. Restrict video games. Arm teachers. Limit the news from reporting stories of violence. Require mental treatment for anyone who -- I guess, has a bad day."
"Bah. Stuff and nonsense."
He has always loved doing his impersonation of a character right out of Finley Peter Dunne. Without the brogue.
"No one is paying attention. Take these shootings. What do they have in common? Sure, there were guns. But the guns weren't doing the shooting. Each shooter was a white boy between the ages of 18 and 25. The testosterone kicks in and they go nuts.
"We used to have a social outlet for them. The draft. We gathered them up and shipped them off to some war in a God-forsken place like France. [I knew France would get worked in somewhere.]
"But we don't do that any more. We bumped off the big enemies. The Nazis and the Commies. And we don't have a draft.
"So, here's my idea. You might call it another modest proposal.
"If you only have one X chromosome, and you're white, the moment you hit your 18th birthday, Uncle Sam whisks you off the a camp. Call it a long summer camp. A reeducation camp. I don't care about the details. You might even let them make Nikes and iPads. That would drive the Chinese nuts.
"All I care about is that they stay there until they are 25.
"It would even be good for the teen pregnancy rate. After all, where do you think all those babies and the AIDS distribution is coming from? By 25, any thoughts of sex or violence will be a misty memory."
Maxine walked over to warm up his cup. He took a sip and looked off into the middle distance.
"What I can't figure out is why no one else has thought of this."
I chuckled, folded up my newspaper, and shuffled back to the house.