But the most striking thing about him was: he looked absolutely familiar, as if I had known him all my life.
We met at the gay-friendly coffee house a few blocks away from my house. In jeans and a red t-shirt, Phil looked even more familiar. I wanted to run up, hug him, and say "It's been a long time!" Instead I shook his hand and asked "Have we met before?"
"I don't think so. At least, you don't look familiar."
He told me that his father was a diplomat; he grew up bouncing from Germany to Italy to Sweden, and through a dozen U.S. states. All that moving gave him wanderlust, so after high school he joined the navy, and traveled to Korea, Japan, Okinawa, the Philippines, and Singapore.
That list sounded familiar, too, but I couldn't figure out from where.
After the Navy, he went to UCLA and majored in East Asian languages, then"bounced around," doing all kinds of things.
"I've been a hustler in Prague, a kept boy in Morocco, a translator in Beijing, a dishwasher in Nepal, a ski instructor in Spain, and an English teacher in Iran. Have you ever eaten caviar while watching the sun rise over the Caspian Sea?"
No way! Americans couldn't work in Iran after the 1979 revolution. Phil was feeding me a line!
Well, I was something of a world traveler myself.
"I picked up a Swedish bodybuilder at a gay bar in Tallinn, Estonia."
"Oh, the Angel Bar, down the street from the Kiek in die Kok Tower?"
"My friend and I tried to start a gay Pentecostal church in Osaka."
"Osaka! Have you ever been to Physique? I used to know the owner. Very nice guy."
Ok,this guy had swallowed a Damron Gay Guide. How could he have crammed all that travel into 25 or 30 years? He must be feeding me a line.
That night I sat staring at Phil's selfie and going through the old photos on my computer. Friends from Upstate, Florida, New York. No.
West Hollywood, 20 years ago? No, he wasn't old enough.
College, thirty years ago? No.
Then I remembered! I texted my Dad. "That picture of you in the Navy, with civilian clothes. Could you email it to me?"
An hour later, a photo appeared as an email attachment, Dad in civilian clothes and his 1950s hair wave, his arm around a taller guy with a crew cut. "Me and Luke, Okinawa."
Different hair, but same face. Phil, 50 years ago!
That's why he looked so familiar.
Dad always said that his years in the Navy, from 1954 through 1959, were the best time of his life. He had a whole album of photos of him and his buddies, which his grandson had recently scanned and put on his computer.
When I was a kid, hungry for any evidence of same-sex desire, I was intrigued by the quiet intimacy of the photos. I stared at them for hours, wondering if Dad had a secret gay life, but afraid to ask.
"Who was Luke?" I texted Dad. "What can you tell me about him?"
Dad isn't good at texting, so he called me. "He was a couple of years older than me, in his late 20s. He took me under his wing when I was stationed in Japan. And I think we were in the Philippines, too. I had never been outside of Indiana before, but he had literally been everywhere! He spoke fluent Japanese!"
He sent me three other pictures of him and Luke together.
Dad had a bulge.
"Did you keep in contact with Luke later" I asked.
"Not really. Last I heard he was in college, studying international relations on the G.I. Bill. But that would have been in the early 1960s. Why so many questions about Luke?"
"Oh...um...I met a guy today who looked exactly like him. It was spooky."
I sent him the selfie.
"That's the spitting image of Luke!" Dad said. "Must be his grandson. Imagine hearing about him again after 50 years!"
Was Phil the grandson of Dad's old navy buddy?
Or Luke himself, unchanged, eternal?
Or a ghost?