Winter. 1990 or so. A diner in the middle of rural Wisconsin. I'm about 17. The temperature hovers right around zero degrees. I'm eating pancakes with about ten classmates, most of whom are first-generation Vietnamese-Americans, and one of the priests from our seminary, who is driving us back to school after Christmas break. Our waitress blows a bubble, re-fills Fr. Francis's coffee, scans the table, and says, "So, like are you guys a math team or something?"
(Quick-witted but vaguely creepy clergyperson) Postscript: I would tell this story to another priest at the seminary, who would then tell me that the same waitress once asked him if a group of a dozen students he was eating with were all brothers...winking at the waitress, this priest responded with something like "yes, they're all brothers, but they have different moms."
About a year later, another diner. Somewhere between Youngstown, Ohio, and Detroit, where I'll be catching up with the carpool back to Wisconsin. My older brother, a friend of his, me, and one of my classmates, who had spent the holiday at my family's house. Again, on our way back to seminary. My classmate is Mup, a nickname that means something like "Chubby" or "Fat" in Vietnamese. Mup is one tough guy, plays on the seminary's football team, more stocky than anything. Mup's been in maybe two or three "American" restaurants in his whole life. He scans the menu, reading its words without a firm grip on the syntax of diner lingo. When the waitress asks what he wants, he says, "Two eggs, any style." Waitress: "How do you want your eggs?" Mup: "Any style."
(End of Animal House-style) Postscript: Mup would drop out of the seminary a year after me, start composing music, get a degree in music composition, spend a few years tuning pianos in Detroit, and then get married and become a first-grade teacher.
(From the "awkward small talk" department) Postscript #2: During another vacation, Mup and his nephew Minh visit beautiful Youngstown, Ohio. A friend of my mom comes over for dinner and, meeting Mup and Minh, says, "So, yins are Vietnamese."