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Friday, January 28, 2011

Hey, You Got Any Quarters?

We've come, ladies and gentlemen, to the end of yet another workweek and yet another chance to wax superstitious about the prophetic qualities of my iPod.

What's that? Surely you've heard! It's perfectly true: my iPod, set on shuffle and played during my morning's commute, foretells the future!

Songs played during said commute are reflections of the iPod's owner and should not be used for gambling purposes.


Diamonds and Rust by Judas Priest
A Million Miles Away by The Plimsouls
Hem of Your Garment by CAKE
The Idiot Kings by Soul Coughing
The Story by Brandi Carlisle
Tukka Yoots Riddim by Us3
Rehab by Amy Winehouse

It is as I've feared; and if you're looking for me this weekend, I will be bidding a friend adieu as she leaves Minnesota for Utah, attending my first open-mic/reading with Barbaric Yawp, and wondering what happened to Amy Winehouse.

So. Do we have time for a quick story?

If you were around Minneapolis in the early 80s, then you were there in time for the arrival of the Hmong. The Hmong, AKA the Boat People, came to us out of Viet Nam, after extensive layovers in Malaysia, Thailand, and a number of other hot, sticky places you'd find refugee camps. The Lutherans sponsored them by boat loads; and Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Madison, and San Diego, almost over night, got a lot shorter.

It was around this time that Karen and I discovered the arcade. Our parents, failing to see the entertainment value in purchasing an Atari Home Entertainment System -- and thereby depriving us of the life-altering skills that could be found within, say, "Frogger" -- forced us into the arms of the Picadilly Circus. Housed within the confines of the local mall, the place was a maelstrom of flashing, blooping lights; teenagers in pants tight enough to qualify as tourniquets; carmel corn; Cokes; and our favorite machine, Galaga.

Ah, Galaga. Repeating patterns of spaceships, some of whom will try to capture you, all of whom will try to kill you. Faster and faster they come, leading to faster attacks, chances at extra points, heart palpitations.

We rocked at Galaga.

Or, to put it more accurately, Karen rocked at Galaga. Cool under fire, if aliens ever do come to Earth, shooting in repeating patterns, you will want Karen manning one of the battle stations.

Karen is on Level 367 (approximation), the day she drew a crowd. Her having drawn a crowd is not unusual, as Karen is also, aside from being a mean shot, attractive. What is unusual is that the crowd is Hmong. And like the very first time you wear lipstick or the first time you back your car into something you were sure wasn't there a moment ago, this was memorably, for us, the first Hmong crowd.

Five teenaged boys, mullets and acid-washed pony jeans, slapped us excitedly on our backs, spoke words of encouragement.

"You goin' long time!"
"You goin' win for true!"
"You numbah waan!"

Karen whirls away from the game, looks at me, eyes twinkling.

I throw an arm around her. "You hear that, Karen? You're number one!"

Karen pulls away, laughs, her eyes back on the screen. She reaches backward blindly with a leg, tries to get a footprint on me. She misses.

And for the next ten minutes or so, the crowd hollers appreciatively as she fights her way through another dozen levels and finally dies in a spectacular double explosion.

She's number one on the list of Galaga-ites that have gone on before her. She enters her initials. She is Number One.

"Hey!" A good-looking boy in a pink Izod polo thrusts three pink carnations at Karen. "You numbah waan. You numbah waan!" His friends are leaving for pizza, and he backs out of the room, his fingers raised in the peace sign. "Don't forget. You numbah waan."



To Karen: Who maybe could use a story about now. Don't forget: You Numbah Waan!

34 comments:

Oilfield Trash said...

Ah Galaga. I have never pumped so many quarters in a game at the arcade as I did with Galaga. She was my first love in life. Then Defender and Spy Hunter. Damn I miss the 80's.

Grant said...

Galaga taught no appreciable corporate skills. Defender, on the other hand, is critical. I have spent my entire life trying to avoid being dragged up the corporate ladder only to be turned into a rampaging mutant.

Polly Scott said...

Ah, the iPod does tend to take me down memory lane too. I was just wondering if I could download the theme song to Mario Bros, because that song reminds me of my incredible, loyal sister who watched me play hours of nintendo. She was the wind beneath Yoshi's wings.

http://comingtogrips.net

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

I can see it like I was there. Way to capture the arcade--all of it. And the idea of a GIRL ruling in the boys' zone! Karen must've been something. I do hope the Pentagon has her on speed dial in case the aliens invade.

Sausage Fingers said...

Galaga, Izod pink polo, acid wash jeans. Damn that was a trip down old mem lane and partially what took up my closet.

Jhon Baker said...

I remember, fondly, the arcades. Outside Chicago we got our fair share of Hmong teens and various other immigrants, all very enthusiastic about everything. But, I think of The Machine, and remember fondly the girls, the games, the high scores won and inevitably, lost.

powdergirl said...

We little Mennonites were not allowed to play the evil arcade games, but we did get the Hmong.
I worked in restaurant for while, the potato peeler was a darling woman, very well educated, very kind, generous and sweet. And peeling potatoes for minimum wage because her own country had gone to hell in a hand cart.
It was the first time I really understood the advantages of being born in North America.

Eva Gallant said...

Sadly, my memories of the arcade in our mall involve my sons saying, "got anymore quarters, Mom?" Yes, I'm that old! lol

Simply Suthern said...

The old arcades were great. Loved Galaga but my Game was Phoenix. I held the top score on that for a while and won a tee shirt that anyone would be ashamed to wear.

SparkleFarkle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Big Fat Gini said...

I think my husband still has Galaga, somewhere deep in the depths of his closet. We never really had Hmong here in Texas, but I did grow up with a lot of Laotians...

And what DID happen to Amy Winehouse?

Mollie said...

WOOHOO! I am number 800!

You got some great writing!

jabblog said...

I hope your friend Karen reads this post because she will be truly pleased, I'm sure:-)

Leenie said...

You almost single-handedly brought back the eighties! Far Out (oh, wait, that's the sixties). Great to have a memory like yours. Great for Karen to have a friend like you.

MJenks said...

You will always be Number One, Karen! No matter what hacks have caused someone else to displace you on that machine!

My parents (specifically, my mother) would not allow us to go to the arcades, because there were drugs there. Lots of them! Everyone knew it! Drugs falling from the ceilings, there were so many drugs.

So, we got an Atari. And the Arcade eventually went out of business because there were SO MANY DRUGS!!! Or because Nintendo arrived and no one wanted to play arcade games anymore.

P.S. The Arcade was down the street from the police station. There were never any drug busts at the arcade. However, there was ONE kid with long hair who looked like he might have once smoked marijuana, and that was good enough for my mother.

Douglas said...

I was introduced to Galaga in, or about, 1983. I also played Centipede, Dig Dug, and Ms Pac Man, among any number of others. If you miss Galaga, you can play it online Here (and no quarters needed!) or any number of games Here

That was a time (the 80's) where I was losing interest in arcade games. Actually, I was starting to look like some kind of pervert hanging out in teen gathering places.

Now, where's my Angel Flight suit?

The Lissst! said...

dewhooooood. Where yous reading at in Utah? I live in Salt Lake now days.

a Broad said...

Oh I hope Karen reads this and remembers it all perfectly .. especially the feeling she got when she was told she was Numbah Waan ...
I love Rehab and Amy Winehouse has been looking healthy lately ..

Susan in the Boonies said...

Waan is the loneliest number that you'll ever do.

IndigoWrath said...

Pyew! Pyew! Pyew! Wooooooo-woooooooo! Pyew! Pyew!

Gigi said...

Have I told you how much I love coming over here? All the time - but especially on Fridays.

My game was Centipede and I rocked it! Ahh, those were the days....

SparkleFarkle said...

Good God, I know what Frogger is! My sister-in-law, a then librarian in a Fairmont, MN middle school, claimed she introduced it to every child within a 150-mile radius of the place --including my daughter, while we were there on a visit. (I kept my bags packed, just in case I had the opportunity to flee in the night.) Good ol' SIL, to this day, a legend in her own mind...

Good weekend to you!
SparkleFarkle~~~~~*

Belle said...

Your story reminds me of the time I was in Edmonton Mall at the arcade. There was a dancing game and a young man was there dancing his heart out. Everyone stood around watching him. It was so exciting.

On My Soapbox said...

I rarely went to arcades simply because my annoying brother was there. However, I don't remember what I actually was doing during my free time then. Maybe that's a good thing.

Lazarus said...

I'm surprised, I had you pegged for a PacMan (or Ms. PacMan) playa. Galaga is an interesting choice. An interesting book could probably be written about the psychological profile of people who play various video games. Maybe your next chapbook!

Tempo said...

If you can remember the 80s you weren't there...or you were buying bad drugs...
Youre numbah un pearl!

Macy said...

Dunno about Arcade games.. what happened? Where was I??? But MONTHS of my life must have been spent helping Mario rescue Princess Peach. To an endless loop of Negresses Vertes.

Linda O'Connell said...

I used to crab at my kids for feeding those arcade machines quarters, now I do it at the casino every now and again. Lovely homage to your friend!

Dr. Cynicism said...

A post with music, futuristic prophecy, arcade games, immigrants, and self-encouragement - how do you do it? Awesome and needed right before the weekend. You rock!

Fay said...

Hi Pearl I need a translation ! and you make me laugh ! thankyou fay x

Kate Mohler said...

This is a funny one, Pearl. I so remember those arcade days! My parents got us Pong...but my true love was Donkey Kong. And later, Ms. Pacman. Glory Days!

Pat Tillett said...

wow! you activated a lot of memory banks with this one! I spent more time on Galaga than I'd like to admit. The folks who lived next door to Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino were Hmong.
great post!

Jocelyn said...

I have a suspicion you could turn Intersections with the Hmong into a series of posts...followed by a fabulous "Polka in Nordeast" bit of fare?

Dawn @Lighten Up! said...

GALAGA! How I loved it. Played it down at the corner store, down there at Nemenz Little Shopper. It was my favorite, truly! Stole many hundreds of quarters from mom's change jar for Galaga.
And now we can get it on our phones. For free.