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Friday, February 1, 2013

Hey. You Got Any Quarters?


If you were around Minneapolis in the early 80s, then you were here 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 draws a crowd. Her having drawn a crowd is not unusual, as Karen is also, aside from being a mean shot, very 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, our 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!

26 comments:

Shelly said...

Galaga and those little fly/alien things...

"if aliens ever do come to Earth, shooting in repeating patterns, you will want Karen manning one of the battle stations..."

It's good to know who can do what. I'm always recruiting for my team.

vanilla said...

Aww. What a nice thing to do for Karen this morning.

joeh said...

If you actually spoke Vietameeze you might not like being called "Numba Waan."

Numba - Roundeye
Waan - Geek

Fun story, well told as usual.

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

Always good to hang on to these little triumphs in life....

Geo. said...

"...his fingers raised in the peace sign. 'Don't forget. You numbah waan.'"

Thanks for that image, Pearl. I need that guy in my head. Perhaps we all do.

River said...

Hey Karen, you number one!
When I was young the arcade games were pinball machines. I used to watch people play for hours at a time and wish I had that kind of skill. In later, more recent years, I would watch as my grandson reached higher and higher levels on a video game that I was completely hopeless at. He was five.

Simply Suthern said...

Love Galaga but I spent my time at numbah waan at Phoenix

Indigo Roth said...

Hey Pearl! This made me chuckle. But I'm glad you've graduated to your own spotlight, daaaaaarling. Roth x

Sausage said...

Cheers to Karen the Galaga master...remember when you would get the double ship shooter? those little alien bastards didnay stand a chance.
Cheers, Sausage.

Douglas said...

Ah, yes... Galaga. It was my favorite for a time. As was Missile Command. But I was never, ever, "numbah waan" I was told once, however, "you go long time" by a young lady in Taiwan. I am no longer sure what she meant.

Jono said...

I was cleaning out the garage back in '83, preparing to move away from the Big City, when a couple of Hmong kids stopped by to see what I was doing. They were new in this country,could speak a little English and had nothing. Stuff I no longer needed was a treasure for them. They were happy and smiley and had the best attitude I had seen in any kids I ever met. Wish I could have stayed to watch them grow. You and Karen got to stay and watch.

Glen said...

never hurts to remind folk of these little points

jenny_o said...

Karen must have felt like a goddess that night! What a sweet gesture from the boy with the carnations too.

You Numbah Waan storyteller, Pearlie.

Ms Sparrow said...

Gee, maybe my sister Karen could use one too!

Kana said...

More than Fifteen Minutes of Fame, people need their You're Number One moment...it's good of you to re-give someone theirs, especially when they really need it. :)

sage said...

Nice story, a lot of them also ended up in Western NC and around Fresno CA. I don't there are very many of them left in Vietnam and Laos

Susan Kane said...

You rock, Karen! Live large!

Powdered Toast Man said...

The only refernce I know about the Hmong is Gran Torino. I bet Clint Eastwood is good at Ms. Pac Man.

Linda O'Connell said...

Ahh you numbah waan at making us smile!

Diane Tolley said...

Karen, this WAAN's for you!!!

Roshni AaMom said...

What a nice dedication!! :)

Sweet Posy Dreams said...

Wonderful story.

I miss Atari. River Raid was my favorite.

Jo-Anne Meadows said...

I have never played such games ever how sad am I............lol

Daisy said...

Hurray, Karen! :D

I was no good at Galaga. Ms. Pacman was the only one I could do anything with, and I wasn't even very good at it!

The Geezers said...

Delightful post, fellow Minneapolitan. Yesterday at the movie theater I was in line behind 4 Hmong teenagers who had their hair gelled and spiked upward in an effort to look threatening. These days, there is sadly a bit of a gang problem with some Hmong teenagers, but these young boys, for all their attempt to look hard, were pretty gentle souls. I couldn't help but think the appearance was kind of a peer pressure thing, as they certainly didn't project a very frightening air.

Rose L said...

Funny! I remember Frogger! My husband and I had it and thought it was so Hi-tech at the time! LOL