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!