Ms. Pac-Man: A Love Story
by Peter Kravitz
On my second date with Jennifer, in 1982, I defeated her in the arcade game Ms. Pac-Man.
“That wasn’t fair,” she said.
“Why?” I asked.
On our first date she had dexterously worked the lever and avoided the little monsters that gobble you up, leading to an easy victory over me.
“One more game,” I said.
“Not tonight,” she teased.
That increased my appetite for another game. Because I’m slightly competitive, I fed quarters into a Ms. Pac-Man in a pizza place by my apartment near the University of Delaware, where we were students.
Ms. Pac-Man had been introduced a few months before and would become the most popular American-produced arcade game of 1982—and one of the most popular ever.
Addicted, I vowed never to lose to Jennifer again. Were it not for that, what might have been our future? Because, while I liked her, my 21-year-old brain’s singular objective was another shot at her in Ms. Pac-Man.
A few weeks before, we had met in a Newark, Delaware, bar named “The Down Under.”
“The couple that got married after meeting in a bar . . . everybody has heard of that couple, but few people have found them,” wrote the late Rona Jaffe, 20 years ago in a New York Times article “Looking for Love and Following Signs That Point East”—pre–Modern Love podcast days. “Nevertheless, they remain a symbol of hope,” she added.
I was at the bar with my roommate, whom we called Schlong, a college nickname that had nothing to do with his anatomy. Schlong was talking to Jennifer’s roommate, so I briefly talked to Jennifer. But she was a freshman and I was a junior—practically an unbridgeable cultural divide despite our somewhat similar suburban backgrounds. As a frosh, her coed existence focused on dorms and dining halls, while mine involved frequenting the many bars and taverns on campus. Oh sure, we went to class and studied.
Later, as Jennifer lapped the bar, trying to find someone else to talk to, I snuck glances at her. Clearly, she didn’t know anyone. She was underage with a good fake ID.
While I felt bad that she roamed alone—she was attractive with blond hair and blue eyes—I didn’t speak to her again until, in the boozy-smoky haze (everyone smoked in bars in those days), I realized Schlong was long gone.
So I asked the bouncer, who knew Schlong, if he’d seen him, and he said, “He just left with two babes.”
As he was my ride to our off-campus apartment, I sprinted into the parking lot. Luckily Schlong drove a bomb, nicknamed the Schlongmobile. I spotted its fireworks display—the sparks thrown up by its muffler dragging on the asphalt.
I ran the car down and banged on the window. We drove the girls back to their dorm and I asked Jennifer to go out with me. Schlong did not ask Jennifer’s roommate out, despite hours of conversation and perhaps some making out.
Jennifer had a long-distance boyfriend back in Long Island. He was a good-looking guy who drove a motorcycle, which she really liked. I drove my dad’s ancient Chevy Impala. Despite my way less-cool vehicle, after those two fateful dates and months of pursuit, I stole her heart from her boyfriend. Five years later we married.
Our wedding was a “gorgeous” Long Island affair. It was the best wedding I ever attended—and I didn’t eat or drink anything. My bride was beautiful; I even showered and shaved.
Jennifer and I raised a family of three children on Long Island. Our kids have all graduated from college. And thirty-two years later, Jennifer and I are still married. And our children all have jobs, though we still pay two of their cell bills.
If you wonder where this seemingly happy tale of meeting, wooing, exchanging vows, and then, unlike Romeo and Juliet, over three decades of marriage and family life is leading, there is only one possible destination: Meow Wolf.
You’ve never heard of it? It’s an interactive art and music surreal fantasy in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
This past summer, Jennifer and I traveled to Santa Fe and made Meow Wolf our first stop.
Located in a 20,000-square-foot former bowling alley, Meow Wolf was created by over 100 artists with a huge funding boost from George R. R. Martin, the “Game of Thrones” creator, who lives in Santa Fe. It features a myriad of activities like walking into a refrigerator, sliding into a dryer, and listening to a live band. It’s undoubtedly the most popular indoor activity in Santa Fe, outside of consignment-store shopping.
And Meow Wolf will move closer to you as it heads to Las Vegas next year, then Denver and Washington, DC, in 2022.
Jennifer and I split up during our Meow Wolf exploration, and I discovered a room full of old arcade machines. I thought that maybe she would be there. I searched. Where was she? She had to be there!
Finally, I found my girl: Ms. Pac-Man—in perfect working order, no quarters required. I had not played in 30 years. But the strategy returned from my subconscious as I steered my dot-munching lady through the mazes in several games, improving my score each time. Then I texted Jennifer my exact location, as there are so many secret doors and hidden rooms that it can be hard to find someone in Meow Wolf.
“Let’s play a game,” I said.
She immediately agreed. I chivalrously let her go first. Final score: Me 10,540; Jennifer 5,900.
“That wasn’t fair,” she said.
“Ah yeah, but did you think I would lose to you—again?”
Artwork “Packman” by Jonathan Hoffman (US).
Peter Kravitz is a former Philadelphia reporter who currently teaches Journalism in New York. He's been published in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Newsday and is a regular contributor to Silver Sage Magazine.