After his tell-tale wacka-wacka-wacka-wacka had burned white-hot on the totally awesome trend meter, remember what it sounded like when Pac-Man died -- that melting bleat as the chomper disappeared?

This was a craze composed of more than blips on a video screen: It was Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia taking their song "Pac-Man Fever" to the Top Five. It was Chef Boy-ar-Dee adding Pac-Man characters to a ready-to-eat pasta meal. It was breakfast cereal, T-shirts, a Hanna-Barbera cartoon show and chewable vitamins.

It was a platoon of opinion writers employing the vision of Pac-Man to describe their views on domestic spending, on Wall Street warfare, on the mysteries of sexuality.

It was a seemingly universal whine: "Mommy, just one more quarter."

Then, suddenly, it was silent. Dead. Gone.

Can it really be roughly a decade since the little yellow blob and his bow-headed companion, Ms. Pac-Man, reigned as the nation's omnipresent pop fad?

So where do these trends go to die, anyway, whether it's a dusty Darth Vader belt buckle in a thrift store, an old music video or even a clunky blue Ms. Pac-Man machine? Call it Instant Retro.

The 1960s live again now, or at least they did last year; the 1970s are redux now. Brace yourself, trend-watchers: In Instant Retro, experts and observers agree, time folds over on itself and we no longer grapple with the idea of living century to century or even decade to decade.

No, in Instant Retro, ideas and items once ubiquitous vanish, then -- zap! -- they're back, instantly reminiscent, quirkily ironic and bittersweet clever.

Rise, fall, retro.

Listen, is that wacka-wacka-wacka-wacka part of a deeper lesson from the persistent little yellow guy?

Game developers at Atari Games Corp. say that they are encouraged about the success they have had with new versions of Pac-Man, introduced for different home video game systems, including Nintendo.

They hope players will buy Pac-Man not just because they love it, prefer it or are darn good at playing it, but because they miss it. Remember it. Cherish it. "When we reintroduced Pac Man, it was an immediate hit," says Atari vice president Dennis Wood. "Internally, we didn't know whether or not it would be good as it was. It turned out to be ... popular beyond our expectations. To date, it's still our most popular selling game.

"It was a type of game that had universal appeal to male and female," he adds. "Easy to play. Very few games are like that. It's like Monopoly. Fifteen or 20 years from now, you'll see that game out there. It's a classic."

It's Instant Retro.

And not just for the new devices, either. It's for the old machines too, because trends hardly die. That Darth Vader belt buckle is oddly perfect for a night of dancing in one of the many clubs that specialize in remixed '70s disco hits and, of course, there are Pac-Man machines left to satisfy those who never let go.

Fans play the old machines in their homes or in between rinse cycles at the self-service laundry and, now, on home video game systems.

Estimating how many of the original Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man machines still exist and operate nationwide would be "an impossibility," says Sandy Bettelman of C.A. Robinson Co. distributors in Los Angeles.

The company, which sold thousands of the video games in the Los Angeles area in the early 1980s, now gets a few back and redistributes them -- some to people who want them in their homes for sentimental reasons and for entertainment.

A Pac-Man video game in its original cabinet would go for about $200 today, he said, adding a "combination of fondness and cheapness" led him to put Ms. Pac-Man in his home game room, where he has a dozen "classic" arcade games.

Classic? "It was such a big, unusual phenomenon," Bettelman says of Pac-Man. "When people visit us, that's always the first game they run to."

Bally Manufacturing Corp., which sold about 250,000 Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man machines in the first part of the decade, reported peak revenues of $600 million in 1982 from its amusement game business. But by 1987, revenue from the games had fallen to $24.3 million. And by 1988, Bally had sold the games division -- a founding tradition dating to the company's first pinball game in 1931 -- to its chief competitor, WMS Industries, for $8 million.

Eventually, rights to Pac-Man returned to Namco, the Japanese corporation that had invented the little dude in the first place. It, in turn, has turned over the license for new home versions of Pac-Man to Atari.

"We called it the video bust," says Valerie Cognevich, editor of Play Meter magazine, a trade journal for the amusement industry. "Actually, the {arcade game} industry is doing all right now; you just don't hear about it as much. Pac-Man was certainly the peak, and then a lot of people got out of the business after that."

But now, like owning a stoic jukebox or psychedelic posters, people can buy the machines and Pac to the limit in a nostalgic corner of their home.

Michael Mendelson, a video game operator who supplies newer video games as well as older models to arcades, bought a Ms. Pac-Man machine for his family to play.

After rebuilding the cabinet to accommodate shorter players, the Mendelsons find themselves playing the game "once a day, at least."

Once the craze died down (and the price of the arcade Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man came down from peak prices of $2,500), Mendelson decided to put one in his home because "it's a great frustration-reliever.

"People who come by see it and instantly recognize it," he says. "For them, it's another chance to play something they may not have played for years. I guess it is nostalgic."

Already? Is everything -- pop trends, technology and plain old junk -- just beginning to wrap together? Is there no longer an in or out?

Richard Saul Wurman, author of "Information Anxiety," thinks it's all part of what he calls the "Age of Also," a time when trends and events no longer occur in a linear fashion, with one succeeding the next.

"We were told we would have paper-less offices with the dawn of computers," he says. "Now we have offices with twice as much paper and computers. The fax machine was supposed to eliminate phone calls, but now we call someone to tell them we're sending them a fax, and they call us back to say they got the fax.

"What used to happen," he adds, "is there would be one prevailing trend, like with music, and then something would replace it. Now we have all forms of music popular at once, with no leading edge. Television was supposed to mean that we would have fewer movies, but now we have more of both."

Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Instant Retro in the Age of Also preserves pop culture for multidecade uses. "What has happened is in some ways quite wonderful," Wurman says, noting that today, people are exposed to a wider spectrum of trends and culture, particularly in music. "It gives us a more parallel view of the world."

On the gold lame' edge of what threatens to be a massive 1970s retro movement of music, clogs, sideburns and center-parted hairstyles, it may not be too soon to consider a resurgence of '80s fads -- nothing can re-arrive too early. Newly resuscitated video jockey Martha Quinn peddles classic videos ("classic" as in videos circa 1984) on MTV. Rock stations still play songs by Boston, Queen, Styx and the Go-Go's.

And, of course, Pac-Man wacka-wackas on.

It plays even in museums. "Hot Circuits," an exhibit of arcade video games dating to the 1970s at the American Museum of the Moving Image in the Queens section of New York City invites visitors to play "classic" games with five free tokens.

Co-curator David Draigh says the idea for the 45-game exhibition developed from a desire to "have a retrospective, because looking back at video games, it was such a mania and all, what with all the public outcry against them at first, and now how they've settled into our lives."

Draigh said that once a list was made of the most influential video games of the past two decades, exhibit staffers went on "kind of an archaeological dig" to find old but still-working video games. The exhibit's success in New York will propel it this year to 10 more American cities, including Seattle.

In a world in which many people reminisce about "Star Wars," watch reruns of "Charlie's Angels" and prefer radio stations that mix "favorite songs from the yesterdays with the songs of today," what about the genuine art of preserving nostalgia?

"I think it's part of the extraordinary self-consciousness of the age," says Ricardo Quinones, a Claremont-McKenna (Calif.) College humanities professor who has written of the relation of time to the cultural past. "Things today are dropped very quickly and we get on a historical treadmill. We reach back more quickly to recent objects to recapture them ... we have decade mania."

"Memory is a throwaway now, and as we forget, so too {do} we have instant nostalgia," he says. "I think these fad things that seem to come back around faster represent our destiny to be a very self-conscious society ... and as we become victims of larger historical amnesia, we get more into trends and reviving those trends. And, of course, we are all guilty of media events. I guess the motto of the story is save your skinny ties, and baseball cards, again and again."

Leo Braudy, a University of Southern California English professor who also studies pop culture trends, thinks that as Americans near the end of the century, their nostalgia speeds up.

"By 1995, we'll be remembering 1990," he says. "We have such short attention spans that you can't even predict the return of fashions any more."

Since Instant Retro provides fads that never really go away, Braudy adds, Americans comfortably can rely on favorite trends in an increasingly chaotic, something-new-every-day world: "Maybe there's something kind of cozy about playing a favorite video game. As the world moves forward, we can create our own little collages of things from the past."

So then, here's a cozy, comforting Instant Retro collage: a swirly, dreamy roller disco party hosted by Lindsay Wagner as the Bionic Woman. Piped-in Olivia Newton John songs. Wide rainbow suspenders for all the guests, even E.T.

The Sex Pistols have reunited. A hair salon offers feathery Farrah-dos, on the house. Little Ricky Schroeder plays with Slime.

A vast auditorium shows films like "American Graffiti" (vintage 1950s, retro from the 1970s), interspersed with recurring bits from the Laverne-and-Shirley-o-Rama (vintage 1950s and '60s retro from the '70s and '80s.).

Does this not seem nostalgic? That's the mystery of Instant Retro.