Saturday, July 29, 2006

Midnight Bingo

There was no beer at Midnight Bingo ...

In hindsight, his was probably for the better. Although, a keg – even a cooler - of Bud or Lite would have brought more “clients,” I had heard talk that Bingo attendance was suffering since the anti-smoking laws came to Church (plus, had beer been provided, I’m sure we would have received a visit from Father Jim, who does like his American Pilsner, a.k.a. NASCAR beer). Since I didn’t have to even BE there till 11:00, I felt confident that I could pop back a couple after work, take a break of a couple of hours and be ready and eager to go at 10:45. This I did. Our parish, being only a mile from our house, didn’t even require use of the car. I rode my bike, “Blackie.” Looking back, the prospect of riding an all black bicycle with no reflective equipment, no lights, through the woods at 2 or 3 AM, seemed kind of stupid; the idea of a legally blind, sleep-deprived, possibly hallucinating, Catholic operating a motor vehicle at such an hour was definitely the grater of two evils.

As I explained it - in my presentation of the defense - if it goes late, and I’m too wobbly to ride home; I can pussy out, step off and walk my bike a mile… or I could grab my balls, crash the Sentra and crawl a mile. Plenty of time to bleed to death. Not a good option.

When I told Annabelle I was being subjected to Midnight Bingo, she had some preconceptions / rumors / legends that she wanted me to investigate / clarify. This added a welcome element of stealth to the evening. If the night dragged on, or if it was busy and hectic; one thought could carry me through … Not only was I helping the church and lowering my daughter’s tuition payment, I was going undercover. I was doing research.

This could be the next great documentary … “Fahrenheit: B-23”

It didn’t long for the “Bingo Nerds” to show up.

NOTE: There are no “Bingo Geeks.” Geekness (or geek-osity) implies some technical savvy or archival knowledge … Bingo has neither. It is the lowest tech game you can play – outside of games involving playing cards or dice. It’s older than Hoyle, and that makes it older than poker. It has no past, no history, no legends; no one will recall the time Doris Mc Sweeney of St. Andrews Parish, IN, capped a six week double progressive “anchor” with 14 straight balls in 1969. Or, how many have scored the elusive “B-1, 2, 3, 4, 5” bingo (I-16, 17, 18, 19, 20; N-31, 32, 34, 35 – 33 being the “Free Space”; and so on).

No one has ever been shot in the back playing Bingo – well, if they were, no one noticed.

In the future, people will line up in bingo halls, pre-load their laptops with the games they want to play, sit down, swipe their debit cards to pay, plug in at a table, grab a cup of over-priced, watered- down cappuccino or whatever people will be drinking then (ours was free and pretty good - than you, Carol). The “caller” – as the person who says “B-3”, “I-18”, etc – will simply press a button on a network touch screen and everyone who has a match, will have that that number light up on their monitor. There will be no need for the player to cruise up and down, left and right with the dabber, possibly forgetting to tap “0-72” which WOULD HAVE gotten you that Bingo, if you hadn’t been chowing out on Herr’s pretzels; oh, well. All sixteen games – yes, sixteen, regulation, no more no less – could be played as fast as the caller could press the button. The internal processors – i.e., these piney’s brains – wouldn’t need to convert to audio signal [did she say “B-7”?] - to digital [“cover that square”]. The game, as simple as it is already, wouldn’t need to be slowed down for the slowest player.

Click, two, three, four. Click, two, three, four.

Granted, some of the mystique would be lost.

My “mentor,” Jennifer – whose son was in my daughter’s kindergarten class, and with whom I have shared 5 birthday parties this summer - let me know that when she “calls” a game she says a “Hail Mary” between numbers … Me, I would have kicked it up a notch and found the opportunity to do a whole rosary. Couldn’t hurt, right Annabelle???

What a strange world bingo is, the behavior of some players has to be seen to be believed.If you were a fly on the wall these are some the antics you might see.

Firstly ~ the precise way in which people place their equipment ~~ Cards in the center with their dabbers all lined up above.

The cardboard squares and plastic chips that we played with during “rainy day recess” are a thing of the 20th century. Now they use newsprint weight paper sheets with four 5x5 squares on each. They are serial numbered to make sure no one is brining in “ringers” Many bought multiple (3, 4, 5, or even 6) for each game. That makes a “killing field” of up to 600 squares. I was selling the “progressive” game - 50¢ each but – on the last game – with a payoff of $150. People were using their last $5or $6 dollars to buy into this one. They were walking away from me – Mr. Last Chance – with stacks of paper 2-3 inches thick for the night. As I said, they played 16 games - and every game paid. The beauty of Bingo is that every game pays. There is ALWAYS a winner. Sure sometimes two people will split a $37.50 pot - $18.75 each. They will leave in a deficit, but they did get to shout “BINGO!!!”

It would be my job – since I was “working the floor” – to shout the serial number of the card, and the winning numbers back to the “caller” preferably in an articulate manner. After all, she had spent the past 15 minutes trying to make “N-42” and “G-58” moderately interesting. The only sexy number in Bingo is “O-69” … and we’re not even supposed to know what that means.

In an expression of Bingo Geekdom, Kristina couldn’t just say “Okay, she won” or “That’s a Winner”; she had to say “That’s a Good Bingo.”

Even the [I forget the technical term, but Jennifer called it the “BallBuster”] game, the longest and most excruciating, torturous version of Bingo, has something of a winner. How do you win?? You need to COMPLETELY cover your card. But there’s a time limit. “A time limit?” Well, sort of. Yes, if you need to have your card covered by a certain number ball – this week it was #51 out of a total of 75 available – to you win the whole jackpot; otherwise you get the “consolation” [about ¼ of the pot I think] and the remainder rolls over. How long that actually takes is up to the caller.

They set their sheets up in layers (last game on the bottom, first game on the top). For the most part the dabbers - which I had never even seen nor heard of before - were place to the RIGHT of the "impact zone." Since the games were color coded, contrasting or complimentary dabber were used – I called out a girl who was using a lemon yellow – highlighter yellow – dabber on a yellow sheet.

“Yellow on Yellow??? What are you thinking??? I would have gone with purple, myself” Mom was using purple for that particular game …. Mom won.

Secondly ~ their favorite lucky charm, mascot or some other strange object is placed just to the left just in reach, ready to be PATTED ~ SLAPPED ~ TURNED FACE AWAY (in disgrace) and occasionally even KISSED.

Again, to the right, just above the dabbers. The area above the play area was the "snack bar" this is where soda, chips, TastyKakes were always at the ready.

Lucky charms included Beanie Baby puppies and kitties, many precious stones – more likely from Sedona that the Holy Land – small bibles, a collection of medals (in front of an old veteran [I prayed he would win, his wife did; close enough]). A “youngster” brought a Hot Wheels car that apparently represented either the car he was restoring, or the one he wanted. His ritual was to be the first person to make a purchase form the snack bar … pumpkin pie. I gave him unlimited leeway in his Bingo geekdom, since he brought his Grandmom. That kind of karmic well pumping does not go unfulfilled.

One woman brought a very nice porcelain bell which she would ring when she got “Bingo.” I did not find out why, since she did not win. I was very nice though … very pretty, lots of flowers.

Thirdly ~ Woe betide anyone who dares to sit in another's favorite seat. This is a HUGE SIN and can cause a fearful din, or even worse ~ sssh, I'll whisper it … Come to blows.

Not an issue. We had 25 players (12 staff) in a hall set up for maybe 400 - plenty of room. There were 8 groups of 2 or 3 and 3 players playing by themselves. These people were “obviously regulars. Such regulars in fact, they had “turf” - self-imposed boundaries of 25 feet down the table and alternating sides. There was NO interacting, even between groups sitting across from each other. Each group hit at least once - there are 16 games, no more no less - and only one single player did not win. The single player that didn't win called me "sweetie." That may have been her downfall. The lack of beer and all … Jennifer did clue me in that this being my first time out, I shouldn’t be too “sociable.”

Could there be Bingo groupies??? A Bingo circuit??? I’m locked in to six more tours … I will report back.

Last of all ~ The black looks, scowls and the odd hiss or two if you should dare to cough, splutter, sneeze or even choke while the numbers are being called.

No, not a problem - we, the church staff, the “volunteers” (volunteer meaning: this is when you are assigned to work, you are free to cancel or substitute; keep in mind that you have 20 hours to perform – any shortage will be added to your tuition) were pretty chatty. But then, we were in the back of the hall. I would cruise through the aisles, checking the cards, just to get a feel for the game; I made some small talk. I got flirted with. Now, that I think of it, there were a couple of ladies who really didn't want to be bothered, not matter how charming I tried to be. They kind of looked like giant Yoda’s – all wrinkles and big ears - so they ha no worries from me anyway.

MY OWN WORST HATE IT IS: The player who talks out loud when they are waiting for just one number ... “Come on SAY IT, SAY IT!!!” or they say the number they are waiting for, OVER & OVER AGAIN.

I usually find myself praying that the winning number will not be theirs.

Yep, saw plenty of that. There was one guy who looked real hardcore – Jennifer told me “You’ll get used to him” - won the first game. I thought it was odd that he brought his S/O … not that it was odd that her brought her, but that she sat TWO seats away from him. I learned this right away; “One seat buffer is acceptable; two is trampy.” An attitude, I felt, was just a bit lopsided, with the ratio of woman to man ratio at “all of them,” to three of us – granted there were others, but they were in the kitchen; a position I had lobbied for. To be truthful; I wouldn’t have been happy making pedestrian cheesesteaks. Without my bandoleer of spices, I just feel naked.

From then on; he usually only needed one more to win, when the game ended. Maybe five times, the first number called on the NEXT game, was the one he needed. His partner couldn’t be more entertained, as she adjusted herself in her folding chair to give me, the only male on the floor, a better glimpse of her nicely pouting breasts, the neckline of her peasant blouse suddenly diving down as her boyfriend complained about missing “I-27” as her chocolate eyes locked with mine of robin egg blue; it only seemed right since we had been making eyes at each other all night, and she remind me of my ex- ... well, in her mind anyway.

Unanswered / Unasked Questions:

I didn’t get to find out what a “’Bad’ Bingo” would be.

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