May 25, 2006

Bingo Redux

Bingo is a bit like the spiritual life. At first it’s exciting and moving but then you go thru dry period. We had a new guy today and he was really hepped up - much like my first time. He's a real salesman type, a go-getter construction worker who begged individuals personally to buy instant winner tickets: “only four quarters! Twenty nickels!...You gotta play to win!”. That sort of salesmanship is foreign to St. Maggie's bingo where we generally just circle the bingo hall saying the name of the lottery ticket.

He so stirred up the No-Smoking room that afterwards they were expecting Kim and me to do some song & dance routine as if he’d set a new standard. Kim was ready to do a can-can but I really can't dance and claimed it wasn't in my job description. I was fooled by their reaction because I thought it a quiet crowd - it’s always church-quiet in there. I thought his style would bomb but I was wrong and told him afterwards he did well there and he says loudly, “yeah they want my body!” and a great portion of staid, bingo-players in the smoking section overheard and cheered him on. I’ve always noticed that late in a Bingo evening, as a result of fatigue and the buzz of the secondhand smoke (I don't smoke but Ham o' Bone says 1 cigarette = 2 beers), there’s a tendency to say things you wouldn’t normally say but this was taking it up a notch. I was kind of glad to see that it wasn’t just me as far as being a bit too relaxed, though he is far more a livewire than yours truly. Of course I don't have a construction worker's body either. *grin*

Co-worker Kim made a Freudian slip. She was selling a lottery ticket called “Bank Busters” and mistakenly called out “Ball Busters” and it broke up the crowd. “I’ll buy $20 worth!,” cried one woman, obviously wronged by a man in the past and the whole crowd began turning on me, as one of the few males in the no-smoking room. So I slipped out the back, Jack. Makin’ new plans, Stan. For the rest of the night Kim was re-christened "Ball-buster" and I promised her I'd blog about it. Least I can do.

I still have a real hard time selling a lottery ticket named “Rednecks”. It’s not easy to find a comfortable way to say it, a least in this venue. I experimented with "scarletnecks" or I’d just say, “Red…” and let “necks” fall off into the ethersphere. Or I'd just say “Instants” though that's somewhat contrary to Bingo etiquette. If they want to buy, they call out the generic “Instants!” while we call out the specific name, be it “Bank Busters” or “Rednecks” or “King of the Mountain”.

There’s also something called “Second Chance”, a drawing for losing tickets. And I’ve never yet had anyone said “Put this in the Second Chance box” though it is clearly labeled as such. They’ll always say, “Put this in Lucky Losers”. Maybe there was a name change and the new name hasn’t caught on?

Certainly the novelty and excitement that is Bingo has worn off despite appearances to the contrary. Yet there is a feeling of bonhomie afterwards, in our Heavenly after-bingo when we commiserate over difficult players or complain and say we’re going to quit soon. We hear of each other’s childrens, talk about schools or argue the best pizza joints. Tonight there was a health scare. One woman had a suspicious lump that was pushing up her collarbone. She went to the doctor and had a scan and it turns out she has four extra ribs, two on each side that were now pushing up her collarbone. Imagine going your whole life not knowing you had four extra ribs? It is harmless though needless to say she got a lot of ribbing (you bet that pun was intended).

Our team leader Joe is a well-tanned blue collar type in his late 40s who's mostly a curmudgeon though occasionally shows he’s soft on the inside. You can always tell the mood he’s in. And you can see he’s got a temper - the bingo grapevine has it that he got in a physical altercation a couple weeks ago with another worker at bingo. This is an Italian parish and Joe is pure Italian. One gets the sense that if you get on his wrong side you might receive a visit from the local Cosa Nostra. (Just kidding!)

Matthew is the soul of calm and dependability. He's so calm & bland that most don't take him seriously. I think he probably had a serious conversion experience because last year he suddenly signed up for Bingo, became an usher at Mass (I see him ushering at every Sunday late Mass) and now he got himself elected to Parish Council. You don't go from 0 to 60 without a conversion. Wants me to run for council which was flattering and took me aback. I told him I'm not a joiner contrary to appearances (I had joined bingo after all). He's only had one council meeting but his job appears to be a lot of arm-twisting and setting up committees, neither which are like my strengths. He says he just wants to serve the parish in as many ways as he can.

Christine, is in her mid-40s, and desperately wants to find a guy. I can't much help her, since the only single guy I know seems weight-conscious enough that Christine might not be appealing to him. It's a good reminder how difficult it is for singles.

The bingo trenches are as close as I’ll get to foxholes and we’ve grown surprisingly close given the rarity of “battles”. A couple of co-workers have professed dismay that I won’t be there next month (my birthday falls on the Bingo day). They said they’d bring me a cake. I told them I may come just so they can serve me and I can yell “Instants!” at them. We all cringe at the mere suggestion of defecting to another Bingo night and to work with a different unit. You can get a tiny sense of how in the military they say you eventually begin serving mostly to support your buddies rather than the more abstract vision of commander or country.

The funny thing about bingo is sometimes it seems like the servers are actually having a better time than those being served. There might be a message in that I suppose. We workers smile and laugh at each other through our “suffering” while those buying are tickets are usually curt and grim, often frustrated by the lack of payoff.

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