March 23, 2007

Bingo: Not Quite a Spiritual Work of Mercy

They're only happy when they're complaining. When they stop complaining I know something's wrong.

-- administrator at West Point on the cadets
It’s Thursday night bingo and I have Rednecks. Let me ‘splain. Rednecks is an instant winning lotto game which is very popular and they’ve just become available in the back room, the ‘sacristy’ of the bingo hall if you will. For the next twenty minutes I’ll be the most popular guy in the joint and, knowing this, I walk softly while carrying this big stick.

I whisper it to the first few people. “Tell no one!” I’d like to say, because things tend to avalanche quickly. If word gets around too quickly four will yell “Rednecks!” simultaneously and then three will be disappointed, provoking a stream of muttered swear words. They’re sure that I just sold the winner to the person in front of me. They must have psychic powers because even I don’t know which tickets are winners even though they hold me accountable.

They take it personally when they lose. “You didn’t sell me any winners!”. Once in a great while I’ll hear, “you sold me a winner!”. It might be because there are so many more losers than winners, or else it's due to the ingratitude inherent in fallen human nature.

I am scrupulous about serving everyone equally in the order my ears hear them. One woman was bitter that I’d ignored her. “I’m deaf,” I said to console her. “You sure are!” she agreed. I tend to pick up some voices better than others and hers happens to be high-pitched enough that only dogs can hear. I tell her that (though not the dog part) and she tries on a real low gravelly voice. "Better."

Apart from the simple fairness of serving all equally, all players have value since all are building up the Kingdom indirectly via financially building up our church and school. Call it indirectly building something up that indirectly builds up God’s Kingdom. In the spiritual realm God serves everyone equally and knowing that makes me feel good. He’s as happy with the sinner’s mite as the saint’s millions. I go around collecting little bits of worthless earthly currency and He goes around collecting little bits of priceless spiritual currency and he finds my pittance as charming as I do the elderly lady's three stacks of four quarters.

Bingo is sort of come-as-you-are with no dress code. Co-worker Kim humorously quipped, “No bra, no teeth, no problem.” I hadn’t noticed any lack of bras. I think there’s some sort of ironclad law: women are more likely than men to notice the lack of bra worn by an unattractive woman whereas men are more likely than women (or at least more quick) to notice the lack of bra worn by an attractive woman. Do we see what we want to see? I’d just noticed, for the first time, an amazingly large amulet a guy was wearing. He was older but with the jet black hair that implied the liberal use of hair dye. Around his neck there was some sort of Star Trek-like fake gemstone, light blue and about three inches in diameter. Gaudy as the day is long. I was momentarily hypnotized. Kim’s mom said she’d seen it long ago, at bingo months ago. “I miss nothing; I notice everything” she says. There’s the eye of a true writer. I told her that by contrast I miss nothing that I shouldn’t notice. I've sued my eyes for custody but the case is pending.

I cry wolf to Matt, our almost robotically friendly (but not effusively so) co-worker. He seems a sort of southern gentleman sans accent, a Riddle-ish sort. Always smiling and peaceful, he shakes my hand when he sees me and seems glad to do so. I say I cried wolf because I tell him I’m still interested in joining his Knights of Columbus. It was a reflex reaction to his warm handshake and it’s not untrue; I’d been considering it just the other day though I’d been considering it in the way one considers going to the art museum – that it'd be nice to do some day, a pseudo-mythical day when the law of inertia had been overcome or in my retirement, whichever came first. The Knights must really need new members so I should’ve just kept my thoughts to myself until I was serious. The organization seems a bit too fraternal but it seems a good thing to hang around serious Christian dudes on the theory it could rub off. But then that would make it about me and not helping the Knights and their mission right?

Changes come around real soon at bingo, to paraphrase Mellencamp. Like, for example, the no-smoking ban that recently got enforced. And like how we don’t get free pizza anymore after bingo or the annual summer bingo volunteer picnic. The Ohio no-smoking ordinance means lower revenues for bingo, which means belt-tightening for us. We did, however, get a mission statement. I forgot to ask Joe whose idea it was to craft a bingo mission statement - something about as useful as a three dollar bill. I read it only because I love the perfect banality of mission statements. There is great beauty in banality if only we had eyes to see, and I am a connoisseur of them much as I am of spam and Nigerian scammer emails. This one states the obvious: we want to make money to support the church and school in a friendly environment. I hope they didn’t spend too long on it. Because time is money ya know.

I believe ninety percent of our bingo clients don’t have a gambling problem. That’s my guess based on body language. The ones who worry me are those who stammer a “give me ten” between pursed lips, their hands clasped in fists of rage over the audacity of those previous ten tickets revealing no winners. But fortunately those not enjoying the instant winner buying experience seem relatively few. Gambling is entertainment and if they’re not having fun doing it then something is amiss.

I felt great solidarity with our customers at 7:05pm. Normally I don’t even notice what time we start but they were angry and I was too because it’s supposed to start promptly at seven and the Buckeyes play tonight. There’s a Sweet Sixteen NCAA tournament game beginning at 9:35 (turned out it was 10:15 tipoff) and time was of the essence.

7:01…7:02…by 7:04 I was shrugging my shoulders and gesticulating wildly, like an Italian on a hot August night. I was ginned up by the crowd and playing it up for the crowd. I hear you. I am here for you. As Bill Luse used to say, delusions of grandeur keep me going.

One lady smiled at me knowing that her prayers had been answered. I could do what they couldn't and I did. I stalked into the bingo sacristy room as if heads were going to roll and asked “what’s going on? Why aren’t we starting?” This was met with no response other than disinterested shrugs, and even the shrugs were imperceptible to the naked eye. Then I noticed the bingo caller walking towards his podium. How could a Buckeye fan not start this thing on time? I sigh: it’s gonna be a long one.

No comments: