September 29, 2007

The Bingo Chronicles

Our bingo Fuehrer wanted to read the bingo posts, hence I wanted to get this into my archives so that it will take less time to reconstruct in the future...

B-I-N-G-O ... April 29, 2005

Your cubby reporter had the pleasure of working undercover last night as a volunteer at bingo. And I was fascinated by this little subculture of America. Somebody should do a documentary.

I learned that these folks are addicted to bingo, which is on par with being addicted to oh, say, dental visits. Well that's a stretch but certainly I had no idea that bingo is to gamblers what karaoke is to wannabe singers. They don't go to bingo once a week, they go every night to a different bingo hall.

And they bring stuff with them. They bring little totems. Good luck charms presumably, for they are by and large a superstitious lot. Some set up pictures of children and grandchildren. Many line up outside the doors at 5pm even though bingo doesn't start till 7. They want their lucky seat and to enjoy the ambience that is bingo.

Not all are so addicted. Some play one bingo card and never buy any of the "instant winner" lottery tickets. They simply want a night out of the house and it's better than sitting in front of the glass teat. I'm always impressed, perhaps misguidedly, by hobbyists such as these folk. Play is garlic to our vampiristic, utilitarian society. And I tend to think we readers put too much stock in the value of reading and education in general. I imagine a kind of humility in coming here, a sort of public admission that their dance card isn't full and one can hardly deny that what they are doing isn't cool by any standards. But that is my tendency to over-romanticize "the other", and there's nothing more "other" to me than bingo players.

Running bingo is sort of like owning a bar. A certain percentage of the population in either case is going to abuse what you're serving. I got a little worried about the guy who wanted instant winner tickets and came to me with $5 worth of coins gathered from his car's ashtray. At the end of the night a youngish woman threw bills at me like I was a stripper, only she was throwing twenties and not singles.

It was kind of embarrassing to have to go around selling a variety of lottery ticket known as "Redneck". Walking around shouting "redneck" seemed a bit like randomly hurling the word "kike" at a bar mitzvah. Was it my imagination that two black ladies seemed amused by my evident discomfort?

Many played five or six bingo sheets while at the same time successfully lighting cigarettes and playing the instants. Truly impressive. I couldn't play four sheets without the distractions. The atmosphere in the room as numbers were being called was similar to that of an S.A.T. test. Despite the tension, the players were polite and never, to my knowledge, took advantage of this newbie. One co-worker said they often bring money or tickets back to him if he miscounts.

And the co-workers were really super. A good reason to volunteer for anything is to meet other volunteers.

Bingo ... May 27, 2005

For an introvert like me, volunteering at bingo is far too stimulating. I come home hyper and can't get to sleep and then wake up early to make up for it.

Perhaps writing about it will help leave it behind.

First there's the gentle, befuddled look of the bingo caller, who I have the sneaking suspicion might be a saint. I first noticed him at Mass where he sings in the choir. He sings with the abandon reserved for the drunken or the innocent. I also saw him singing Handel's Messiah at an annual city event held at a local Lutheran church. And he goes to Eucharistic Adoration and adores. And he has a smile for everyone, an equal-opportunity smile. But I can't know his soul so it's just a hunch. And, as most really decent people, he gets abused. You're supposed to have to call for only two of the four hours since it gets tiring, but he calls for the whole time because no one else is trained or wants to. No one wants to be a callers since they get heckled and require thick skin.

I make my rounds selling instant winner tickets. And since I work in an office that is as homogeneous as it gets (mostly white males, mid-30s, running the whole gamut from middle class to upper middle class), it's a little slice of cinema veritas here at bingo.

Most interesting was the attractive woman in her early 30s sitting in the back. She was showing acres of leg and thigh but there was something just a bit off. I couldn't quite figure it. Was it her hairline? Her facial features? Just something. Now since a full circuit takes only a minute and since bingo lasts forever, this means I'm making more circuits than Michael Jackson has issues. And each time it dawns on me, to my horror and deepening curiosity, that she is...or was... a he. A transsexual. The deeper-than-normal voice eventually confirmed my suspicions.

Then there was the guy who was just amazingly large. Not only obese, but just plain big. His shoulders and back were just explosively large is the only way I can say it. His wife was anorexic. Must've weighed 80 lbs. The mind reels at a couple so physically mismatched. They looked vaguely familiar until it finally dawned on me -- they were the husband & wife from The Incredibles!

A blonde, well-dressed professional woman sat near the entrance. That alone was intriguing since well-dressed professionals stick out here like Fenians singing "God Save the Queen". She bought tickets from me as unobtrusively as possible. No wasted motion. I wonder what brought her here.

It was painful to hear the numbers get called and have to sit on the (obvious) line "you sunk my battleship!". I finally used it on a co-worker, since that's what co-workers are for. He smiled, I think.

The Great Bingo Riot of 2005... June 24, 2005

Okay so I slightly exaggerate. But at the end of one of yesterday's bingo games we had five winners and the caller thought there were four so we ended up overpaying all five. After the miscue was discovered four of them graciously gave back the $50 overpayment but one said "go fish", "sorry about your luck", or "bank error in my favor". Pick your phrase.

So our intrepid leader Joe announced that the last bingo pot would be shy $50 and an uproar ensued. "BULLSH-T!" many yelled. "Why should we suffer for your mistake" was the verdict of an increasingly ugly crowd.

I told Joe that that was an unpopular message to deliver (just doing my impression of "Master of the Obvious") and he tersely said "I don't care." Sensitive subject.

So the next game was tense, the air pickled with pangs of purple'd rage (or at least purple'd prose). Something had to give. So Joe made another announcement requesting that the person who was overpaid give back the money. And eventually, seemingly hours later, he or she did. Order was restored.

"A happy ending," I said to a co-worker.

"No it's not!" snapped someone who overheard me.

Just another night in the ol' bingo parlor.

Earlier that evening I'd arrived a tad late and all the floorworkers were already doing their thing. So Joe had me training at the window where the players buy their bingo sheets. I was stationed with a guy I'll call Sam who wore a small hoop earring but was straight as the 4th of July. North of sixty years old and quick as a whip, he had white silver hair and in manner & appearance seemed a cross between Little Jimmy Dickens and Ross Perot. To say he was flirtatious is like saying Shaquille O'Neill can play basketball. I mean this guy holds a black belt in Flirt; he's a jujitsu instructor in female flattery. He told every woman how lovely they looked and would often hold their hands or caress their wrists and lower arms. I haven't felt as much a third wheel since high school when my best friend was always canoodling his girlfriend. "There's a shack out back we can go to..." Sam tells a particular favorite.

He took a short break to get coffee. Said he was tired. If he was tired than I've never not been tired.

The Thrill Is Gone, Baby ... July 29, 2005

Last night was bingo volunteer session number four if you're scoring at home, which of course you're not. And now this vibrant, fascinating subculture is beginning to look the way all vibrant, fascinating subcultures eventually look - like average Uhmericuns spending their time holding daubers. Well they say even nudists forget they're at a nudist colony eventually.

My co-workers are dears. I'd forgotten that I'd used my "you sunk my battleship!" line (best said immediately after hearing the caller say something like B-21) on a different co-worker. Having many co-workers means you can say the same joke multiple times, as long as you don't tell them when they're in a group. So I strive for maximum joke dispersal by telling them separately. There's a tip you can use! Who says this writing isn't useful?

Oh don't get me wrong - I didn't get into the bingo racket for the thrills, chills or the joke-telling. That's all bonus. No, I fully expected the business to be as dry and necessary as tax accounting. The trick is to keep it new, keep it fresh. Like holding your instant winner tickets in new positions. Or inserting the word "proverbial" into the instant winner ticket name, ala: "King of the Proverbial Mountain".

That's not to say bingo is now completely bereft of surprises. One lady was smoking a cigarette while at the same time breathing through a air purifier. Or so a co-worker told me. Sounds apocryphal I know. Another lady had a large placard that stated what should be done in the case of a health emergency. Either she's not well or has a problem with hypochondria; I would error on the side of the former. Another grandma had her five grandchildren's pictures, nicely framed, standing there amid her bingo sheets.

I like the non-smoking room best because there's less smoke in there. I recall back when my friend Dave smoked that I would bring a cigar when we got together so that my good smoke would cancel out his disagreeable smoke. It was like manufacturing my own little force field. But you just can't do that here, so I walk slow when I go by the pipe smoker. You see, my uncle Ed was a pipe smoker and a priest and the fragrance of the pipe is like nothing else.

The non-smoking room is also good because the grandmothers are so platonically grandmotherly. They look upon me with cherubic faces and make me feel like the platonic ideal of a grandson.

There is something peaceful about bingo. Everyone is marvelously industrious, including me. There are squares to daub, numbers to call and tickets to sell before we go. And it goes for a good cause. Sounds like a win-win. Unless you lose a lot of money of course.

Bingo Redux... May 25, 2006

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 I 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 Dave 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.

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 "Madam Ball-buster".

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. Sometimes 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 children, 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 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. 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 like that 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. God bless him. May his tribe increase.

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.

If It's Thursday It Must Be Bingo ... October 27, 2006

For whatever reason the crowd was sparse yesterday. It’s interesting to me how with something as addictive as bingo that there can be such a downward spike in attendance. It was rainy and cold and that would depress attendance I suppose but still... you see the same contestants every Thursday and that was originally a big surprise for me. I thought the crowd would differ just like you’d expect a different crowd at the grocery mart any given night.

Kim's mother Pat wondered aloud how we get out of this gig (is it like the 'roach motel'?) and apparently Joe asked her if she could volunteer on Sunday nights also. That was a non-starter for her, but we are tight on numbers and I feel the pain of Kim and Pat. We couldn't afford to lose one of them let alone both. I also wonder if one of them would stay if the other decided to quit...

Bingo: The Fun Never Ends. Literally. November 30, 2006

So co-worker Kim asks our leader when our term as bingo volunteers runs out. Turns out it's like the roach motel - we checked in but we can't check out. Our sweet-natured leader put it more impressively: "it's like the pope - a lifetime appointment". Habemus bingo worker! The news sent a chill through our collective spines and I couldn't help but remember what a family member said after volunteering for Meals on Wheels for awhile. She said isn't charity work supposed to make you feel good, at least as a byproduct? My mood did exponentially improve as the night wore on, partially because it'd begun at such a low level but also because I was under the influence of nicotine and it was getting closer to the finish line.

This was to be our last smoke-filled night. Ohio passed a law that takes effect next week and although I don't know the legalese it basically states that thinking about smoking is now a crime against humanity. One non-smoking volunteer says he'll have to take up smoking now -- how else will he get his monthly buzz? During our three hour stint we breathed in the equivalent of 32,000 cigarettes. Roughly. The peeps were paying forward tonight. I knew I'd had too much nicotine when I'm staring at a receptacle labeled "Daubers" (the things you use to daub your bingo ticket) and suddenly recalled Pam Dauber (actually Dawber) of Mork and Mindy fame. A hallucengenic flashback.

One bingo "client" stated her extreme displeasure with the smoking ban by promising to take her business three and a half hours away to West Virginia, where smoking and dating a sibling are still legal. Hmm...a bingo bus to West Va. Could be a money-maker. Hope no one steals this idea.

In other news, we discovered that Pat, in labor extremis, self-delivered Kim. Apparently Pat's husband passed out while looking for help. Or looked for help after passing out. Either way, it actually happened in a hospital! The nurses must've been out smoking. In my naivety, I didn't know you could "self-deliver" any more than you could play a game of pitch & catch with yourself but there you have it. Kim came out of it black and blue but ever after a model child. No pain, no gain I guess...

Live-Blogging Bingo you don't have to January 25, 2007

6:30pm It was a dark and stormy night when the bingo players first went without their cigarettes. Call it "The Night the Cigs Went Out" and sing to the tune "The Night Chicago Died". A scary time indeed; much frustration ensued. Perhaps we should start handing out nicotine patches in the future or at least provide more smoke breaks. Yes the Ohio statewide ban has now taken effect and I for one was saddened. My best chance at getting to heaven was martyrdom via the giving of my lungs for the sake of the Church and tonight there was nothing but clean air.

Because there is no smoking, there are fewer people, and that gives me time to pen this - which I'm guessing is the first attempt ever to live-blog bingo. My mom would be so proud.

8:06pm Co-worker Kim told me a funny story about her eldest son, a well-behaved boy who is approaching the time of his First Communion which means also his first Confession. Not having anything to say to Father, he smeared toothpaste all over his little brother's face so that he'd have something to confess...

Kim gave me grief for missing the greatest drinking song of all time when recalling my all-time favorites. I think she called it Chum-a-ching-a-chung-a-chim-a-ring-dong although she couldn't spell it. I really must be getting older that I don't even know a famous recent drinking song.

8:40pm When bingo-selling slows, time drags infinitely. Bingo-induced boredom made me want to make up a little fiction story. So I imagined this:
"Where do you hide your stash?"

"Under the mattress. You?"

"Under the bed. My wife doesn't clean there."

Can you relate to these men? Do you also surreptiously read the latest issue of This Rock or Karl Keating's Catholicism and Fundamentalism and then hide them from the other members of your Baptist household?

If so, you may find the need to joing 'TA': Triumphalists Anonymous. At TA, you can go cold turkey from your feelings of "truth overadequacy".
You get the picture. Boredom does funny things. Or you try to creative selling techniques like calling out every modifier for "Beans", the name of an instant ticket game, that you can think of. (Lima, green, black, kidney, baked...). One co-worker (Kim will recall him) tried to sell his body. He didn't last long.

9:00pm "Rapid Fire!" says Pat.

"How rapid was it?" (rimshot!)

10:05pm We all gather and do a post-mortem over pizza and pop. One volunteer couple mentioned how during their recent trip to Florida friends there were cruel in rubbing in the Buckeye loss. I mentioned Bill Luse's mother, though not in name. We oozed sympathy. But then they mentioned how three years ago they'd given them an OSU shirt with the score of the Miami/OSU game on it in the wake of the Buckeye 2003 victory and our sympathy didst shrivel. Something about paybacks being hell.

Receipts way down. Where did everyone go? One worker said that there must now be 'bingo speakeasies' where you can play bingo and smoke and drink. Said we should open one up on the sly. Black market bingo: I'd have never imagined those three words together before tonight.

Tales from the Bingo Crypt .... February 22, 2007

"He would have been a good man if there'd been somebody pointing a dauber at him every minute of his life." - paraphrase of Flannery O'Connor character
Well they say there's a million stories in the naked city but there's at least as many at the local bingo hall.

Take the one concerning the customer wearing the Penn State shirt. Co-worker Pat, whose husband is a Penn State fan, would seem to be master of the obvious: "So you're a Penn State fan!". The woman screws up her face and says "No!". Pat points out that she's wearing a Penn State shirt and the lady says "So what?".

This is an example of the sort of thing that never happens in real life. Bingo is a magical place where the usual laws of the universe are suspended. Just ten more years of this and I'll be able to write The Great American Bingo Novel, something that is obviously long overdue and should find a large market.

Now, since this is a family blog if you are under the age of 18 please leave this post at this point.

Still here? Okay. Co-worker Kim told us a tale about her three year old son. He was at the local YMCA and was shocked to see Eli's pishalick (Italian slang for 'penis' - our parish is so ethnic). He yelled out: "Eli, Eli, what's wrong with your pishalick!" Turns out Eli, despite the Jewish-sounding name, had not been circumcised. Kim hustled him out of there while her son was still a pointin'...

I'm sort of hyp-mo-tized by the fact that Kim & Pat (mother & daughter) worked out strenuously before bingo. It feels a vague assault on my manhood. I mean the fatigue engendered by walking around for three+ continuous hours during bingo is impressive to me. I give myself credit for walking at least four miles and treat bingo like an athletic event (i.e. no pre-game activities other than the predictable exceptions any male would make, wink-wink).

During the bingo post-mortem Carmen made the amazing claim that the puerile Michael Scott, the boss of The Office, is not the over-the-top cartoon figure we all made him out to be. No, Carmen considers The Office more documentary than entertainment because she had a boss just like him. Says he tried to insert himself into the picture of herself and her groom during the cutting of the cake, ala Michael at Phyllis's wedding. She said his breath always smelled repulsively of garlic and to get back she and a co-worker, with the enthusiastic acquiesce of the cleaning crew, put a rotten egg in the panel of the tile above his office. "What's that smell?" he wondered. To quote Oscar Wilde, life imitates art far more than art imitates life...

Bingo: Not Quite a Spiritual Work of Mercy ... March 23, 2007

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," I say.

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. 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 a hot-blooded teen 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.

Things I Learn at Bingo... April 26, 2007

--That there's a disturbing new trend of homely women storing their cash in their bras. Deep inside their bras. So deep that it should require fishing license. The new lingo on the bingo street: "she went deep-bra on me". To which the proper reply is "Yeech!". Trying to look on the bright side of the situation I said "well, it could be worse..." to which a coworker said, "that would only be for ones!"

Yes it was that kind of bingo, very un-edifying. I'm still reeling from the very human relationship Sandy & Sara (names changed to protect the guilty) appear to have with Jesus, as related by an incident I can't repeat it here, but needless to say their scruple gene doesn't always seem to click in. I'm actually not sure if that's good or bad. Kim will know what I mean. Email for the scoop.

--Holy Thursday mass is a meat market. At least for Sandy. Sandy is Kim's mother and could star in an anti-aging commercial and some thought Kim & Sandy were sisters upon first meeting. Before Mass, Sandy was accosted by someone she didn't know but who complimented her on her "grand" appearance, going so far as to stroke her hair and then come back to kiss her hand. Sandy was shocked, paralyzed as it were. Kim started calling Sandy the serpent in the Garden, a beguiling female temptress. When Sandy started calling out "Rapid!" for one of the instant games, I started calling her "Fast". Best we can surmise, the Holy Thursday guy might've been a jesuitical sort who had given up flirting for Lent and since the Triduum marks the end he was wasting no time. Kim, after all, had chocolate in her pocket for post-Mass purposes.

--Mark needed a replacement for usher because he can't usher in his Knights uni. Pshaw I say. Who wouldn't want to be shown to a seat by someone wearing a KofC uniform? Might not be a bad idea to have ushers wear that sort of thing all the time. I would've volunteered for him but I don't know the first thing about ushering. I think you have to go to an Usher school but, to be honest, I didn't want to ask if there is an Usher school lest I be told there wasn't and then have to usher. Invincible ignorance. Plausible deniability. Sad, I know but I often go to the Byzantine Catholic church anyway.

--During post-game pizza, I heard more of the history of bingo from our resident bingo historian, the caller. He said the Men's Club began it back in the Pleistocene Era and at that time they always provided free post-bingo beer to the workers. The late nights and camaraderie were ended by the former pastor who cut out the beer and apparently substituted pizza. I think I live in the wrong age.

A WhippyDip's Kind of Bingo ... May 24, 2007

The Padre is here tonight. Always good to get some face time with the Padre. I figure if he sees me enough then maybe he'll come to the house or hospital and give me the last rites should I need them. I suppress the urge to jokingly ask him how much time off Purgatory for this activity. You know how Ken Cooper came up with aerobic points for everything from cleaning house to running a triathalon? Well, I figure there should be Purgatory points for bingo. I'm guessing a 3-1 ratio: three hours out of Purgatory for every hour spent at bingo. (I know, I know, Purgatory is beyond time.)

My but the kids are randy tonight. Kim said someone was "rubbing her butt". I said it wasn't me and she said she knew that, said it was some older lady who was doing it in order to ask her to get her a hotdog. I ask you: whatever happened to the simple arm tap?

Later Kim hears the word penis and freezes; her ears prick as it were. "You don't hear that word very much among a bunch of ladies!" she explains. She asked the sayer why she said that word and she said her grandson or some such lad got it stuck in a zipper. Case closed. Or zipper closed. Ouch.

I'm selling 300s, or "Tree-hundreds" as they're cornily known. People like "Rednecks" and "Kings"; I can't much blame them for spurning something as corny as "Tree-hundreds", complete with a picture of a tree above the "$300". Pat is selling Kings. It's like she's selling Chivas Regal and I'm selling Wild Turkey. For the same price.

Kim gut-punched me. Said we have to do this again next week. We get July off, which makes it more palatable, but still it's bru-tile. I've got a rehersal dinner the next night and a wedding the following day. But to tell the truth I actually look forward to bingo. It's a wonderful test - a micro acid test of Christian commitment (sort of like how Opus Dei'rs spike their morning showers with ice cold water) since it's something I can't do in my natural strength and wouldn't dream of doing normally. I can do all things, even bingo, thru Christ who strengthens me. And of course my fellow workers are salt and light and great fun.

I'm greatly heartened by some of the customers. There are a couple of grandmotherly women with truly beatific smiles. I try to return them just as well as they were delivered but I don't know that I could or did. They are the sort of smiles one normally never gets. Long-lasting, glad-to-see you smiles with eyes twinkling like stars.

Pam (name changed) scoops me concerning one of the Grand Poobahs of bingo, an elderly Italian gent in OSU gear who pushes a cart of hotdogs & snacks around. Turns out he's a multi-millionaire. Whoda thunk it? His wife plays bingo every week and only throws small bills around, $1s & $5s. You know the highway signs that tell you what food and lodging is at the exit? His idea. Made a mint. And yet here he is at bingo. Pushing a cart full of stale foods. I love this parish.

During "after-bingo", that heady, drunk-on-fatigue time when we all gather round the pizza and make confessions like Kim did ("I wanted to be a nun...I dressed in black like a nun when I was younger..."), it comes out that Pat met her husband at the rather eerily unromantic "WhippyDips" restaurant. Some words are just funny on their own, like "WhippyDips". Much teasing ensued...They go there for their anniversaries, Kim said. It's the only time...oh nevermind.

Back to Back ... May 31, 2007

Well I got home from bingo, a rare back-to-back bingo ('that which does not kill us, makes us stronger'), only to find a strange truck in the driveway.

I went & got the shotgun out of the gun rack, but turns out it wasn't an illicit affair but merely my sister-in-law visiting in the new vehicle she'd gotten.

She's getting married Saturday and apparently the wedding dress had to be adjusted again and my wife has the seamstress skills of ten women.

There was a wittiness in the air today as co-workers' moods were aligned in good humor. Even the old Italian millionaire wasn't his gruff self; he paid me a compliment by saying I was selling good. I was taken aback.

Pat & Kim, who I'll call "Pat" & "Kim" for the purposes of this, were soldiering on despite a bronchial infection & a back ache. Sometimes I do think women are inherently better people than men. Willie Cunningham, radio talk show host and voice of the common man, said that society is only good as long as its women, the "gatekeepers", are good.

If this post seems a bit thin, well, Kim asked what I could possibly write about tonight since there weren't a lot of customer-related unusual-alities. I took it as a personal challenge, like making poetry out of spam. (And with similar results.)

Oh, and you do know I was just kidding about the shotgun right?! :)

Would Ringo Like Bingo Lingo? ... June 29, 2007

Things they don't tell bingo workers: Circling the hall, you'll end up walking seventy-five miles over the course of an evening. (I forget to bring my wife's pedometer so I can't confirm that.)

The other thing they don't tell you is that Joe, the grand poobah of bingodom, expects freshly laundered & sorted currency when you turn in the money. Mine comes in in something of a jumble. It's the Irish in me. We can't be bothered with neatness when there's Joyce or Yeats to read.

Prickly. The customers were a bit prickly tonight. I think because of recent hot, humid weather. In after-bingo someone said that fisticuffs broke out five times in the new Giant Eagle grocery store, once because one guy had "touched another guy's cart".

After-bingo, by the way, often generates surprising comments, like Kim saying, "why didn't he convert her?" when it was mentioned that St. Thomas Aquinas had once drove a prostitute out of his bedroom. Good question. And how ironic to learn that Kim is allergic to literally everything except bingo! Grass, cats, pollen, air - you name it. Yet she has no doctor's excuse to escape the clutches of the bingo hall. Life is unfair.

The "give an inch, take a mile" club is always looking for new members and today we had a person who won a door prize who tried to substitute it for instant winner tickets or cash. This defeats the whole purpose of a door prize, which is basically to get rid of something nobody really wants. Doug took the microphone and put it this way: "When I get home, a lot of times I don't really want what my wife cooked for dinner. But I eat it anyway. It's the same thing with door prizes...". I was surprised because who was sitting in the bingo office? Doug's wife! That original sin exists and we are fallen can be shown by my immediate impulse to run over and get Doug's wife's reaction (and rub it in) regarding this announcement.

The boredom during bingo is existential so try to come up with ways to make it more exciting for myself by coming up with different names for the games we sell. Kim once famously misspoke and called a game "Ball Busters", which was probably the genesis for one lady referring to us as "the fun sellers".

I got a laugh tonight merely by saying, " for a dollar, five for five dollars" - as if that's a deal when everyone knows that's the going rate. One woman found this so funny she continued laughing even when I was nearly a half a bingo parlor away, proving that she needs to get out more. Earlier I was selling "Flashboards" which I dubbed "Flashboreds" although no one could tell. I tweaked it to "Flashboardens" to rhyme with "Flash Gordons" but to little effect.

Watching the zest with which some players yell "Bingo!", their arm upraised while holding the precious sheet in triumph, I'm reminded by how shy I was as a child (this is where you say, "How shy were you!"). I was so shy that I didn't want to play bingo 'cuz if I won I didn't want to have to yell out "Bingo!" and be the center of attention. For similar reasons I didn't want to ever go on Bob Barker's The Price is Right. "Come on down!" he'd yell and I'd probably slip out the back, Jack...

Bingo Psychology 101 ... August 23, 2007

It's slowly dawning on me that a big part of bingo psychology is the constant turnover of lottery games, which in turn becomes the bane of the bingo volunteer's existence since many of the game names are embarrassing to say in mixed company. But we'll get to that in a minute.
The reason for the turnover isn't hard to discern - the average person won't win much and over time and they'll begin to develop a resistance, a prejudice, towards a particular game. But provide new, fresh games and hope springs eternal. This is sort of why some people will "reward" me by buying from me simply because I provided them a winner last time, or won't buy from me because I didn't.

Superstition is big in bingo. It's probably due to a blissful ignorance of basic statistics. Yet to play the lottery, says the writer Gabriel Zaid, "is an attempt to tune in to divine providence, to give God a chance to intervene in my life, to deny that success is due only to my effort, to pit grace against merit." (Quote is from Tony Cohan's lyrical On Mexican Time.)

So there were a lot of players pitting grace against merit out there tonight, but you should've seen coworker Kim's face fall when she heard she had to sell - get this - "Beat the Whammy". Where's the dignity? It sounded like a bad double-entendre.

Beaten down by having to yell "Beat the Whammy" every few seconds, we got a bit slap-happy. It's really hard to sound like an adult while saying any variation of "beat the whammy" and I won't even go into the vulgar motion I witnessed Kim doing.
Pat, who has something like 29 ribs due to a freak of nature, told us that the extra ribs came in handy a few weeks ago when a beach umbrella uprooted in the Myrtle Beach wind and struck her in one of those extra ribs, leaving a bruise but no lasting injury.

Bingo players have a sort of innocence about them - you can't do too much wrong while playing bingo. You can't rob a bank or commit adultery, for example, especially if you're playing four or five cards at a time. If King David had been playing bingo he'd never have had the opportunity to lust after Bathsheba. Well, maybe during the smoke break if she was there too. Although I have to say there aren't too many Bathshebas playing bingo.

Bingo: It's Not Just a Job, It's (Somewhat) an Adventure. ...September 27, 2007

Who knew that bingo would be such a good place to people-watch? Certainly in that category bingo is the gift that keeps on giving. Today, for example, I saw an attractive young woman with lipstick on her neck. It was in the form of a large set of lips. My co-workers said it was a tattoo rather than the result of a kiss before bingo.

Another woman casually takes a Dixie cup, fills it with pickles, then proceeds back to her seat where she consumes them, one after another. She takes the phrase "if it's free, it's for me" way too literally.

An elderly lady retrieves money from her bra, a new "convert" to this bra-money thing and it's something I dearly hope isn't becoming a fad...Another looks the spitting image of country crooner George Strait.

Kim attracts eccentrics, like the woman who inexplicably said that she gets cold whenever Kim goes by. Say what?

I think poorer people tend to be more eccentric. If you've driven by areas of Appalachia you might get that impression, at least in what passes for yard art. Perhaps there is too much conformity required for those who climb the corporate ladder, even those holding onto the first rung. I'm cheered by the diversity (there's that word!) and by the stubborn refusal of these people to care what other people think of them. One woman apparently thought it was New Year's Eve and donned a sequined black sleeveless dress. That shook up the girls on the crew as they all feeling woefully undressed by comparison. At the other extreme last month a woman came in her pajamas.

On a sadder note, Kim mentioned how close her father came to dying recently due to a staph infection that had spread all over his body; he now requires daily $5,000 shots. She said that our pastor came out to visit him in the hospital and told Kim, although in language heavily laden with caveats, that he didn't think her father would die. "I can see it in their eyes," he said. After almost forty years as a priest and seeing people on the brink of death he said he can tell whether they'll make it from their eyes.

How much do our bodies reveal! To the perceptive, are we open books?

Our relatively young (late '40s is now relatively young to me) leader Doug confessed to going to a Bingo Conference of some sort last weekend. I teased him: you might be getting old if you willingly attend a bingo conference. But at least it keeps you off the streets...

(To tune of Merle Haggard's Workin' Man Blues, borrowing heavily from the Hag man)

It's a big job just sellin' instants out there in the strife
I been a bingo man feels like all my life
I'll be sellin' Kings long as my two hands are fit to use
I'll drink my beer in a tavern,
Sing a little bit of these bingo man blues

I keep my nose on the grindstone, work hard every fourth Thursday
Might get a little tired on the weekend, after I draw no pay
But I'll go back workin, come four Thursdays I'm back with the crew
I'll eat a little pizza that evening,
Sing a little bit of these bingo man blues.

Hey hey, the bingo man, the bingo man like me
I ain't never been a caller, that's one place I won't be
Cause I'll be sellin' long as my two hands are fit to use
I eat a little pizza after clean-up
Sing a little bit of these bingo man blues

Sometimes I think about leaving, do a little runnin' around
I wanna throw that money pouch out the window and head outta town
But I go back bingoin' - it's a lifetime appointment like the Pope's
Yeah eat a little pizza with the crew,
Cry a little bit of these bingo man blues.

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