One of the many side effects of being raised Catholic is that Bingo becomes a part of your life. I never figured out what Bingo had to do with religion, but I have never met a Catholic who hadn’t played the game at one point or another. In case, you have never played, here is what you need to know:
Bingo is a game of chance played with randomly drawn numbers which players match against numbers that have been pre-printed on 5×5 matrices. The matrices may be printed on paper, card stock or electronically represented and are referred to as cards. Many versions conclude the game when the first person achieves a specified pattern from the drawn numbers. The winner is usually required to call out the word “Bingo!” which alerts the other players and caller of a possible win. All wins are checked for accuracy before the victory confirmation at which time the prize is secured, and a new game may start.
I hadn’t touched the stuff since I was released…err…graduated from Catholic high school, but a few of my co-workers at the time convinced me to play Bingo with them one night. I started calling it, “Old Lady Smackdown.” Spoiler alert: I was smacked down by these old ladies all night. Let me walk you through the scene.
It is a Tuesday night around 6:15p in Burbank, California. You park your car amid Lincolns, Cadillacs, Mercurys and other marvels of Detroit engineering. This is the first parking lot you’ve seen in years without a single minivan or SUV. These cars have metal bumpers and don’t know the meaning of the word “airbag.” After traversing the parking lot, you head to where you think the door is. You can’t quite tell due to the cloud of smoke provided by a batch of women that have been smoking longer than you have been alive on the planet.
Once inside, you fumble for your money because the cashier is making biting comments at those unprepared. Your hand shakes as you give her your $20, which is the minimum for the evening. The cashier mumbles a robotic “good luck,” which you don’t believe, and hands over the ticket stub proving you paid. A crooked finger points into the gym where a throaty voice says, “in there for the early bird game.” You move quickly because she is ripping into someone who wants to know how much the ink blotters cost.
The two women at the early bird check-in look even surlier than the cashier if that is possible. You hand them your $5 for the early game with an extra buck for the power ball. She snaps, “how do you expect to win if you don’t hand me your stub?” You find it, she snatches it out of your hand, stamps it, and scowls at you until you scurry off to find a seat.
The gymnasium is full of tables, and the tables are full of people who have a minimum of three decades on you. You swear you hear a few chant “fresh fish” under their breath, but shake it off as imagination. The temples to the bingo gods are everywhere despite this being a Catholic school gym. Rows of different colored ink blotters, good luck charms, decks of cards, snacks and little sheet holders in various arrangements fill the tables. You spot a Buddha and laugh wondering if he has any power here.
The women look at you as you walk by. Their piercing glances seem to be either summing you up or giving you the evil eye or both. You look for a seat, but everything says “reserved” until a nice older man lets you know that you can sit near him since the regular woman who typically sits there isn’t coming. You hope it’s because she was busy and not for, you know, other reasons.
Baffled by the brown paper bag at your place, you realize by looking around it is the trash bag for your discarded bingo sheets. You settle in your folding chair and are all set to stamp the free spot when you are stopped by a woman with an ominous tone, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” You are about to ask why when she throws you a program. “Look at the first game.”
With a fast scan of the sheet, you see the lists of games with terms that make no sense. Corner Stamps, 3 Card 6 pack, Small Kites, Crazy Stamps, and 6 Card Hardway Bingo. You look up to the board and see that there is a bingo card lighting up in the acceptable winning formations, so you learn while you wait for the first Bingo game to begin.
To be continued Friday with Part Two: The Many Rules Of Bingo