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Was BINGO Supposed to be a Fun Game?

Have you ever played bingo? I don’t mean at home with your kids, or online. I mean, have you ever gone to a place where real live people play bingo for money? If not, you should give it a try. The bingo crowd, generally speaking, is like a group of hardcore drug attics who are hooked on placebos. You know, they really aren’t risking all that much and with few exceptions, there isn’t much chance of winning all that much, but I’m here to tell you that bingo players take that shit seriously.

A long time ago, when I was in the US Air Force, my wife and her friends would go to the NCO Club every Thursday night to play bingo with all the other hardcore military community bingo players. I only went with her a couple of times, and the second time I was more or less asked to leave, so I decided that it wasn’t for me. That’s the first bingo story I want to share.

First, at the risk of sounding like I’m stereotyping, let me tell you that the women in the Asian bingo community did not screw around on bingo night. I walked in with my wife and she bought like nine bingo cards. Seemed a bit much to me, but what did I know? I bought two cards, thinking I could probably pull off scanning two cards when the bingo caller guy yelled, “B7”. Then the Asian lady behind me bought five hundred cards, and that’s only a slight exaggeration. When she and her friends sat down at the tables, they each took up a complete half of a table with a highly organized array of bingo cards and multiple ink dabbers stacked in a neat and tidy line. Apparently, some sort of dried up bingo ink-dabber tragedy took place somewhere in the past and they were not about to let it happen again. Thus the five backup bingo dabbers lined up in reserve just in case the one being used to dab with, suffered catastrophic failure. When I looked down at my piddly little two cards and one dabber, I suddenly felt quite inadequate. These women were intense when they searched each card every time a number was called out. Even my wife, with her nine measly cards, seemed to take on an air of seriousness that didn’t feel fun at all. After all, wasn’t the reason that we played a game like bingo to have a little fun? FYI, that’s a rhetorical question, but if you were to answer it, the answer is no.


So, the game began and I thought that it was kind of nice to be there with all these bingo folks, and then I made a mistake of monumental proportions. I began to chat with my wife and a couple of the ladies around us.

“SSSSSHHHHHHHH!” came at me from almost every direction, as if I had started sharing a wild bar story in a monk monastery, where talking was not allowed. And when I asked what the last number was, because I was paying more attention to the hundred and ninety-eight women who shooshed me than I was to the bingo caller dude, well that was when a tiny little Asian lady a couple tables over snapped at me.

“No talking. No talking here! Be quiet!” Then I saw dozens of little bobble-head bingo players nodding in agreement while never taking their eyes off their bingo cards. I scanned the room and saw one or two women glaring at me as if they might be the actual enforcers of silence, and I began to wonder if it was safe for me to stay. Chances were that I would slip and talk again, and then it’s possible that things would spin out of control pretty damn fast. I quietly slid my cards over to my wife and whispered that it was probably best that I leave. She agreed, without looking up.

“I’ll be at the bar in the other room,” I quietly said and slipped out before I was assaulted. There were only a few mild shooshes to this whispering, and the looks softened to disgusted looking, as opposed to previous looks that teetered on violence. That was my introduction to bingo.

It was years later when I once again played bingo and it was a world away from my first experience, geographically and in every way imaginable. I was working in St Kitts and a few of the local folks from the construction site asked if we wanted to join them for bingo at the Marriott on Sunday night. We accepted and it was a hoot. First of all, talking was allowed. Hell, everyone talked. There were seven or eight of us sitting around a big round table and we all had a drink and a few cards. Introductions were made. This guy brought his cousin. Another woman brought her friend. But they all, and I mean ALL, brought their lucky charms. One guy brought a rabbit’s foot. Another brought garlic. Someone had their lucky rubber band. My wife joined the action and dug her lucky penny out of her purse. I think someone had a lucky stone. And I’m sure there were a couple other lucky things. Once all the bearers of good fortune had been unmasked, the handing around began. Everyone at the table wanted to rub every lucky trinket that was pulled out. The rabbit’s foot went to one player while the garlic was handed to another. The penny and rubber band and rock and whatever else there was eventually made it to everyone at the table. Once all the Caribbean bingo formalities had taken place and all the charms had been rubbed by everyone and once the guy in the front of the room began calling numbers, the chatter continued. There were a few ignored shooshes and a lot of laughing. At our particular table there was absolutely no winning. Maybe we missed a couple of numbers that were called our, or perhaps our cards just sucked. Either way, we had a lot of fun and won absolutely nothing.

Over the next few months we met the gang for bingo at the Marriott a half dozen times. New lucky charms continued to be introduced, but as far as I can recall, nobody ever won a single game of bingo at our table. But I’ve got to tell you, Caribbean bingo was a hell of a lot more fun than the NCO Club bingo. It kind of makes you think about priorities, doesn’t it.


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