Bonkers at Bingo

In addition to tuition for JC’s enrollment in private school, my husband and I are required to accumulate thirty “service points” per year.  The school offers many options for obtaining points, but the best “bang for your buck” points-wise, for working parents at least, is to work Bingo.

Yes, Bingo.

Bingo! There was even a dog named after it!

“We” (by that I mean, “I”) are on the “last Tuesday of the month” Bingo team.  Luckily, we have a “Bingo Buddy” (which sounds more fun than it is).  A “Bingo Buddy” is another family who alternates months with us.  So ultimately, I work Bingo every other last Tuesday of the month.  If I work six Bingos a year and bring a cake with me each time to sell at concession, I have my thirty points.

A little background.  I remember going to Bingo with my grandmother when I was a kid.  I remember cigarette smoke, and cranky crowds of old people, and the little, colored chips that the players used.  I remember someone sitting in the front of the room, pulling balls from a cage and calling numbers.

It’s not like that anymore.  Thankfully, there’s no smoking.  Bingo isn’t played on hard cards anymore; it’s played on paper sheets of cheesy quality.  Chips are a thing of the past.  Now, they use “daubers”– ink holders with sponge tips.  There is still a person who calls numbers, but now the balls pop up from a machine, and are placed into a contraption which magnifies the ball onto television screens located across the stage.  A giant, light up board stretches behind the caller, illuminating every number called.  It’s quite high tech for a game that consists of matching a letter and number on a ball to that same letter and number on your “card.”

Despite the advances in Bingo, one thing remains unchanged:  Senior Citizens.

They arrive an hour prior to playing time and fight for the handicapped parking spots.  When the doors open, they rush in (I use that term loosely) and get “their seat.”  They always sit in the same seats– apparently it’s good luck.  The first thing they do is set up their spot.  Good luck charms are placed around them like a border.  Trolls, pictures of grandkids, stuffed animals, noisemakers (more on that later), daubers.  Some players have a circular looking Bingo Bag that holds daubers of every color of the rainbow, like this:

Dauber Bag

They don bedazzled sweatshirts that shout messages about Bingo, being Grandparents, or both (“Grandma’s My Name, and Bingo’s My Game,” “I [heart] Bingo!”).  Here’s a fun example:

“Support Bingo Keep Grandpa Off the Streets”

Don’t get me wrong.  Many of these senior citizens are quite lovely.  There’s one little lady who must be closing in on a hundred years old who’s so sweet that I want to steal her and bring her home.  She has a voice like the movie stars of the 1940’s, sort of a throaty, yet melodic voice, and wears hats and scarves that she knit, no matter the season.

Then there’s the proud grandfather and fan of The Godfather, who wears this tee shirt:

“The Grandfather”

Cracks me up every time I see it (which is every time I see him in his usual seat).  Wonderful patrons tell you all (translate:  ALLLLLLLL) about their grandkids, and the War, and the Depression.  Some stories are interesting, and you can’t help but admire the Greatest Generation.  I’ve also had the privilege of discussing 50 Shades of Grey with a lady old enough to be my grandmother.  She revealed that she read half of the first book earlier that day while sitting on the beach.  The conversation got really interesting, really quickly.  Then, there are the super-nice, super-kids who bring their aging parents week after week to play Bingo.  It’s kind of sweet (don’t get any ideas, Mom and Dad!).

As you can imagine though, there’s another side to that coin.  Bingo attracts the Cranky Pants Seniors too (No offense Grandma Says . . . crankycaregiver!).  Man, are they grumpy!  They are too hot.  Too cold.  It’s too late.  Why do we start so early?  They can’t hear.  Why is it so loud?  I’m blocking their view.  Can I go away?  Wait, they need me.  Come back.

Though they are spending money to play Bingo, they argue about the prices of the snacks at the concession.  A whole dollar for a hot dog!  Is it made of gold?  Back in the old days hot dogs were cheaper.  How about a cup of ice instead?  I wanted decaf, not regular.  It is decaf.  No it’s not.  I know the difference.  Okay, sir.  That will be fifty cents.  FIFTY CENTS?

The most challenging Bingo nights are when “the Progressive” is “up.”  As Bingo workers, you can never quite be sure when this is going to happen.  I’ve been doing Bingo now for four years, and have yet to figure out how “the Progressive” works.  Something about an accumulating pot of money that you have to win within a certain number of balls being called.  Suffice it to say, when “the Progressive” is “up,” we get aggressive emails from our “MIC” (Master in Charge- a.k.a. “Bingo Dude”) starting in the early afternoon hours confirming we are going to show.  At my last Bingo, I witnessed a “Progressive” winner take home almost three thousand dollars!

When the pot is big and “the Progressive” is “up,” they come in droves, from miles away.  Unfortunately, the larger the crowd, the more restless the seniors.  The Amateurs do everything wrong and the Regulars get miffed.  Once some poor soul called “Bingo” and everyone crumbled up their cards, only to find that it “wasn’t a good bingo.”  Somehow the sweet old lady messed up with her daubbing.  We had to walk her to her car at the end of the night for fear of retaliation by the Regulars.  You never call a false bingo!

The most problematic task in working Bingo, however– worse than concession, worse than admission ticket sales, worse than calling the numbers, is selling Poppers.

At our fine establishment, “Poppers” refers to a packet of seventy-five little cards sold for one dollar each.    There is one card for each Bingo ball (ex. B-10, O-75, etc.).  After purchase, the Popper holder opens the card to reveal their number.  Once the Poppers are sold, the winning Popper number is called, and the matching ticket holder gets fifty bucks (Bingo gets the other $25).  The lure of the Popper is the odds of winning- one in seventy-five.  If there is one thing I know about Bingo-loving seniors? THEY LOVE POPPERS.

We “Experienced Bingo Workers” usually sucker some poor Kindergarten parent into selling the Poppers and sit back and watch the show.  The problem with the Poppers which causes strife and stress to the seller is that there are only seventy-five of them.  So you get your pile of Poppers spread into your giant plastic bowl and you step into the Bingo forum during the regularly-scheduled Bingo fun.  Suddenly you hear, “Poppers!”  “Hey Popper Lady!”  Some of them simply hold a dollar bill up in the air and wait for you.

Newbies run around the room, trying to accommodate all who call.  “Over here!”  “Poppers!”  Then one of the wealthier Bingo patrons decides to buy ten Poppers, and dries them up, and they haven’t made it past the first table!  The Cranky Pants People from the other side of the room yell obscenities and tell every worker within earshot that “the next set of Poppers better start on their side of the room.”

The first time I was duped into being the Popper Person as a Kindergarten parent I was panicked and apologetic and so frazzled that my money apron was short a few bucks (the Establishment took the hit).  The next couple of times I did it, with the confidence appropriate for a first and second grade Bingo parent, I shut my ears.  I took charge and weaved a pattern through the tables and didn’t stray.  I took some hits.  My favorite was when I was asked if I had a hearing problem.  “Hey Popper Lady.  Are you deaf?”  One patron accused me of flaring her arthritis since she had to hold up her dollar for so long.  I stayed strong, and powered through.

One of the most fascinating things at Bingo though are the different noises for different calls.  For example, B-8 elicits recordings of whistles.  Whistles reminiscent of construction workers admiring women pedestrians, if you can imagine.  I get that.  The figure eight and the B-8.  Ha.  I don’t understand why I-23 gets a bit of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York”.  Or why they start to yelp or toot horns at certain numbers.  It’s sort of like Bizzaro Bingo World.

Listen, Blogtropolis.  I love seniors as much as the next person.  Heck, God-willing I am going to be one in the not-so-far future.  But something about the combination of age and the wonderful game of Bingo bring out the worst in some (yes, some) of our most cherished seniors.   Why is that?  Is “Bingo” a whole secret culture for the over-sixty crowd?  Some initiation into the world of the elderly?

All I know is that despite the Regulars and their “seats,” Bingo nights are unpredictable.  I have to admit that it’s nice to see people win money.  My favorite job at Bingo is to hand out the winnings (they love me then!).

Thanks for reading, and have a nice night.

[Sources:  Bingo pic:  http://fortjacksonmwr.com/bingo/images/bingoBallsAndCards.gif; Dauber bag: http://www.freebingobag.com/complete%20with%20daubers.jpg;  Grandpa Streets T-shirt: http://rlv.zcache.com/support_bingo_grandpa_tshirt-p235363155944392320qrf1_425.jpg; The Grandfather T-shirt:  http://skreened.com/render-product/u/k/w/ukwesoienadykplsivtl/the-grandfather-t-shirt.american-apparel-unisex-fitted-tee.black.w760h760.jpg]

17 Comments

  1. I went to a bingo night with some friends from work in Indiana. It was my first and last time, but i remember I was amazed at how quickly the expert players could use their dauber to mark multiple bingo sheets in one easy sweeping motion that looked machine-like. I, a rookie player, struggled to keep up with two sheets. Yep, the elderly were leaving me in the dust.

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  2. Very fascinating indeed!

    I plan to be like my departed uncle. Who knows how old that guy was. But in his mind; I think he believed he was still in his 40’s. My fondest memories are of him with his pony tail complaining how the elderly of St. Petersburg drove like they were on their way to being permanently placed in a nursing facility. So Bingo and the AARP will probably a no-go for me.

    They should probably do a mockumentary on the Bingo scene. I bet it would be a riot!

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  3. Hey, Jess! I am doing some photography down here in southwest Florida and as most people in the US know, Florida is the seasonal home to several hundred thousand snow birds (retirees.) Anyway, as I was walking around taking pictures of the folks playing Bingo (it’s not a very warm welcome all the time, I must mess with their mojo) I stumbled across this little gem and instantly thought of you and this post. Here it is: http://wp.me/a2Z1Gn-c2

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  4. Pingback: The Weekend Getaway | Waiting on a Word

  5. Pingback: I Wasn’t Kidding About Bingo! | Waiting on a Word

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