“BINGO!,” she wheezed.
May 1, 2010
Last night I had the time of my life at the old folks home. This is kind of ironic, I guess, because most people who nest inside senior centers are well beyond having the times of their life. So what would provoke a 22-year-old guy to do such a thing? Well, believe it or not, the game of Bingo is a seductive bitch. My buddy Shane S. told me about an open bingo night, and talked me into going. Admittedly I was skeptical. I don’t really place Bingo in the Top 5 games to be played on a table top. That list is:
- Clue (dibs on Ms. Scarlett)
- The game of Life (sort of the opposite of Bingo….)
- Chess (white begins, black wins)
- Jenga (repeat this word like you’re scared of it)
- Cranium (gnilleps is like the hardest thing ever)
I figured Bingo would be about half as exciting as any of these. Even Chess. Boy was I wrong. Shane and I pulled up to the senior center, passing large signs that advertised BINGO! like it was on sale. We each paid seven dollars ($6 for 24 bingo cards; $1 for a Bingo Dabber [see figure 1.1]) and took our seats at a table by two of Shane’s friends. Across from Shane sat an elderly woman we later learned was Lois. Next to her, a woman named Elsie, and further down, Claire.
As suspected, the caller would yell out balls–“B6…B6”–twice. Always twice. Elsie, never fail, would say, “Whaaa?” after the first call-out, and then would nod knowingly once she heard the repeat. I couldn’t believe how many different versions of Bingo there were. Games like Telephone Pole, Seven, Large Frame, Small Frame, T, Postage Stamp were all new to me. I easily figured out what Blackout meant, but I had no idea about the others.
As I kept losing and losing, my frustration built. People were winning all around me but Lois and I would exchange glances that seemed to say, “Those kids…sheesh”. Lois was like “Daria” for the older generation. She would have something to say about everyone, always with a good chunk of dry humor as supplement. She would complain about Elsie (“What a bummer. She can’t even talk anymore. She tries though. Drives ya nuts, but what can ya do…”) and say how most of the people in “the place” have lost their minds. Lois was exactly the kind of person I want to be when I get older. Sure she never wins at Bingo, but hey, “it’s not like there’s anything else to do.”
Though I never got the chance to yell “Bingo” at my first Bingo event, I still had a blast. There was something very zen about dabbing numbers on your card and hoping they’ll line up. It certainly won’t be my last visit, that’s for sure. It does put into perspective what it will be like to be old, though. I can only imagine being a resident at a senior center, watching new arrivals come in and knowing that the ones who left didn’t just go on vacation. Mortality kind of hangs over your head when you walk through those doors, whether or not you’re days away from your last. It’s clear that what these folks need is a little happiness, even for just a few hours. And being able to shake Lois’s hand and give her my extra Bingo cards made me happier than I’ve been in a long time.
So, if you’re interested in joining me for the next Bingo tournament at the River Rock Lodge then let me know. I promise you’ll have a blast. Even if it isn’t as exciting as Jenga…