The volume and the anger obvious in the womanâ€™s voice caused me to pick her out from the sea of several hundred Bingo players who filled the huge room. When she saw that she had gotten my attention, she shouted again, â€œSHAKE â€˜EM UP, DAMMIT!! Only now she was pumping her fist as she shouted.
I smiled and shrugged my shoulders as I pointed down to the clear plastic box in which the fan-driven ping-pong type bingo balls were constantly whirling about, slamming into one another much like the depictions of atomic particles in a nuclear reactor.
She glared at me and hollered again, even louder than before, â€œSHAKE â€˜EM UP FER CHRISSAKE. WHAT THE HELLâ€™S THE MATTER WITH YOU?â€ Obviously this endearing woman was not convinced that the violent and obviously random movement of the ping-pong balls, much like popcorn in a corn popper, was not adequately mixing them up. She was obviously losing and had satisfied herself that I was just another evil Bingo Caller.
I found myself in the position of being the object of this womanâ€™s anger by virtue of having volunteered to help at the semi-annual Bingo game that our American Legion Post hosts. We are one of the civic organizations that is given the opportunity to â€œrunâ€ one or two Bingo games per year at the local Boyâ€™s club, which the only organization in town with a hall large enough to accommodate several hundred players. There are approximately 16 Bingo games per week at the Boy’s Club, and I have been told that many people play several times per week, sometimes even twice per day.
The vast majority of people who attend these games are women, although there is a fair sprinkling of men, most of whom appear to be accompanying their spouses. In addition (again with a notable number of exceptions), the women who frequent the games tend to be older (i.e. 55 and up).
I remember the first time I volunteered. Before the games began, I remarked that the evening would be interesting â€“ maybe even fun, because, after all, who doesnâ€™t like ladies, most of whom could be your aunt or grandma, depending on your age. One of the guys who had good deal of prior Bingo experience with another organization, heard my remark and said, â€œDo not, for one second, think that these people are nice, little old ladies. They are hardcore gamblers, and sometimes they are not very nice. I remember dismissing his remark, chalking it up to cynicism.
Well, the â€œShake â€˜Emâ€™Upâ€ Lady was a great example of what he was talking about. She was just one of the 90% of the players who would sit there for four hours and never win anything, and then blame their lack of success on the poor slob who calls the numbers.
However, not all of them are rotten. Some are just weird. One lady (I swear this is true) used to sit directly in front of me with twelve double cards lined up in two rows in front of her. That means that she was playing 24 bingo games at once. That, in itself, is not terribly unusual. What set this woman apart was that she never used a single Bingo marker. She would just sit back, cross her arms and stare at her cards as I called number after number. Think about that for a minute. Pretty amazing.
One night I could not resist, and I asked her how she could keep track of which numbers had been called on each of 24 separate cards. She told me that it was â€œeasy,â€ but she conceded that she could only â€œdo it on the easy gamesâ€ (e.g. one row, horizontal, vertical or a diagonal wins, or four corners wins). She said, â€œI canâ€™t do with the â€˜butterfly, top hat or the starâ€™.â€ I figure that she was some kind of Bingo savant.
Then there are the superstitions.
I would guess that about half of the people come equipped with their good luck charms. Rabbitâ€™s feet and stuffed animals are popular, as is the practice of lining up pictures of all umpteen of one’s grandchildren. My favorite was the lady who lined up rubber dolls that represented all of the â€œCalifornia Raisins.â€
Another oddity is the curious practice of someone ringing a bell or tooting a horn each time the number 66 is called. I think that it is some kind of anti-Satanic thing, but I am not sure.
The players can also be downright mean. The local ordinance requires that there be a police officer present at each Bingo game. Back when I still believed that the players were all nice little old ladies, I thought that the requirement for an on-site police officer was a bit much. However, on more than one occasion, we had to call upon the police officer to separate two potential combatants.
Thereâ€™s something quite unsettling about seeing two overweight 60+ year old ladies screaming at each other on the verge of going to Knuckle City. One night the cop had to physically get between the two grandmas and threaten to throw them both out of the hall. Even after these Poli-Gripped potential pugilists were persuaded to sit down, one of them continued to loudly refer to the other as a â€œBitch,â€ which begat another visit from the man in blue, at which time, he told that that if she didnâ€™t â€œcut the shit,” she would be arrested. Charming, no?
Finally, these Bingo Badasses are overwhelmingly a humorless bunch. I had originally thought that Bingo players came out on Saturday night for some fun. So, my first time out as a caller, I would occasionally (and I mean very occasionally) make a cutesy remark after reading the number on the ball. It went something like, â€œI â€“ 33. Hmmmâ€¦.thatâ€™s my age” (I am clearly older than 33). After maybe two or three such remarks over the course of about an hour, one of our guys working the floor walked up to me with a big smile on his face, gesturing that he had to speak with me. So, between the balls, I got up from the Bingo machine and walked to the front of the stage to speak with him.
â€œWhatâ€™s up?â€ I asked.
He said, â€œA couple ladies complained.â€
“Complained about what?” I asked.
He responded, â€œLet me tell you exactly what one of them said. She said, â€˜tell your friend to cut the f***ing comedy and just call the f***ing numbersâ€™.â€
I no longer volunteer to work at bingo games, having decided that being a volunteer Bingo Caller is only slightly more rewarding than, say, shoveling shit at the zoo.
Hey lady, I got your Bingo RIGHT HERE!!!