Bingo!

I’ve lived a lot of years, in fact, more than a few decades, but there are still a few things I have not experienced. As of Tuesday night, I can cross one more of those off that list—my first visit to a bingo hall. I even managed to come out money ahead.

I didn’t attend Tuesday’s games for pleasure though, I was there to support my daughter’s latest endeavor. She tried out and was selected for color-guard with the high school band for her upcoming freshman year. Even as we celebrated her victory, I wondered if she realized just how much work this ‘honor’ would involve.

Turns out, I should have had misgivings about the contributions we, her parents, were responsible for. The $900 price tag per student for the year covered everything but special underwear, shoes, and gloves, bag, and flag rental, but every band parent was also expected to help with fundraising, practices, fundraising, camps, fundraising, trips, and more fundraising.

Always the responsible parent, a former Girl Scout leader, I signed up to do my part after a bit of begging from the mother of a former scout. At a financially unstable place in her life, she needed to work off a portion of the large tab and wanted company while she did so.

“Sign up with me to work bingo at the Clays Mill center,” Misty urged at the first band parent’s meeting. “We only have to do it one Tuesday a month.”

How hard could working bingo be? I stupidly agreed and supplied my name and phone number.

I could not have been less prepared when I arrived to report for duty at 5:45. Misty was already there, receiving instructions from Daryl, the ‘Third Tuesday Coordinator.’ As newbies, we were to walk around the hall selling pull-tabs.

Three very large boxes of the cards were already open. My eyes widened. “Are we going to sell that many?” I asked, surveying the thousands of cards.

The veterans in the small room laughed. “This is just to start with. We do at least seven games a night.”

Misty’s assigned game was ‘Bananas.’ Diane, a more seasoned volunteer, was already heading out to the floor with her ‘Kings’ game. Daryl decided that I should market the ‘Princess’ cards. This suited me fine as I have been called worse in my time than princess, and the other open option was the ‘Quickie’ game.

After counting out our $30 in starting money, Daryl ushered us out the door, into the lion’s den.

“What do I do?” I asked Misty.

“Just walk around yelling PRINCESS,” she said.

Yelling?? Nobody had mentioned that detail. My fear of public speaking shot straight into my gut.

“This is fun!” Misty is a high school Spanish teacher, I guess it was fun for her just being out among adults for a change. She set off down the middle aisle, yelling, “Bananas! Get your Grand Bananas,” as if it were the most normal thing in the world to be doing.

I started off down the left aisle but a woman waylaid me before I took ten steps.

“What are you selling?” she asked.

“Princess.”

“Give me sixty,” she said, pulling three twenties out of her wallet. I started to pull out a section of the cards.

“NO!” the lady said. “Give me twenty from here, twenty from here, and the other twenty from here.” She pointed to each section of the box as she spoke. I dutifully did as she asked and carefully counted out the sixty cards, twice.

The first hour went quickly, and I gave up double checking my count after the third sale. In addition to selling the cards, I was expected to cash in winning pull-tabs and tear them to indicate they had been paid. By this time, Frank, who I knew from an adult-child bowling league the previous summer, had joined us, hawking the ‘Quickie’ game, and another newbie, Jill, was selling ‘King of the Mountain.’

Misty was still enthused, as I heard her call out “Grand Bananas” across the hall, but my energy level had started to wan.

“Please mark all numbers ending in nine for this game,” the caller said. I watched the players use certain colored markers for each game. Most brought their own pocketed marker bags. These people were professionals.

“Princess?” someone called. I walked up to the table to see how many they wanted.

“Give me twenty,” said a nice lady I had sold to before. As I counted them out, she leaned towards me and whispered. “You sold my friend the Princess card!” she said, pointing to her companion.

This I did not need to know. I still had over five hundred cards to sell for the game, and now, how was I supposed to do this knowing the winning card was already sold? It seemed like gouging on top of gouging.

I dutifully walked the three aisles over and over, peddling my wares, watching the players and the other band parent volunteers. On my fiftieth trip around the right-hand aisle, I glanced at the two men sitting on the side of the stage by the caller, who had not moved from their cozy seats since the games started. They weren’t playing so I assumed they must be fellow volunteers. I wondered how they got such easy jobs, when my feet were beginning to swell to unheard of proportions.

Being called ‘Princess’ lost all appeal by the end of the second hour. My feet hurt and I no longer felt the part. I wanted the ‘Kings’ game, which seemed an easy sell. Diane had sold hers out thirty minutes before and I still had quite a few pretty, blue Princesses left in my box.

“Quickies, get your Quickies,” Frank said. He turned to me after counting out some change. “You can sit down for a minute or two if you need to.” My discomfort must have become apparent. Five minutes off my feet did the trick; I was ready for more.

“PRINcess cards, anyone need PRINcess cards?”

“B33,” said the caller.

“BINGO!!” yelled a man at the table next to me. A communal groan arose from everyone else.

Misty and I had been told one of our duties was to verify winning cards with the caller if we were in the vicinity. I looked at the sheet of cards on the table in front of the winner and suddenly went brain dead.

“This number,” the man said, pointing to the serial number in the middle of one of the cards. “Tell her this number.”

“21649,” I said.

“21649 is a verified winning card of the postage stamp game,” announced the caller. I didn’t even care how she knew this. The big mystery of bingo for me by this time was why anyone would come here week after week, laying down loads of money in the hopes of recouping their losses. It seemed sad.

The loud sound of wadding paper filled the room; time to get back to work. “PrinCESS cards! Anyone need PRINcess cards?”

“Princess, over here.” I sold, and sold, and sold some more, in between I walked, shuffling ever slower as the night wore on. Finally, I finished selling my game, and Daryl showed me how to get it paid out. The caller asked who had the Princess card, then asked the holder to pick a number between one and eight. She chose number four.

“You win $300,” the caller said, after lifting the main card flap. “Who has Princess card 813?” It seems that the other possible winning cards all end in the number thirteen. What kind of reverse superstition was this?

A lady across the room from the stage stood up, waving her arms. “You win $500!” the caller announced.

Misty whispered in my ear. “I have cigarettes out in the car, let’s go smoke one. Surely they won’t miss us for ten minutes.”

I was ready, but someone next to me bingoed before I could make my escape and I had to verify another winner.

The ten minutes in the parking lot was the fastest of my life. When we walked back into the bingo hall, the invisible cloud of marker fumes was overwhelming. I guess we had become accustomed to it gradually before. I wondered that we weren’t high. If we were, it was bad stuff, as I wasn’t feeling no pain.

Daryl was ready for us, with a brand new game box opened. “The Big Cheese,” I read, sadly.

“Who wants to be the Big Cheese?” Misty was far more creative than I with her sales approach, and still in a cheerful mood.

I passed the two lazy men sitting by the stage for possibly the hundredth time, and I hoped they didn’t notice the envy /anger /exhaustion on my face. Mentally, I kept repeating to myself, I love my daughter, she is worth this, wondering if I really meant it.

“The BIG Cheese!” I said, no longer caring if anyone bought any.

“The Big CHEESE!” I said, just wanting to be home in bed.

“Get your Big Cheese cards here!” I said, with just a tinge of anger in my voice.

My feet barely moved that last hour. Players had junk food strewn around on their tables that smelled intoxicating when mixed with the heady marker fumes: popcorn, nachos, pretzels, and someone even had a bag of Butterfinger bars. I was prepared to steal one if given the opportunity.

I was hungry, I was tired, and I was mean.

“How come some parents get to work the easy jobs?” Misty asked. So, she had noticed too. “You think we have to work our way up to a desk job?” I figured we did.

“You think those two guys sitting by the stage are the cops?” Misty asked.

Cops?? In my naivety, I hadn’t even thought about the safety of working in a place taking in so much money. I felt slightly ashamed for thinking the police were just slacking band parents.

“Yes,” Daryl said. “They accompany whoever takes the deposit to the bank too.”

We counted out groups of ten cards for the remainder of the unsold Big Cheese game and sold bingo sheets for the final game. I watched the clock hands continue to move after the 10:00 closing time, and the stragglers standing across from the bar studying the ten-stacks of cards, trying to decide which one to purchase before calling it a night.

Geesh, didn’t these people ever lose enough money?? It was past my bedtime. I had to leave for another day of real work in six hours.

Misty didn’t tell me how much we earned for the night towards our daughters’ accounts until we were dragging our beyond-weary bodies into our side-by-side Mitsubishis at almost 10:30.

$4 an hour.

Gee.

Only $884 to go.


Author’s Note: These were my impressions after my first stint on the floor. A year into it now, I spend a great deal of time while selling pull tabs pondering the bingo psyche.
For two weeks before the third Tuesday of each month, I dread what is coming. The night I work usually goes fairly quickly, but it takes me the next two days to recover. I spend the next two weeks euphoric that it is over before the cycle begins anew.

Bingo!

linda lowry

Lexington, United States

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The trials and tribulations of a band parent

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bingo humor

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