by Jason Love
November 01, 2004
It had never dawned on me that young people could play bingo. I thought there was an age minimum, a picture of my grandma reading, "You must be this old to enter the building."
I let my wife Yahaira drive since it was her idea. As we pulled into the church parking lot, I wondered how gambling fit into the Scriptures. And I wondered what bingo had to do with a farmer's dog. And I wondered where all these people came from. The place was packed.
We snaked a path to the counter where game cards were sold.
"Is this your first time?" said the cashier.
It must have been the way I stood there with my mouth open. I couldn't believe the flood of money. Beyond the standard games, you could buy bonus rounds, raffle tickets, lottery scratchers, you name it. They had everything but directions to Gamblers Anonymous (betcha I get there before you do).
I handed over my week's pay, intrigued by the gaming laws of California. Bingo is okay, but blackjack is not; betting horses is legal, but betting football is not. I can gamble on the border so long as half of my body is in Nevada...
"Yes, this is our first time," I said. "How much are jackpots?"
"Two hundred and fifty dollars," said the cashier.
"Nope. Do you have a dabber?"
She pointed to the dabber stand beside the café. Yes, they even had a café where you could purchase any number of foods that aren't useful to your body. I bought a pink dabber for Yahaira. Later, after our dabber war, I was covered in it. So it goes.
We sat in The Annex, a second room for the too many of us. I looked around with my dopey grin, but no one made eye contact. Across the way sat a sphere-shaped woman playing 16 cards. She was double-fisted, a dabber in each hand.
To her right was a frazzled woman who appeared to be playing for crack money. She took shots of coffee without losing sight of the bingo board. She was all business. I was afraid that if she didn't hit a bingo soon, she'd jump onto the table and hold us at gunpoint.
Reviewing the program, I noticed that we were not playing the bingo I learned as a kid. Five in a row didn't mean diddly here; these people were into designs. The first was "Winnemucca" on the brown four-on. You need a hardway bingo on three out of the four cards on the brown sheet.
The bingomaster assumed the position and began calling numbers as fast as he could (the natives grow restless when he dawdles). The round woman sounded like a typewriter dabbing all her numbers. I was still searching for a number they called 10 minutes prior when a lady screamed "BINGO!"
Scared the dickens out of me.
Everyone groaned and cursed the woman under their breath. The bingomaster verified the win and displayed the crying ball for players who were one away. They cursed the woman anew.
A man passed by selling scratchers to fill the time between games. They call him a "seller," but "pusher" seemed more fitting.
Next was a game of "Crazy Kite" on the yellow six-on. I tried to keep up, but alas, people were screaming BINGO before Yahaira could explain what a crazy kite looked like.
It was time to change our strategy. Yahaira placed spells on our sheets, willing us a victory. She was in over her neurotic head: the regulars sacrificed livestock on their way over.
In time, I recognized the bingo reality that every game ends just as you're about to win. Each time my Winnemucca began to take shape, someone screamed BINGO! It was genuinely stressful. My gut knotted up, I was squeezing the juice out of my dabber... With every number, I grew more convinced of the end.
"Someone's gonna win right here, I just know it."
"Stop that," said Yahaira. "You're disturbing the energy."
Ten near-bingos later, I decided to give up before I got an ulcer. Looking around, I realized why we weren't winning: we were competing with 5 gazillion people. What were the odds for the player? Well, Jason, one in 5 gazillion.
Bingo wasn't anything like I had imagined. We had lost our money to a game totally devoid of skill. It was a scam, I tell you, an exploitation of our need to --
"BINGO!" yelled Yahaira.
"Who? You?! You're kidding."
Nope. She had just completed a "Postage Stamp Collection." Two hundred and fifty bucks! I knew we could do it! Great idea, honey! Bingo rules!
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