As a part of our commitment to sending Ian to Our Lady of Good Counsel school, we have to work bingo once a semester. Bingo is every Tuesday, except during Easter or Christmas. It is a great moneymaker for the school, and all of the proceeds from bingo go directly to the school. Without bingo, I don't think many of us could afford to send our kids to a Catholic school.
Bingo brings in an interesting type of person. Many are old, with gray or white hair. The group is predominately female, although you will see a few men here and there. Many are superstitious, at least when it comes to playing bingo.
Tonight I worked bingo with my friend Elizabeth, another mom from school. We try and sign up together to make the night more entertaining. This is our third time working together, and we have a lot of fun. We are constantly amazed at the rituals or good luck charms that many of the players do or have. When you play bingo at our school, you buy a sheet of bingo cards for a certain price. There are 21 games played in all, but you get enough cards for 18 of those games. For the other three games, a mid-bird or "middie" card must be purchased for 50 cents a card. Elizabeth and my first job was to sell the middies before bingo started. (They are called middies because they are played in the middle, after the tenth game and intermission.) Our job was to put the cards into pre-established packs that many people buy. For example, $2 packs of four cards, $3 packs of six cards, $4.50 packs of nine cards, etc. If people wanted a different number, we made that, too, but mainly people pulled from our pre-made stacks. One woman had to have the same color cards (some stacks had orange, some green, some blue) One man wanted 24, all in order from the same stack. Another woman wanted one card, with a certain number in the top right corner, and another certain number in the bottom right corner. She said if she couldn't find it, she'd buy two cards. Elizabeth came through for her and she went away happy with her one card with the right two numbers on it. It was this way most of the night. Weird little rituals and odd utterances.
When the bingo calling actually began, our job changed to floor workers. This entails picking up the used bingo sheets, calling out the bingos to the caller to ensure that they are good bingos, and paying out the money to the bingo winner. It's actually kind of fun, but the players take some getting used to. First, I was asked to go buy a drink for one an get a straw for another. Then, when I was picking up old bingo cards, I almost threw away somebody's middie sheets (they are usually folded over like used cards are). I caught some flack for that. During the game, certain numbers draw sounds from the crowd. Whenever one number was called, two ladies rang a bell. Whenever 74 was called, one woman near the front always shouted out "Big Mama" and if 75 was called, the same woman hollered out "Big Daddy." The regulars were used to it, but a few of the newer players were making comments by the end. When the bingo caller called the numbers too fast, there was a quell of grumbling from the floor. Every third game or so is a special game, often the caller's choice. It was obvious from the first three he called, these were not played often. A lot of questions, a few complaints, and a good amount of grumbling usually ensued after the announcement of one of these special games. I swear the caller called them just to rile the crowd up. He seemed to enjoy it.
By the end of the night, I no longer jumped when the lady called her "Big mamas" or "Big daddys", thinking they were bingos like I did several times early in the night. I was reading the cards like a pro, always going down vertically, starting with the B row and moving to the right (unlike one time when I read the numbers across, causing another player to shout the numbers out for me). I knew that a regular bingo includes a small box (the four spaces diagonally in from the four corners and the free space), and that the telephone pole game can also be called a double T. I enjoyed seeing the different good luck charms like the trolls, lucky daubers, and family photos.
Now Elizabeth and I have plans. We no longer want to just work bingo. We want to come and play bingo and be a part of the joy that is bingo Tuesday. We will bring good luck charms, choose mid-birds in some picky fashion (I want one of every color available), and maybe come up with our own phrase to yell out when B 12 is called. It will be a good time for sure.