Monday, 3 October 2011

Dirty Night Out

We have 4 kids, all of whom play soccer (well, not Eva yet, but there's only 18 more months to go, and we have already been teaching her to kick a ball). We have attended 13 years of soccer games and watched our children chase butterflies and pick flowers in goal rather than stop the opposing team (most of whom were laying down on the field or squirting juice boxes at each other) from scoring. Thirteen years of 1/2-hour long arguments preceding every morning practice or skills session, and thirteen immeasurably pleasurable years of soccer bingos. (Please note sarcasm.)

Luckily, because of our status as 'lifers', Jason and I have moved up the ladder enough where we can pretty much pick and choose what positions we would prefer to work at a bingo. We hate selling tickets. It's boring, and you have to handle money, which is covered in germs spread by icky people who don't wash their hands after using the facilities. Most of the people you have to sell tickets to are highly superstitious, and want their tickets from the middle of the stack, 3 tickets from the right, and want their change in low denomination coins forged in years ending in the digit '7' (this last bit is a lie, but you get the picture).

The only thing that makes working a bingo fun is the people watching. There are some seriously weird specimens at these events. Jason and I do all our volunteering at an Indian Casino which still permits smoking in the building. There is nothing funnier than watching Grandma wheel in her 32 gallon oxygen tank, bedecked with a customized dauber (dabber?) caddy, and plop herself down in a 'Non-Smoking' seat. Since the 'Non-Smoking' tables are identifiable only by their gold decals, emblazoned with a black cigarette with a red line slashed through it; and not because they are located in a hermetically sealed, glass-walled enclosure, it's debatable whether any of these tables are really 'Non-Smoking'. Perhaps they should re-designate the areas 'Smoking' and 'Less-Smoking'. The world needs more honesty.

Jason and I recently worked as verifiers at a bingo (for the less informed, these are the people who run over when someone yells 'BINGO!!!' and makes sure they have the correct card for the correct game, and haven't marked off I22 instead of O74). Halfway through the evening, at the intermission between the early and late night games, the year 1985 (in the guise of four twenty-somethings) walked through the door. I kid you not. One of the guys had on giant gold chains, one of which had a clock dangling from it (Really? You can still get those?), and huge white plastic sunglasses. His date was wearing tight acid washed jeans, an artfully ripped t-shirt with a wide elastic belt, and had her bangs teased sky-high. The couple they were with were equally adorable, him in dock shoes, short denim cutoffs, and a silk Spiderman dress shirt, and her in white jeans, Keds (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), and a lime green striped sweater. It was like the Breakfast Club had gotten lost and needed somewhere safe to wait for Marty and Doc Brown to arrive in the DeLorean so they could go home. I wanted to take a picture, but Jason wouldn't let me.

At the first bingo we ever volunteered at, I once accidentally (and trust me- you only EVER do it once) wished a player good luck. Apparently this is like the Bingo version of the kiss of death, and people get really angry about it. I can understand them reacting violently to my saying something like "Hey- congrats! How much money did you have to spend to win that $17? Did you have to mortgage your tooth???", but all I said was "Good luck." And I meant it- I honestly (in my naivete), wanted the lady to win. And I was rewarded for my kindness by having the ticket thrown in my face. For the rest of the night she glared daggers in my direction and refused to buy any of my Bonanza tickets. I never made that mistake again. Some of these people are seriously disturbed.

The only problem Jason and I ever really have is that since we don't ever PLAY bingo, anytime anyone asks us a question about how the game works, we stare at them with a blank look on our faces, and have to go get a grownup. The game is COMPLICATED. It's not like when you were in kindergarten and were given one card and a handful of tiddlywinks and the teacher called out the numbers slowly so that no one missed anything. This bingo involves 31 different kinds of cards, digital machines, special games, satellite games, and troll dolls. Each game involves different patterns, and the type of card you buy dictates how much you can win on each game. Holy crap. It's impossible.

Jason and I have joked for years that one day, we will go play a game of bingo, just so that we know what's going on, but we were never really serious about it. I've seen some of these people. I don't want to end up that way.

The other night, we went out for his birthday. We had planned to have dinner and go see the movie 'Straw Dogs' (a thriller, of course), but about halfway through dinner he looked up and remarked that we never get time alone together. To guarantee that I would make the 'Awwwwwwww!' sound, he followed up by telling me he missed me and would rather spend the evening talking to me than staring at a screen. (At this point, he could have suggested naked bowling and I'd have been in.) We wracked our brains trying to figure out what you could do in Calgary that a) didn't take us far from home (we try not to suck up our time alone together with travel time), b) didn't cost an arm and a leg (error #1A), and c) didn't happen in a dark room which required silence, which would therefore make us fall asleep. Jason jokingly mentioned how we always say we're going to play bingo some night, and as we talked about it, the idea took on bigger and bigger appeal until we finally downed our drinks, paid the tab, and practically sprinted out the door. This was an awesome idea! It was something we would never normally do- like buying a lap dance, or checking into a shady motel for an hour. This was NASTY! We would be slumming, experiencing life on the trashy side. This would be WICKED! (As long as we didn't see anyone who recognized us.)  As we got into the van, we made a solemn promise to each other that we would never reveal our dirty little secret to anyone. (Said solemn promise lasting until approximately 1:15 this afternoon, when Jason blabbed to our best friends during brunch....)

We stopped at the ATM on the way in (by the way- the ATM in Grey Eagle Casino charges $2.95 per transaction- is that NORMAL???), and encountered our first obstacle- how much did bingo cost? Did they not talk about nickle cards or something? Did I need $20 or $1000? We settled on $200, not because we thought we would actually NEED it, but because we didn't want to have $40 and have to come back for more and pay another $2.95. (That was error #1B.)

We walked into the hall, and up to the cashier. Having arrived there at 6:30, and being completely unaware of when bingo started, weren't even sure they wouldn't let us play (Note to self: As long as you're willing to pay them, they will let you play anything. It's a casino, dumbass.) We looked at the cashier and realized that we really, actually, did not know the first thing about what we needed. It was like a first time drug user jumping into the deep end feet first- they know the desired result, but do not have the language skills to communicate it. ("I'd like a bucket of your finest happy dust, please, sir!"). I finally decided on complete honesty. I looked her in the eyes and (read carefully here, so you don't miss error #2) told her we had no idea what we were doing and wanted to learn how to play.


"Well, do you want to play digi or paper?" she asked. This at least was a question we could answer- there are paper bingo tickets or you can play all your tickets on a digital machine which finds the number that has just been called and marks it for you, in order to prevent screw ups. This was easy. We were almost guaranteed to screw up. Plus we don't own a dauber (dabber?). Digital, please.

"Combo 1, 2, or 3?" she asked, "Tonight's all you can play night."


"No. Really." I said, "We don't understand you."

She looked at us like we were an entirely new species. "You volunteer here? And you've NEVER learned how to play?????"

It was embarrassing. I even recognized the lady. I had sat next to her in the prize cage for years. I was desperately hoping that they had so many volunteers that she didn't recognize me. She will now. We were that stupid.

She proceeded to explain that the combo you chose (as well as the color of the cards you won on) dictated how much you would get paid if you got a bingo. I stared at her in desperation. This was becoming too difficult. Jason saw my panic and, in typical male fashion, made the most expensive choice.

"Did you want to play special games?" she asked, "You can either put the tickets on your digi now or buy them separately later. Digi is easier."

Done. I was incapable of doing anything harder than what I was currently doing. If it got worse than the pain of ordering the tickets, I was going to fall apart.

"Pots?" she asked.

What??? I was back to the drug dealer analogy again. What was she talking about??? Finally seeing that I had had enough, Jason told her just to put 2 of each special game and the 'pots' (we actually still don't understand what those are) on the machines. He also decided against the Satellite bingo because, somehow, playing bingo against the rest of the province when we weren't even sure how to turn on the machines seemed like more than we could cope with.

The woman (who had now been occupied with us for the last 15 minutes) explained how to use the digital machines. Every time the caller calls a number, you hit the 'Quick Dab' button and if you get a bingo, the machine flashes with multicolored lights and the dab button changes to the word 'Bingo'. Then you grab your orange bingo card, wave it in the air, and yell "Bingo!" Ok- I had seen THAT part at least- I could do that last bit. She handed us a pamphlet explaining how to use the digital machines, should we forget any of her instructions, and gave us the total.

Seventy-eight dollars.

Know how much dinner cost??? About seventy-eight dollars. So now the required bingo enjoyment factor had escalated to 'needs to approximate the enjoyment experienced while drinking Rickard's Red, vodka and cranberry juice, and consuming fajitas, fish and chips, and some SERIOUSLY kickass calamari'. I braced myself for disappointment.

We sat down and started playing with the digis. You could customize the color of your digital dauber (dabber?), and the shape that it made when it marked the card, but we weren't ready for that yet. We got the machines unlocked and ready to play, and Jason got up to go the washroom and get us a pop.

At that moment, to my horror, the bingo caller started speaking. Turns out bingo starts at 7 p.m. Sharp. They're not screwing around. These people are serious, and expect their bingo halls to run with all the precision of a Swiss watch. The caller called the first number, and I pressed the 'Quick Dab' button on Jason's machine, which immediately dabbed the required number, and faded to black, waiting for the caller's next move. That was easy! I turned to my machine, and hit the same button. Nothing happened. I hit it again, and again, nothing, The caller called the next number, and I hit the button on Jason's machine, again producing the expected result. I turned to mine, hit the button a few more times, and was met with more failure. There was no blinking, no fade-to-black, no response at all. Jason came back in time to hit the button on his machine for himself when the caller called the next number. I, in my panic, couldn't communicate my distress to him, and was thusly left to my own devices.

Another number was called, and another one, and I knew. I knew that this would be a $9,384,737 prize, and although I WOULD have won, I was too stupid to use the machine. My kids could have spent lifetimes switching majors in university, all expenses paid, but their mother couldn't use a touch screen. I was single-handedly guaranteeing their McCareers, and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it. (I tend to over-dramatize....)

The damn machine finally warmed up, or connected to the network, or whatever it needed to do in order to work, and to my INTENSE relief, not only dabbed (daubed?) the last number called, but the previous four as well. Crisis averted.

After a while, we settled into a routine. Sip the drink, hit the quick-dab button after the number was called, check for flashing lights, and there was enough time for a conversation to be carried on in spurts in between numbers (garnering more than a few nasty looks from other players until we realized they didn't consider this a social occasion and started whispering to each other).

And then it happened. I glanced down at my machine and realized I was one, yes, ONE number away from a bingo. On a GOLD card!!! (My reasoning here was that gold is a precious metal, and therefore worth more than the 'ruby' or 'royal' cards.) My excitement was still building when the caller called the next number and my machine lit up like late night on the Vegas strip. I had a bingo! I had a bingo! I had a--- I snatched up the orange card, waving it in the air like a banner, and screeched-


(Excitement had stolen the oxygen from my lungs, making me capable of producing only the smallest scream.)

Luckily, the caller saw my frantically waving arm, and stopped the game. Two other players had bingo'ed with me, but I had a GOLD CARD! I was obviously going to take the lion's share of the pot. Maybe I would win back the money we had spent on dinner and the bingo cards! The verifier came over, checked that it was a real bingo (and yes, it was, thanks to these miraculous, foolproof machines), and I anxiously awaited my prize receipt, to be cashed out at the end of the evening.

Ten bucks.

What the hell???? it was obviously some sort of measly pot, designed to lure the gullible (not us!) into spending more money on the more costly cards. We didn't have to worry about that! We weren't that naive! (And, having already purchased the most expensive of everything that could be purchased, we were relatively safe from their sneaky con.)

It seems that my error was in my 'precious metal' theory. Turns out, according to the printed program in front of us (which we never really deciphered), gold prizes were as listed, ruby cards paid 1.5 times the listed price, and royal blue cards paid 3 times the listed prize. So if we were going to win, we should have done it on a card other than gold. Nevertheless, we persevered.

I have to give Jason credit. it was HIS birthday, and this was HIS silly idea. And for almost every game, the poor man came within a single number of winning. And would then proceed to sit there on the edge of his seat while thirty-one more numbers (none of them his) were called, until someone else finally had a bingo. I don't know how he did it. I would have developed an ulcer. Near the end of the evening he became resigned and sad, but he never once despaired. He plugged along, never giving up hope, not realizing that I had probably used up our quota of luck for the day. (At his baseball windup party in early August, Jason had destroyed my chance at scoring Flames tickets by accidentally winning a size medium (he's 250 pounds) New York Giants (we don't watch football) tshirt in a door prize draw. I had no real sympathy for his plight.)

We stayed for the late night bingo, in part because we were enjoying the time to ourselves (we have four kids, remember- it takes us 3 hours just to remember how to talk to each other), and partly because (and I fully admit it) we were having FUN! Besides, factoring in our dinner, early bird bingo tickets, and now our late night bingo tickets, pop, popcorn, and onion rings, less my $10 win, we needed to win another $270 to break even. Because I'll be damned if I'm going to spend almost $300 on dinner and BINGO. (Yes- I see the flaw in my logic. I had become dauber-(dabber?)-happy at this point. I was no longer rational.)

I started off the late night games with astoundingly abysmal luck. I wasn't even getting within 12 or 13 numbers of a win. What had happened? Maybe I HAD used up our luck for the day? Should we just leave??? And then I realized. When I had won my original $10, I had been using an electronic purple circle to dab my cards. Over the course of the break between early and late night bingo, (letting another lady go ahead of us in the cashier line in order to once again be served (robbed) by the same woman who had helped (pillaged) us through our first foray into bingo), we had figured out how to customize our daubers (dabbers?), and I had switched to a blue leaf motif. Omigod! That was it! I had changed tactics! It wasn't the cards or the caller! It was me!

I quickly changed back to the purple circle, and during the very next game, won another $60 (earning a long-suffering sigh from darling husband). That was it. I was convinced. I was one troll doll and a custom made dauber (dabber?) case from becoming a real bingo player. It was time to get out, preferably before they served the Kool-Aid.

I enjoyed our evening. I really did. As did Jason. Will we go back every Friday from now on? No. Will we go back again sometime in the next year? Possibly. Will I stop making fun of the crazy players and being sanctimonious and judgemental? Probably not.

But it opened our eyes a little. Somehow, a large sub-set of the population, who previously seemed too unintelligent to do simple math (if I spend $200 on bingo every Friday night and win $70 once in a blue moon, it is a losing proposition, and the money is therefore better spent purchasing updated clothing and buying Grandma some teeth) is lucid enough to understand the world of 6-4-Baseball-Pay-Me-10-Times-Half-A-House-Any-Way-Progressive-Seven madness, and can keep 437 paper tickets organized on a tiny table, while stroking their lucky rabbit's foot and dabbing (daubing?) only the correct numbers with differing colors of ink, specific to their own personal superstitions, other hand ripping open instant win cards and, with only a cursory glance, depositing the losers into the garbage can, all without dropping a single ash from their teetering Salem Menthol Slim onto their polyester pants. I now know I'm not one of them.

Bingo players of the world, I salute you.

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