The other day I was visiting a friend who’d just come home from the hospital, and the only complaint she had about her upcoming period of recuperation was she wouldn’t be able to attend her favorite bingo game for a while.
“I love my bingo,” she said, frowning. “And I’m really lucky at it. How am I going to survive three whole weeks without it?”
Her words made me think back to the 1970s and the first time my mother, who, like my friend, also was an avid bingo player, convinced me to go to one of the weekly games with her.
Naïve person that I was, I thought bingo still involved a sheet of paper, a marker and simply covering a row of numbers either vertically, horizontally or diagonally.
Boy, was I ever wrong.
First of all, back then the bingo halls were using what they called bingo “boards” rather than cards. They were thick and hard and had these clear little doors you had to slide over each number as the number was called. The bingo boards stood stacked upright in wooden bingo boxes, so you could flip through a bunch of them quickly, sliding the little doors over the numbers as you went along.
Being new to the game, and also new to using the sliding doors, I purchased only five cards. My mother, on the other hand, purchased about three dozen.
The bingo caller took his position at the front of the hall and announced the first game, which sounded something like, “If you can get bingo in 47 numbers or less, and your numbers form the outline of the state of Florida, with your free space landing on the spot where Tallahassee is located, you’ll win $300!”
I sat there just staring blankly at him, while my mother said, “Ooh! The Florida game! I’m really lucky at this one!”
Not only did I have absolutely no clue what I was doing, some of the little doors on my bingo boards were either closing on their own when I flipped through them, or I couldn’t force them to close at all because they were stuck.
And if that didn’t confuse me enough, there was another game called “shotgun.”
“So what’s this shotgun game about?” I asked my mother. “Do my numbers have to form the shape of a 12-gauge?”
She laughed. “No, shotgun means the caller ‘fires’ numbers at you really fast, not bothering to give any letters, like ‘B’ or ‘N’.”
“Then how on earth am I supposed to know where to look for the numbers?”
“Oh, you’ll learn,” she said.
She was wrong. By the time I finally found and slid the little door over the first number, the caller already was calling the tenth. Had I just randomly covered a bunch of numbers, I’d have had a better shot at winning.
Even worse, with so many people quickly flipping through their bingo boards, it created such a breeze, my hair ended up looking as if it had just been struck by lightning.
Not surprisingly, in all of my two years of weekly bingo games with my mother, I never won a single penny. My mother, on the other hand, won so many games, there were rumors that the other players were forming a lynch mob.
Every time my mother shouted, “Bingo!” the looks that were cast in our direction could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be interpreted as, “Great job! Congratulations!” In fact, I could swear I actually heard growling.
What I really enjoyed the most at the bingo games was watching the die-hard players, the ones who played 30 cards at a time as easily as if they were playing only one. Usually these players also brought an assortment of lucky charms with them. The first time I walked in and saw the tables loaded with stuffed animals, statues, dolls and religious artifacts, I nearly mistook the place for a flea market.
I’m embarrassed to admit I became so desperate to win one night, I actually brought a lucky charm of my own (well, at least I’d thought it was a lucky charm until that night). It was a tiny troll doll with purple hair. By the end of the eighth game, I was so frustrated, I’d yanked out every purple hair on its pointy little head.
My mother finally grew tired of bingo and discovered, during a seniors’ bus trip one summer, Foxwoods Casino…and slot machines. Once again, she seemingly had the magic touch. All she had to do was look at a slot machine and it practically spewed coins at her.
So one autumn day, she convinced me to go with her to Foxwoods for a “fun” afternoon of slot playing.
And on that day, I actually learned the real secret of how to come home from Foxwoods with a small fortune.
Go there with a large fortune.
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