Friday, September 14, 2012
Recently, I did something I haven’t done in ages. No, I didn’t see my toes by looking down without bending. I got to work at bingo at the Rapid Bingo Hall in Leduc. I used to be a regular, back in the day, when my buddies and I were members of the local Elks Club. The Elks, of course, is a philanthropic organization sworn to fund worthy community enterprises and, more importantly, provide its members a chance to hoist beers with the boys mid-week. The Leduc group raised money by working bingos and… well… actually working bingos was pretty much it.
My pals and I realized flogging bingo cards was the one true path to a better community, a better world and a better life for all mankind. It became a weird fixation. We began hanging out more at the bingo hall hustling “Bonanzas” and “Satellite” cards, than we would at the bar. Each week would find us patrolling the rows and rows of patrons studiously bent over their bingo table territories staked out with paper and glue. We started being attracted to the backs of people’s heads, which was what we saw the most of on our forays around the aisles. Being men, and thus immature for our age, there was, inevitably some friendly (and even some not-so-friendly, indeed downright devious) competition to sell the most cards. A customer’s raised hand was like waving the starting flag at Daytona. It was the signal to outrace the other card sellers, as if the cards provided a handsome commission to the seller. We’d shove grannies out of the way and push elderly gentlemen down just to get to the customer before the other guy. This wasn’t about profit or performance reviews. This was about pride! And stupidity!
Eventually, however, things changed as they do in this life. My pals and I strayed from the Elk herd and lost our bingo mojo. The allure of the backs of people’s heads became inadequate compensation for the aches and pains of pounding the carpeted concrete.
As much fun as it had been, our creaky knees and hips were grateful we had found other pursuits that didn’t involve walking for hours at a time. Some of us even began using carts when golfing. Unfortunately, the unreasonable bingo association people wouldn’t let us drive the carts around the bingo hall. Eventually, bingo and I parted ways; forever, I thought. We didn’t even become Facebook friends.
Then, a long-time friend of Cupcake’s and mine, Kathy, who is the PTA’s Bingo Coordinator extraordinaire, batted her lovely eyelashes at me. I knew instantly it had less to do with my rugged good looks and more to do with her reputation as being “voluntarily challenged”. Her desperation for bingo workers made her extremely forward in her approach to dragooning volunteers. I, on the other hand, wasn’t about to let her use her feminine wiles to buffalo me. I cleverly played stupid, an act most find all too believable. Here’s how the conversation unfolded when I’d arrived at Kathy’s convenience store to have my fortune read by the lottery corporation’s ticket checker.(“Sorry, you appear to be a non-winner… Your ticket sucks, too.”)
As Kathy punched in my purchases, she began her pitch with all the subtlety of a whoopee cushion, “So, Chris, what are you doing on Friday afternoon?”
I pretended to play hard to get. “What did you have in mind?” I snickered until it got away from me and I snorted a bit.
“I’m hoping you’ll work a bingo with me. We’re short staffed with everyone on summer holidays,” she explained. “With your… uh… issues… we’ll find you a sit-down job if you like.”
Now she was playing dirty. This was a challenge to my machismo! I’ll show her who’s too old and feeble to pace the lanes of the bingo emporium.
“I’ll sell bonanzas,” I volunteered gamely. She hid her victory smile almost completely.
That Friday, I was amazed at the changes to the place. The “No smoking” room, which had then become the “Smoking” room, was now sealed off. Where there had been six, and even eight chairs per table, now had just four. There were other changes, too.
Before, Satellite cards were the big sellers with the largest payouts. Bonanza cards were steadier. In the world of New Bingo, however, the hot commodity was something called “Balls”.
These were special cards based around sporting themes. Instead of yelling, “Bingo”; the traditional victory cry of the Dabber Nation, the players, often grey-haired grandmas, would holler “BALLS!”
It was rather disconcerting. Nonetheless, so popular is this “Balls” game, it required three sellers dedicated to just that variety of card. These Ball sellers were so popular, we old school Bonanza pushers felt rejected.
There was another new wrinkle that, frankly, made the Balls pale in comparison. A number of players were issued devices that looked like the first iPad prototypes. They turned out to be a way for bingo enthusiasts to play the game electronically. Instead of having hard-copy paper cards, these people simply keyed in the numbers as they were called and the machine automatically dabbed all the cards that bore that number. A person could almost phone it in.
I enjoyed my time to a degree. Walking the aisles of the bingo hall was a trip down Memory Lane. I doubt I’ll become addicted again, however. At least that’s what I swore to Cupcake after I agreed to call numbers at the bingo at our local legion last week.
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