Bingo Balls

In the late 1980s, my Grandmother invited me to the firehouse to play BINGO one Saturday evening. Contrary to what many of my peers thought about doing this, I was sort of intrigued by the idea. As a 13-year-old know-it-all, I knew I would crush these elderly opponents and the riches would be immense. <evil laugh>

Stepping into the main pavilion within the firehall, I was immediately struck by two things: 1) The cigarette smoke that permeated the air was simply too much to bear for my virgin lungs. 2) These ladies took their BINGO games seriously. Really, really seriously.

“How many boards do you want, deary?” asked the board provider.

“Give him two,” said my Grandmother.

“Two!” I protested. “I’m a man in the Jewish sense of the word. I’ll take four.”

Both ladies were impressed with my confidence and guile, though they realized immediately what would take me another 20 minutes to figure out: that I was woefully in over my head, out of my league, and overly confident to a fault.

We took our seats in the hazy room, the lingering smoke tightening in my chest and burning in my unfiltered eyes.

“B-7,” said the announcer.

I filled the empty space.


I filled another space.

A couple of I’s, some N’s, a few G’s and an O followed along, as well as some additional B’s. Suddenly, and without warning, I realized I had the entire B-section completely covered. I’d won! I’ll be rich! I thought.

“BINGO!” I yelled, as I stood up, high-fiving my Grandmother and Edna, the lady to my left. She looked pissed, cigarette dangling from her overly lip-sticked mouth. Victory never felt so sweet, as the look of disappointment swept the faces of the tobacco-smoking ladies in the main hall. “Woo!” I screamed.

The judge came over to verify my sweet, sweet victory. I sat there with an air of confidence, as the others moaned over their defeats to this young whippersnapper.

“Son,” she said through the microphone. “This game is a ‘fill-the-whole-board’ game.” The elderly crowd became hostile in their boos and snickering.

Edna tried killing me with her thoughts.

There is no more disheartening look a human being can receive than one of disappointment from 100 elderly strangers. My heart literally pumped out of my chest, bounced outside, and called a cab. My eyes began tearing up, but that was certainly from the smoke and not the embarrassment and fear for my life I was in the process of experiencing.

“You need to fill the whole board,” said my Grandmother, in her sympathetic way. “They always start this way.”

She had probably mentioned that to me on the car ride there, but I was too overconfident to hear her or to heed the additional warnings about this gang of BINGO-playing meanies.

I didn’t come close to winning a game that evening, and I haven’t played BINGO since. My Grandmother won a game that night and threw me a $20 bill. Initially, I was going to use it to repair my burning corneas, but I bought a bunch of comic books instead.

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