It all started out simply enough. The lady that runs the park asked us if we would mind volunteering Sunday evening so she could watch her beloved Patriots in the playoffs. To which Lance replied, pointing at me, "sure, she'll do it, she hates football". To which I replied "&*)%$#^... yeah, he'll be helping too". And our fates were sealed, just like that and we became Bingo Staff.
I have have never participated in a bingo game, never even seen bingo played, don't know the rules or the etiquette or anything at all about it. We were told not to worry, just show up and Frank would tell us what to do.
We arrived a little early in case they needed help with the setup (they didn't), and got to enjoy a birds-eye view of the players walking in.
|Rubber chicken - lucky somehow?|
The first couple in the door came in proudly carrying a rubber chicken. Yes, a rubber chicken. They meticulously laid it out on the table between them and they each pet it once reverently before settling in.
Shortly afterwards, the old ladies arrived in an assortment of colorful sweaters and scowling faces, clucking to themselves and each other, reminding me of angry parrots. The oldest, tiniest parrot struggled with placement of her cane and getting comfortable.
One young lady settled in at a separate table with a well-worn fashionable hat and a polished shell which she carefully placed at the top center of her workspace. Then she stretched her elbows out in each direction to be sure she had space. At her very own table.
Ooooooo this was going to be good.
Frank turns out to be a local live-aboard sailor who uses the RV park dock to make landfall with his dinghy now and then. He has the perfect temperament for these things, as he is quite unflappable, a characteristic I find many experienced sailors share, I liked him immediately. He set about setting up the bingo table, and handed me $20 in small bills for making change. My job was to sell the bingo cards.
Then Lance was handed a bucket with some tickets, his job was to sell cookie tickets. Oddly enough I never saw any actual cookies so it's some part of the game I still don't entirely understand. We started working the room.
When I made it around to the oldest, tiniest parrot with the cane, she snarled at me that she wasn't ready yet "can you just wait a minute until I'm SETTLED!" which caused me to jump back a step. So I circled back to her last, and when she scowled at me again my natural reply was "well you appear to be seated now, do you want a card or not, I think they are mandatory equipment for this game" which got a snicker from the other parrots while she just scowled and shoved the bills at me.
Later down the table the parrot wearing the "upholstery" as Lance coined it clutched at my arm and reminded me to have the caller call out ALL the numbers OUT LOUD. Which she said pointedly while making eye contact with me and shaking her ink dauber in a stabbing-type motion.
And we were off. After the first couple of rounds I saw the rhythm of the thing; sell the cards, call a raffle number and giveaway something, pull the bingo balls and call the numbers, fetch the winning card and have Frank verify it, give away the money, repeat. The club keeps a very small portion of the cash for a scholarship program of some sort. Frank is also a volunteer. Let me repeat that before we head into the next chapter: Frank is a volunteer.
After round 3 the rubber chicken couple pulled me aside and told me I should remind Frank to read out every number on each winning card so that the whole room could verify it at the same time as he and I were verifying it. "We called bingo, we know" they said with an air of authority.
The tiny parrot with the cane is making eyes at Lance. I pretend not to notice.
The upholstery parrot huffs as I walk by "I won't be coming back next week". Lance makes a horrified "oh no" face, which sends me into giggles. She'll be back.
The night wears on, I make my rounds with cards. Folks wanted the card from the top, the bottom, the middle. Apparently some cards are luckier than others, I had some cards refused and peeled off others at parrot request.
Oh, and there's Absent Man. Every time I come around to sell cards he's nowhere to be found. I know his pattern is to only buy one card, but still it doesn't seem right to handle his cash pile which he leaves on the table when he wanders away, so I skip him. Which inevitably means that he will chase me down RIGHT as the first ball is being pulled to buy a card. Which I give to Frank and he has to update the pot amount over the air. Perhaps that's the point, to hear his $2 contribution over the air.
I notice as we progress that the fashionable hat lady has different colored ink daubers for each of the cards laid out in front of her. And yet even with the switching of the ink daubers she still doesn't seem ruffled to get it all done before the next number is called. She's also sort of watching the football game, and also not winning anything. I wonder why she's here. After the second game she quietly brings in a small colorful blanket and drapes it over the old man wearing a Weekend At Bernie's hat in the corner. I never heard him complain and she never said anything to him, and they are completely across the room from one another. I wonder if she's really into this game at all or if she is actually an extremely skilled and subtle caregiver.
On and off throughout the night one parrot would tell me to turn up the heat because she's freezing and two feet away a different parrot would tell me to turn up the A/C because she was absolutely melting. There's no way to please all of them for sure as their requests are all polar opposites.
At various points throughout the night the players yell at Frank when a light doesn't light up quickly enough; those sensors are a little cranky, I noticed a few times he put the ball in the correct hole but the light on the board didn't light up anyways, which resulted in huffs and growls around the room. In fact, they use any excuse at all to yell at Frank, the upholstery parrot leading the charge. Still, he remains unflappable.
Later Frank tells me this is why his wife won't help out anymore. She couldn't take the abuse from the parrots. Which makes me sad. He's a great guy and a VOLUNTEER, it's a scholarship program, and it seems to me that everyone should be having fun. I am certainly getting a kick out of the whole thing.
Who could have known that Bingo was such serious business?