Distinguishing them from the elderly are skin tone and international
accents. On a daily basis, the aides show amazing patience and skill.
Today, Table Two has no patience: Translating broken aphasiac slurs
is too much and the aide and resident are locked in an ear piercing
battle of Caribbean accents and stroke-laden stutters. Luckily,
it’s a quick battle that ends with a winner at Table One.
A glance at my Timex shows 2:00. The crowd, loaded with sugary
(and not so sugary for the diabetics) treats is ready to begin.
I am not. I hate running bingo. It’s the most dreaded program
as it serves to remind me of the inanity of my existence. However,
there’s no escape and no time to dwell. The natives are restless.
Denture cream dissolves quickly, and a chunk of teeth impatiently
thrown at my head smarts.
With a nausea-inducing spin of the globe, the first game begins.
Following tradition, it’s full card. Full-card bingo involves
filling every space on the card. With only four players, this can
take 20 minutes. I pull the first few numbers from the yellow globe
and establish a quick pace. Hungry for this all week, the players
are with me. I pull, call, repeat. Pull, call, repeat; it’s
a smooth ride, maybe not so bad after all. Pull, call, repeat. My
flow established, the mind wanders to more important things like
last night’s debauchery and how bottle deposits can supplement
I tear through the numbers and soon the game has almost ended.
Yet an unusual number of Bs remain. Leftover Bs leave me with a
queasy memory of the man I replaced. Initially, he seemed a good
fellow. His ability to sing a cappella Yiddish folk songs and impending
attendance at rabbinical prep school endeared him to the elderly.
Harmless, right? But, like a werewolf under a full moon, he morphed
into a new beast behind the bingo globe. Quipping clever phrases
like, “B10, B10 is an important vitamin to take,” the
players were in stitches. After surviving his inanity, I made a
pact with myself to never, ever rhyme about vitamins. No one notices
“Bingo,” someone warbles. There’s a winner and
the 90-something woman at Table Four, repeating “shit”
after each number, has stopped. Having lost the game to Table Two,
she mutters a few insults and focuses on her mound of half-eaten
cookies. Several players, certain they were jilted, call for a check
on the winning numbers. “We all trust each other, right,”
I say, settling it with a smile. Little do I know how untrustworthy
Table Four’s player is. Two weeks later she stole my turkey
and Swiss on wheat from the fridge. Guess I was asking for it by
getting the Boar’s Head.
We’re 23 minutes into the hour and things are smooth. “N37!”
I call. “B2!” I announce. “G- ” Splash!
The woman at Table One has spilled her drink all over the game cards.
The distraction ruptures my numeric flow and I stutter over I23,
knocking a few numbered balls onto the floor. I’m flustered
and the seniors can smell my fear. My shuffling underneath the black
Samsonite folding table becomes frantic. Where is B14? My sanity
depends on a plastic bauble; I need it for the rest of the games.
Wait…there it is. Underneath Table Four! I recover with a
flourish. I spin the globe and call O72 confidently. Table Two is
the winner. Another one down.
It’s time for small box.
Small box only uses ING and skips the BO. That’s two less
letters and a lot less work. It’s a quick game. After a few
yells of “shit,” “bingo” rings throughout
the room. Goodbye, small box. With twelve minutes left, I hope they
pick an easy one. “Whole card, redux!” shouts Table
Three. My life is over. The budding disappointment of the gathered
crowd is imminent.
All these “bingos” has riled the crowd. Their excitement
swells as mine drops. If I have to cycle though the all the numbers
again, I’ll lose it. And my paycheck. And my insurance. Table
Two starts fighting with her aide about the volume of my announcing.
The lunch thief curses at her under her breath and Table One threatens
to spill again. The others stir and the arthritis creaks resound
off heaps of the paperback Louie L’amour novels. Then the
angelic echo, eerily resembling Slash’s “November Rain”
solo, hits me and Table Three changes the game to the Big L. The
game passes uneventfully. My Timex flips to 3:00. The game’s
over. It’s time for the booty.
Lying behind me in a decorative sprawl are spoils for the victors.
There are discards from residents’ junk drawers: keychains,
change purses, yellowed note cards, miscellaneous junk-store goods:
candies, fruit-shaped candles, Tupperware, and costume jewelry from
the recently deceased. Luckily, folks have yet made a connection
to the inverse proportion of deaths to amount of bingo prizes.
And I leave before they can ask. They gather the spoils of the
dead with an air of victory. Then they wait for the next game to