by John Rubens
August 3, 2017, Bullhead City, AZ, River Valley Senior Center of August 2, 2017 Bingo Wednesday night.
Liz, Don and I played 31 beforehand. Liz won. After sharing her coffee with me in the kitchen at the end of the bingo break, she pointed out my lucky penny on the white linoleum floor below the legs of my chair. Lucky penny. Bingo game. I didn’t get it just yet. All the women know I get it kind of slow and then I go too fast. Lucky wouldn’t be the first time Liz walked by.
I didn’t pick it up at first, for a glean, the newly minted penny. No, not at first, but as I was about to learn, these sharp women were persistent.
“Are you Irish?” I asked Claudine, who I sat opposite to me as was customary during my two week stay along the River. Claudine had fair skin, light hair and luscious blue eyes that looked familiar. She said her maiden name. I know it started with ‘Mc…’, but she whispered it amidst the bingo room murmur and I don’t know how I’d spell it anyway.
“You don’t get any more Irish than that,” she followed up, seeing the blank look in my eyes. I said nothing. I felt disabled, but not alone in a room full of friendlies. Claudine looked intently into my eyes and watched my features.
As the initial pre-break games got underway, Liz who sat in a corner opposite the caller, won the first game. A member to my far right won another, and I, sitting to the immediate left of Judy, an assistant director at the Center, won the fourth game.
Judy, who had her purse between us on a chair, opined, “Seems like everyone around us is winning but just not right here,” and she indicated a temporarily empty energy field where she sat including others around her. “Now you can go home and tell your wife you won.”
My wife didn’t want me to buy two sets of bingo cards at first, but when I was in line to buy them and told her I was going to do so, the cell connection turned fuzzy; Lucia relented as we spoke, she wished me luck and told me I would win as I came to the cashier’s table. They don’t take $20.00 bills and scrounged up the change to make up the balance due on the two sets.
Back at my seat Claudine yet encouraged me to buy the JUMBO! “More chances to win!” she had said as we discussed the games ahead.
One of the quarters I used to buy the $1.00 JUMBO included a brilliant uncirculated 2017 state quarter I had been saving with fossils on the back called “EFFIGY MOUNDS”. I stood in line behind Philip, whom I had never noticed before. I was a lot taller and heavier than him. He had a romantic accent, mediterranean sounding. His turn at the cashiers was up. When he was done, I bought that second JUMBO card that became part of my overloaded plate.
Thinking about how my neighbor Samantha told me the day before, ‘They shouldn’t let you go there [to the Senior Center]’, I smirked a chagrinish smile and glanced at Judy.
After giving me some of her coffee, Liz and I hurriedly sat down as the caller’s voice hit the microphone. The shiny penny Liz noticed on the floor below me had a new reverse design, a shield and e pluribus unum.
Lucky penny…lucky Irish…what is this? George the caller last Saturday didn’t believe winning was luck. Did he think winners were positive thinkers, alert or random drawing odds? He was mum on that.
“Play and see.” He’d a said, but he didn’t. His job was to welcome me back for more. The casinos depend on 21 players making mistakes, induced or self-inflicted.
Liz passed behind behind me a second time and I noticed she noticed the ‘lucky’ penny was still on the floor. I asked her, “Do you want it?” and picked it up to show her.
“Was it heads?” she asked.
“What? Was the penny heads up?” I inquired.
“Yes,” she responded.
“No, it was tails.”
Just then Claudine sitting opposite me showed interest in the lucky penny. Claudine said she had never seen such a penny.
“It’s a new one,” I said. “You haven’t seen it yet?”
“No,” she said curiously.
“They have a shield now. Do you want it?” I asked, making sure she would appreciate it.
She nodded assent and said “Yes, I’ll take that, I’ve never seen it”, and I handed the penny to her.
After the intermission, we played “Double Action” bingo where the player has to keep track of a JUMBO card and two numbers in each square on the “double action” card. It was a long game. When Claudine finally yelled “Bingo!” and went up to get her winnings, I looked up at the electronic bingo board and put on my glasses. #46 was lit but not marked on one of my cards. I then realized I had bingo some time ago. How did that happen? 46 years old? What year was that? 2008–a year to remember in Bullhead City.
About Double-Action Bingo: A number called in the double action square gives the player the square even if it’s only one of the two numbers. The kitty for winning cards is also the big pot AND then there’s the JUMBO card[s] played during the same game, but we won’t get into that here. I had bingo before Claudine, but it was too late to claim the pot. Under the rules, once another Bingo number is called, one’s valid Bingo expires. One must “Bingo” on the last number officially called by the caller.
Claudine came back smiling. “A hundred and twenty one dollars.”
“Look!” I showed her my double action card. “I had Bingo too, just like you did last time, but didn’t call it.”
Her smile turned to business. “You want to split it?”
“No,” I said, knowing the five people that split the pot she missed on the previous Saturday did not share their pot with her. We sat opposite each other back on that day as we were this Wednesday evening.
Claudine reminded me of our Irish grandmother Frances. When we sat opposite each other I was able to admire her blue Irish eyes and painted eyebrows that reminding me of “Grandma Tici”, as we used to call her. We distinguished my maternal grandmother by her daughter and my aunt Patrice”Tici”, and my paternal grandparents by their dog, “Bowsie”, or “Grandma and Grandpa Bowsie”.
“How much did you say the pot was?” I asked meekly.
“A hundred and twenty one dollars!” she responded clearly and with gusto.
As we played the next couple of small pot games, she saw I was determined and businesslike. “Watch and pray,” I had read that very morning from the gospel of Mark. I didn’t watch the bingo balls and calls closely enough. Every Bingo caller is different and Irma proceeded quickly with the games, not as slow as George but slower than the Riverside Casino across the Colorado River in Laughlin Nevada.
“Maybe you’ll win again!” Claudine said, just as Grandma Tici would. “Hit a home run for Grandma” Grandma Tici repeated from the grandstand. “Hit a home run for Grandma!” and to my amazement, I hit one over the centerfielder’s head with men on base. Concentrate on the distraction… . Grandma’s intervention, come from behind home run. I suppose listening to God is like that sometimes.
Claudine, still lit from her winnings, showed me the $121.00 confidential smile, not wanting to bring out the envy of other members who wanted to win. Some gal I had noticed watching me play earlier called me the “Big Winner” in the lobby after the games. I had all but forgotten I had won the $18.00 “bow-tie” Bingo game.
“‘Big Winner’?” I told her. “I had the double action but didn’t call it… then you’d really hate me”. I’m surprised I used those words to someone I just met at a Senior’s Center, but she looked tough enough. She expected more I suppose but I didn’t know who she was [or who she knew] and I wanted to leave, I was exhausted.
I recalled how I raised my arms in a triumphant victor’s gesture in front of Claudine saying “Bow-tie tuxedo!” before that “big win”. Claudine had interrupted the word “tuxedo” after I took too long to retrieve it from my memory bank. I don’t know what she said while I blurted out “tuxedo!”. The arduous flights of bingo balls interrupted us so it was too late to ask.
Now it was too late to carry on conversations. I said goodbye to my competition standing in front of me and with a general goodbye to the gathering milling about, I left–a member, a winner, a benefactor.
“You’ll win again!” Claudine had said. “You’ll win again!”
To Liz, Claudine, Char, Judy, George, Irma, Lucia, the Reader’s Digest on “Moth” storytelling, the U.S. Mint, and Jesus Christ.
“You’ll win again!”
Bible reference to the gospel of Mark, chapter 13, verses 33 et seq.
copyright August 6, 2017