Monday, April 27, 2009


#1. The building I work in houses the Somerville Council on Aging. They have accessible vans that shuttle senior citizens to and from the facility for meals, exercise classes, lunch, and a weekly bingo extravaganza. Because we all use the same elevator (I'm on the third floor and they are on the second floor) I've been watching this parade of the elderly as I take my smoke breaks for over 8 years and now and recognize the regulars. I know when one has been out for awhile, which ones are always cranky and sniping, and who always has a smile, no matter what daily pains they are enduring. Of all of the centers events, nothing pulls them in like Friday bingo. They start shuffling in at 10:00 for the 1:00 start to "get a good seat". Many use canes and walkers and a few have those scooters that are advertised on t.v. as being "free to most Medicare patients" (I heartily doubt that).

Part of me is glad to see them each week, but I must admit that my heart sinks if I am distracted enough to forget that a smoke break between 2:45 and 3:15 on a Friday will intersect with their mass exodus. And woe be to the person who comes between one of these ladies and their elevator ride. Even though they all seem to recognize me and often share light conversation in the elevator, they become aggressive and hostile if I've directed the elevator to go up to the third floor when they get on at the second floor and want to go down. Although the elevator is small, they pack into it and can take a full five minutes to disembark, occasionally pausing directly over the door frame as they try to decide where they're going to park while they wait for their ride or to catch their breath from the all the hubub of the days activities.

#2. How can you dislike a ritual that includes bouncing balls, flashing lights, free crap prizes, waves of blue hair, and the surreal sound of the caller, chanting "O-se-ven-tee-fiiive .... Ooooo se-ven-tee-fiiive"?

#3. In Massachusetts, it's often called beano, which is the original name, based on the fact that beans were used to mark the numbers when it first appeared in the States in the 1920's. Edwin Lowe spotted the game being played in Florida and took the idea to New York, where he produced his own variation of it. In the 1930's, he hired Carl Leffler, a Columbia University math professor, to create cards with enough number variations to keep the percentage of simultaneous winners low. One of the web sources says that Leffler subsequently went mad, a bizarre addition to Bingo lore and, with apologies to Mr. Leffler, I hope it's true.

#4. My mother was obsessed with church bingo and played it religiously (pun intended) for about 3 years. On occasion, my sister and I would go with her, Kathy with her flask of Southern Comfort (her addiction ode to Janis Joplin) and me with a joint or two. The rituals surrounding the game were ironically pagan-like for a catholic church sponsored function. My mother and the other ladies would flirt with the priests and preen for them, sniping over who had received more direct conversation with Father than the others. They would fight over a favorite seat, divine which were considered "lucky spots", and bring objects for luck, lining their totems up just so around their cards. In between the games, the priests would walk the aisles, selling lotto punch cards, a 60's predecessor to scratch tickets. I loved it, but for all the wrong reasons. Kathy and I, drunk and or high as we were, could never keep up with the fast pace of the games, so I would often just sit back and watch my mother , who could play 10 cards at once. She was angry when she lost, elated when she won, spending her winnings immediately on more cards for the next game or lotto punch tickets, where you punched out the hole and unfurled it like a tiny scroll to reveal the number on it, hoping it matched the card. She was a joy to watch. Her devotion to her rituals, the precise nature of her technique, and the orderliness of her process was my first inkling that my mother had a touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder, something that I've seen become magnified as the years pass.

#5. I've been trying to weasel me and my camera into the Somerville Council on Aging weekly bingo game for several years. I asked the director once if she thought it would be possible and she frowned, saying I'd need to get the OK from all of the participants and she was doubtful that they'd allow it. The closest I've come was about a year ago, when someone donated a new bingo machine to the center and they agreed to let me take pictures of it during setup. Once in, I recognized the woman behind the machine as one of the old-timey regulars and asked if she'd mind appearing in a few of my photos. When I was finished with her and the machine, I wandered for a minute and took a few pics of the cards. I've since used those photos in several collages, such as "still life #14" and "mystic river dreaming of mother".