(940 words – 5 minute read)
I’ve never played bingo, even though I’m English and Bingo was invented in England. Nevertheless I now run the bingo game at an Assisted Living facility.
I spin a wire cage and little wooden balls with numbers pop out, B-1 to O-75, I call out the number and place the ball on a wooden board with a place for each one of the 75 balls.
Bingo has a Zen-like meaninglessness to it. For me at least. On the other hand it holds an intense and focussed fascination for the players, as does Zen meditation for some people.
But then I have never been much of a game player.
I remember as a young teenager going with my father to the Casino at Cannes.
I remember my father telling me the two men at the door could remember every face they saw. That was before security cameras – old school.
My dad was not a gambler. He went for the fun and glamor, not the winning and losing.
He did not believe in luck. Luck was chance personalized.
His advice was to go with the amount of money you were willing to lose in one pocket, and to put all your winnings in another pocket. When all the money to lose was spent you left with your winnings intact.
I’m sure there’s a life lesson there somewhere.
But I’m not a gambler. Gambling makes me nervous and I’m nervous enough as it is.
Amy and I went to Vegas once. A friend had a timeshare with time to spare. Vegas is a horrible place. Nothing is real, even the people, infected by the neon and plastic. The disease of taking the false as being real. The Buddha said something like that.
I played the slots one evening I had $50 to waste and said I would stay till it was all gone. I did not follow my dad’s advice on keeping your winnings separate. I left with nothing. An evening’s entertainment.
Of course I played games at school – football, tennis, squash and of course cricket. I was never good at any of them, and that may be why I never understood the passion with which it was played and followed. I didn’t really care if my side won or not.
I never had a favorite team.
Maybe there’s a gene and I don’t have it. Like Amy and I going with friends to the local bowling alley. They got so upset when it was my turn to keep score and I totally messed it up. I really didn’t give a shit.
Back to bingo.
Nine or ten of us squashed around two long tables in a way too small activity room to accommodate walkers and wheelchairs easily.
I ask them how they’re doing: “Still breathing” “Still above ground”.
Black humor, I like it.
This is the “departure lounge” as my mother said of this stage of life.
Playing bingo to pass the time till we take our flight out of here.
“I’m getting myself a cup of coffee” I say. “Can I get anyone anything?”
Some wise-cracks: “A Margarita!” “A Vodka Tonic!”
They know I favor having an open bar 24/7. Of course that’s not sensible.
“They’re all on medications. It’s not good for them” says the nurse.
At what point are you allowed not to give a shit? They’re waiting to die.
Some are getting impatient. I tell them not to ask me to hold a pillow over their heads – not in my job description.
We have spent our lives being polite and careful. Not giving a shit is our final bid for freedom.
Mostly it’s the demented, those who have lost their minds, who are free. Unfortunately they don’t know it.
Another lesson in there somewhere.
They choose their bingo cards carefully. Some have their own lucky cards. We are now in the land of Magical Thinking, and the Bingo Fairy, to whom we pray for luck.
We are all Heathens here.
I call the first number “B-10”. Heads down in intense scrutiny and focus. Even the Alzheimer person, who even though she has been playing Bingo here for at least a year has to be shown, every time, where to go to play bingo, will follow and focus.
I enter my cheerful zen state, calling each number with interest and feeling. Meaningless to me. But what isn’t?
The history of humanity is a brief spark in the history of the earth, and the earth a brief spark in the history of the universe.
All a big “So what?” and so why not call out each number as if it mattered? Makes it more fun.
Another life parable. Each of us focussed on our individual square, clutching a rabbit’s foot, hoping for our lucky number to turn up.
Of course I’m not actually playing the game, I’m calling the shots. Not that I have any power. it’s all illusory. I just call them as they come. Chance rules.
I had a similar job at the Zendo. I was the “Jikijitsu”. I’d sit there with everybody else in the meditation hall, but facing into the room, instead of the wall like everyone else. I had a bell in front of me I would ring to mark the beginning and end of each 30 minute meditation session. Partly meditating, partly watching the clock.
In and out of it all at once.
Maybe it’s a good thing this being a bit “out of it”, an exterior view, not so serious. Maybe not, it’s disconnected, uninvolved, drifting through life.
This is a game I play, imagining a greater meaning from a trivial event. Doesn’t mean there’s a lick of sense to any of it.