Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Siren Song of BINGO: Part II


I won. Twice. Almost 100 euros. This, perhaps more than anything else, raised the hatred of the BINGO patrons for our group. And we were hated, intensely. But wow, was it fun.

We met our group at a bar across the street from the BINGO parlor. Surprisingly, seven people—in addition to me and Andrew—showed up. “Aren’t you excited?!?” we asked them. They were dubious, to say the least; some suggested we just go out to dinner. The two Spanish friends repeatedly tried to warn us what we were in for. Nonetheless, en masse, we went to BINGO.

Before entering the BINGO room, we had to present our driver’s licenses to a woman behind a desk, who recorded all kinds of information. This caused some problems, because our group consisted of people from Italy, Greece, England, the U.S., and Spain; it took some time for her to acclimate to each new license. I looked around the “lobby”: some neon, some horrific pictures of the food available (despite Andrew’s and my original enthusiasm for eating dinner at the BINGO hall, we were quickly outvoted on that idea), a menu (dinner costs just 3.50 euros), and a variety of what seemed to be gift items for purchase on the counter in front of the woman’s desk. These items consisted, not least, of ceramic toilet brush holders and plastic boxes of toothpicks.

I’d imagined the BINGO parlor to be a cross between a casino and a church basement—tables arranged in a large square with the caller in the middle, with lots of plush seats and neon. In reality, the BINGO room looked like a school cafeteria, with four-person tables arranged in rows, bright fluorescent lights, linoleum floors, and industrial-looking food served on plastic trays. We immediately drew ire for trying to pull up extra chairs to a table; this was not allowed. In the confusion of dividing ourselves among tables and getting situated, the BINGO-card seller came by. “Tres?” she suggested. The cards were small; we agreed that yes, we’d each take three cards for the first game. She quickly took our money and then, with no warning, the calling began.

To say that the numbers were called fast doesn’t begin to describe it. We all (well, not the native Spanish speakers) panicked, unable to keep up as we searched our three cards for the numbers. Not only could we not comprehend the numbers fast enough—but no one understood how to play. At the bar beforehand, one Spanish friend told us you could only do the linea—just one line straight across. I was confused, remembering well the many BINGO options at the St. Rita’s Church Fair—vertical, horizontal, diagonal, four corners. This was not the case. Each BINGO card at the BINGO parlor was small—about eight squares across and four down—with no BINGO written across the top. The numbers appeared to cover the cards at random. And it was true: the only option for a win was a linea. Once someone won the linea, the calling continued for BINGO—all numbers.

Trying to keep up with the warp-speed calling on three cards was ludicrous, exactly like an anxiety dream, and there was much laughing and “What number did he say??” and commenting. This was not allowed, and we were angrily shushed. The room had to be, at all times, perfectly silent.

When the first game was over—perhaps one of our group would have won, had we been able to keep track of anything—the card-seller came over, smirking. She knew full well we wouldn’t be able to handle three cards. We bought just one card each this time, and asked another worker for an explanation of the rules. He explained the linea and the BINGO. He explained the way numbers were arranged on the card; and we all found electronic boards or TV screens in our line of vision so we could actually see the numbers being called.

We played again. The numbers became clearer; I got into the BINGO frame of mind, calm and efficient. But then they’d say a number like “sesenta siete seis siete” or “setenta y dos siete dos” and Andrew and I would look at each other, baffled. Andrew told me during the next break that anytime they called a number in the 60s or 70s, they’d repeat it by saying each digit, since the words for 60 and 70—sesenta and setenta—are so similar. So 63—sesenta y tres—is repeated as “seis tres.” Sesenta y tres seis tres. BINGOese.

I don’t know how many more times we played before I suddenly found myself marking off the last number on my card, throwing up my hands, and shouting “BINGO!” “BINGO!” echoed everyone at my table, getting the monitor’s attention. Hateful glares came from every direction, from the locals who were not amused—in any way whatsoever—to have us in their realm. I won around 30 euros; there had been two winners. I was extremely pleased.

We played a round, sat out a round; played a round. Suddenly, I had just one number left on my card. Dieciseis, dieciseis, I chanted quietly. “Dieciseis,” the caller announced. Once again, I threw up my hands (a BINGO reflex, I guess) and shouted “BINGO!” “BINGO!” Andrew yelled, pointing at me, getting attention. He told me later that the monitor gave him a look of absolute incredulity, as if to say, Her again?? Does that girl even speak Spanish? Indeed, I had BINGO once again. This time I won around 50 euros. Luck was with me.

Someone else in our group won a linea; we ordered a round of drinks; we were shushed some more; we were reprimanded for taking a group picture (no pictures allowed). Eventually, we decided it was time to go.

On the way out, we could choose a gift—they weren’t for purchase after all. Andrew and a couple of other people chose the ceramic toilet brush holders. I chose a scarf. Some others chose toothpicks. It was completely strange—but it turned out to be a really fun time. It was a weird thing for a group of MBAs and partners to do on a Tuesday night, and we were hated, but everyone went into it with a spirit of adventure, mostly willing to be swept up in the absurdity of it all.

But as for luck—nothing absurd about that. The other night, Andrew won a poker game; and now my BINGO wins. I don’t think we’ll return to the BINGO parlor. We need to harness this luck and move on to bigger, more lucrative, gaming endeavors. The Barcelona casino is next.

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