Knock-Down, Drag-Out Bingo

They're bloodthirsty. Fiery-eyed-and-steamy-nosed athletes poised for the next play. The chips are down it's sudden death. Hand-eye coordination is crucial. These jungle cats are ready to pounce on the grid. They wait for the call..."BINGO!"We're not at the Super Bowl: we're at Super Bingo, where passing the pig skin means another helping of pork rinds is on the way. And when you hear the players' numbers being called, it's the end of the game, not the beginning.Bingo is not a game for the faint of heart. It's a knock-down, drag-out sport where only the strong-lunged survive, as Bingo players seem predominantly to be smokers who've inhaled more than their fair share of smoke and can out-inhale you any day, thanks.They do it for the money, honey. If the pot's $50 and three people have Bingo, you get $16.60 cash on the spot, which means you can buy more pretzels and coffee and even more "Special" Bingos, like the "L" or the "T" or the "X" (for you see, it's not just a game of numbers, but letters as well). With cash prizes like these, it's no wonder grannies are turning into offensive tackles. These ladies are tough, and any one of them will be damned if you take their seat.I decided to try my hand at it when my mother-in-law had given me a free admission ticket. I hadn't been to a Bingo since I was 12, when my grandmother had taken me to "ham" Bingos and I remember wondering, when in the hell is this ever going to be over? Why don't we just go out and buy a ham?Despite what you may think, Bingo will not meet your need for instant gratification. It requires patience, and one wonders whether its players are disproportionately old because they got that way waiting for the numbers to be called. Why not call all the numbers at once for each game? Why do they wait soooo painfully long between numbers? I'll tell you why: Because the Bingo ladies boo and hiss and complain the callers are going to fast. Who's got the moxie to argue with these daubing divas? Some of them have got 20 cards to watch. I could barely keep up with 10.I quickly discovered, though, that it's not easy to be accepted among the Bingo elite. It's an exclusive club, and you've got to pay your dues before you're "wunna the gals." Yes, there are a few men who play, but I could sense their uncomfortableness. Bingo is like Secret deodorant tough enough for a man, but made for a woman.And then there are the masters. You know who they are. Some of them do indeed wear green polyester jackets, but there are other tell-tale signs. The troll dolls, for good luck. The seat cozy, to keep them warmed up. The aerodynamic magnetic bingo chip picker-upper. The Bingo bag, with compartments for your daubers, your troll dolls, your coffee, snacks and money. Most importantly, you know one of these ladies by the soberness of their gaze, induced perhaps by one too many episodes of The Price is Right."N 31.""Awwwwwww." The crowd bellows. They'd been waiting for this number all night; it's the first time it's called. Many an unrequited Bingo was caused by the failure of that ball to pop up earlier."B 4.""Commmmm on." The ladies bemoan. Somebody got a Bingo after only four numbers. That's not fair."G 52.""Ooooooooh." The tension breaks like a cornerback's collar bone. Someone's just won the $1,000 jackpot in the coverall Bingo.The game is over. But the thrill of victory will keep 'em comin' back for more.You're only as good as your next game, after all.

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