So how did I get talked into this one? I'm sitting in a church hall, playing bingo; or more accurately I'm dabbing little red circles on cards as the announcer calls the numbers.
I came along at the request of a friend, who thinks bingo is a hoot. Unfortunately, I'm not feeling a "hoot" here.
With all due respect to bingo players, it's been torture. I'm not a gambler so I don't even get excited about winning a money prize because I typically win nothing.
If I held the only ticket in Megamillions, I still would come up a loser. But that's another story.
As the bingo caller announces each number, every player's head drops to scour their cards then raises again in near synchronization as if they're all praying.
After a dozen numbers into a "Crazy 7" game where you have to have the numbers that trace the outline of a 7 on the card, a woman with about nine zillion Bingo cards taped to a table top in front of her, grabs a copper bell and starts ringing it.
At first, it startles me. Perhaps she's flipped out and I should dial 911.
However, my friend whispers that lots of bingo players ring bells, crank noisemakers or blow into party toys to call for good luck.
That's fine; I get it. It's great that bingo players are having a swell time like bleacher fans at a ballgame -- minus the cups of beer in their hands, of course.
But could they just alert me that it's coming?
Now I had to pick up my dabber that rolled under the table when it flew into the air when I was startled.
Two seats down from me, a tiny, elderly lady plays about a dozen cards, with her dabber flying from row to row. She has hands quicker than a Ninja. While she dabs, she whispers the numbers she needs to hit bingo over and over like a horse race fan rooting on the favorite she bet on.
I enjoy absorbing the bingo scene so much I neglect my three cards and fall hopelessly behind. I guess I'm not winning the "Crazy 7" game.
I opt to jump back into the game for the "Crazy T." That one is sure to get my blood boiling.
Suddenly, someone cries out bingo and the entire audience lets out an ahh of disappointment.
Many play -- few win. The tiny, elderly lady hisses a curse word under her breath that flips the lid on my dabber. These players are serious. I'm hoping no brawls break out.
Players crumple up their paper cards as the Bingo is verified, which must be the sound of disappointment.
Next, we're supposed to be playing the "Diamond" game, but I'm imaging playing a more creative Bingo game, such as the "Groucho Marx," where we have to fill in the outline of eyebrows, a mustache and a stub of a cigar on the card. OK, it would be a bit complex, but we could make this the big money game.
The caller has an electronic scoreboard hanging on stage that shows the numbers that are called and outlines the pattern you need to win the game. Tracing Groucho would be easy.
A sweet-looking lady with white hair and black rhinestone glasses sitting next to me eyes me with a frown because I'm not taking this very seriously. She leans in and says: "How are you going to win if you don't pay attention?"
Of course, I appreciate her concern. I lean in closer to her and whisper: "This whole scene reminds me of my days in grade school, and I could never pay attention very well then either."
She looks at me as if I just announced that I was a threat to world order and shakes her head in disapproval.
I didn't think that was very nice, when I was just going to complement her on her cool rhinestone glasses.
Finally, we're headed into the last game -- it's a bonanza worth a few hundred dollars in which you have to cover the entire card.
Whoa, this is going to take about half the afternoon. It wouldn't surprise me if a few players pass out from exhaustion before the game finishes.
About a hundred numbers into it (I exaggerate a bit), players are ringing bells and cranking noise makers as if it's the Mardi Gras.
Regardless of what numbers the caller announces, I start dabbing at my numbers -- first making the shape of a smile, then two more dabs for eyes. From there, I'm dabbing eyebrows.
Yes, I see the pattern now -- it's Groucho. I knew it could be done.
I want to share this with the audience but before I can yell it out, the timid voice of the elderly lady who whispers her numbers under breath yells out bingo.
It's over; she's won the big one. I give her a thumbs up, which she happily returns. I'm feeling like a real bingo player now.
I promise that I'll return to play again on my 343rd birthday.
Frank Szivos is a freelance writer who plans to play Bingo again in about 300 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.