Have you ever spent the day playing Bingo with 25 people over the age of 75 on the medical side of an assisted living facility? If not, I’ll let you in on just what you’re missing.
Me, my mom and my grandma and are pretty close—three generations of Polish snark not lacking authenticity or attitude—for better or for worse. Gram’s at a home half a mile from my house, my mom goes to see her every day and I generally go once a week.
She’s been getting a lot worse the past couple of years—dementia—and now at 92 the “fun” times are few and far between. But there was a time when if we could plan it correctly, we would be there for the daily activity held in the activity room.
I’ll set the scene:
It’s four people to a table, two cards to a person, one bowl of Bingo chips for each player. Wheelchairs are locked and they’re ready to roll.
This seems innocent enough, but let’s get one thing straight. These people have been through wars, marriages, children, deaths, Depressions and depressions. Now they no longer worry about recessions as much as they do if Gertrude next door stole the extra Nutter Butter from their snack tray last Thursday.
They’ve got nothing to lose and they play for keeps. Or rather, they play for candy, which along with popcorn, is the geriatric equivalent of crack.
The activity director—a small, demure blonde girl with a huge heart—will call out the numbers like an NFL quarterback calling a play.
“B 14,” the caller will say. “B one four.”
Someone will ask “before what?” while at least two others will mistake “B14” for something either in the “N” column or as a directive to complain about the fact that it was supposed to be beer and popcorn night.
More numbers will be called and silence—save for a few rogue coughs or bodily functions—will blanket the room. This is either due to the fact that concentration is required for placing each chip, or that half of them have forgotten what they’re doing.
“O 63,” the caller will say. “O six three.”
Madge, sitting right next to the caller, will ask her what was said. This will be repeated after every number called, annoying Gram who will passive-aggressively express this annoyance with a Morse Code of exasperated sighs and Polish cursing.
I will have to remind her that Mary is 100 years old, to which Gram will reply that after 100 years, she should know her way around a goddamn Bingo card.
Leona will win twice in a row, pretty much guaranteeing evil glares and a public shunning by the women until she repents in some way—throwing a game or throwing a hip—to get herself back in good graces.
This might sound harsh, but remember, candy is at stake.
After each triumphant “Bingo!” is called, my mom will distribute that candy by prancing around the room with a tray like an old-fashioned cigarette girl in a bar. (With the exception of June, who will be given a pudding cup if she’s fortunate enough to win, as she is unfortunately on a puree diet.)
The winner will go one of two ways—either directly for the junk food jugular by grabbing their favorite chocolate-covered treats, or the less manic route, pondering this decision as if a Twix is the last thing they will ever eat in their life.
Which, to be fair, just might be true.
After everyone’s told that their cards must be cleared, the next round of play will begin.
“G 55,” the caller will say. “G five five.”
Mary will ask what was said, Gram will sigh heavily enough to move Julia’s card across the table and Leona will hide the fact that both of her cards contain G55. Out of nowhere Richard will ask where the beer and popcorn are and where the waitress went.
I will remark that a beer sounds good, at which point Gram will remind me that if I wasn’t so picky, I could be out drinking beer with a nice man like Richard or the maintenance man who hung the shelf in her room last week.
I will have to remind her that Richard is 94 years old and the maintenance man was actually a very butch woman, to which Gram will reply that after 30 years, I should lower my standards.
“O66,” the caller will say. “O six six.”
But then I would miss all the fun.
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