Suddenly everyone began rooting around the tableside baskets for different looking strips of paper like they were going out of style. Judging by the giddy excitement sweeping through the room, the stakes must have been raised. I asked a woman behind me how do we know if we won using this totally different card with two numbers per square. She looked away while saying to no one in particular, “Lord have mercy. Someone help that white child please.” An elderly woman named Ms. Dollene, who seemed to be some sort of bingo matriarch, looked up at the yellowed ceiling tiles and told them, “Come to me now Jesus.” This bingo joint sure does keep Jesus hopping. I swear I heard his name yelled out every few seconds.
So here we were pregame. I’m looking at them like they’re a bunch of morons and they’re watching me like I am the village idiot who can’t even stamp numbers across a card. I got distracted gawking at this circus of humanity and accidentally got three numbers behind. My blotter got a workout as I furiously played catch up while trying to memorialize each new addition with the green ink. “63.” Wait… Did she say 63? 63! I’ve got a complete row. I jumped up and blurted out, “Bingo!” while shaking my card high in the air. I don’t know what came over me for I usually keep my emotions in check. I’ve been told I am hard to read normally, yet here I am yelling and waiving a piece of paper like those people on the Publishers Clearing House commercials. A ceiling speaker near where everyone at my table was looking for Jesus belted out, “Bingo in the side room.”All eyes were glued on me as my card was checked and checked again. My hopes for “fitty dollar” of my own were soon dashed with, “Sweetie, you don’t have bingo. I’m sorry. I’ll explain the rules of this one when it’s finished.” Hold up here. Whenever we played this nonsense as kids, all you needed was one row across. So now you’re telling me I am wrong after decades of supposedly being in the know?
My tutor stared me down, and I’m thinking to myself, bitch be cool over there. You’re three times bigger than me, and I’m unarmed on top of that. I see that mace on your Rolls Royce keychain! Irritated murmurs filled the room while dozens of eyeballs bored holes right through me. Ouch! This one sure was embarrassing. Maybe I’m not so smart after all.
One time I had heard Judge Judy tell an unlucky recipient of her wrath, “On my worst day I am still smarter than you!” before leaning back in her chair with her trademark condescending look. Well, what had happened was I took her words to be my own mantra and actually got to believing them while living in Vietnam. Come on, admit it. You watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and the Real Housewives of Atlanta and think you’re better, too. But I digress…
With the game’s continuation now distracting my tablemates and everyone else in the room really, I slid my remaining quarters off the table and gathered up my ink blotter and losing cards. Ms. Bingo Know It All, Dollene, just muttered, “uh huh” without even looking up at me as I high tailed it right out the side door. And just as everyone around me had been doing the past half hour, I looked up at the dingy ceiling standing between me and the heavens above and asked Jesus to rescue me now from this insanity. I figured if you can’t beat them you might as well join them.
Bingo. Wow. I actually played bingo, and I loved it! That was about the most fun a few bucks have bought me in a while, and I didn’t know whether to be worried or proud that I actually felt somewhat at home in this odd universe of random people and numbers. I liked all these colorful characters and felt more comfortable dabbling in their world than in this world I try to create for myself back home. Yes, life back home can be so much a charade sometimes as we try to fit into a crowd we know deep down isn’t for us.Five greenbacks lighter from my maiden bingo voyage, I hit the open road with about as much gusto as a four cylinder Japanese rice burner allows. And while we’re on the subject of driving I have to ask. Why do old farts have so much difficulty exerting enough downward pressure on the gas pedal to propel their cars forward in reasonable proximity to the posted speed limit? Yes, I will ride your sorry Wisconsin plated Toyota’s ass if you are going to do 40 in a 55 zone! I gave them a dirty look when I finally was able to legally pass. I just know Herman and Mildred will report back to Wisconsin with horror tales of how some jackass tried to run them off the road while driving like a 55 mile per hour bat out of hell.
With road rage about to full on blossom in my cramped Mazda, Highway 98 carried me eastward deep into the Redneck Riviera towards cities that don’t exactly roll off the tongues of the vacation contingency. Nope. No Destin, Watercolor, Navarre Beach, or Seaside with their upscale digs here. I was rolling towards Apalachicola, Wewahitchka and Marabelle in their run down, pawn shop and check cashing joint glory.
All my adult life, I’ve been jetting off to far corners of the world in hopes of injecting some culture into my otherwise ordinary life. I’ll be the first to admit that living abroad for several years only caused me to think that my own fellow citizens back home were a bit provincial and less worldly than our counterparts in Europe and Australia. Luckily my first stop in frozen Barrow started thawing this line of thinking. Even this voyage into the Florida panhandle was already scaring me into realizing I just may have more in common with the Dukes of Hazzard crowd than my own midtown Atlanta neighbors.OK, back up here. There’s no way I possibly could be a redneck, right? I shuddered at the thought that I could even possibly harbor these tendancies deep down inside. I began looking for some culture fast and a sign for the Gorrie Museum in downtown Apalachicola was bound to be that surefire way to knock off some of bingo’s dumbing down of my brain. How can anyone turn down a small brick home showcasing the advent of the icemaker? Easily it turns out. This joint is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Damn it all.
Still smarting from the disappointment of not learning everything I ever wanted to know about the magic 32 degrees Fahrenheit can play on liquid water, a real live Piggly Wiggly grocery store momentarily distracted me. Having never been inside one, the name alone was enough to propel me inside for a closer inspection. Much like the AC Mart in Barrow, the interior was vintage 1977 right down to the overhead signs and vegetable coolers. The sign out front advertising “gourmet foods” told me I was in the right place at the right time for some exploration, unlike the museum. Ever so green and naive, I searched for Tuscan sundried tomatoes marinated in first press extra Virgin Greek olive oil that would taste so proper with one of those gooey French cheeses reeking of rancid dog crap I pretend to enjoy in my Midtown Atlanta circles.
“Excuse me, do you work here?” I politely asked the woman wearing an Ace Hardware shirt but acting like she owned the pasta aisle. Oh, fatal, rookie mistake! “Yeah. I’m on lunch. What you need?” should have told me to quit right there and get the hell out of Dodge before she got all spun up and irritated.
To be continued…