Sunday, January 13, 2008

Oh, What A Night

Bingo 2008 arrived sunny and cold, the air alive with anticipation. Children and parents alike woke with a sense of wonder, an understanding that the day would be different somehow, better than the ones before or after.

H. and I got to the elementary school at 2:00 p.m., early enough to double check supplies and visit with the principal. There was plenty of candy and soda, and to our surprise and delight, several boxes of prizes that had been donated by members of the PTA. The custodians pitched in and we soon had the cafeteria tables arranged in proper bingo formation.

The principal remained cautious, however. "What sort of concessions are you planning to sell again?" she asked.

"Popcorn, soda, and candy," said H.

"And omelets," I added. "We'll set up the station for that in the back corner."

The principal looked at me for a moment and turned back to H. "Just make sure you get everything out of the refrigerator when the night's over," she said before walking away.

By 5:00 p.m. the other volunteers began to arrive. H. and I had early on decided we would make this an all-male effort, an alcohol-influenced decision we retroactively justified by taking the position that it's important for grade school children to have positive male role models. That begs the question of whether our friends and we are positive role models, but no matter, the die had been cast.

By 5:03 one of the PTA board members also arrived. "I don't mean to break up your guy party," she said.

No, but I'm sure you do mean to make sure we don't screw this up, I thought. We nevertheless welcomed her to the group and she joined the rest of us in covering tables, arranging prizes and concessions, and popping popcorn.

Presently, H. emerged from the storage closet with a bag of decorations. He began taping cutouts to the wall while I worked on the inflatable cactus.

"What are you doing?" asked one of the other dads.

"It's tonight's theme," said H. "Cowboy Bingo."

"Does that mean you won't be saying 'niner' all night?" asked another hopefully.

"Don't be ridiculous," I replied.

My middle son and a friend of his arrived just in time to see this exchange. Middle schoolers, their return to the site of their early education always has an unwarranted triumphancy, as though finishing 5th grade is equivalent to landing the space shuttle.

"You're going to be cowboys?" they asked in unison.

"You bet," I said. "He's Cowboy H. and I'm Festus."

"Nice," said my kid, whose own potential embarrassment was outweighed by the certainty that his younger brother would suffer far more.

At 6:15 the doors opened. Families poured in, then more, then even more, until the room was full, all the seats taken, more tables brought out and quickly filled. I'd bought eight dozen daubers and they were all snapped up within minutes. Bingo cards sold as quickly as change could be made, which soon made for potential disaster.

"We're out of ones and fives," said one of the volunteers.

"You're kidding," said H. "There was $170 worth of change when we started."

"I know," said the volunteer. "Everyone seems to have twenties."

Another volunteer was dispatched to a nearby grocery to get change while we prolonged opening announcements and hawked tickets for the raffles to be held at the end of the night. He returned just as the crowd began to get restive and H. and I ducked behind a curtain.

"Yee-haw Bingo!" we yelled, riding out on stage astride our wooden horses, clad in cowboy hats and neckerchiefs. "Who's ready to play?"

The children screamed and the parents cringed. The principal, upon whom we had bestowed the gift of her own cowboy hat, sighed heavily.

We explained the rules, the most important of which concerned the need for a winner to yell, "Yee-haw Bingo!" in order to claim a prize. Then we got down to calling.

"B-12," said H. "Who needs a vitamin?"

"O-64," I said. "Orangutan 64."

"Hooray," we said in unison. "N-49. N-four-niner."

The first game, regular bingo, was won in less than two minutes. The second game, some kind of deranged variant selected by H., dragged on for twenty-five minutes.

"O-72," said H. "O for the love of God, let someone win this game." The principal turned slightly pale.

"I-22," I said. "I need someone to put me out of my misery."

When it finally ended, to the vast relief of everyone involved, we took the opportunity to play one of the auxiliary games, inviting three students up on stage for a trivia contest.

"How many people live in San Diego, California?" I asked. "Closest answer gets a prize."

"Nine hundred thousand," said the first contestant.

Pretty close. We've got a good school system, I thought.

"Six thousand," said the second contestant.

"Seven thousand," said the third.

Strike that, I thought.

After another game of bingo it was time for a second quick break.

"Who wants to win a prize the easy way?" I asked.

Hands went up and I selected a young lady, a middle school student by the looks of her, to join us on stage.

"What do I have to do?" she asked.

"Do you know the song, 'There was a farmer, had a dog, and Bingo was his name-o?'"

"Yes," she replied hesitantly.

"Have at it," I said and handed her the microphone.

She stared at the crowd for a moment and to her great credit launched into the first verse. By the end of the song everyone was singing along. She walked off stage to a nice round of applause.

At the halfway mark of the evening we took an intermission so people could use the restrooms and spend more money.

"If you still have teeth left, you haven't eaten enough candy," I announced.

"Drink some more soda, kids," said H. "That way you'll be up really late tonight."

"Remember," I added, "there's nothing mom and dad like more than spending time with you."

H. and I retreated to the back of the stage to confer while a homemade CD played. "Crazy" by Patsy Cline. "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky" by Johnny Cash. And, of course, "Luck Be A Lady" by Frank Sinatra.

"So far so good," I said.

"Knock on wood," said H.

When we reconvened, we asked if people were having fun. Not satisfied with the response, we repeated the question, once, twice, three times, until the kids were screaming so loudly several parents began bleeding from the ears.

At the conclusion of another round of bingo, it was time for more public humiliation. "Who likes to dance?" I asked and was stunned when almost all of the kids raised their hands. H. waded into the crowd and picked three at random, ushering them up on stage.

"Alright, here's what you've got to do," I said after asking each of them their names and ages. "We'll play a song and whoever dances to the whole thing gets a prize."

With that, we pressed the start button. "Do You Wanna Dance," by the Ramones, loud and fast. The kids started dancing. So did H. and I, both of us careening around the stage and waving our cowboy hats. His sons and mine and their friends gaped at us, appalled but unable to turn away, while H.'s wife stared out the window, avoiding eye contact and anything else that might indicate she knew us. Eventually the song ended and H. and I gasped for breath and distributed prizes.

"Hey," I said to the contestants. "If you think you're embarrassed, imagine how our own kids feel."

"Imagine how their wives feel," said a teacher.

After a couple more games of bingo, plus a round of "Happy Birthday" in honor of H. whose birthday had been Thursday, we reached the end of the night. A raffle drawing for a bicycle, another for tickets to a baseball game, then a game of blackout for the grand prize of a portable DVD player and two movies ("Yes, H., 'The Devil's Rejects' would be an inappropriate choice.") "Happy Trails" playing as the crowd drifted out to the parking lot, parents exhausted, kids twitching with sugar and residual excitement.

As the volunteers put away tables and swept the floor, H. and I counted the money.

"How'd we do?" asked the principal.

I told her.

She stepped back. "Really?"

"Give or take."

"That's almost twice what we made last year."

That's because cowboys were in charge, I thought.

She thanked us again and left to put the money in the safe. H. and I surveyed the room to make sure it was clean and went to our cars and down the street to a local bar to meet some of the other volunteer dads. We had a couple of beers and we laughed about the night, and most important of all, we started planning for next year.


zombie rotten mcdonald said...


I'm so disillusioned.

You should have gone as The Devil's Rejects Anybody who lost the special prizes would never be seen again.

I'm still surprised the Bingo Fascisti didn't have you gutted.

Righteous Bubba said...

And when it's bingo night
I know it goes all right with cowboys
It's understood
It's in the hands of cowboys
And cowboys do it goooooood...

Anonymous said...

Man. That sucked. It's only good when a Snag child refuses to speak to you for at least a week.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Boy, the Cowboys weren't in charge yesterday!!

I hear TO cried.

Kathleen said...

"Do You Wanna Dance," by the Ramones, loud and fast. The kids started dancing. So did H. and I, both of us careening around the stage and waving our cowboy hats.
as we say out here, "No. Way."

As a loyal reader, I can't believe I am surprised at the awesomeness.

Jennifer said...

Did only the men "go cowboy"?

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Next time, they ought to 'go commando'

Jennifer said...

I thought cowboy and commando were the same thing.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...


Cowboys have spurs.

Snag said...

Would it make you all feel better in some strange way if I told you we wore assless chaps?