Bingo to You, Sir

Commentator David Greenberger has held many jobs over the years. He's scooped ice cream, sold paint, and promoted musicians. Here's a story about a job he's had not once, but twice: calling bingo. David Greenberger's latest CD of monologues with music is titled 1001 Real Apes.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Commentator David Greenberger has had a lot of jobs over the years. He has scooped ice cream, sold paint and promoted musicians. Here's a story about a job he's had not once, but twice.

DAVID GREENBERG reporting:

I17, I17.

N33, N33.

For a few years in the late seventies and early eighties I was in charge of twice monthly bingo games. My responsibilities were simple and straightforward. I'd pass out the cards and chips then call the numbers for about an hour's worth of games. I then put away the game components and pass out the winnings, generally candy bars. The players were old men at a nursing home in Boston.

I was the Activities Director at the facility and felt quite at home with the 45 men who lived there. I came to view them all as my friends. As a bingo caller, I could just about dose off running the game but some skewed creativity helped to keep me awake. I'd call the numbers too quietly until greater volume was requested and I would then become too loud. I'd talk too quickly until I was requested to slow down.

For the residents of the home, the world had become rather static, built upon schedules not of their own making, and I figured it was the least I could do to make them scratch their heads a bit about something outside of themselves. I took the greatest pleasure when engaging in subtle word play. For example, I could make B10 into beaten and bloodied. B4 into beef ore mined from a cow. Vaguely rhyming couplets were also possible to slide through, with G49 being developed as jeep for the mind.

The men thought they were hearing what they needed to. Some were experiencing hearing loss. They were also assuming I was calling out actual bingo board spaces. Twenty years later at the beginning of the new century, I was in Chattanooga interviewing old people.

One day I was at a center and there was one man in particular who would be perfect for me to talk with. He was a Colonel Sanders look alike and his voice was rich with a sort of character I find so compelling. However, he was distracted by a bingo game that was scheduled to start. In fact it was late in starting because whoever was to run the game was busy elsewhere.

I volunteered to step in, citing my past experience. I called the numbers with unembellished professionalism. I was not looking to relive the bingo experience. I was just trying to keep the schedule moving along so Colonel Sanders would be able to talk with me when the game was over. But a short time into the game, something happened. The Colonel, sitting off by himself at a small table, lowered his head and quietly vomited onto his shoes. An attendant came over and wheeled him away while I continued with my game duties. I never did get to speak with or see him again.

In the decades I have remaining, I'm quite likely to wind up at more bingo games. I'd prefer to be the caller.

SIEGEL: David Greenberger's latest CD of monologues with music is called 1001 Real Apes.

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