“The chief value of money,” H.L. Mencken wrote, “is that having it is vastly overrated.”
I’m not sure if that is as true in 2013 as it was in 1908, but I do know that whether or not having money is overrated, giving it away is definitely underrated. I can think of nothing more fun than to give away money, even if it’s just a buck or two.
I take that attitude each year to the bingo tent at the St. John the Evangelist Parish Community Bazaar where I call out the numbers one night each year as a favor to my friend Ann Noone. She asks and I can’t say no.
One year, I had to leave a family reunion near Wyalusing early Friday evening in order to get to the bazaar in time for my 8 to 10 p.m. shift. I missed the roast pig, which wasn’t quite ready when I had to be off, but I’d never let Ann down.
Except for last year when I was in Los Angeles visiting my daughter. Anne was most gracious, but as of this writing I am not officially booked for this year so I may have done myself in. We’ll see.
“What’s it like to call the numbers at bingo?” several folks asked at the reunion as I explained the reason for my early departure.
“Well,” I answered, “it’s two hours of little old ladies yelling at you, ‘Slow down!’ ‘Go faster!’ ‘Speak up’ ‘Stop talking so much, just call the numbers!’ ‘Aren’t there any Bs in there?’ That’s what it’s like.”
I should hate it, but I love it.
I love it because I make it fun. Fun for me, anyway.
I do that by making sure I have a pocketful of money to give away. It’s not a whole lot, but it’s enough to put smiles on some faces.
I might, for example, throw a few dollars out of my pocket into the jackpot, just to make things more interesting. Sometimes it’s as little as a couple of quarters to round out a jackpot of $14.50 to an even 15 bucks, sometimes more.
Since the jackpot is determined by the number of people playing. I become an old-fashioned barker trying to drum up customers. Often I’ll entice teenagers to come and play by offering to pay for their games. It’s only 50 cents apiece … money well spent in my book. I reckon if I can get a few cute young girls to sit down and play, some young boys will follow. The opposite holds true as well.
I was wondering what else I could do one year to spice things up when, as I walked toward the tent to report for duty, I spotted an old friend Patrick Feeney selling “instant bingos.” Instant bingos are little cards with flaps to open to see if you’ve won. The prize can be anything from a free ticket, all the way up to perhaps $25. Patrick was selling them four for a dollar and I bought five dollars worth. I used them to sweeten the jackpots. “The jackpot for the next game will be $12 and four instant bingo tickets.”
Know how well that went over? I had to get Patrick back three or four times to buy more tickets.
There’s always a lull in the action between games as the helpers get cards for new players and collect money. That takes time and some of the players start squirming. I decided to keep them entertained by picking the first number for the next game and asking everyone to guess what it was. I gave a dollar to the first person who got it right. That became a bit chaotic so I went back to trying to cajole people I recognized in the crowd to come in and play. Jimmy Narvid and his wife Mary obliged, God bless them. So did Jessica Brogna and her mom Sharon. And Josh Reynolds. And Jane Mulhern.
During one lull, a young man came over holding a lamp, of all things. He must have picked it up at the flea market. Look at that guy, I said into the mic. He came to the bazaar and found the light of his life. Only one person laughed, a lady sitting behind me. I gave her a dollar.
The best give-away of the night, however, came not from me. A little girl sitting behind me played for an hour and didn’t win a thing. Finally, her mom and dad said it was time to go and while I was trying to think of some sort of prize I could give her, a man who played the entire two hours I was there and won a couple of times, called to me. “Here,” he said, “give her this.” He was holding out a ten dollar bill.
I took it and made a big deal presenting it to the little girl announcing she had won, “The Msgr. Bendik, Best Bingo Player under 4-Feet Tall with Blonde Hair Award,” or something like that. She was delighted.
Moments later, the gentlemen who donated the ten dollar bill, called to me again. “Take a look at this,” he said. He had started opening the instant bingos that were part of one of his jackpots and the first one he opened was a ten dollar winner. The exact amount he had given away had come right back to him.
The fellow, by the way was Frank Bendik, brother of Msgr. John Bendik, the church pastor. I suspected that much earlier in the night. He had the unmistakable Bendik laugh … probably honed over years of giving and having fun doing it.