When: 12:30 p.m., Feb. 23
Where: Donelson, FiftyForward
I walk in the packed room a few minutes late, and the cliques have already formed. Most people are playing cards in groups of three or four, and they all eye me curiously, if not suspiciously. Just like everything in life, there's a social pecking order. The world is just one giant high school lunchroom, right? You can't just sit anywhere.
It even looks a little like a classroom-slash-breakroom. My palms start to sweat. Instantly, I'm transported back to my first day of ninth grade, wandering around a cafeteria filled with strangers. Where you sit could determine your fate for the next four years. Or in this case, the next 45 minutes.
"Psssst!" A woman at a corner table waves me over. I kneel next to her. Her name is Christine, and in her bright turquoise sweater and sassy hat, she looks awfully young to be playing bingo at the Donelson FiftyForward center. This group meets regularly in hot pursuit of prizes concealed in stapled brown paper lunch sacks, which sit on a table near the front of the room.
"I like your tattoos!" Christine exclaims, pointing at my feet, where my pumps expose several small tattoos. The man behind her, Bobby, looks at my 4-inch heels and asks if they're hard to walk in. I explain that because they're platform heels, they're actually quite comfortable. The other women at the table nod in agreement.
I ask Christine if I can sit next to her, and she nods. I'm in!
Before I take my seat, a gentleman at the adjacent table informs me that he's sitting next to the fourth oldest sisters in the country. I'm not sure who keeps track of these statistics — other than Willard Scott — but these ladies clock in at 107 and 100, and they look fabulous. I'm about to ask them what kind of face cream they use when I'm distracted by another duo at the table.
"She's 107, but you're 115," a woman says, taunting a tall, handsome man sitting next to her. I wonder if this is bingo flirting. His response? Pointedly scratching his nose with his middle finger.
I gape. These are totally my people.
"So, can anyone play bingo?" I ask Christine, who has unintentionally become my bingo spirit guide today.
"No, you have to be a member," she responds. Suddenly I feel lucky to have been allowed to sit at her table. "How do you become a member?" I ask.
"You pay $10 a month," says a gentleman who sits down next to me. Christine motions that I should pass him two bingo cards. They appear to be friends.
"Oh, so the residents here pay to be part of this club?" I inquire.
"Residents?" says the man, whose name is Nate. He starts laughing and glances over at Christine.
"Do you think people live here?" Christine asks, amused.
Oh, man. Rookie mistake. On the way to the bingo game, I had passed an exercise room and a beauty salon, not rooms filled with beds with rails on them. I feel like a total idiot when I learn that FiftyForward is a meeting place providing educational, wellness and activity programs for adults over the age of 50.
Fortunately, nobody pays much attention because the game is on. Since I haven't played bingo since — um, maybe 1985? — I elect to use just one card. But my tablemates inform me that I won't win anything unless I use two. Pushing fears of ADHD aside, I grab a second card.
"What are the prizes?" I ask.
"BINGO!" Christine shouts. I guess I'm about to find out.
She walks up to the front of the room so bingo leader Joe, a tall drink of water in overalls and a baseball cap, can confirm that she has indeed achieved bingo. Christine triumphantly walks back with a brown paper lunch sack and rips it open, revealing a travel coffee mug and a handful of candy. She puts some of the candy in the middle of the table, and Nate takes a piece. I refrain because I'm not sure if she's sharing with me.
A few rounds go by rather uneventfully until a piece of candy lands in my lap, jarring me from the intense concentration of simultaneously monitoring two bingo boards. I snap my head up and see the ladies at the table next to me laughing. Are those the mean girls?
"Sorry!" a woman named Sara shouts. Apparently, she was aiming for Nate. A lot of the women appear interested in interacting with Nate. Christine keeps passing him more candy.
"Do you want a piece of my kitty cat?" Sara asks Nate from her table.
Sara holds up a Kit Kat bar.
"Yeah!" he responds. "But I might not be able to handle it."
OK, that is definitely flirting.
In between games I learn that Christine and Nate are poker partners, and since gambling is illegal in Tennessee, Christine travels to a Harrah's in Indiana once a month. She jokes that she's in rehab for gambling. I'm not entirely sure that she's kidding, but since I'm as gullible now as I was at 14, I don't ask.
In addition to manning two cards without entirely understanding the rules — apparently you can play four corners, a T-shape, and the standard five-in-a-row way to accomplish bingo — I'm distracted by talking to Christine and Nate. Suddenly I realize that I am one slot away from bingo on both my cards. I get excited. Maybe I can share candy with Nate too!
A few more calls and I almost have bingo twice on both cards. What is going on? Why isn't anyone else getting Bingo? Is this a trick?
"O-72" Joe calls out. Score!
"Bingo!" I scream jubilantly. Everyone in the room turns to look at me, perplexed. Nate informs me that we're playing "cover all" this round, in which you have to cross off every single spot on your board for the win. I am nowhere close to covering it all.
"Aw, and she was so excited," Christine muses to nobody in particular.
The cover all round is getting intense. People are getting antsy in anticipation of finishing the last round of the day. Then, at exactly the same time, Nate and a woman across the room both call "Bingo!" They are called forward for a board review. Nate is declared the winner, but he immediately gives his prize to the other woman.
"I don't mind getting beat by a pretty lady," he says, smiling and sitting down. "I give my prizes away every time."
"So that's why all the ladies keep giving you candy," I say to Nate.
"Aren't you diabetic?" another woman asks as she walks past our table.
"Yeah, but I still like candy!" Nate says, laughing.
Nate and Christine invite me to play poker, but I have to get back to the office. On the way out, I pass a rack of magazines and newspapers. I can't help but notice that there's only one remaining copy of the latest Nashville Scene. The one where the cover looked like a giant condom with the word "SEX" emblazoned across it.
Yeah. These are my people.
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