Those of you who know me, either on Offsprung or in the alt-verse (where Jack has a son and Ben is a high school history teacher), know that I intend to live to be 120 years old. I plan to emulate my hero, Jeanne Calment, formerly of France, currently of heaven, who died at age 122. I don't feel the need to
share the longest-lived crown with Ms. Calment, being that she's my hero and all, and so am content to fall a couple of years short. In all honesty, though, if I make it to 121, I could show up at my own son's 90th birthday party, which would be kind of cool. Assuming I'm invited, of course. But since I'm talking about The Heir, my sweet gay son (fingers crossed), I'm pretty sure I will be.
But I digress. Because I will live to at least
120, I will be an Old Person for a very long time. I'm not positive of the point at which old age officially starts nowadays, what with face lifts and hair weaves and all the various bionic parts people like my mother are able to purchase and utilize in place of the failed organic parts they were born with. Since the current age at which one can retire with full Social Security benefits is 67, I may as well go with that figure, which means that I will be an official Old Person for 53 years. Given such a tenure, one which will be upon me much sooner than I like to admit, I figure I should start studying their ways (the ways in which I'm not already old, that is; I've got their driving, vision, hearing, style, continence, and love of cats down pat). Luckily, I just spent a week in Melbourne, Florida, the Harvard for this particular course of study, with professors emeriti Maw and Paw NotClooney, my in-laws, who spend every winter and spring there.
Melbourne is rather uniquely positioned to support and encourage just about every interest Maw and Paw NotClooney have (beaches, fishing, car racing, NASA, Wal-Mart, and good hospitals among them). But the real hook for them seems to be the preponderance of bingo. I'm pretty certain they could play bingo at a different Melbourne venue every night right up till their 120th birthdays. Maw and Paw have a standing bingo date every Monday and Thursday at "the Moose," and I joined them one night of our trip.
When they first suggested "going to the Moose," I didn't know what to think. I'm Italian; we only do Knights of Columbus. So I assumed, as any Italian would, that it would be kind of like "going to the mattresses." I figured, instead of holing up at a safe house and bunking down with the other button men in preparation for a Five Families war, "going to the Moose" meant entering the Witness Protection Program, so we'd be taking on new identities and moving to a small town in Alaska to escape the wrath of Don Barzini.
But that didn't make sense; Barzini's dead. The Moose is, of course, my in-laws' local chapter of the fraternal and service organization, of which they are proud members, and one "goes to the Moose" to, among a wide range of other activities, partake in the aforementioned twice-weekly bingo games. And there's where they lost me.
I was initially doing quite well at the Moose, in that there was ample opportunity for me to indulge in three of my favorite pastimes: drinking cheaply; flirting with old men; and watching "Dancing with the Stars" without sound. (OK, I did not realize that last one was fun until that very night, but since then I've been doing it a lot
.) Soon enough, though, the bingo got underway, and the black cloud settled above my head. Now, I shouldn't complain; for each of the twelve scheduled games, players were charged exactly one dollar for three bingo boards. So for twelve bucks, I was getting a full night's entertainment plus the possibility of winning hundreds and hundreds of dollars. And I'm certainly no stranger to bingo, having gone to Catholic schools from grades 1 through 12. Every self-respecting Catholic school forces its students' parents to work a certain number of hours per month at its parish's weekly bingo night, and my parents were no exception. (As an aside, does indentured servitude in a gambling den really reflect Catholic values?)
But I did not realize beforehand that the twelve games were not twelve standard bingo games, but rather one plain vanilla game followed by eleven more elaborate ones, each with its own set of wack-a-doo rules and objectives. Certain games required the winner to achieve bingo in the shape of the number seven or the letter M or the letter Z, but sometimes the letter could be on its side but sometimes it couldn't, and sometimes the winning shape wasn't a letter or number at all but a box, and sometimes it was just the perimeter of the box, but sometimes the box had to be filled in... Honestly, I think I may have been playing the right game maybe twice the whole night. Far more often, I was, say, striving for a 7 shape when I should've wanted a Z shape, or not realizing that I had a sideways M, or yelling out "Bingo" when I got the perimeter of the box, only to realize that we were on the "layer cake" game, or any of the exponential number of remaining ways I could screw up eleven exotic games of bingo with eleven different sets of rules.
Even more frustrating was that I was blowing bingo spectacularly when I had all the time in the world to get it right. The bingo caller, Verne, gave us approximately 45 minutes to find each number. On. Every. Single. Call. Over twelve games. Here is a typical Verne call: "B-15. B-one-five. B as in 'boy,' fifteen. B as in 'boy,' one-five. B the letter after A; 15 the number after 14. B, the Latin alphabet equivalent of 'beta'; 15, the product of three and five. B, as in the vitamin complex; 15, as in the date in March, 44 BC, when Julius Caesar was stabbed to death in the Roman senate..." I wanted to gauge my eyeballs out with the stirrer from my two-dollar gin and tonic. I was convinced I'd do better if I didn't have so much time in between calls to overthink the shapes on my board and to stare at the bingo dots until they were swimming before my eyes and creating even more far-out patterns, like a map of Australia or George Clooney's profile. When I casually remarked to my father-in-law that perhaps Verne could move things along more quickly, Paw replied, "Are you kidding? We started coming to the Moose because of Verne! The caller at the Legion went too damn fast." Well, I, for one, stand firmly with the American Legion in this particular debate. Just one more point of similarity between me and the Legionnaires, along with (a) being American, and (2) having diseases named after us.
All the distractions at the Moose didn't help. I've already mentioned the weirdly mesmerizing quality of "Dancing with the Stars" on mute, which the Moose was showing on various wall-mounted, flat-screen, high-definition TV sets around the room. Then there were the random NASCAR updates loudly announced in the middle of games ("Kyle Busch won!"). And the endless cheap drinks. And the bizarre tradition every time O-69 was called, when a guy would yell out, "Linda, all you," and Linda would then blow two long, loud honks on a kazoo. It was like I was in this nebulous Moose-verse that was even stranger than the alt-verse where Jack has a son and Ben is a high school history teacher, and I was only at its margins. I certainly didn't win any bingo games in the Moose-verse.
Then again, neither did my in-laws, and really, the whole night was about connecting with them anyway. I worry that I am slowly losing them. I am losing them to Florida, where they spend more and more time every year, to the point that they are now considering selling their New Jersey home and moving down there full time. I fear am losing them gradually to illness, because there have been so many health scares, big ones -- cancer, comas -- in recent years, and even though they have conquered them all so far, it always seems as if I'm a thousand miles away and powerless to help. I know I'm losing them to time, because, well, we're all losing everything to time, but I haven't had all that much time with them yet, really.
But I've just spent a week with them, and they once again taught me a lot about embracing all the life you can, about being a stellar Old Person. Plus, I managed to meet almost all their Florida friends and am greatly comforted. They are in good hands at the Moose. I mean, good hooves.