Coronavirus Bingo

“Bingo Table” by voteprime is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

I have been avoiding the daily coronavirus pressers because they are full of grandstanding, self-congratulation, and lies, but yesterday I made it almost to the end. Jaeme introduced me to The David Pakman Show, and that has made all the difference.

Pakman livestreams commentary during the broadcasts, fact-checking in real-time and alerting viewers when a statement isn’t true. He’s fairly entertaining and definitely informative, but yesterday’s Coronavirus Bingo was pure gold.

Before the broadcast started—Trump was more than 20 minutes late—Pakman shared a link to a bingo card generator, so I downloaded my card. The squares had common phrases or behaviors on them, such as “sir” routine, “nasty question,” “tremendous,” looks bored while others are speaking, etc. Of course, we were to click on a square to mark it when we heard the phrase or saw the behavior.

Things started off pretty slowly. Trump was staying on script, so there wasn’t much to mark, but he can never keep that up for long, so I knew it was just a matter of time. As soon as he started talking about how the U.S. is doing the most tests, bang I had my first square. I got a few more while he spoke, but once the questions from reporters started, the hits came fast. Soon I found myself rooting for him to talk about elements, or say “tremendous,” or talk about how no one could have seen this coming.

I got my first bingo when he told a reporter her question, about Jared Kushner’s statement of the previous day about how the strategic stockpile of medical equipment belongs to “us” and not the states, was nasty. “Yes!” I shouted, jumping out of my seat. It took me back to a time years ago when I used to pick up my grandmother and take her to bingo. Grandma Bea had been a bingo addict all her life. When I was a kid, she used to walk uptown to play bingo twice a week. For birthdays, Mother’s Day, and Christmas, my grandfather gave her money so she could play bingo. Sometimes she won; most of the time she lost, but it was playing the game that she seemed to enjoy most.

As she got older, friends would stop and pick her up on their way to the games. When they got too old to drive or died, we grandchildren became the bingo taxi service. At this point, she was living with my parents. Neither of them were interested in going, so I often came by on Sunday evenings, and Grandma Bea and I would go to bingo together. I remembered playing bingo as a kid when there were stiff cards and you used plastic chips as markers—in my rural area, we often used pieces of dried corn—but those days were gone. The cards were printed in blocks of three on paper and you daubed the numbers with bingo daubers, plastic bottles full of ink with a round sponge on top. Grandma had a collection of daubers, and I always chose purple, while she favored green. At first, I would play one sheet of cards and she would play three, but Grandma Bea had macular degeneration and her eyesight was going, so I eventually gave up the pretense of playing and took over marking her cards for her. Despite having severely reduced vision, Grandma often caught numbers I missed, and at intermission, she rewarded me with an order of fried mozzarella sticks.

Eventually, her health deteriorated enough that she moved to a nursing home, so I didn’t need to drive her to bingo anymore. Of course, there were games of bingo at the home and she was a regular attender. When she stopped going to bingo, we knew the end wasn’t far off.

I stuck with the game until after my second bingo. Dr. Birx was coming to the podium and I had had enough. But unlike other times when I have turned away in frustration and despair, I didn’t feel so bad. The game had been exhilarating and it gave me something to focus on besides the administration’s inept and self-serving response to the pandemic. I was reminded of my grandmother, who, by the way, lost two older sisters during the 1918 influenza epidemic. She used to tell stories of how one day her parents told her that she had to stay in the house and couldn’t play with other children, and then someone came and nailed a black-edged sign to their front door that said, “Quarantine.”

Grandma Bea lived through that pandemic and plenty of others over the years. She was a wonderful cook, an incredible candy maker, and she worked the polls for elections until her eyesight started to go. And she always played bingo. At first, I felt a bit sheepish writing about playing bingo during a press conference, but there isn’t much we can do about this administration until the elections in November, except laugh at the satire that is so richly deserved. All we can do is laugh and live as much as we can in our confined spaces.

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