First, full disclosure.
I will admit with a great deal of shame that I have, in my life, been disrespectful not only of Bingo, but of Bingo players.
It was me, in fact, who once said, "Chess is the game of kings ... polo is the game of princes ... and Bingo is the game of those who take great pride in their ability to quickly recognize numbers of up to two digits."
But now I see that I was wrong to be so cynical.
Now I have actually played Bingo for money.
Now I have a new mission in life.
And that mission is to actually win.
This epiphany came to me one recent Tuesday at the Mazatzal Casino, which operates Bingo games several times a week not just for locals, but for Valley folks who bus themselves into town weekly for the event, armed with the prime tool of their trade: those number-blotting, felt-tipped "daubers" which, based on their popularity, are as vital to a successful game of Bingo as a pool cue is to Minnesota Fats.
"We enjoy sitting down, enjoying the company, relaxing, playing with the daubers and hoping for the right numbers," said Soledad Panis, a retiree and 15-year player from Phoenix whose individual Bingo winnings once peaked at $50.
"I know, I know, that's not much when you consider that, just today, I spent $18 to play, $19 if you count the dauber I had to buy because I left mine at home," Panis says. "But I have a lot of fun."
So does Mary Lou Mesa, Soledad's bus-n-Bingo partner, whose 10 years of play once netted her a more impressive $750.
"Wherever there's Bingo, we go and we play," Mesa says.
Ditto, says 77-year-old Val Rasmussen of Phoenix.
"It's a great pastime, and besides, you can win money," says the one-time $1,000 winner who's been playing Bingo since grammar school.
"We used to play with kernels of corn to cover the numbers," Rasmussen recalls. "We didn't have daubers. There was just a bushel of corn, and you'd take a handful before the game. I more or less got stuck on the game back then."
The Bingo player most first-timers would want to emulate, however, is a media-shy Payson woman the only local I could find on this day who recently won $6,700 in Bingo bucks at a Valley casino, and who was preparing to take her husband on an Alaskan cruise financed by her winnings.
So, she was asked, it is possible for the game of Bingo to pay for itself?
"Usually," she answered. "But I've had some long dry spells, like the one I'm in right now. I've got a lot of catching up to do."
This woman was dead-serious. In front of her were a half-dozen Bingo sheets (most folks are challenged by one) attached to some very professional-looking Bingo-sheet clipboards which stood before a dozen different-colored daubers, pointing skyward and ready for launch like so many Scud missiles.
As even the dimmest Bingo novice could tell, this player was a PLAYER. The kind of player who knows every bust-the-bank secret there is to know about the game. The kind of player whose vast store of winning Bingo strategies, knowledge and advice could lead us all to financial glory and Alaskan cruises.
"How do you approach the game?," she is asked. "What tips could you pass on to a beginner to help increase his or her chances of winning?"
With a smile as knowing as Star Wars' resident sage, Yoda, the seasoned pro then offered every scrap of Bingo wisdom she had accumulated in her lifetime.
"Luck. That's all it is, plain luck," she said. "Whatever numbers come up, that's it. Well, you've also got to pay attention. And that's about it."
Dang. There's a catch to everything, and that part about the importance of paying attention would almost certainly be my downfall. The last time I ever paid attention to anything was ... well, I can't say, really, because obviously I wasn't paying attention.
And, boy, was she right. In the Bingo I remember from childhood, all you had to do was watch someone pull some little colored balls from a rotating cage, listen as they called out some numbers, find them on your Bingo sheet, and X 'em off until you had completed a straight horizontal, vertical or diagonal line.
Today's Bingo is a whole bunch more complicated than that. Nowadays, the game is played with a series of increasingly difficult "patterns" that replace the old straight lines with S shapes, box shapes, blocks of numbers, and all sorts of other variations which require a much keener attention span than I've been blessed with.
To my credit, several times during play I came within five or six numbers of being legally allowed to leap from my seat, scream "Bingo!" and collect the jackpot.
To my discredit, I often found after the game that at least four or five of the numbers I needed to win had been called, and that in the heat of competition I had somehow missed them.
But I am not about to let a little, teensy thing like my attention span keep me from winning big at Bingo. I will play again, and keep playing until that elusive jackpot is mine.
Or until I forget what it is I'm doing, whichever comes first.