I read a short story in high school by Shirley Jackson called, “The Lottery.” It was a slice of Americana tale that had the most macabre ending. In the story parents gathered for their “ritual” annual community event…the whole town showed up and everyone knew how it would end, except the reader.
The story had plenty of sweat and tension…but we didn’t quite know why. It seemed that this was just a small town annual occurrence. What could be causing people so much discomfort?
And then we learned….each year a child would be sacrificed in a village ritual that was straight out of the Salem witch trials. Through a lottery, one child would lose… and that would be their death knell. (Spoiler alert)…Being selected meant you were the child who would be stoned to death.
Well, that’s what this past weekend’s game of Bingo felt like.
We watched as a child was sacrificed in front of a crowd of 500 people.
Here’s what happened.
On a weekend getaway with a few friends, we decided to sign up for an après dinner game of Bingo at a hotel resort.
We were in the south, Sea Island Georgia and, it was Easter Weekend. When we walked into the room, we stepped back into the 1950’s. The dress code was jackets only and the women were dressed in cocktail attire. Little toe-head boys wore blazers and slacks and little girls wore frocks. Jackets were required.
Bingo is serious playtime in Sea Island.
Our MC was a dead ringer for a Bob Barker/Alex Trebek look alike and a total ham. Wearing a pink blazer, with a full head of cotton candy hair he came out singing Sweet Caroline sashaying around the bingo tables. The crowd joined in.
The playful sappy tone was set for the next 2 hours.
People were plenty jolly, and although this “sport” was just for the fun of it with no skill required…every single person was hopeful they could win. The jackpot was not insignificant set at $1,000.
This was family entertainment in its purest form.
Seated at the table behind us a family of 10 – must have been extended family – were all playing Bingo. After a series of “B-4’s and N 52’s” we heard the mom screech, “BINGO.” She jumped up and down and then turned to her 8-year-old saying, “You go up and get the prize.”
The boy seemed somewhat reluctant but after a little negotiation, he agreed to accept on behalf of his mom.
With head held high, we watched as he proudly ascended the dais in his smartly fitted blue blazer and gray trousers. The entire crowd looked up disappointedly from their incomplete Bingo cards and watched.
Our MC squatted to meet the grinning boy eye to eye and said, “So you are sure you have the winning card?” “Yes,” the boy nodded proudly.
The MC engaged the young boy in a little to and fro chit chat to pass the time while the Arthur Anderson version of a bingo card checker could confirm the win.
And then we heard those fateful words. “BONGO”. And the crowd of 500 exhaled a communal sigh.
The boy’s head dropped and he raced off the stage, totally humiliated. He was visibly decimated and ran into the arms of his father. “I’m so sorry, honey,” we heard the dad say as he hugged his boy.
We had witnessed the “stoning.”
The boy’s eyes were filled with tears and shock. His mom gave his head a little dismissive pat saying, “Oh well, I thought I had Bingo.”
The boy folded in on his mom and we watched him in his dissolved state for the rest of the evening.
And later that evening we talked about what BONGO looks like in real life?
We all agreed, the mom didn’t intentionally set her kid up to fail. In fact …just the opposite. She was so excited to transfer her win to the child that in her impulsivity she was careless. We laughed that he would probably need therapy for years and would get into a great college using this life altering experience on his college essay.
But, the net result was the desire to win and transfer of the “winning” experience to her child was so strong, she in fact sacrificed her child’s self-esteem.
BONGO is more than just a mistake. It’s about going public to claim a winning prize when in fact there is no win and there will be no prize.
The strange thing was, there were several “BONGOs” that evening — this mom was not the only one at fault but no others had sacrificed their children.
Like a child being stoned in the crowd in “The Lottery” this boy was beaten down.