Friday, February 28, 2014

Crazy Crafty: Brown Baggin' It

There really isn't a word to describe the exact depths of indignity reached (for everyone involved) when a well-intentioned mother asks her ostensibly-mature, thirty-something-year-old son, "So, how are your puppets coming along?"  Such is the wacky tacky life I lead.

For better or worse, I think my parents resigned themselves long ago to the fact that my avocations would always skew toward the puerile, the sophomoric, the tragically-remedial.  Armed with no socially-acceptable excuse/explanation for my interests, all I can do is try to promulgate the unmitigated joy found in great literary volumes like More Paper Bag Puppets (1968).

The best thing about my thrift store find, More Paper 
Bag Puppets (besides 77% off of the list price), is the title;
"More" indicated the promise of a primary publication,
a tome of even more ideas for lunch-bag transformations,
a prequel that I can only assume is cleverly entitled
Paper Bag Puppets.

I happily bought the book but I couldn't shake the nagging
feeling that the sequel is never as as good as the original...

When I found More Paper Bag Puppets on the children's bookshelf at one of my regular, thrift shop stops,  I admit to being guilty of judging this book by its rather uninspired cover - BORING!  Except for the title's suggestion that its pages bore the great secrets of brown-paper puppetry, it is small wonder that it was still sitting on the shelf.  Upon breaking the binding, however, I discovered a wealth of late-60's line drawings.

I love these illustrations!
From goose to gander, wolf to granny, Jack to
giant, everyone in More Paper Bag Puppets
is giving the side eye.  

Given that each page was printed with the two-part face of a different character, my first thought was that the objective was to color the page, cut out the image, and adhere it to a paper bag.  Tut-tut...following that logic would result in the thoughtless sacrifice of one puppet per double-sided page; a quick glance back to the page of instructions (I HATE following instructions) revealed the proposition of a lengthy process including tracing the puppet face on transparent paper, transferring the image to "paper the quality of construction paper," coloring the bisected face, cutting it out, and pasting the pieces to the underside of a paper bag.  This book was from 1968; hadn't they ever heard of a mimeograph machine?!!

Trading one lengthy process for another, I decided that I would use the book's illustrations combined with the art direction for the opening titles of The Misadventures of Merlin Jones as inspiration for my puppets.

Putting a wacky tacky spin on the book's illustrations, I cut and layered colored papers,
starting with the violet-haired miss on the right.  After thinking of other big-haired
beauties, I set about creating a nod to Beetlejuice's Miss Argentina.  I knew that a trio
was in order so I made the cotton-candy bouffant-ed lady in the middle.
This was a great start but the real objective was a full-blown puppet production.
What was I supposed to do with this trio of overly-teased tresses?

The book was divided into sections that recommended intuitive dramatic play - a wolf, a granny, and a young, hooded girl were meant for enacting the perils of "Little Red Riding Hood."  Jack, his mother, and the giant lent themselves well to an all-paper-bag retelling of "Jack & The Beanstalk."  I wasn't sure what story to tell with my gals...the story that they told on their own seemed fairly unsavory.  I decided to clean up their image by making a sticky-sweet music video using a tune by the squeaky-clean McGuire Sisters.  It was "SUGARTIME!!!"

"Sugartime" - The McGuire Sisters

Can you tell that we're not professionals?
Our videos were shot using a very fancy, very borrowed camera but once I 
uploaded the videos to youtube, they lost some of their high-definition properties.

Feeling like I betrayed myself by investing so much time supporting the song-stylings of a different team of musical siblings, I realized that it was high time to add a couple more faces to our puppet repertory.

Tiny & Mary Puppets!!!
I made my cowboy hat removable so as to not be limited in future lunch-sack storytelling.
Tiny & Mary were just begging for a video of their own so I made a desert backdrop by painting and layering
large sheets of heavily-textured paper that have been in the stash for years - thanks hoarding tendencies!!!

Pay no attention to the smell of bologna sandwich and the leaky
Capri-Sun...we didn't know we were supposed to use new paper bags.

"Like A Stranger" - Tiny & Mary
(an original tune by Mr. Tiny)

Wouldn't you know it, just after production on our videos wrapped, I made a return trip to the thrift store.  Guess what I found.  Go ahead, guess!  Come on, just humor me and guess...

You guessed it, the original!!!
Paper Bag Puppets (1966)

Stay tuned...

A special thanks to our pal Fabian for filming, directing, editing, and producing our contribution to the history of puppet cinema.  Eat your heart out, Muppets!!!

Have you ever ventured into the world of paper-bag puppetry?  I must be honest, it is actually much harder than it looks (and I'm afraid we made it look pretty difficult).  Do you think you've outgrown your homemade-puppet faze or have we inspired you to start crafting?  Would you be interested in a personalized, paper-bag portrait of your very own?  Imagine being immortalized in craft paper!!!


Mr. Tiny

Monday, February 24, 2014

Chow Time: Tio's Tacos

I used to laugh derisively at self-righteous celebrities who would tout themselves as "spiritual" rather than religious.  The subtext always read that, in their enlightened transcendence, we plebeians had been left behind in a fetid miasma of simple faith.  As I mature (at a pace slower than any approved by modern developmental guidelines), I find in myself the ability to experience the spiritual, outside the confines of religion.  In situations quite devoid of church-sanctioned sanctity, I feel a genuine sense of peace.  In places quite unexpected, I feel a connection to the Divine.  I mean, imagine having a spiritual experience at a taco shop!!!

"Bienvenidos A Su Casa."
Tio's Tacos #1 Mariscos y Centro de Frutas Naturales (est. 1990) - Riverside, CA

Like a modern master filled with the spirit of Grandma Prisbey, Sam Rodia, and Art "Der Tinkerpaw" Beal, Martin Sanchez began Tio's Tacos as an expression of his culture, his history, and his faith.  Proving that wacky tacky isn't relegated to history or high finance, Sanchez weathered an unsteady economy and the uncertainty of the food-service industry to build this mecca of wacky tacky, turning a sidewalk vendor's cart into a chockablock city block in less than twenty-five years.  Seemingly founded on the principles of family, food, and thrift, this Mexican-restaurant-cum-folk-art-installation transforms what most would describe as garbage (think tin cans, broken bicycles, car parts, empty bottles, used toys) into a fantasy land of mermaids, myth, and pop culture.  Here, enveloped by the embrace of highly-personal artistic expression, Mr. Tiny was feeling downright holy! 

The ever-evolving landscape of meandering gardens, oyster-shell footpaths, mosaics, and
statuary are highlighted by grand-scale figures - mermaids, acrobats, spacemen, and more.
We're guessing that Popeye's tin-can-lid bell-bottoms all came from canned spinach - recycling at its best! 

Many of the giant figures are cleverly built around the trunks of the property's many towering palm trees.

Lest you think that we are overstating the grandeur of Sanchez' work,
I've included Mary, who stands at six-feet tall, for scale.

The technique of binding castoffs with chicken wire
is as surprisingly-genius to me as it is to Betty Boop!

If there is one thing I appreciate far less than a spiritually-superior celebrity, it is a movie quoter.  Why did it take so long for Austin Powers' "Yeah, baby!!!" to go away?  Well, in a further admission of my own reluctant maturity, I have come to realize that this prejudice is an example of me disliking a quality in others that I exhibit all too often.  I frequently quote movies; it's just that the movies I tend to reference are generally greater than fifty years old (or at least movies set in a bygone era).  When walking the grounds of Tio's Tacos, only one thought came to mind, a quotation from A Christmas Story.  Like Mr. Parker faced with the major award of that infamous leg lamp, the only words I could utter when faced with the awe-inspiring wonder of this taqueria were, "It's, it's, it''s indescribably beautiful!"

But I guess my sense of spirituality wasn't too misplaced; Tio's sprawling grounds also include a chapel built of
bottles, mirrors, statuary, and assorted recycled material.  We were particularly fond of the picture mosaic dome.

Out of everything, my real obsessions were the bottle-glass walls that caught the light beautifully
both inside and out.  I really fell in love with these walls - call it a harlequin romance!!

Reminders of Sanchez' faith and his native state of Michoacan abounded.
I felt like heavenly signs were everywhere.

I guess it is at this point where I should say that there are also plenty of signs at Tio's Tacos of a far more secular nature - "Cuidado: Suelo Mojado," "Do not leave children unattended," "We will not be responsible for any damages or accidents that occur," "Photographs taken for commercial purposes are prohibited."  Just so readers and Tio's management are aware, as of publication of this post, wacky tacky and Mr. Tiny remain entirely unremunerated for any of our activities and adventures (although we wouldn't necessarily turn our noses up at an offer....).

We're just here for FUN!!!

And real fun can be found in some of Tio's more sophisticated offerings.

We spent so much time wheeling around the grounds on our pint-sized trikes that we almost - almost -  forgot to eat.  We made our way into the actual restaurant, past a three-dimensional, marine-life diorama and the jewel box of mouth-watering aguas frescas.

We left so little time to eat that we both ignored the house recommendations and just panic-ordered the taco salad at the counter.  We were given the obligatory chips and salsa, which incidentally is the best part of any Mexican restaurant meal, and were sent to get our aguas frecas.  I opted for guayaba (my favorite) and Mary spent an inordinate amount of time sampling juices and having a custom-blend concocted that included chia seeds (I warned her that the side effects of ingesting chia seeds include an unexpected green mohawk sprouting up at inopportune moments).

There are many dining areas from which to choose;
we chose to eat near the chapel.  A fiddle player
followed us to add a little musical accompaniment to
our lunch.  He and Mary make a handsome couple, no?

There is definitely nourishment for the body and soul at Tio's Tacos #1 Mariscos y Centro de Frutas Naturales.  It may seem a hackneyed phrase but one man's trash is certainly another man's, namely Martin Sanchez' treasure.  Tio's Tacos is his gift to the City of Riverside and to this wide world of wacky tacky lovers!

Tio's Tacos #1 Mariscos y Centro de Frutas Naturales
3948 Mission Ave
Riverside, CA


Mr. Tiny

Thursday, February 20, 2014

wacky tacky Icons: The Kessler Twins

Is there anything better than a tall, cool, blonde of foreign extraction?  The answer is obviously yes, two tall, cool, blondes of foreign extraction - with bonus points for being twins....

...and having matching wolfhounds!!!

Better known to their native-German following as "Die Kessler Zwillinge" and their adoptive-Italian audiences as "Le Gemelle Kessler," Alice and Ellen Kessler, "The Kessler Twins," were destined for stardom despite being born in the turbulence of pre-War Germany (although, being the epitome of the idealized-Aryan genotype was certainly no a hindrance in that particular climate).

Alice und Ellen
(in no particular order)

Emerging relatively unscathed from the war years, Alice and Ellen put their vocal and dance training to use and quickly gained nationwide notoriety.  Their performance of "Heute Abend Wollen Wir Tanzen Geh'n (Tonight We Want to Go Dancing)," earned them placement in the top ten of the Eurovision Song Contest of 1959 and international acclaim.

"Heute Abend Wollen Wir Tanzen Geh'n" - The Kessler Twins

Like a long-legged, living embodiment of a Doublemint Gum ad, the Kessler's doubled their pleasure and
doubled their fun by finding fame in France (a residence at Paris' famed Lido night club) and super-stardom in Italy.
(Source: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15)

"Quando, Quando, Quando" - The Kessler Twins
(Many of the sisters' hits were sung in Italian or a German-Italian hybrid)

The poster children for post-War multiculturalism, I wondered if the twins ever became a star-attraction in the United States; Life Magazine of February 22, 1963 answered my question.

"Sensations from Germany: Kessler Twins"

While never quite the hit they were in Italy,
The Kessler Twins appeared with Ed Sullivan,
Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Red Skelton,
and Danny Kaye while in America.

Apparently, they also made a lasting impression on a young,
US Army Sergeant on leave in Paris, namely Elvis Presley. 

I think I love The Kessler Twins because they are the kind of novelty act that just doesn't exist anymore.  Besides Matthew & Gunnar, who was the last big sister twins act?  And when was the last time you heard of a long-standing nightclub engagement?  When was the last time you heard mini-dress-wearing German sisters sing a Lou Rawls' song in Italian?

"A Natural Man" - The Kessler Twins

I am definitely not the biggest fan of contemporary pop music but I will say that these kids nowadays are well-produced and expected to be polished within an inch of their lives; all the Kessler Twins had to do was be pretty and twirl.  It is their mere passing acquaintance with synchronization that warms the wacky tacky cockles of my heart (aren't twins supposed to have some intuitive connection???).

I also love their always-of-the-moment styling.
Hello, mermaid-hair helmets!!!

Are you a fan of The Kessler Twins?  Even better, are you a twin yourself?  The Kesslers continued to perform well into the 1980's; I don't know if they are still performing but I for one would love to see a live Kessler spectacular, wouldn't you?  "Ciao-f Wiedersehen!"


Mr. Tiny

Monday, February 17, 2014

Solvang: California's Counterfeit Copenhagen

Do all fathers find it necessary to start road trips at three o'clock in the morning?  It never failed that the reveille of flickering bedroom lights at 2:45AM indicated that the time to hit the hay had ended and the time to hit the road had begun.  With sleep still very much in our eyes, we would stumble down the hallway dragging our blankets behind us and pile into the minivan for the kind of lackluster road trip where the only opportunities to see old-timey landmarks were the split seconds when the same were illuminated by headlights zooming by at 65 miles per hour.  Instead of staring into the darkness of a roadside abyss, we inevitably opted for more sleep.  My parents always said that an early start would help us avoid traffic but I suspect that 6+ hours in the car was much easier with five sleeping kids. 

As an adult, I admire mom and dad for their parental trickery.  Even as a child, I couldn't really blame them for the pre-dawn start because I fell asleep in suburban Orange County and woke up in Copenhagen. 

I'll never forget my first view of Solvang, CA, just a pit stop on our much-longer trek.  We pulled off onto a bucolic highway and, after a few minutes of gawking at ostrich farms, found ourselves in the center of 17th Century Denmark.  Surrounded by misty mountains, Solvang (Danish for "sunny valley") is the settlement of a few early-20th Century Danish transplants.  Set on recreating a taste of the old country in a familiar, if highly-unlikely, setting (downtown Solvang borders the old Mission Santa Ines), these wacky tacky pioneers commissioned a few half-timber buildings, with further residential and commercial construction following suit.  Needless to say, I was smitten; to me, a young child, it was an extension of Disneyland, a magical, fairy tale village only a few hours from home.

Only a few blocks in any direction, the village of Solvang envelops visitors in a
fully-realized environment of windmills, copper roofs, and half-timber construction.

A week ago, my brother and sister-in-law kidnapped me for a day of fun and adventure (not so sure that the duct tape, threats, and firearms were necessary).  We returned to Solvang with pleasure and purpose; one of my favorite and altogether-secret spots for fabric shopping is in the basement of Hans Christian Andersen Square, a complex of shops and a cafe owned and operated by a local family.  Talk about bargain basement prices; for only one dollar per yard I would practically buy my weight in fabric on each visit.  It was at this very location where I bought yards and yards of barkcloth and even found the fabric for this tropical frock and this border-printed number.

A photo of a fabric-buying expedition from years back.
Can you tell that cheap fabric makes these brothers happy?!  Weeeeee!!!

Sadly, the store was no longer in operation.  We entered the Solvang Information Center to see if the store had moved and to inquire after the family.  We learned that the patriarch of the family had recently passed away and, due to a possible dispute regarding the estate/will, all inventory was removed and the stores/cafe shuttered.  As I spoke to the kind and highly-informative information representative, I noticed a beautiful accordion spotlighted by a shaft of afternoon sunlight.  It took a little goading on my part, but eventually he picked it up and played it for me.

"The Happy Wanderer"
A more fitting song for the wacky tacky
adventure team would be hard to find.

Directionless and left to our own devices, we quickly settled into some of our more reliable exploits - eating and hijinks.

Solvang is a veritable smorgasbord of smorgasbords but we only really make room for Denmark's most-famous foodstuffs.  Several years ago our family hosted a young, Danish student* and, if good for nothing else, he answered the age-old question, "What do the Danes call a danish?" - answer, "Wienerbrød" which translates directly to "Viennese bread."  While Solvang does offer delicious Austrian danish, it should be noted that it is one of the few places in California to get the real Danish pastry, the aebleskiver (a pancake ball covered in jam and powdered sugar).

  *Incidentally, we made sure that he visited Solvang during his stay; he reported that Solvang
is a comically-inaccurate yet particularly-enjoyable translation of Danish culture.

I would say something about the old woman who lived in a shoe but I think she'd get mad.
I will say that the Danish-Mexican bobsled team is said to be a SHOE-in at the Winter Olympics.

After toying with the idea of hijacking a Segway tour, we decided instead to continue our wacky tacky walk around town.  We stopped in some thrift stores, crashed an antique sale, and stopped for every possible photo-op. 

What else would you do when introduced to Denmark's
favorite native son?  I think this is Danish protocol to give
Mr. Andersen a helping "Hans."

Besides defiling one of history's most-beloved authors, one of our favorite things to do in Solvang is take the back road out of town through the deer-covered hills and rolling farmland.  We invariably end up at an organic farm stand that operates on the honor system - Jeez Louise, it's a good thing we're so honorable!  Seasonal fruit, verdant greens (is that redundant?), gourds, and root vegetables are to be had at very reasonable prices.

Leave it to me, an avowed member of the animal resistance league, to fail miserably when I finally step out of my comfort zone and try to feed the goats; these billies and nannies were having absolutely no part of it.  I realize that my only point of reference is ever-reliable cartoons, but aren't goats supposed to eat tin cans and umbrellas?  Imagine turning your nose up at organic carrots!!!  Well, the joke is on you goats,  more carrots for me.....

If you find yourself a "Happy Wanderer," be sure to wander over to Solvang.  You won't find deeply-discounted fabric but you'll find a whole lot of faux-Danish charm!

Have you ever been to Solvang?  Do you have any similar towns near you?  If you are a reader from Denmark, please tell us what you think of California's answer to Copenhagen.


Mr. Tiny

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Bowl-O-Rama: Wagon Wheel Bowling

Much time has passed since we last brought you a Bowl-O-Rama feature; the reason being that we had visited so many beautiful, old, local alleys that it seemed we'd begun to exhaust our natural resources.  With just split seconds left before the wacky tacky fracking for bowling alleys began, we remembered a rich deposit of Bowl-O-Rama that was just waiting for our greedy exploitation at Wagon Wheel Bowling (est. 1953) in Oxnard, CA.

Alright, alright, the facade of Wagon Wheel Bowling is about as unprepossessing as
it gets, but do you really doubt our abilities to bring you the best in Bowl-O-Rama?
That multi-colored thumbprint glass alone was worth a little look-see.  

A landmark of a certain stretch on the 101 Freeway (of which I made mental note on countless childhood road trips), my backseat view of Wagon Wheel Bowling always elicited scenes of trail-weary pioneers so thankful to have reached the land of plenty that the only fitting expression of gratitude for their salvation was thirty-two gleaming lanes and tricolor shoes in every size!  However, it was never my fate to explore the realities of this minivan daydream.  In an axiom-shattering example of the early bird failing to get the worm, we always passed the Wagon Wheel long before the lights were switched on; by the time it was open for business we were already begrudgingly giving hugs to relatives in the northern reaches of the state.

One of the greatest things about Wagon Wheel Bowling is that it's the lone
survivor of Wagon Wheel Junction (a complex of offices, a restaurant, a motel,
and the eponymous bowling alley).  Fortunately the incredible, neon-stagecoach
sign for the demolished restaurant and motel still stands; in an era of rampant
"bulldozery," we hope that it continues to take pride of place along the freeway
or at least finds a good home! 

This trip to the bowling alley was no exception to our typical time-table folly; we arrived at Wagon Wheel hours before opening.  Pledging to come back during business hours, we took the opportunity to capture the bowling alley's gorgeous sign by daylight.

The details of this incredible, double-sided sign include the bent arrow, the ball and pin, the sign-painter
script, the faded turquoise-and-red color story, and that bold, bowling font all highlighted by glorious neon!!!

Well, we made good on our promise.
How's that for form and follow-through??!!

While there were absolutely no bonneted pioneer women tending to cast-iron cauldrons over a campfire, nor wagon trains, nor trail masters, Wagon Wheel Bowling provided all the comforts and charms that a mid-century bowling alley ought to offer.

We were thrilled to find an intact western motif (one of our favorites) and original fixtures - interior
shed roofs, old championship rosters, shingle signs, and of course, wagon wheel light fixtures.

The bar/billiard room/banquet hall came complete with vintage furnishings, a quaint brick-and-flagstone
fireplace and the queen of all pinball machines, Elvira!  Erika schooled us on how not to win at pinball...

Like any bowling alley worth its salt, Wagon Wheel Bowling is home to a coffee shop;
the current occupant is Doña Rosa's Mexican Food.  We had just eaten but that didn't
stop Ben & Erika from getting cozy in one of the original, naugahyde booths.  Wouldn't
it be a dream to have a space like this to make into a wacky tacky diner?

Mr. Tiny makes like a wagon wheel with the Wagon Wheel sign.

The Wagon Wheel holds a special place in our hearts because one of Tiny & Mary's signature tunes (an original) is titled "Wagon Wheel."  I can't say with absolute certainty but, having the sign stamped in my subconscious after so many road trip sightings, it is safe to say Wagon Wheel Bowling may have very well been the inspiration for the song.

"Wagon Wheel" - Tiny & Mary
(Filmed by our pal James)

Just like that old wagon wheel, we'll keep rolling along looking for the next Bowl-O-Rama.  Do you know of any beautiful bowling alleys that we simply must visit?  Have you ever been to Wagon Wheel Bowling?  Did you ever eat at the restaurant or stay a night in the motel?  Our high score at Wagon Wheel Bowling was just exploring its history but we want to know, what was your record bowling score?

Wagon Wheel Bowling
2801 Wagon Wheel Rd
Oxnard, CA


Mr. Tiny

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Crazy Crafty: The Love Boat

For a variety of reasons, I have been spending a great deal of time around the house as of late.  Let me tell you that it doesn't take long before a level dose of laundry, shopping, mopping, cooking, cleaning, diapers, and doctor appointments makes anyone appreciate the plight of a stay-at-home mom.  With so few opportunities to get out and about, one begins to forget about social interaction.  One forgets the way grown-ups behave.  One forms imaginary, yet very intense, friendships with daytime-television personalities.  One puts much more thought and energy into holiday crafts and decorating than ever before (it is really no wonder that Pinterest has blown up with a wealth of unattainable, perfectly-photographed crafts and foodstuffs).  No need to worry about that here!

I can never seem to capture and/or create anything Pinterest worthy.
It is only craft books that are intended for a more juvenile skill set, like
Easy-to-Makes(1966), that find this staunch anti-crafter wrapped in a
web of hot glue-gun strings. 

Lest you think that Mr. Tiny is turning mommy blogger, please be reminded that I, neither a mommy nor a woman (just for the record), limit my crafting to things that make me laugh, things that are wacky tacky, things that don't take much time, and things that don't cost an arm and a leg!  For Valentine's Day, I turned to page 28 of Easy-to-Makes for some holiday inspiration. 

I kind of loved the paper-plate "Cupid Carryall" but as I haven't needed
a themed mailbox for the big, classroom Valentine exchange in many years, I
figured that it made a lot more sense to go with the "Shipshape Party Favor." 

"Shipshape Party Favor" makes for a particularly ho-hum
kind of a name for this craft.  I mean, it's a cupcake-liner
with a heart sail, lollipop mast, and candy crew!
This  LOVE BOAT is ready to set sail!!!

Along with being an anti-crafter, I have always been a bit of an anti-cupcake advocate so the Love Boats (a craft employing cupcake liners) were a challenge to my sensibilities.  In the hierarchy of sweet treats, COOKIE IS KING - then cake (of the full-size variety), then trifle, then brownies, then pie, and then cupcakes!  On top of the fact that I always want the middle piece of cake (a cupcake is all edge piece), there is gene that I carry that makes me immediately revolt against an "it" item.  Seriously, haven't cupcakes had their fifteen minutes of fame already (sorry cupcake fans)?!?!?!!  Don't even get me started on the cro-nut! 

The Love Boats meet the wacky tacky, Crazy Crafty prerequisites of being
budget friendly (I had everything on-hand except for the discount Dum-Dums
and Valentine's M&M's) and easy-to-make (Thanks, Easy-to-Makes!).

The Love Boat!
Fancy with its iridescent, pipe-cleaner rigging, but not too fine, the Love Boats
would make a great jumping-off point for a nautical Valentine's table. 

We hope that as you sail into the sunset with your sweetheart this Valentine's Day, you'll feel like a first-class passenger on "The Love Boat."  Here's to a Happy and Nautical (naughty-cal?) Valentine's Day!  Cuchi-Cuchi!!!

"The Love Boat" as sung by Charo on The Love Boat


Mr. Tiny

Thursday, February 6, 2014


Do you remember your first day of junior high school - not knowing where to go or where to sit, hoping you had the correct supplies, looking around for someone to show you the ropes, smelling the acrid stench of mystery body odors, stale cigarette smoke, and denture adhesive?  Oh...perhaps I am confusing junior high with Bingo Night at the local Elks Lodge.

Driving by the Elks Lodge on a regular basis as part of my thrifting rounds and seeing the sign advertising the weekly Bingo game, I always thought to myself, "We've got to get to Bingo Night tout suite!" Well, several months and several drive-bys later, we finally made it to Bingo.  If you're as unfamiliar with professional Bingo as I was, the realities of an evening spent playing are rather accurately summed up in this episode of Roseanne (not much of an exaggeration and a bonus for featuring Edie McClurg).

 Selected scenes from "Roseanne Plays Bingo" - Roseanne

As a Bingo beginner, I wasn't sure what to expect at Bingo Night but I was secretly hoping it would be exactly like Roseanne.  Fortunately, Bingo Night delivered fully on the promised the sit-com's portrayal of grandmotherly types taking rather seriously this game of chance.

Although it's a popular method of making something old and seemingly-boring sound exciting, the phrase "This isn't your grandmother's Bingo" could not be further from the truth.  Indeed, Bingo Night at the Elks Lodge is very much your Nana's Bingo; what it isn't is your Bingo.  This is not the childhood game with a single five-by-five, square card and a bunch of coins, beans, or buttons.  What Bingo Night is is a three-hour exploration into the human desire to exploit the mystery of luck.  Rows and rows of fortune hunters hold court with their lucky cats, troll dolls, photos of dead relatives, $90-120 worth of bingo sheets, and of course, their color-coordinated bingo markers (some with ergonomic grips)!  This Bingo had a computerized Bingo King machine.  This Bingo had fast-paced, high-stakes rounds of play.  This Bingo had light boards, and sound equipment, and multiple video monitors.  This Bingo was going to leave us in its dust if we didn't catch up!

As soon as we entered the hall, we were marked as beginners - we came prepared with neither Bingo talismans nor markers, we had bingo game sheets that had to be replaced twice because we immediately messed them up, and we wore facial expressions reserved for the recently lobotomized.  Arriving just a few minutes late for the earlybird game, we had to find seats at the very front of the hall.  As we wound our way to the last remaining tabletop not already plastered with Bingo sheets and assorted Bingo paraphernalia, I sensed that my novice's confusion was directly related to the confusion of seasoned onlookers; only then did I remember that my Bingo-night attire suggested that I was an old pro.

B-I-N-G-O and Bingo was his name-O!!!
I might not know how to play Bingo, but I know
how to dress for Bingo!  I said that I wanted to
dress silly but, as a newcomer, not garner too much
attention (the Bingo hall can draw a pretty tough crowd).
 With only a few minutes to throw something together, I
settled on polyester high-waters in brown houndstooth,
a barkcloth aloha shirt, a golden cardigan, black socks
and white, tasseled loafers - Bingo Night perfection!

Fortunately, we were taken under the wing of a surprisingly-young and helpful woman who told us that she makes the Bingo scene every week.  She did her best to explain the basics but it was clear that our propensity toward uncomfortable giggling combined with our endless questioning was not going to make us favorites among our tablemates.  Frankly, I believe there was a prevailing and very-genuine concern that our lack-of-beginner's luck was going to rub off.  Seeing that we were still unable to fully decipher the details on the program outline, we even got a couple pointers from the Bingo caller himself!

As with any subculture, there is a certain amount of associated jargon - "Bingo Lingo" if you will (or even if you won't) - that must be learned if one wants to thrive in the Bingo world (see: "Lightning Dog," "Crazy Kite," "Money Train").  But Bingo, which incidentally is the most mundane form of gambling (beating out Rock, Paper, Scissors and a coin toss by a wide margin), extends far beyond a game; Bingo people are a race unto themselves, complete with their own stereotypes.  There is the elderly man who keeps shouting "Bingo" even though he is nowhere near a win; we'll call him Paul...because that was his name.  There is the ancient lady who makes everyone aware that she has outlived every single one of her teeth by abstaining from dentures and constantly exercising the agility of her tongue.  There is the hardcore Bingo addict who arrives early to stake out prime real estate and spends an inordinate amount of time arranging his markers, charms, and homemade blackout chips.  There is even the disgruntled woman of an age made indeterminate by extreme living whose chronic, hacking cough is interrupted only long enough to voice aloud her complaints about "newbies," cheaters, and less-than-adequate Bingo callers.

There is the new guy who thinks it's all a big joke.
Wait a second...that's me...

What I didn't think was a joke was the cost and duration
of Bingo Night.  Averaging only one dollar per game
(if one plays only one sheet - a highly-unusual practice),
it definitely adds up in both money and time; we
were there for over three hours!

Friends have asked if we won and all I can say is that the evening transcended financial gain - which I guess translates to "no."  While our Bingo Night might have exclusively been an emotional win, we definitely came away feeling like least in the dental department (which is actually saying quite a lot).

Oh, "B-4" I forget, I wanted to know, do you Bingo?  Is your local Bingo Parlor as technologically advanced as the Elks Lodge?  Have you ever had a big Bingo payday?  When was the last time you screamed out "BINGO" in a public forum?  If it has been a while, I say get thee to a Bingo Hall!  


Mr. Tiny