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December 01, 2005

The Bingo Card of Life

by Nancy     Go to fullsize image

It’s raining so hard here today that the lid of somebody’s Rubbermaid trash can has floated down the street and is circling the drain in front of my house. And nobody has set foot outside to rescue it because it’s a gross, cold, unpleasant morning.  It’s the kind of day that send you rummaging through the kitchen cupboards for the Swiss Miss and some marshmallows, and you’ll even take the dried-out bag from last summer because some days just scream hot chocolate with marshmallows, even stale ones.

I figure it’s a great day to play Urban Bingo with the TLC crowd.

You know this game because most of you are writers or very astute and discerning readers.  You know that good writers take material from real life and make it fit onto the page to create good fiction.  Fiction that’s free of the trite and the clichéd. Fiction that the reader doesn’t know twelve pages into the story how it’s going to end. Fiction that’s compelling and entertaining and meaningful—for both the reader to read as well as the writer to write.

To play Urban Bingo, you look around at the world and take note of the good stuff.  The stuff that’s definitely stranger than fiction. 

Me, I had to train myself to observe the world because most of the time I’m wandering around in the fog of my own imagination.  Even a few weeks ago I didn’t recognize my next door neighbor in the grocery because I was wondering whether or not I could kill somebody with a Jimmy Dean sausage. She had to introduce herself.  I woke up before she snapped her fingers in front of my face to break the trance.

I play a lot of Urban Bingo.  Go to fullsize image

Before we start, let me assure you that despite its name, Urban Bingo can be played anywhere, including (perhaps especially!) Harley’s dining room at Thanksgiving or a desolate, snow-blasted football field in Michigan   Go to fullsize imagewhere my husband will be standing on Saturday, thrilled to be officiating a playoff game despite being dressed in white polyester breeches and a black and white striped shirt while some poor undergraduate on a scholarship runs out from the sidelines between plays to shovel the slush from around my insane husband’s spit-shined black shoes.   No, Urban Bingo isn’t a game that requires an urban setting, just people and places. Circumstances. Details.

The trick is to find five really great details and---Bingo!—you’ve got five paragraphs of material. A whole page.

Here’s how you play:

Last summer as I took a break from finishing HAVE YOUR CAKE AND KILL HIM TOO, I saw an extremely bow-legged guy coming out of a parking garage wearing a Pucci mini skirt, slingbacks, a Zsa Zsa wig and one of those fluffy bolero-style tops in lavender----which wasn’t enough to put him on the Urban Bingo card. No, a cross-dressing guy in a parking garage--that’s pretty typical in the neighborhood where I saw him, and I’d be a snarky jerk to put that combo of details into a story without some kind of added dash of social commentary.  But if he’d had another detail—like carrying a fishing rod, maybe, and heading in the direction of the adventure outfitter’s store—he’d have made it onto the Urban Bingo card.  (Check out HAVE YOUR CAKE in March to see how I used him.) Making fun of his fashion sense would be stupid on my part.

See, I think snark alone is a writer being an asshole--making judgments about people who are mixed up or less fortunate or fashion victims (who’s to say?) or lacking in some quality the writer clearly thinks is more important than human kindness. So simply a snarky observation doesn’t qualify in Urban Bingo.  You have to add another layer to whatever it is you find absurd. Wit, yes, but with heart or an unexpected direction or at least a political (in the most non-politics sense of the word) point of view.

Last week I was procrasti—er, doing some online research--and came across Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback and eligible bachelor Ben Roethlisburger’s blog.  Nothing you wouldn’t expect there, really.  Except all the blog comments are from . . . young women. Flirtatious young women. (Lately some enterprising genius has done land office trade in sweatshirts printed with “Mrs. Roethlisburger.”)  And my other neighbor attended a charity event where Big Ben was the star attraction, and she noticed all the middle-aged mothers shoving their daughters in his direction, but his body guards (the man is 6 feet, gazillion inches tall and he needs body guards, you ask??) managed to fend them off. That combo of details will make their way onto my pages somehow.  Meanwhile, the bachelor quarterback hiding behind his bodyguards has earned a spot on my Bingo card.

How about it, team?  Care to play some Urban Bingo today?  What have you noticed lately? 


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This morning's Wilmington News Journal had a front page story about Delaware State University starting a stunningly expensive Woman's Equestrian program. DSU is a "traditionally black college," funded more poorly and with a considerably smaller endowment more than U. of D., the white state school, legally segregated until sometime in the '60's or '70's, I think, still probably 98% black, and they chose Equestrian over such less expensive sports such as field hockey, golf, rowing, and rifle--all of which their prospective students might have participated in while in high school. What, was yachting not available?

What are they thinking--that us upper-middle-class folks up in Wilmington will send our daughters there for Equestrian, instead of Yale (wife), Bryn Mawr (sister, step-mother), or even Penn State (me)? That Hathaway-Brown, The Baldwin School, and Choate will become feeders?

Maybe this isn't urban, but there has to be some crazy story here.

Uh, well, Josh, actually at least one of my daughters would have begged to go there if we'd known about it.

Well, Nancy, at 5:30 a.m., L.A. time, sitting in a darkened playroom, I have no entries yet for Urban Bingo. But I'm taking my card with me in the minivan to drop the kids at school and if I notice any bewigged cross-dressers in the carpool lane, will that make the cut?

Okay, you can delete my comment if you think it is too incendiary or off-topic. I'm okay with that.

Funny, Nancy, but I had a conversation with my karate sensei yesterday about this mind-wandering thing. When I was in New York before Thanksgiving, I was coming down the escalator at my hotel -- mind wandering -- and didn't notice the NYPD SWAT guys at the bottom of the escalator until I was practically in their midst. I think it was just a show of force after the Jordan attacks, but still. It occurred to me that I should pay more attention. Sensei talked about "mindfulness." He also recommended Gavin de Becker's book, GIFT OF FEAR...which I gather also talks about mindfulness.

Did you figure out how to kill with a Jimmy Dean sausage?

Several ways to kill with a Jimmy Dean sausage:

1. Cholesterol (admittedly, a long-term plan);

2. Cook to hardness, use as bludgeon, feed to dog (no murder weapon--see "Serial Mom" for cinematic example);

3. Unwrap and rub all over the floor, creating unusually slippery situation, then see no. 2 above;

4. Use to block breathing (messy, requires physical contact with victim);

5. Tell jokes whilst victim is eating, make victim choke to death.

I'm sure real authors can think up other ways. These are just off the top of my head.

I'm so happy you wrote about this, Nancy, because I have two bizarro nominations for the Urban Bingo board:

1. I live in a neighborhood of walkers, lots of older couples who troll the streets after dark. One couple are the very serious wave-hello-but-don't-slow-down-types who are out after dinner, same time, without fail, both carrying canes to ward off dogs. (Or so I thought!) A few evenings ago, a very windy one, my trash can lid blew into their path so the man brought it over to me. Soon as he spoke, it was clear that he was completely snonkered. The wife came over, and she'd obviously been tippling a bit, too. They chit-chatted quite nicely, and (I confess)I got a little high on the fumes. (Am I missing some new development in the exercise trend?)

2. Scene--public library, post story time. Boy about five years old stands in the middle of the reading area, clutching a yellow satin object to his chest, and screams (in complete fury): "That mean lady touched my Jesus pillow!" The entire library came to a frozen in horror stop, then everyone in the immediate vicinity ran off like frightened deer. I never did figure out who the mean lady was, but I swear, it wasn't me. I'd never touch a Jesus pillow without permission.

Don't know if the drunk power walkers or the Jesus pillow will ever make it into a story, but it certainly proves that truth-stranger-than-fiction idea.

Oooh, oooh, another one:

I was in Lancaster, PA, recently, working the outlets (brand new Pottery Barn just opened up BTW) and stopped at Long John Silver's for food. Two little Amish children were in front of me at check-out. They ordered a single chicken plank, then ran outside to their waiting buggy--and fed it to the horse!!

Does a chicken-eating horse qualify on the bingo board?

Where I live, there is a chain of upscale adult stores called Private Lives. They carry an assortment of sexy lingerie, adult toys, videos, etc. One of these stores is located next to the nail salon I use. On a Saturday morning, I arrived to have my nails done and a youngish (35) woman jumped out of her Escalade SUV and dashed into the store carrying nothing but her platinum visa and her car keys. I coiuldn't help wondering what sort of erotic emergency she was having on a Saturday morning.
Ramona, as for walking under the influence -- whatever it takes to get that exercise...LOL.

Would Jesus have chosen yellow satin?

I must admit that my first Jimmy Dean sausage thought was the same as Josh's--freeze it and--erm, at the risk of starting something totally different--whack away.

My lawyer daughter's secretary (wait, are they called assistants now?) found a loaded gun on the city bus yesterday. The bus driver let her ride for free. A nice urban moment, don't you think?

Okay. this may not be quite as cool as carniverous Amish buggy horses but...
This morning I was tapping away happily on the computer, having just killed off my heroine's ex in a delightfully gruesome manner, when the phone rang. The male voice on the line wanted to know how long it would take for him to get his visa. Blink blink.
Visa? As in credit card ? Or visa, as in go to another country? And,by the way, how the heck should I know either way, and oh yeah... who are you ?
There was a confused and awkward silence. He told me his name. Ben.
Apparently, Ben is planning to leave the country some time in the near future, and the visa request form he had obtained listed MY home phone number for questions.
Gotta be a story in there somewhere. Hmmm, I never did ask him where he was going...

"Fiction that’s free of the trite and the clichéd. Fiction that the reader doesn’t know twelve pages into the story how it’s going to end. Fiction that’s compelling and entertaining and meaningful—for both the reader to read as well as the writer to write."

Wait a minute. Is THIS what we're supposed to be writing? I might as well give up right now.

As for playing Urban Bingo, I tend to be that snarky asshole you spoke of. :) But I'm game, so I'll keep my eyes open and report back to you.

Add me to the list of those who cluelessly wander around in our own world. Back in college, it once took me a month to realize the guy I was driving to church with each also sat a few rows over from me in one of my classes (class size, 20).


Josh, I saw the same skybox graphic on the NJ this morning and had to do a doubletake. I guess you have to live here to understand how that could be an urban bingo entry.

And Rob, I too am more apt to just provide the snark without the human kindness. Something more to work on.

I'm with you on the mindfulness thing. I was once plotting something while grocery shopping and my husband stopped at the store to tell me something important (this was before cell phones). He was walking straight to me. I looked up, noticed a man looking at me, I nodded a polite hello and kept going, very intent on my story.

I had walked several feet past him when he said my name. I turned around and looked at him again and had to think hard to clear my head and figure out who he was. He was so flustered by my fogginess, he was gaping at me.

We'd been married nine years and had two kids at that point. I am still apologizing for that one.

That game was invented for the south, I think. I'll have to report back.

No snarkiness, huh? That's a tough one. After all, if snarkiness was allowed, then I could mention the girl who was ahead of me in line at Starbucks the other day (yes, I know it's an evil corporate conglomerate but dammit, I've gotta have my lowfat grande chai). Pretty girl, college age, and not what anyone would call fat, but she had made a really unfortunate choice in jeans. Not only were they super low-rise, ending just above her butt crack, they were also, I would estimate, about two sizes too small, which resulted in the always attractive "mushroom look" (also known as the "muffin top"). The pants were so tight that they squeezed her butt completely flat and tiny, with this ledge of flesh sticking out a good two inches over her belt (I got a good look, because she was also wearing a short t-shirt). I stood there in line behind her, pre-caffine and all snarky and wondered: how do you put that on and leave the house? This was clearly a person who spent some time on her appearance; did she honestly look at herself in the mirror and think "yeah, that looks good"?
You see, that's the sort of thing I would say if I was being snarky, but you said we shouldn't, so I won't.

Better yellow satin I would think than the horrid purple plush I saw yesterday on a, well, I'm OPRETTY sure it wasn't a Jesus pillow. It was one of those smushy pillows with the itty gitty beads in it. I bought one a while back and it's terrifically useful, for tucking behind my back or under my legs. But I went for the only slightly flashy bright red with the slightly fuzzy end bits. NOT the 70's orange or purple basement couch/rug plush.
Why not yellow satin? They didn't have a lot of dress-up opportunities back then.

Kelly Ripa told a pretty good Urban Bingo story on herself yesterday. (So sue me! I watch the first 15 minutes of Regis & Kelly almost every day! Wanna make something of it??)

Kelly doesn't keep her makeup at home because she wears makeup all the time at work & prefers to stay bare-faced in her off-hours. But she got a last minute dinner invitation (to celebrate her own birthday, so how could she refuse?) and was desperate for a teeny bit of makeup, so she rummaged through her daughter's Hello Kitty makeup bag and "made do." If you're a mother, this makes perfect sense. That's almost an Urban Bingo qualifier. But then she went out to dinner and sitting at the next table was the woman who's probably the most chic person in NYC right now--Sarah Jessica Parker. Who came over to the table to graciously wish Kelly Ripa happy birthday, and instead of saying thank-you or nice-to-meet-you, she blurted out, "I'm wearing my daughter's Hello Kitty makeup!" Which makes it an Urban Bingo moment.

So, Daisy, there's a way to turn the Starbucks muffin girl onto your Bingo card, but it probably involves revealing what exactly you were wearing at the time, too. I'm betting it wasn't Seven jeans and Manolos, but I could be wrong. Me, I'd be wearing my LL Bean stretch pants and sneakers, except there'd be a tail of toilet paper stuck to my heel.

No, I only wear one pair of jeans at a time. But at least they fit.

I have just returned from the nonstop funfest that is the grade school Santa's Workshop, Day 2. Nothing urban about this event.

However, I will share that a statistically significant group of children spend five times more on their pets than their parents, and will only buy for siblings under duress. We sold out of "World's Best Sister" pens, but can't give away the Brother pens....

Thank God I'm a vegetarian, because if I'd been eating sausage while reading these comments, I'd have choked to death and there's no one awake to give me the Heimlich Maneuver except the dogs and Heimlich never came up with a version for paws.
I'm now taking my Jesus Pillow and going to bed.


That sounds just like this twit er, girl in my english class. Yes the english class where I am not allowed to answer questions until the entire class has said, "I dunno." She slao has highlighted blonde hair is proud she acts like a 'blonde'. I'm willing to bet Barbie, my nickname for bimbo, I mean girl, in my english class; I bet Barbie spends more money on trashy make-up, than I have spent on clothes for me that don't have a school name and whatever sport my sons participated in on it. She also has mushroom puffs and is a bit broad in the beam. Yes I am snarky. This is the girl who exclaimed,"There are NO women on the Supreme Court!" not 8 weeks ago. Honest, I did not make her up. I think it is incredible that girls who think women don't belong in the Supreme Court because they are 'irrational' still exist. That's my Urban Bingo.

I don't know if this qualifies, but it remains a source of infinite amusement for my husband and me. He grew up in Princeton, NJ, where his parents still live. When we visit, a favorite outing is a walk around the campus and surroundings. Having long since imprinted on U.C. Berkeley as the Platonic ideal of a college town, I was amazed and awed to discover that the streets surrounding the Princeton campus sported such fine establishments as high-end jewelry stores, designer clothing shops, and alumni gift outlets featuring sterling silver flasks, imported wool scarves, and the like. No hippie street vendors and falafel stands there.

So anyway, there we were, strolling along in the midst of all this wealth, when we walked past a couple of chic college students and overheard this fragment of conversation: "I can't believe I spent thirty thousand dollars for four classes!"

Like, where exactly did this young person think she was, anyway?

On the mindfulness topic . . . my husband teases me frequently about my (lack of) "black belt awareness", as I frequently manage to space out on anything and everything when I'm daydreaming. DeBecker's "Gift of Fear" is, indeed, a wonderful book and highly recommended to all and sundry.

And my martial arts friends and I routinely amuse ourselves thinking of ways to turn everyday objects into weapons. One such friend and I had quite an enlightening conversation on the topic after a zealous airport baggage screener carefully broke the nail file off her nail clippers (but left me with the stylus to my PDA . . .).

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