Last night, for the first time, I worked the Bingo hall with some other volunteers from my church, including my father. The first time, after listening to pleas for help for years. My church, through a corrupt previous rector erected a new building next to the cathedral. We've been stuck with trying to pay for it for 6 years. Working Bingo for St. Mary's helps out lots of people. I'm supposed to feel good when I walk out of there, knowing I've done the right thing.
I'm not sure if I have the moral fortitude to go back and help again.
Bingo people are a bizarre breed of humanity. To throw around a few generalities, they are often middle class or below, and don't look as though they have the cash spare to be throwing around. They're more often than not smokers (though there is a glass-enclosed room at the corner of this hall for those who do not puff their lives away, it is never filled to the walls, and the men and women inside look just as destitute as the poor sods on the other side of the class, but without the chemical stimulation), and each eyeball glimmers with a faint hope that no one can take away.
I saw one woman, in stained and torn sweats, toss away $500 on instant-win/lose $1 ``pickles.'' Some were winners, but I can't imagine she even broke even. I thought to myself, watching this poor woman gamble against statistics (I had already sold off the big winner from the bucket that night), ``How Christian is it to let the poor become poorer, and not do anything about it? Worse, how Christian is it to profit from that venture?'' My church will pull in a fairly decent amount of money on her losses. And who knows what she will eat the next day? Did I watch her auction off a winter coat for her youngest? Did I help her lose a bus pass to get to and from work? How much is this new building worth to us?
``Ten more? Sure thing, Shirley. Best of luck to you.''
* * *
Regular visitors to my scarred body will know that I've taken more than my fair share of injuries whilst on my bicycle. I've been torn up, thrown into pavement-based meat grinders, chipped open a chin or two, split rims, and thrown obscenities at passersby. I've bled for my protest against Texas oil company supremacy. I know the roads inside and out, here in Denver, Colorado, and I am not ashamed to admit I enjoy pointing out my scars to strangers.
Today, going straight through an intersection, I'm forced to make a sudden left turn--the car next to me decided to turn, and I, being much smaller and more squishy than the auto, leapt out from underneath its foul tires. While attempting to right myself after such an unexpected action, I took a telephone pole to my left shoulder. A fine way to start the day.
I kept my left shirtsleeve pulled up, not only to show off the newest battle wound, but also to keep the abraded skin free from further irritation. I carried the wound proudly all through work, and then onto the Light Rail for presentation in my first class of the semester: Rome and the Caesars.
First classes are always a bit strange to me. It feels surreal, all these total strangers getting together, for the first time, in utter silence in a room with which they're unfamiliar, awaiting the appearance of a professor none of them have seen before. In the room in question, the air conditioning unit creates a negative pressure zone inside the class, which causes the doors to not shut on their own will, forcing a constant howl to accompany the silence. Some people pass the time by heading a blank piece of paper, in case an unexpected exam is tossed out, others stare blankly ahead, listening to music or reading a book. Still others plan. I plan.
When I say plan, I don't mean anything in regards to the class itself. Not to the subject matter, not to the school. I plan for where I'm going to find myself socially accepted. I glance around, never meeting anyone's eyes, picking apart how the person sits, how he/she carries school bags, how his/her desk is arranged. This person is a jock, doesn't really want to be here but for the requirement for graduation. This one is an English major who is branching out because she loves reading Latin epochs. That one is a history buff who's gonna question everything the professor says. He's safe. He likely won't even realize I'm sitting next to him, de facto group partner for any such activities. He doesn't realize we're both outcasts.
I have my headphones on while doing all this examination. Alice in Chains is screaming Down in a Hole. I feel almost like someone tossing away hard-earned cash on hope. If I don't end up connecting with this other outcast, I'm likely to find myself very uncomfortable for the rest of the semester, looking up at everyone else, doing well on the tests, but never making a connection with any other person in that room.
* * *
My hands are a bit torn up from picking through pickles last night. Picture a bucket of 1,000 baseball cards. The old kind--sturdy cardboard, sharp corners. I've bled for Bingo now, too. I always seem to accept the injuries with a smile, though. I know what I'm getting into when I get on my bike or plunge my hand into a bucket of corners.