Bingo

Surreal. The detour taken.

_______________________________________

Weekends were a drag unless Margot and I carted ourselves to the city to watch a movie or browse a street fair. You scored points for walking the line, so we often wound up at Lake House acting like we belonged.

Bingo was popular on Sunday afternoons. Amy Lou, a counselor, would bring out the game and a kettle of Charles potato chips. Margot wore a sign on her head that said badass and lived up to that designation. The shout out of “O69” found her heckling: “Toothpaste, mouthwash.”

Amy Lou wasn’t an idealist. She couldn’t conceive of any of us ever acting normal, so she protested Margot’s innuendo, and that fueled my new friend even more. “I wish I were stoned,” she belted out.

That bait was fishing’s best lure, and Amy Lou took it even though she should know better. “Do you want me to write you up?”

“Be my guest.” Margot lifted her palms outward.

I knew she didn’t want to get stoned. Her secret fantasy was to lie on a beach in Hawaii sipping a tropical drink. One night Margot pointedly told me she didn’t do drugs. We had been in the basement lounge listening to drop-dead segues on WFMU from the ancient radio.

We spent Saturday nights down in the basement where no one else went because you couldn’t smoke down there. We sat on the frightful baroque sofa complete with plastic cover. We made a vow to get the hell out and stay out.

Bingo lasted for about an hour.

“Scope, Altoids,” Margot shot back one last time.

“You’ve lost your privileges,” Amy Lou referred to some mythical privileges that in reality we didn’t have.

Our weekday curfew was ten o’clock, and our weekend curfew was midnight. A real stoner guy came in at 3:00 a.m. all the time, and no one did anything about it. Ironically, he was the first resident to move up to the next level of independent supported housing.

You were yoked to the staff, and any extended absence sent alarm bells ringing in their heads. You had to clear with them every outside event away from Lake House. I was glad I had traveled to San Francisco before I arrived here. Pretending to be somewhere you weren’t was the norm. They wouldn’t check up on you if you were back in time.

The counselors got us tickets for concerts at BAM in Brooklyn or the 92nd Street Y, and they herded us into the van clearly marked Lake House to the world. Only, I welcomed these excursions because it was a chance to bumble about the city. I got excited riding there in the early evening as the lights lit up the Manhattan skyline.

One woman who volunteered at the BAM ticket booth was tall and wore a chartreuse cardigan that I coveted. I fell in love with the life I imagined she led.

I came home from these trips deflated like a punctured tire. I wanted to drive the highway of life. Instead, I had to settle for bingo and chips.

Everyone got up to leave the dining table, and Margot cocked her head: “Basement?”

“Of course.” I followed her downstairs.

“That was fun,” she said. And turned the stereo up loud.

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Author: Chris Bruni

Christina Bruni is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Left of the Dial. She owns a resume writing and career help business. She contributed a chapter "Recovery is Within Reach" to Benessere Psicologico: Contemporary Thought on Italian American Mental Health. As well as an author and activist, Bruni is an artist and a fitness buff.

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