Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Not My Scene. Not Not Not.

In my ongoing quest to be the Jane Goodall of suburbia, I went and played bunco with a bunch of strangers in my neighborhood. Bunco is a game played with dice, and according to wikipedia, is "popular particularly among middle-aged suburban women." Heh. I had no idea what this game was until last week. As Wikipedia explains:
As it is played today, Bunco is a social dice game involving 100% luck and no skill (there are no decisions to be made), scoring and a simple set of rules. Women who are part of a Bunco club take turns as the Bunco hostess, providing snacks, refreshments and the tables to set up the games. The hostess may also provide a door prize. Small amounts of money can be involved as well. The object of the game is to accumulate points and to roll certain combinations. The winners get prizes (provided by the hostess or pooled from the club resources) for accomplishments such as the highest score, the lowest score, or the most buncos. Prizes frequently center on themes associated with the game such as fancy dice, dice embedded in soap, t-shirts featuring illustrations of dice, etc. [emphasis mine]
Okay, already we can identify a problem with this pastime. Fancy dice? Dice embedded in soap? Please do not. Do not embed those things in that thing.

I was at my tennis lesson last week and another girl, Tonya, came up to me and said, "What are you doing tonight?" Now, I don't know her and had only exchanged pleasantries on the court. I felt slightly trapped--I like a softer come-on than that--but I came up with a clever answer. "Nothing," I said. She said, "Come and play bunco. We just started a new group and it's the first time we've gotten together." I didn't want to seem unfriendly, and I'm all about the neighborliness, so I said, "Okay!" I thought it might be fun. She told me the address and said to BYOB. So I did.

There were twelve women there, counting me. They were all basically strangers, except I'd met two of them before, sort of. It was interesting, because though we've lived here for a few years now and I'm acquainted with lots of people, I don't really know who knows who and what the networks of friends are. I am always fascinated by social groups and by figuring out how people are connected. Some of these ladies were friends, but it was a mixed and newly-assembled group. I also like to meet people, I have no problem being somewhere where I don't know anyone, I love games, and I like snacks. So why was this such a terrible time?

For starters, the game is deadly, deadly boring. It's not even a game, it's just taking turns. In each round, you're just trying to roll a certain number on the dice, and you get points for your successes. It's all chance. Very simple. Yet trying to get some members of this crowd to understand the rules was like explaining the plot of Memento to a bucket of chicken wings. Um, I say that in love?

So yeah, boring game. I know it's supposed to be about socializing rather than being all cerebral, but I think even if I'd been sitting at that table with my three best friends, I would have been like, "Can we at least play dominoes?" Because it wasn't so mindless, like something you do with your hands in a group--knitting or quilting or something--that it left your mind totally free to talk. You had to watch the dice and count points, so the presence of what little game structure there was just acted as an irritant.

And that would have been, well, okay I guess, if the people hadn't been 50% awful. How to explain? The other day the lovely Femme Follette said, of a gathering of good friends, that being with them was "like breathing pure oxygen." That struck a chord with me, because I always feel that way after being with people I truly like, or sometimes I feel as though I've been given nourishing food. Well. If the company of great people is like pure oxygen, then hanging out with these people was like breathing the air out behind a Greyhound bus station. A few of them were nice, in the sense that they knew the basic rules of meeting people in a social setting. Those rules boil down to only one: Thou Shalt Make a Fracking Effort. More of them did not get it. The hostess, Lynne, I would describe as chilly, except that even being "chilly" implies rather more social deliberation than I think she has at her command. The others were harmless, but nobody had any small talk, information, or much personality at all. I sound like a total bitch right now, but I promise you, my standards are not high.

One funny thing was that a few of the ladies were really confused about whether I was "tennis Becky" or "the other Becky, the one who has the Southern Living Home parties." I assured them I was not the other Becky, though I do know that Becky. One lady said, "Now who is she?" So I told her everything I knew about that other Becky, which happened to be a fair amount. She was like, "What does she look like?" So I described her. And then she said, "Why isn't she here?" And I had to confess that I had no idea. But that I was very sorry I wasn't her.

And yeah, I thought that my tennis teammate was asking me to join this bunco group. But she only invited me because they needed a sub. (You have to play with an exact number of people.) When I got there, she was passing around a schedule of their monthly gatherings, and it said, "If you are unavailable, you must get a sub for yourself." Then it had a list of "Substitute Players," and my name was on it. Um. What the hecks? So the next day Tonya from tennis emailed me and did NOT say, "Hey, I was glad you came last night, I had fun and I hope you did too." No. She said, "I lost your phone number and I need to add it to the sub list so could you email it to me?" And I ignored her.

Funny, when I told Normal Neighbor that Tonya had invited me to play bunco, Normal Neighbor made a little face. I said, "Do you know her?" She said, "No, but she's kind of rough." Only she meant "rough" in this sense that I'd forgotten it had. I don't know if my actual grandmother used to say that, or just the archetypal Southern Grandmother who speaks in my thoughts--the one who says "Only whores and children wear red shoes," that lady--but she meant "rough" not in the sense of "she looks bad," but like, "she's unrefined." Anyway, just a lexical sidebar. I'd forgotten that usage, but Normal Neighbor sometimes gives me back little bits of my linguistic upbringing, things I've forgotten in my wanderings around this great land. And with her usual Normal Neighbor perceptivity, she was right. Tonya is rough, and so are several members of the bunco sorority. Whatever, like I grew up in Buckingham Palace, but you know what I mean.

I would love to hear--let me rephrase, I would LOVE to hear--tales of your bunco experiences. If you have any. Surely some fun is being had with that activity. But I do not think I will partake again. OH, and Tonya, the girl who invited me, turned to me at one point in the evening and said, "So if you want to play more, you better keep the last Tuesday of every month clear, because I bet we'll always need a sub." Oh my dear, well when you put it that way! I'm seduced by your honeyed words!

Sorry I've been such a bad blogger the last few days! When life takes me away from you, Reader, I feel it most keenly. You give me fever, blog readers, fever all through the night.


Amy said...

You are killing me! I am dead now and commenting from the grave.

I always heard bunco was HUGE and never knew what it was. I don't get it, really, though I could see it might be fun if you were with people you really knew and liked. And this Tanya character? Hello--even if you've invited someone to something just cause you needed a "sub" you don't treat them like a body double for your "real friends"! Rough, indeed.

I am sometimes in social settings where I think that people have forgotten, or perhaps never learned, how to make small talk and make others feel welcome. You can find common ground to chat about with nearly anyone if you just make that frackin' effort you're talking about!

This is a mint edition post. Love it. Keep up the good work, Jane! They will accept you as one of their own soon.

Ginny Marie said...

A group of teachers at my school used to get together to play Bunco, and they loved it! They played right after school, though, and I was usually too busy to attend since I was planning lessons or some such thing. (I feel like I'm giving them a bad name - they did this maybe twice during the school year!)

A group of women who are bad at small talk? That is definitely a group to avoid!

etheljr said...

Oh my goodness, funny post. I've been fending off the buncophiles here in the wild suburbs of Des Moines for years.

Love your blog; your writing style feels like a chat with a friend. That I actually know. Nice job.

delaine said...

In my whole life I have never been invited to play Bunco. I used to listen wistfully to my work friends talk about their Bunco gatherings and think," I wish they would invite me." Of course, they were people I actually knew and liked. Sounds like you were stuck with some socially retarded gals. How crass and rough indeed! They were not a credit to their "raising". A well bred young woman always makes newcomers feel welcome and makes pleasant small talk. At any rate,I enjoyed your play-by-play of the evening.

Melissa said...

You and Amy make me laugh... out loud! Your post and her response. Keep up the good work ladies.

Maggie said...

Okay, I actually snorted coffee through my nose as I read the part about explaining the plot of Mememto to a bucket of chicken. OMG that was funny! Tanya sounds like a real piece of work, I must say. I think for research purposes you should keep your last Tuesday of the months free, think of the book you could write!

Jenni said...

Wow, air behind a Greyhound bus station? Remind me to be interesting and captivating when we meet :)

I also like games and snacks, but have never played Bunco. Now I don't think I will.

And I love that usage of "rough." I'm going to have incorporate that into my vocab.

Kelly said...

I played Bunco once, many, many years ago. I don't really remember it being that much better than your experience but you are a much better writer than I am!

And I like that phrase "rough." That would perfectly describe my new sister in law, don't you think?

Camp Papa said...

You and your sister can distill more content from the seemingly mundane than anyone else I know. Something to do with finding the universal in the particular, I think.

danajk said...

I love it! I have never played Bunco, on purpose. And it is HARD to avoid among military wives. This game is HUGE on every post we have ever been. I just don't get it. . .
Although, wow, you must be special, a permanent sub. What an honor!

Kate said...

I was in a bunco group and the wine flowed freely, as did the gossip. The decibel level always accelerated over the course of the evening to deafening. Then one woman had an affair with another's gals husband and another woman accused a friend's husband of taking liberties with her, and I just had to GET THE HECK OUT OF THERE. Plus I always ate too many m&m's.

Sara said...

You truly are "the Jane Goodall of suburbia." Truly.

Thank you, thank you for reporting on Bunco. It sounds about as engrossing as the electronic penny slot machines at a casino. What is the appeal? Someone tell me. Other than dice embedded gifts. Where do you get that many dice-themed gifts?

awesome post.

Keely said...

I'll tell you exactly the sum of my experience with bunco: this blog post.

Maybe it's a Canadian thing but if one of my friends called me up and said, "Hey wanna come over and roll some dice? And see if we roll specific numbers? And then if you luck out and roll those numbers I'll consider giving you some kind of dice-related crappy prize?" ...I'd probably pass.

missynall said...

Hilarious as always. PLEASE go back to give us more scoop!!! I had to check if Kate who commented was the Kate in my old Bunco group... we had the SAME drama happen. We also had one lady get her feelings hurt about comments made on her food spread so the next year when her turn rolled around we arrived to bread and water. I am NOT kidding! I had 3 other friends in the group who could see how boring it was and we had a pact...when we made it to a table all together we wouldn't roll. We'd just chat and pretend. Love hearing your observations. By the way. My grandmother would say "She's not very polished. Bless her heart." and if she gave you something expensive she'd say, "Now, this is very dear."

Becky said...

Missy and Kate, I don't know how you could stay away from those groups! If I thought something like that would develop, you know I would be there, taking notes!

Mom, I'm sad that your friends never asked you to join their group! Maybe they thought you were too classy.

And my mother-in-law emailed me this morning and said, "'rough' is an excellent Southern expression that needs no explanation, and that would never be used to describe you or me." 'Nuff said.

Dave said...

Wow. So it's not just a boring game. It's a boring game for dull elitists.

And thank you for not answering Tonya's email! The whole "Hey, you can probably be a permanent sub" thing makes my face hurt. Ugh. Tonya's definitely rough.

Common Household Mom said...

You have exactly described my own experience with bunco. It's just as horrible here in the northern climes. Now I have to go smash some dice with a hammer.

Jane said...

I played Bunco once and had much the same experience as you. It's not a thinky game, it's not a social game, and it's not even a game you can sort of zone out on while you chat.

Amy said...

I second "The Jane Goodall of Suburbia." Hilarious, and ohso true.

I used to feel a little high-school-geek twinge when the discussion turned to Bunco, because I have never once been invited to join in that reindeer game, even as a sub.

But over the years I've decided that when my name floated across someone's Bunco radar, they did a quick mental assessment of my known qualities and thought, Oh, no, she would PURELY HATE to suffer through even one such evening -- I couldn't possibly do that to her!


Rebekah said...

yes, I too have bunco-ed in the suburbs of the South. Your assessment is spot on. It's only as fun as your company, your apps and your drinks. I've only done it once too. I think the other neighborhood people must have been able to tell I was bored. We tend to move too often to become regulars in any sort of functions like that.

I can't wait to hear about the slumber party. Sloan's already scared of our future in that regard, and I'm already anticipating a big party on K&E's 10th Birthday because it will be 11/12/13!!!!

Michele R said...

I was all ready to post yesterday and then I got interrupted. I was going to say that I have heard about Bunco from a SIL in FL for I swear 20 years. I didn't get it then, even before I had 3 kids and no me time.
Anyway, I was in the process of writing more yesterday and then a coworker came in my office and told me how worn out she was from hosting 15 ladies for Bunco the previous night. Totally serious.
Anyway I was shocked at how you ended up being the sub girl. At first it sounded nice that a brand new group was starting so if you wanted to play then it was the perfect set up. What an evening waste, except for a great blog post!

Amy Whitley said...

I laughed all the way through this, because I'm SO with you on Bunco. BOOOOORING. I was just invited to a new group the other night, and I diverted the question and I think the person asking got confused and forgot she'd asked. Thank God.

A Lawyer Mom's Musings said...

You are so funny!

Next time you get a "what are you doing tonight?" question, just say you haven't decided yet.

I've never played Bunco; thanks for playing it for me so I don't have to. ; )

M said...

Wow--you nailed this one. I'm a little late to the game for a comment on this one, but I'll do it anyway. I have played bunco exactly once under precisely the conditions you describe--as a rudely treated sub. It was the most horrifying night of my life. I took a shower when I got home. After listening to these women talk trash about everyone who wasn't there, my ears burned for days for all the years they played and I wasn't there. It did explain a lot about how their kids behaved, though, so that made for a Jane Goodall kind of epiphany.

Flat Rock Creek Notebook

janimal said...

OK, I am totally now extending an invitation to you for our couples poker game here in Marietta so you can Jane Goodall all of us.