Chicken Shit Bingo
This is how you play Chicken Shit Bingo in Austin,
Texas, on a hot summer Sunday.
You have to show up early if you want to get
a table. Early will be about 3:30 p.m. or so. It will be hot on
that stretch of Burnet (rhymes with “Durn It”), the
ugliest stretch of unreconstructed Eisenhower romanesque proto-suburban
landscape. To the south, they’ve repainted the strip malls and
made them ironic, and buried the power lines under brick. Farther
north, it is lowest bidder capitalism. Pawn shops. Liquor stores.
Tile warehouses. Where you are right now is one of the preserved
places between, tucked beside the gas station, in the parking lot
of a honky tonk called Ginny’s Little Longhorn. On either side
of the front door, the saloon advertises its amusements in bold
red letters: “BEER WINE SET-UPS” and “POOL DOMINOES
GAMES.” You are here for the games. You showed up early,
so there are still legal places to park.
It’s cool in Ginny’s. And dark. You don’t even
see the pool table that’s covered with a plywood numbered grid
to your left as your eyes adjust to the neon glow. Walk up to the
bar, get a Lone Star long-neck ($1.50), wait for your friends.
Check out the crowd. Man, wife, two children,
smiles on all their faces. Divorcees chat idly, clustered around
a rickety table, hair stacked up high like it ought to be, their
long-necks zippered up in high-tech thermal beer parkas. A smattering
of hipster rednecks pose at the bar, sporting elaborate facial
hair and starched work shirts purchased from the more fashionable
second hand stores. The neighborhood joes start to arrive, all
pressed western shirts and Sunday Wranglers.
Then your friends show up, and you grab a table.
You blink for a couple seconds as the door at
the end of the bar opens, and the blast of concrete-and-tar-flavored
Texas sun tunnels in. You squint at the man dressed in black leather
vest, guitar and amp in hand, silhouetted against the fire exit.
How can a man dress like that in this heat and stay cool? He can
if he is Dale Watson.
The band — hotshot steel guitar man, red headed
guitar slinger in bib overalls, and the roughneck drummer — sets
up. Dale takes his chair and the show starts. Purest, distilled
honky-tonk music. Dale Watson confesses that he’s “too
country for country — just like Johnny Cash.” Dale
has been manhandled by the cruelest instruments of fate: death,
divorce and Nashville record executives. But Dale still has the
Texas baritone, smooth as anejo tequila, rich as Croesus. His voice
charms the tar out of the sidewalk, squeezes a tear out of the
Dale gives a quick nod to Ginny behind the bar,
and sings a brief song about the two bowls of chili and the free
hot dogs they set up behind you when you weren’t looking. Ginny
smiles. She owns the place and she made the chili.
Help yourself to a hot dog or three: they’re
You hear the opening bars of “Green Acres.” Follow
Dale’s simple yet accurate instructions if you want to play the
Get in line, have your two dollars ready, and
when Dale asks, raise your hand so people can tell where the end
of the line is, which may be out the back door. When your turn
comes, get your ticket with the number on it from the man in the
Cat Diesel Power hat by the pool table: the pool table with the
green plywood with the grid of numbers on it.
The number on your ticket is seventeen.
Don’t blink — turn around — you missed it.
From nowhere, like some poultry ex machina,
Dewey appears and gives you the chicken eye. He is a brown chicken
and he is checking out the plywood grid. You must root for him
to poop on the the number on board that matches the number on your
ticket. This great gaming tradition emerged from the miasma of
poultry farmer legend and home-brewed intoxicants. Variations of
the sport are played in deep swampy Louisiana gin joints, biker
rallies and tropical honeymoon tourist traps. Some call it the “chicken
drop.” Like the games of chess and love, Chicken Shit Bingo
takes only a moment to learn, but a lifetime to master.
Dale keeps playing. Whoops and hollers crescendo,
and Dewey strides across the board, cool as a Monte Carlo croupier.
He tilts his little chicken head, waiting for the spirit of fortune
and the forces of nature to move him. Then, only then, does he
shit, clean and square on a numbered square.
“Number 39!” shouts the
man in the hat.
Check your number … damn. Check the numbers
of your friends … damn. Buy another round of longnecks for your
friends, for you are all chicken shit losers.
If you were a Chicken Shit Winner, you’d go
up front. Dale would ask you what you’re going to do with all that
money, and you’d tell him:
“Aw, shit, Dale, save some, of course,
for the boat. And buy some beer for my friends!”
“Dale, my gal only wanted one thing today.
To win at Chicken Shit Bingo! And we did!”
But no, you are a Chicken Shit Loser, so Dale
dedicates his next song to you. Because this one is for the Chicken
Shit Losers. It’s a heartbreak song.
Riding the longneck buzz, you become one with
the suddenly dense crowd. The opening notes of “Sleepwalk” ring
out across the bar, and everyone — the hipsters, the mechanics
and the hairdressers — drag the one that brung ’em to the dance
floor. It’s a Chicken Shit Bingo couple’s skate.
Yes, it’s your turn to get another round. And
they are still only $1.50 a long-neck.
You play a couple more games. You lose them
all; Dewey the chicken lets you know it is not your day. Some of
your friends leave, others show up. And every Chicken Shit Loser
song is sung for you.
You get up to the front door. The moon glows
silver over the urban sky stained pink by street lamps. You realize
that some eternal truths can only be conjured through a honky-tonk
song and the caprice of a chicken.