"Just a year," said Nancy, as she spilled her markers back into the bin. "Just been coming a year."
"But she's got the fever," said her next-seat neighbor, Frances. "You keep coming, you'll get it, too. Fever's what it's all about."
Actually, bingo's what it's all about. On a rainy, threatening Friday night -- a good night to settle in at home with a bowl of popcorn and a Kojak rerun -- 800 people have ventured down to Southern Maryland to listen to the drone of "I-19 . . . O-64" and to try to strike it rich.
They have ventured to a large, smoky parlor called Wayson's Bingo, which is located just behind Wayson's Restaurant, which is located smack in the center of the Anne Arundel County crossroads town of Wayson's Corner.
Las Vegas it isn't. There are no floor shows, no whoops of glee, no stars being paged for long-distance calls. Mainly, there are women -- most 40 and up, most casually dressed, most thoroughly gripped by the fever Frances described.
Nancy, Frances and a friend named Loretta call themselves the "Annapolis NFL," in honor of their home town and their initials. Nancy answers the phone at the electric company, Frances is a maid at a motel and Loretta is a housewife. They are 50ish, and they know each other from church. They come to Wayson's Bingo about three times a week.
It is possible to win as much as $1,000 in one game at Wayson's, but NFL never have. In fact, none of them has ever won more than $20 in an evening. It costs nearly one-fourth that much just to get in the door.
"Just a way to pass the time," says Frances, as she fills I-20 on three of the six cards she is playing at once.
"I brought my husband once," adds Loretta. "He said he couldn't understand it. I told him how could anybody understand a man who watches football all weekend long?"
There are two kinds of bingo players at Wayson's. You're a watcher or a listener. Either you fill your card according to the drone of the caller, or you look at a TV monitor on the wall where the next number is flashed.
The Annapolis NFL are watchers. Like stockbrokers, they're constantly glancing up to read the Wayson's equivalent of the ticker tape. Interrupt their concentration, and NFL will shush you. This is serious business.
"We're here to win, sure," says Frances, with a look that tells you that you've asked a silly question. "We've tried other things, like the race track and Atlantic City, but we don't feel comfortable. That's too much like gambling. It's smelly. This is where we like to be."
A woman three rows away wins a $50 jackpot. "That's the way the cookie crumbles," says Nancy, once again dumping her markers back into the bin.
"Don't come 'round here talkin' about no crumbles," says Frances. "I want the whole cookie."
They know that bingo demands no skill. In a way, that's its attraction.
"You have to concentrate, but it's not like concentrating at work," says Loretta. "It's about like how you look at the TV. You watch it without getting nervous about it."
"It's entertainment," says Frances, as the caller carefully enunciates "O-73...G-60." "It gets us away from the children and grandchildren and the kitchen. It's kind of like our own little way of enjoying ourselves."
"Just us girls," says Nancy. And NFL guffaw like the teen-agers they one were.