The first thing to know about Drag Queen Bingo - and, oh my, there's so much for a wide-eyed "virgin" to absorb - is that not everyone is dressed in drag. So leave the stilettos, Spanx and sequins at home - although a little manscaping wouldn't hurt, bro.
Best to leave the cross-dressing to the professionals, the two demented and sartorially hideous hostesses, Rusty Nails and Do Me Moore.
They preside over the debauchery that unfolds the first Thursday night of each month at a midtown joint, Hamburger Patties, whose owners in a moment of madness and act of philanthropic kindness agreed to let chaos reign, all for the sake of charity.
It's been two years now since Fred Palmer, publisher of the gay-, lesbian- and transgender-focused Outward magazine, introduced Drag Queen Bingo to Sacramento, and it has become something of a sensation and an unqualified success in raising money for local charities.
How successful? Try racking up more than $50,000 for causes as diverse as WEAVE, the NorCal AIDS Challenge bike ride and, two weeks ago, the Front Street animal shelter.
The key to success, Palmer believes, is putting the fun front and center in fund
That's the next thing to know about Drag Queen Bingo: It's a 21-and-over event and decidedly R-rated (for language, fashion crimes, occasional near-nudity and phallic references to daubers).
This would be just another Rotary Club-style bingo snoozefest if not for the hostesses, the aforementioned Rusty Nails (a.k.a. Paul Williams) and Do Me Moore (Paul Crouch) as well as Felicity Diamond, who had the night off but showed up anyway as her alter ego, Brad Newey.
Bawdy puns and double- and triple-entendres issued forth all night with dizzying rapidity. Unless otherwise noted, just assume that every quote from the loquacious Rusty included the F-word - used, with impressive versatility, as a verb, an adjective, a proper noun, even included in a dangling participle
Words alone, alas, cannot capture the essence of Rusty and Do Me - that's what photos are for, readers - but here's a stab at a verbal description nonetheless.
Rusty (a true redhead) looked like the love child of Harvey Fierstein and Sandra Bernhard. She sported a teased ginger mop, a proboscis of impressive length and girth, as well as a raspy, Debra Winger-like voice that, by the night's end, sounded more like Tom Waits'.
Do Me? Well, sorry, but she's just one scary dame, like something out of an early John Waters film. Her face wasn't so much made up as spackled. Her heavy-lidded look was not an homage to Lauren Bacall, but rather a result of false eyelashes the size of whisk brooms. Not sure, but it also appeared she was going for the rabid raccoon look in a vain attempt to emphasize her cheekbones. Throughout the night, she kept adjusting her asymmetrical "ta-tas" (her word) and hiking her slit skirt higher, ever higher. Give Do Me this, though: She has clavicles most women would kill for, girlfriend!
It was only when we got these ladies briefly away from the action that we learned they had smartly coordinated outfits to hew to the charity's theme - animals.
Indeed, Rusty wore a clingy rattlesnake-print sleeveless dress, with 6-inch black pumps, and was accessorized with what she called "samurai" earrings. Do Me went for a Cruella De Vil look, complete with a black shift with fake (presumably) Dalmatian-fur lining, a gaudy bejeweled necklace and enough sharp gemstones on her fingers to crush a guy's metacarpals when she shakes hands.
Say what you want about their fashion sense, these queens know how to fill a room. Hamburger Patties was packed with more than 200 bingo adherents - the bar and three dining rooms overflowing with people munching on nachos, baskets of onion rings and platters of burger sliders.
Co-owners David Mensch and Richard Boriolo willingly cede control of their establishment one night a month and let anarchy reign.
Though the doors are closed - in fact, one of Rusty's catchphrases is "Shut the Front Door" - the raucous antics can be heard all the way down J Street to the urban sophisticates supping at Lucca.
Rusty and Do Me's shtick is part stand-up, part campy parody.
In her prefatory remarks before the start of the unholy monthly vespers, Rusty tried to ramp up the congregation's spirits with evangelical fervor.
"If you're not drinking, you're thinking," she pronounced. "And we don't want anyone here thinking."
To which the room erupted in hoots and hollers, punctuated by a shaking of tambourines and cowbells by four women in a back booth.
Certain Drag Queen Bingo (DQB) rituals, as prescribed as a catechism, are played out when bingo balls land on a certain number.
At the call of "B-11," the response was, "Legs to Heaven!" At "O-65," the callback was "Shout out to the AARPers." At "N-44," Rusty and the crowd said, as one, "The largest pocket pistol you'll ever see!"
When "O-69" was called (hey, we warned that DQB is R-rated) all hell broke loose. The crowd chanted "Shots, Shots, Shots!" and waitresses brought trays of plastic shot glasses filled with a vodka mix the color of Robitussin.
It's not mandatory to imbibe in spirits to enjoy the spectacle, but it helps. Friends Anita Aarnio and Dawn Walker, huge vats of Shock Top ale in front of them, surveyed the scene and mused on its import.
"This is not grandma's bingo," Aarnio said. "But grandma would be certainly welcomed. The drag queens are hilarious and everybody's welcoming. It's like a ladies night out for us."
The women, sadly, have never won at this bingo card.
"But it's actually more fun when you lose," Walker said.
Right, that's another DQB tradition. At the conclusion of each game - there are seven per night - the winner is called to the front, draped in a pink feather boa, dons a blond wig and is led by Do Me around the restaurant, while the losers toss wadded-up bingo cards at her. There's a chant, too: "Pelt her, pelt her, all the way down and back!"
What, pray tell, transpires if someone should be so bold as to claim a false bingo? Well, it happened in the very first game ("The Missionary," any straight row of numbers) of the June gathering. Nicol Davidson of Sacramento thought she had the five magical numbers, but she was sorely mistaken.
Davidson's punishment? Rusty bent her over a booth, picked up a Hamburger Patties menu and gave her six semi-playful thwaps on the backside, while the crowd chanted "Spank her harder!" Minutes later, Kira Ambrose of Lincoln was proclaimed the true winner, receiving her prize (a bottle of wine, a Dos Coyotes gift card and a free massage) only after running the
Nobody gets an eye put out from the pelting, though people were aggressively throwing cards at John Ponce of Sacramento after he won two games in a row ("Someone hit me with something, uh, wet that last time," Ponce said.)
As the night progressed, Rusty got more raunchy, the crowd got more boisterous and T.J. Williams started shedding more clothes for donations, thanks to his pal, Josh Randell, who works at the Front Street animal shelter.
First, Williams was stripped of his green T-shirt, prompting Rusty to coo, "A big beautiful black man is disrobing for us."
By the time Williams lost his belt and jeans an hour later, down only to his black Hanes briefs and flip flops, Rusty intoned, "He's taking dollars in his underwear. Do it for the animals. Cop a feel if you have to, but give!"
Before the final game, Palmer handed Rusty and Do Me pink plastic bowls. He then took the microphone and implored the crowd to "tip 'em hard, and tip 'em deep. Give it up for your drag queens!"
Meantime, "O-69" was called once more, and this time the waitresses brought vodka shots the color of Nyquil. Rusty and Do Me lifted their dresses and flashed their crotches with impunity. The waistband of Williams' Hanes bulged with dollar bills. The tambourines chimed and cowbells tolled once more.
"I think," Rusty growled, "that Drag Queen Bingo just turned R-rated."
DRAG QUEEN BINGO
Drag Queen Bingo, sponsored by Outward magazine, takes place at 7 p.m. the first Thursday of each month at Hamburger Patties restaurant, 1630 J Street, Sacramento. The next event is July 5, benefitting scleroderma research.