To get in the mood, I picked up a plastic black fedora from the Party Warehouse for a coupla clams and tugged it on at a rakish tilt. It didn't want to stay -- rakishly tilted, that is -- so I considered Scotch-taping it to one ear. I did not do so.
Still, the topper made it a little easier to slide incognito past the 1920s Mercedes breezer parked out front and the big cheese with the Tommy gun, clad in spiffy white double-breasted glad rags -- his fedora tilting the rake fantastic -- surrounded by broads in boas, shaking their respective chassis.
The caper was, after all, the "1920s Gamblers & Gangsters"-themed Bingo Night at Rhythmix Cultural Works in Alameda, so costumes were requested -- and I didn't wanna get the bum's rush.
There's been lots of talk about Bingo Night. Good talk. Rhythmix -- the super-duper nonprofit center for all manner of arts from flamenco performances, gallery shows, art classes, hula-hooping, youth arts, film screenings, music, you name it -- has a bimonthly (that's every other month to youse guys) bingo extravaganza. And I do mean a definite "vaganza" of "extra" proportions that nearly always sells out.
Next is June 12 with a Woodstock theme. (Hey, man, get your tie-dye threads on!) But in the past, they've had Motown bingo, cartoon bingo, Arabian Nights, Broadway, sci-fi, Bollywood and even zombies for Halloween. (Maybe they shouted out "Brains!" instead of "Bingo!")
This is not your church-basement bingo -- no offense, church basements. For one thing, this is on the second floor. And another thing, this is basically a stage show where a bingo game breaks out. There's dancing, singing, laughing, some Arizmendi pizza, a little booze on the side, a lotta innuendo and the crumpling of spent bingo sheets with which unlucky bingo bums pummel the winners. There are prizes up to $200 -- that's a lotta cabbage -- and things such as tickets to upcoming shows, or items donated from local businesses.
The only thing in common with church bingo is that it's basically a fundraiser to help keep the other events going, says the executive director dame, name of Tina Blaine, who goes by Bean. I get it. Incognito.
"We didn't want to go traditional with this," Bean says. "Traditional is boring."
A lot of regulars show up with packs of pals, but you'll find lots of newbies, too, like me. Bingo sheets were laid out on long tables in front of the stage. I sat by William Wong, in spats and suspenders, a snuffed-out stogie crammed in his craw. He runs Localize It, a membership buying card for small businesses in Alameda, and loves this show. But it took a while. "I resisted for a long time. I mean, bingo?" he says. "But people would say, 'It's not that kind of bingo.' They were right."
The stage was set with an overstuffed chair and a black sign spelling, "Dan's Produce," the local sponsor for the gig, written out in white with a little puppeteer pulling the strings, in "The Godfather" fashion. Godfather music played, too. I checked my chair for horse heads.
The emcee, "Mr. Entertainment," came onstage with a seersucker jacket and street-wise yammer. "Welcome to Big Lou's bingo night! We're gonna be lousy with prizes, and have some flimflam later on."
He went over the rules, which, if you remember bingo, are not very hard. "When you win, we're gonna fingerprint ya' and cuff ya'. Gotta be 18 or older," he said, glaring around the room. "I think we're safe in that department."
Then Big Lou emerged, aka Ed Holmes, strutting out in a long maroon coat, spats, a yellow boutonniere and a violin case. "I'm ready to call some balls," he said. "You winners out there -- and you know who you are -- be ready."
Dancin' broads in boas kept the flim, the flam and the glam going all night -- led by Rhythmix founder Janet Koike (and spouse to Big Lou). Lou called out numbers. G-54, N-43, B-4 ... nothing.
But after a few games, I knew my number was up -- in a good way. Right after a break and a fancy dance interlude to "Hey Big Spender" with Lou tossing out fake bills, Game 4 began with a prize of 25 big ones to the Alameda Bike Shop. All I needed was N-31. Come on N-31 ... got it! I mean, "Bingo!" I jumped up in triumph, eagerly accepting my proper pummeling. Then, feeling on the level, I donated the prize back to the cause.
But I hung on to the glory -- tucked it under my hat.
Follow Angela Hill at Twitter.com/GiveEmHill.
IF YOU GO
Bingo Night at Rhythmix Cultural Center, 2513 Blanding Ave., Alameda, near the Park Street Bridge. 510-865-5060, www.rhythmix.org
When: Every other month. Next is June 12 for "Woodstock Bingo." Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and gaming starts about 7:30 p.m.
Cost: $25, which includes a drink discount and hours of bingo play for those 18 and older. Bingo usually sells out, so it's best to purchase tickets in advance.
Eats: Volunteers staff food and drink stations that offer pizza slices from Arizmendi Bakery, chips, sodas, wine, beer and cocktails for nominal prices.