Crazy for Christmas

Tired of a traditional holiday? Try opening presents with an elephant or playing a game of Ba-Da-Bingo!

Being a San Francisco native, I have only on very rare occasion experienced the traditional white Christmas with carolers, chestnuts, and candy canes. Frankly, I don't see the allure. For my money, there's nothing like sunshine, wine, and foolishness to generate good will toward men: In Córdoba, Spain, Christmastime is celebrated by the Dance of the Madmen, during which the chief-elect berserker leads a mob of deranged twinkle-toes bounding through town and whirling through people's living rooms, just to test the good will and humor of their neighbors. This celebration is outdone only by the Festival of Verdiales in Málaga, Spain, where thousands of people converge on an old mountain road to watch a marathon flamenco competition among 20 groups comprised of several hundred musicians. Apparently, volume counts almost as much as stamina. A somewhat quieter but far more ridiculous holiday tradition takes place in Oaxaca, Mexico. The Night of the Radishes commemorates the Spanish introduction of the radish, which grows very large and misshapen in this region, and of Jesus Christ, which grows very large and misshapen in almost any region. By day, local artisans spend tireless hours carving the spicy white flesh of the radish into intricate scenes from biblical stories and Aztec legends. As dark falls, cash prizes are awarded to the masterwork roots and the night explodes in a fireworks display that threatens life, limb, and pious loyalty.

Oh! What I wouldn't give for a radish Nativity scene and a small block of dynamite this holiday season! Sadly, I must settle for home-grown Christmas lunacy, which is, as always, in grateful abundance.

"Honey, I'll beat your ass with this stuffed candy cane!" howls 26-year-old Sherman "Sure, man" Manacoll. "Don't you think I won't!" Manacoll wields his plush toy with deadly accuracy, catching his friend Lu, a large queen with dishwater-blond hair, between the shoulder blades. Lu yelps and runs to the end of the long line waiting outside the Metropolitan Community Church for the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence's holiday installment of Ba-Da-Bingo!

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence's holiday 
installment of Ba-Da-Bingo!
Paul Trapani
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence's holiday installment of Ba-Da-Bingo!

"OK, OK," gasps Lu as Manacoll rains candy-striped blows upon her head. "I love Christmas. I love bingo. And I love you."

"That's better," says Manacoll, flicking his green pompom-trimmed scarf over his shoulder and tucking his weapon under his arm like a triumphant brigadier. "Let's get back in line. We don't want to get stuck with a blue blotter."

The giddy crowd huddles together in the brisk winter night as a Sister in festive holiday habit and full makeup scampers by shouting, "Good evening, darlings!" It's worth the wait: The hall is bright and cozy, strung with garlands and portraits of Sisters past, and the crowd is nutty. Just as the last of the 230-plus people settle into their seats, arranging their bingo cards and displaying their good-luck bingo talismans, the overhead lights go out. A pulsing dance beat fills the hall, accompanied by synchronized Christmas lights, which blink in rhythm across the balcony and over the stained-glass arches. The audience goes wild, clapping and hollering as five Sisters line up in the central aisle, waving flashlights like runway attendants as Sister Betty Does LNM comes in for a landing, a high and holy, fluttering bingo queen.

"We don't have spotlights," says Sister Betty through her beard, "but we make do."

Sister Betty nods at their decrepit old bingo cage, which has brought in over $25,000 for local charities over the last two years.

"We finally raised enough money for an automatic bingo machine," she says to great applause, "but someone flew a plane into a building so we donated that money to the Red Cross." The crowd moans.

"Thankfully, Andy and Bill wrote us a check."

Andy and Bill, who sit in the front row with daubers in hand, are invited onstage to accept honorary crowns. Sadly, in all the excitement of flipping the switch on "Ball-Bushka,"the new bingo machine (so named because it roars like a disabled Soviet jet engine), Andy and Bill forget their distinction and remove their crowns, the punishment for which is public spanking and, worse, smooching Sister Dana Van Iquity.

But all generosity, frivolity, and thrashings aside, the crowd is here to play bingo and win some holiday swag. Sister Sparkleand Sister Constance Craving pass out condoms and lube as Sister Kitty Catalyst OCPbegins the calling.

"If you've got amphetamines," suggests Sister Betty, "pop 'em now. You'll want to keep up."

"B-1!" But for the roar of Ball-Bushka, the hall falls silent.

"B-9!" A young man behind my seat cries, "Not malignant!"

"G-58!"

"I-22!" A couple of serious players with multiple bingo packs and lucky trinkets shout, "Toot! Toot!"

"O-69!" The crowd erupts into hoots and catcalls.

"O-68!" A few men in the back row shout, "Tease!"

"I-18!" A gent in a Santa hat hollers, "You wish!"

"N-37!"

"0-75!"

The crowd shouts, "Oh, Daddy!" just as someone in the balcony calls out, "Bingo!" The rest of the players hiss loudly and throw their losing cards into the air. By game three, Lesbian Bingo (so named for the L-shape required to win), balled-up bingo cards lie across the floor ankle-deep, like colorful snowdrifts. By game eight, numerous folks have been flogged (one Canadian gentleman quite severely for squeezing his dauber until it exploded, and for being Canadian); several players have been awarded DVD players (for having nice hats and the like); cash prizes have been won (and returned for charity); and the entire crowd has had phone sex with a lonely queen living in Barrow, Alaska, without a movie theater, a bar, or a road out.

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