Ruby Diamond likes the word bitch. Her face is stern; she’s calculating the room, preparing the dialogue. At about 6-feet 2 inches in black heels and a floor-length sequined dress, she’s poised to host Drag Queen Bingo at Paddy’s, Ventura County’s only gay bar.
It’s Sunday in the early evening and it’s a packed house. She picks up the mic and the crowd is ready to go:
“What are we playing?”
“How do we play it?”
“Like a bitch!”
Drag Queen Bingo doubles as a monthly charity event using the proceeds from the game for specific causes. Tonight it’s the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Sitting beside me is Diane Palliette-Von Heyneman, who helped coordinate the event and who is currently living with the disease. A regular of Paddy’s, she’s familiar with Ruby Diamond’s antics and happily participates with the rest of the crowd.
“We’re going to change it up tonight,” Ruby continues. “Usually I ask who’s the biggest bitch in the bar, and usually it’s me; but tonight the biggest bitch in the bar is MS and MS deserves a giant bitch slap.”
Palliette-Von Heyneman is in a wheelchair, and although some events at Paddy’s are too inconvenient to attend, she participates when she can. Upon seeing a Black Flag T-shirt, she lightheartedly rehashes memories of jumping into mosh pits as a young woman and sporting a mohawk in her high school graduation photo. Her daughter Ziah, sitting across from her, lets out a small laugh.
“Obviously the gay community understands how it feels to be the odd man out, and that’s how I feel a lot of the time; I’m the burden, I’m the odd ball,” she later acknowledges after being asked if regulars at Paddy’s understand her disease, “There’s quite a lot of comfort and acceptance here.”
Paddy’s is located on the west end of Main Street in downtown Ventura. The building dates back to the 1800s and its interior is eye candy for anyone who relishes the past; the exposed brick walls and mural mirrors hint at a time long before the pop art portraits of Rihanna and Madonna that now hang as decoration. “It’s got this juxtaposition,” Palliette-Von Heyneman says of the building. “You have this antique building with this new energy that creates a really unique dynamic. I just love it.”
A younger crowd is mostly outside and not particularly interested in the $10 charge for a bingo card. Everyone is familiar with Ruby and her drag shows, but it’s just another Sunday night. “We are the most average of gay people,” jokes Bee, a former employee. Unlike upscale venues in West Hollywood and other areas, Paddy’s feels more like a local dive than a nightclub.
Of course, there’s always a bit of a crew mentality. The bartender charged $2 for seltzer water (for refills, he said), something I assume gets overlooked after frequenting the bar more than once. Still, there’s no agenda here. Ruby Diamond has known the owner of the bar for close to 20 years. “This is the only gay bar that I like because it attracts different people. It’s real,” said Jenna Stroklund. “I’m here with my parents, I’ve been around gays and lesbians my entire life and it just feels more comfortable.”
Back inside, the bingo players are slightly older and stylish in black turtlenecks and retro horn-rimmed glasses. O-70 falls from the bingo cage and Ruby calls out, “Who here was born in ’70?” to a handful of raised hands. It’s a good group. A gift basket auctions for almost $200, and$1,000 is raised to battle the bitch of a disease that is MS.
Ruby Diamond, aka Kevin Mashburn, grew up in Ojai and considers Paddy’s a second home. He started the bingo event last year and has since steadily raised money for a handful of local charities and events such as PRIDE. “I think if you go to West Hollywood you’re anonymous,” he said. “I have the rare opportunity to have a microphone in my hands, to help, to say something and do something meaningful for the community.”
Drag Queen Bingo happens the first Sunday of each month. For more information, visit www.paddysventura.com.