Some think American youth never associate with their elders. These people have never visited Sunset Bingo.

Out on Western Avenue, just past the Dolphin II Gentleman's Club and Fantasy Video, stands a building like a huge cardboard box: that shape, that color, that architecturally bland. You might think of bingo as last year's novelty club trend-the stuff of ironic theme nights and a Sex in the City episode-but every night (except, for reasons unknown, Tuesdays) genuine bingo fanatics descend on Sunset.

The typical crowd includes hardcore gamblers, hardcore smokers and 100-year-old grandmas. On Friday and Saturdays, when the alcohol-free action goes until 2 am, the Bingo Nation grows to include westside high-school kids with a night to kill-pockets of virgin gamblers scattered around the huge white room's cafeteria tables. People like me, and my friends Lizzy, Paul and Annie.

The stakes help explain the generational diversity. Every weekend night, for a minimum $6 buy-in, players get a shot at a "red-light jackpot"-last Saturday it was worth $1,608. Winners of most games get $100, comparatively skimpy but big news to the bank account of either a senior citizen or a senior in high school.

The Sunset is no-frills. Neon signs from the '80s adorn the walls. A large plastic partition makes an attempt to separate the smokers from the non-smokers, but a plume of smoke enveloped my supposedly non-smoker table.

Besides nicotine preference, the crowd segregates by intensity. The diehards create their own little seas of bingo boards, spreading their colorful paper grids around them like cats spraying territory. These regulars also bring cases solely devoted to their daubers (markers slammed down when a space-"B5!"-is called), some decorated with stickers reading "Bingo is

my life."

Even within my own, younger group, there's an intensity breakdown. Lizzy quickly abandons her playing card for "Funky Monkey" lottery tickets. Her boyfriend, Paul, becomes one of them, fixing his glazed stare on the Bingo screen.

I lose my concentration by 1:30 am. The grease from a pile of french fries I ordered freezes my brain. But the rest of the room, just as full now as when we got here, has not slowed down, and the old lady in front of me seems inordinately peppy. I am mesmerized by the largest man I've ever seen, who sports the largest plumber's crack, again, that I have ever seen. I slowly push my fries away.

When a woman in the smoking section, her hair pulled into a yellow velvet scrunchy, vigorously yells "BINGO!," Paul joins in the crowd's groan. He puts his head down and says, "I hate my life." The old lady from the next table pats him on the back, and says, "You have to lose in life in order to win." As he ponders this conundrum, Lizzy looks up from her lottery tickets to find a 90-year-old stealing her boyfriend.

This could only happen here.

Sunset Bingo

4830 SW Western Ave. 234-5678 $6 buy in. Closed on Tuesdays. Call for game times.