The Band Goes Commando (Or, The 40-Year-Old Virgin’s Laser-Sighted Paintball Gun)
It was an unusual text message, even for 8:41 on a Friday night.
“Man up, son!”
Ends up Chris Abad’s little bother, Gabe, was celebrating his fifteenth birthday on Saturday by gathering a few friends downwind from a landfill to pepper one other with gunfire. Paintball bullets, but still.
“Tony and Jamie are coming,” Chris followed. “Think of it as a team building exercise for the band!”
I was enticed by the invitation, sure. What guy doesn’t want to spend an afternoon rolling around in mud and leaves taking potshots at his pals? But it was the end of worst work-week ever. I was fighting a chest cold. And the apartment was teaming with dirty clothes, dirty dishes, and the detritus of this week’s “A Holiday Benefit” release.
Rare is the day when I pass up an invitation to do dude stuff (see also: NASCAR), so — after careful consultation with the wife — I texted him back. And began planning to wake up early.
* * *
The Staten Island Paintball Center is a 300-acre complex of scrappy woods bordered to the north by the Staten Island Salt & Gravel Center, to the east by massive oil storage tanks, to the south by Fresh Kills Land Fill, and to west by Arthur Kill Correctional Facility.
“Come for the paintball, stay for the black lung!” Chris cracked.
The place is basically two rectangular, red-metal shipping crates dividing a gravel parking lot from 300+ acres of mesh fence-lined playing fields. In between, there’s a few rows of picnic tables around a fire pit. Maybe it was the dozens of white kids in black masks, but it felt like a pretty good place for some sort of Arian Supremacist meeting.
Anyway, we had a great time slogging around in the mud, taking shots at each other. Not surprisingly, Tony, Jamie, Chris and I banded together. We developed some semblance of strategy over the course of the afternoon, but never posed much of a threat. Chris’s cousin-in-laws, Fernando and Craig, though, were formidable opponents. And young Gabe — who no doubt spends hours playing first-person shooter video games, and could run twice as fast as any of the thirty-year-olds — kicked all of our asses.
What was most surprising about the whole thing, frankly, was the well-developed subculture of paintballers. These kids (and a few rogue adults) were clearly not weekend warriors. There’s serious gear: baggy, padded jumpsuits, reinforced gloves, special goggles and guns. They had it all. And aspired to more.
One fortysomething Asian guy offered a troublingly enthused and informed show-and-tell of his “MilSim” painball Uzi with a laser sight. One seventeen-year-old aspired unironically to a paintball-equipped Apache helicopters.
“Dude,” he said in a thick Staten Island accents, “It’s awesome.”
And once you get over the fact that your pointing a gun at another human being and enjoying it, and realize that — when the camera is pointed your way — you’re unconsciously striking the same pose as all those photos you’ve seen from Iraq, it is fun. Which is weird.
Still, I didn’t think about work for almost four hours.
And by the last round (some of which you can watch below), I kinda’ knew what I was doin’. Or thought I did, at least until a big, blue paintball hit me square between the eyes.