Yesterday, my three brave friends, Kat, Erin (B.), and Rachael accompanied me to one of the craziest things I think I've done so far for this blog. That crazy thing would be paintball. Now, there is only one large indoor paintball joint around New York and it happens to exist in a warehouse in Long Island City, Queens (a short ride on the 7 train from Times Square). I checked it out online. According to www.nypaintball.com, it housed a laser tag room, two paintball fields, and the amenities needed for said activities. The site had a tab for birthday parties and warnings that kids should have a parent's signature before playing. I got the idea that this would be a fun, silly evening in a room full of teenagers. Oh, was I wrong.
First of all, the paintball building is on a dark street directly across from a jail ("correctional facility" according to the guy at the front desk - "Is there a difference?" I wondered). We walked quickly into the front door and it appeared that the inhabitants of the building across the street were taking a field trip to play paintball. There were two very scary-looking large men in their late thirties dressed completely in black with ski masks and guns swearing and quarreling loudly in the lobby. Behind what appeared to be a sales desk were two equally-as-menacing-looking men wearing camouflage. Dirty signs hung from the ceiling advertising ammo sales, and everything was covered in a layer of what appeared to be grease. I took two steps in, realized my feet were sticking to the floor, and was suddenly bombarded by the sounds of screaming and loud gunfire. I jumped. Nobody else appeared to notice. Wow. As my other friends arrived, I began to rethink our adventure. I told my friends that they did not have to participate. We could play laser tag instead. Or go to a poetry reading. We looked at each other and Erin B pursed her shiny mauve lips, "I did not come to Queens to not play paintball. If we play for ten minutes, that's fine, but I'm playing". With that, she daintily picked up her Kate Spade and trotted her platinum blonde head past another greasy would-be convict, smiled at the men in camouflage, and laid down her credit card. Okay, then. We all followed suit.
We were outfitted with grey jumpsuits, gloves, a chest/back pad, a belt with plastic cartridges, and black Darth Vader masks. Mr. Camouflage told us to go to the waiting area, "suit up", and wait for orientation. We did as we were told. Eventually, a kid of about nineteen approached us and started spouting instructions. "Here is your paint. Here's how to load the gun. Don't drop the paint on the ground. Here's the ten feet surrender rule. Here's the gun's safety. Don't take it off until the ref tells you to. These things fire at 200 miles per hour. Go get a gun when they call walk ins. You have three rounds. There you go." And he was gone. What? I looked at my friends. They looked equally as perplexed. What was that thing about surrender? What are the rules? How do you get out? "Walk ins!". I guessed we'd find out.
We picked up our HEAVY guns, put on our masks, and were escorted to a large space where they divided us and six other people into two teams. The field was literally splattered from top to bottom with white paint. Large punching bag-looking objects were placed in various patterns around the space and there were two metal bars on either side of the room. The four of us were placed on a team with a scrawny teenager named John. We had about two minutes to "strategize" with him. Basically, he told us the rules. The two teams start on opposite sides of the field of play at the metal bars and try to shoot at the other team. If you are hit, you raise your arms, move to a "safe zone", and wait. The first team to get everyone on the other team out . . . wins. "We're gonna get killed", he said. Encouraging. When the ref started the game, I put my own strategy into play (given to me by a large young woman in the waiting room named Alpha). Hide behind something, don't move, and attempt to shoot the crazy people that are diving from cover to cover. All at once, the room was very loud. Adrenaline rushed through my veins and I was suddenly terrified. I saw the headlines in my head. "Real ammo in a Queens paintball venue wounds young woman". I ran to the nearest pillar and hunkered down to shoot. I shot at the other team (with no success) for no more than thirty seconds. Apparently, if you are behind a pillar, you should shoot to both sides of it. Not one. By the time I thought to look to the left, it was too late. The ski mask guy from the front desk shot me at close range right in the face mask. I held up my hands, went to the "safe zone" and (I'll admit it) teared up. I tasted paint and blood and the clear part of my face mask was covered in paint. What was I doing here? Thirty seconds of paintball and I have a bloody face. Really, Michelle? Really? Unfortunately, there are three rounds to each game, so I only had a minute to gather my thoughts before I had to go back into the line of fire. Twice more. I wiped the paint/blood/tear mixture onto my gloves and vowed to not get shot the next two rounds. John entered the safe zone and looked at me. "Are you bleeding?" he asked. I nodded. "Sweet", he said as he showed me the oozing sore on his elbow. At least I wasn't alone. The next two rounds produced no blood, but I was shot both times. I actually was relieved. I wanted out of that game as quickly as possible. We were led back to the waiting room to recoup. After cleaning up my swelling face, we sat at a bench and looked at each other. "That was awful", said Erin. "Do we have to do it again?", asked Kat. "We could leave if you want", I said. We all looked at Rachael. She was grinning and refilling her plastic containers with ammo. Uh oh.
We decided to give it one more try. I was so glad we did. Little by little, we learned how to play, how to aim, how to cover eachother as we ran between the bags (doritos, they were called), and how to avoid the guys in ski masks with the tricked out paintball guns with scopes on them that we found out later were COPS (I am fully aware that was a run-on sentence). No wonder we were getting creamed. The next few rounds, we were put on teams against each other and were able to survive longer and longer with each round. It was still a bit scary and those balls still left welts when they hit us at 200 miles per hour, but it was starting to be a little fun. One round, I successfully maneuvered between the bags and lasted until we had shot all of the opposing team. I felt fabulously cool. We walked out to the waiting room panting and laughing. "Did you see me? I was surrounded behind that dorito with no ammo", I yelled. We played until we were sweaty, exhausted, and covered in bruises and we started the preparations to leave. As we were piling up our gear, the scary cop ran up and took his ski mask off. "You guys are leaving?", he asked, "Aw, well, it was fun". He smiled and ran back into battle. Okay, not so scary. As we were leaving, I passed a terrified-looking thin young girl. I patted her on the shoulder. "Have fun. Just keep your mouth closed."
I can't say I would necessarily go back to play paintball in Queens (I do kind-of make a living with my face), but I think I can safely say that it was probably one of the biggest rushes I have gotten in a long time. We all truly had a blast! As we walked out of the warehouse, I looked across the street at the correctional facility, touched my swollen lip, and actually felt a little bad ass.