Around 10 or so, to beat the heat, I went and grabbed my battlemate, 12-year-old Nathan Vargo, his mom, Carol, and headed for Gotcha Paintball out toward Rolesville on Capital Boulevard.
I'll do fine, I assured myself, remembering my nutjob weapon years. Great reflexes for a brain-dented survivor, ornery, quite capable—still—of putting five .38 hollerpoints through a liquor box across a room from a cross draw.
Gotcha's facility is spread over several acres of fields and forest. Mostly Raleigh people, it seemed. I spoke to a kid name of Andy. "How'd you find out about this?"
"I was with my church group."
Cool. Jesus. Small unit tactics. What would Jesus shoot? I was burning up in that hot sun. I futzed with my complicated and burdensome battle gear. The helmet/wig/mask was a bitch to don, hot and heavy. Like wearing a dead dog on your head or something. By the time I got the full rig on, running was just an idea. Forget shock value. I just wanted to finish a battle. Gotcha's people checked us out on the rules and we engaged: two teams in a half-acre-or-so lot with these huge, inflatable bunkers (as they call them) that looked to me like giant sushi rolls set on end.
The piece, or marker (I will not call these things guns), weighs a couple of pounds, surprisingly light, open bolt, semi-automatic action, a sort of pneumatic submachine gun, originally built by Daisy to mark trees and cattle, savagely appropriate for these uncurious times.
Teams are mustered and deployed on each end of the battleground. The battle is engaged. The point is to cover as much forward ground as possible before getting to cover amid a hail of gelatin capsules full of a water-soluble dye.
There is a lot of shouting, "Go! go! go!" "Over to the left—NOW!" After the battle cry, a mad charge. After the broken-field running secures as much headway as possible, nail down a defensive position amid a staccato sound like small gas engines. Pick the enemy off as they present themselves.
I am sure there are organized and coordinated teams, this being the U.S.A. teamwork dimension, but for the most part the teams that day were ad-hoc, made up as they go. When the match, battle or what you call it commenced, the only option was to run and dive for cover. And I mean dive—holding the piece in my right hand and executing a racing dive onto dry, hot turf. I landed hard, bending my right fingers back. Hard.
The first time I got whapped by one of those bastards, I was ready to throw the marker down and leave the field of combat. But that's what made America great; a little discomfort and you're ready to leave.
Paintballs sting like hell and leave juicy, .67-caliber bruises. My initial thought was to hit the woods course and climb a tree and wait, counting on the deer hunter's axiom: They never look up. But there is no time for that in a match. It is run, run, run, zigzagging to avoid being painted, dive to the best cover you can, and if you are in a bad way, maybe your buds'll help you out. I thought about the Abu outfit, realizing that would have been asking too much of my teammates—Presbyterians vs. Mormons vs. Jehovah's Witnesses was bad enough.
Operation of the semi-automatic marker is simple. Every time you pull the trigger, the device goes off. Pop. But no sniping with this thing. They have such a short trajectory, it is more like a mortar or a grenade launcher. You are lobbing the balls in—they are falling. Additionally, the lack of rifling and sub-300-feet-per-second velocity make accurate shots impossible. So it becomes a numbers game—the more paint one lays down, the more the chances of a hit. Mind you, it's not free: 20 bucks to get a marker and air. A bag of 500 rounds'll set you back 15 bucks, and you can digest them in an hour and a half easily. So. Golf? Paintball? Half a bag of reasonable weed? Up to you. I've spent a lot of money on fun, so I'm in no position to say anything.
If there were a model for a paintballer, it would be doods, 15 to 25. There is some bleed in age and gender, a gal or two. I didn't see many golf shirts or tonsured noggins.
I kept on, hosing down my tormentors with a torrent of what looked like gum balls—and insults. "Suckuuuh! Saw you duck. Gotta come up for air sooner or later. Just a matter of time, fool!" Whap. "There."
Things would be better in the woods range. It was time for Ronnie, beastly difficult to don and heavy and hot. We walked some distance, got our team in position, and deployed. Someone got an eagle's nest on me, raining in death, but I didn't even care anymore. Whap! No one yelled at me, calling me out, so I just kept popping away until I knocked the lid loose on the hopper and watched in dismay as my ammo poured off on the ground, rendering them useless. That was it. Out.
I withdrew from the field of combat. "Intifada," I screamed, nailing as many of my teammates as I could with what remained in the hopper. Whap. This stuff bleaches clothing.
I'd like to try malted milk balls and get a rifled barrel with good sights.