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Gunfights With Children: My First Paintball Outing Gets Weird


Photo credit: MorningStarCC

Three seconds had passed before I got shot in the face.  A second bullet struck my Adam’s apple, which hurt like hell and left a bright red mark on my skin that looked like a passionate teenage hickey.  A third shot exploded on my face mask’s breathing hole, spraying enough dye into my mouth to make everything taste like chemicals for the rest of the day.  Paintball-wise, I was dead before I hit the ground.

It was a stunning defeat despite my confidence that I could handle myself in combat (based on my love for action movies, naturally).  Although I’d never participated in paintball before, and neither had my friends Andrew and Steve, we knew that if things got ugly, we’d improve our accuracy by firing our guns while diving sideways through the air in slow motion.  And if we ran low on ammo, we could just shoot a conveniently placed cluster of oil drums which would blow up and take out everybody on the other team.

The backup plan: airtight.

The backup plan: airtight.

In retrospect, we should have known our first run at paintball would end in humiliation when we pulled into the parking lot that morning.  We noticed that we were the only vehicle that wasn’t a pickup truck with a Ted Nugent bumper sticker and empty beer cans in the cargo bed.

Other red flags?  Probably those Confederate flags.  As I wiped my neck after the game, I finally got a closer look at each member of our paintball overlords, who were decked out in Miller Lite-soaked camouflage and carried their own high-power paintball machine guns.

big gun

“Relax, everybody.  Shooting people is just a hobby.” (paintball-online.com)

Our rental peashooters lacked the bells and whistles of our opponents’, which were outfitted with laser sniper scopes, muzzle attachments that actually allowed them to curve bullets around objects, and at the very least–the capacity to fire spheres of paint in automatic machine gun mode at 300 feet per second.

That’s exactly why all participants are required to wear helmets with visors.  Even though getting shot will only sting and leave a bruise, a shot to the pupil would turn your eyeball to cottage cheese, make you the Kirby Puckett of paintball and deprive you of a long, illustrious career.

The good news is, you're still in the paintball hall of fame.

Cheer up, you’ll still be in the paintball hall of fame.

Few things are more American than loving guns.  Shooting people, however, is more or less frowned upon (unless you’re being provoked in Texas or Florida).  So some enterprising gentleman devised a loophole.  Fill the bullets with paint, and you can vent your pent-up aggression on other angsty citizens without the legal repercussions.  And so paintball was born, the bastard child of a loveless fling between Jackson Pollock and the Second Amendment.

And so paintball was born, the bastard child of a loveless fling between Jackson Pollock and the Second Amendment.

A miserable six-month-long winter in Chicago (where gun violence always seems to be going up) inspired the three of us to drive to a south suburb on a depressing, gray Saturday to blow off some steam.

The arena was the size of a basketball court, and hosted two teams in a dodgeball-style deathmatch, where you try to gun down everybody in sight and the last team with a player standing wins.  While the clock counted down to the starting horn, the three of us huddled into a caged pen with a bunch of strangers, who trembled like Roman prisoners ready to be released into the Coliseum.

A Mexican guy next to me crossed himself and whispered.  “En nombre de Padre, de Hijo y de Espiritu Santo…”

Paintball was his "Kali Ma".

This guy also knew the end was near.

In the face of an impending shootout, I found it difficult to feel confident in my survival knowing I was donning the worst possible outfit I could find.  High-waisted button-fly dungarees and a musty senior all night party sweatshirt made for a disposable getup, but it didn’t exactly label me as a winner.

One hundred feet away, the paintball militia disengaged the safeties on their rifles and tried to hide their erections.

The horn sounded, I took two steps into the arena and my face said hello to a sniper.  While spitting up green paint and walking away with my hands above my head like a prisoner of war (paintball code for “I’m out, don’t be a dick and shoot me again”), somebody thought it was more important to assert his dominance and shot me once in each butt cheek.

Flickr: Zac Wong

“Enjoy your ‘job’ on Monday, nerd.” (flickr: Zac Wong)

My friends didn’t last much longer than me, and in an instant, our chances of snagging Redbull endorsements vanished.   One referee looked at us with pity.  He knew there was only one way to get such terrible players to pay for another round, so he mercifully arranged for our next match to be at a difficulty more suitable to our nonexistent skill level.

When we were about to begin, however, the teams were so lopsided that we were already drastically outnumbered.  Our team was comprised of just the three of us: Andrew, Steve, and me.  Our opposition was a group of 9…

…year-old boys.  A birthday party of twelve 9 year-old boys.

Our opposition was a group of 9…year-old boys.  A birthday party of twelve 9 year-old boys.

It was actually a far more terrifying situation.  Kids today are practically playing Call of Duty in the womb- and look at what practicing at an early age did for Tiger Woods.  These violent modern video games could produce the greatest paintball supersoldiers known to mankind.  I, on the other hand, grew up playing Tetris, and while I’m still unrivaled in my ability to efficiently pack a car and load a dishwasher, my marksmanship hasn’t evolved past Duck Hunt.

There were trace amounts of dignity in being massacred at the hands of experienced men who were probably trained to kill by the US military just before their dishonorable discharge for being psychologically profiled as future serial killers.  But the thought of being taken out by a guerrilla army of bed-wetters incited significant panic.  My own masculinity was officially on the line.  War is hell.

I think I just... yep, I just peed a little.

The day just took a sharp turn into a shitstorm.     (triada.it)

We needed a plan.  The first part of the plan, as we unanimously agreed, was to “try not to get shot”.  The rest of the plan involved attempting to shoot them first.  Somebody said the words “flank them”, but by the time we began discussing what the hell that entailed, the buzzer had sounded, and our manhood was up for grabs.

Across the arena, twelve pudgy 9-year olds scrambled out of the holding pen and started spraying the room with paint bullets.   It looked like we were being attacked by a midget SWAT team.  But I couldn’t possibly imagine inflicting any harm upon a child.  They are our future.

And then one of the little bastards fired a shot that whizzed past my ear and exploded on the wall behind me.

Fuck these children and their Kool-Aid mustaches.

The previous experience of being assassinated had turned us into a trio of Sherwin Williams Rambos.  Suddenly we were giving each other nonsensical hand signals and doing diving barrel rolls around the inflatable barriers.  I felt like King Leonidas, tasked to lead his meager Spartan army to victory in the face of insurmountable odds. And completely unlike the movie 300, our insurmountable odds boiled down to not being humiliated by kids.

TONIGHT WE DINE IN... our apartments, because we're adults.

TONIGHT WE DINE… IN… our apartments, I guess, because we’re adults.

Despite that early close call, what I didn’t count on was that the 9-year-olds were… well, 9-year olds.  Cheetos-stained,  mouth-breathing, retainer-chomping brats who could crush me in Madden on a Playstation, but otherwise were too fragile to handle a game of two-hand touch in real life.  And they weren’t exactly small targets.

The sight of a pack of kids coming to kick my ass whisked me back to fourth grade.  As luck would have it, this time around I finally had a gun.  Before the game started, I happened to notice one kid in an orange Abercrombie t-shirt who looked strikingly similar to Randy DuPont, the asshole who used to pick on me when I was his age.  A spoiled, gap-toothed punk with a mullet and a smirk on his evil little mug.

flickr: Bryce Mullett

Probably nice and snug in a state correctional institution.  (flickr: Bryce Mullet)

I opted to harness my long-harbored negative memories like an actor and turn them into something useful.  Too bad for this kid– he shouldn’t have been born looking like Randy DuPont.  He would be the first to die.  I’m sure any psychologist would approve of this as a healthy coping mechanism.

About 50 feet away, he leaned around a barrier for a peek.


I squeezed the trigger twice and shot Randy in the man boobs.


Meanwhile, Andrew and Steve were getting their own vengeance against their childhood tormentors, who were dropping like flies.

We scrambled around a pylon and saw a kid aiming at us.


As we riddled his body full of paint, his arms and legs flailed wildly in a theatrical, full-body convulsion.

"Hey, kids. Bettah change yah DIEpers."

“Hey, kids. Bettah change yah DIEpers.”

The lone survivor of their group was 50 feet away, waddling around like an orphaned baby hippo.


Full rapid fire.  Six shots to the belly.  Fat rippled up to his chin and back down to his Reeboks before settling in his midsection like a shaking bowl of jello.  Game over.

Fat rippled up to his chin and back down to his Reeboks before settling in his midsection like a shaking bowl of jello.

It takes a unique set of circumstances for three sane, well-adjusted grown men to happily open fire on America’s youth.  Fortunately, the United Nations doesn’t have a military tribunal for paintball massacres.

Later I saw our opponents in the lobby without their helmets, covered in sweat and inhaling Mountain Dew and Funyuns while shooting each other via games on their iPhones.

I thought about them on the drive home, as well as the cash I spent, how much it hurt to sit down, and the possibility of therapy.  What’s more troubling than a grown man’s delight in shooting kids?

Only this: they’ll be firing paintballs at their own pasts in 2035.

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