Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Never leave a man behind

I work with the coolest bunch of people.  Last week I got a message on my crackberry from our CFO.  He said that with all of our hard work and accomplishments, not to mention the stress of the impending merger, we deserved a chance to blow off some steam.  We were all invited to "go postal" at a paintball event.  What?! I get to use co-workers, not to mention my boss, for target practice with a company sanction!?  I  replied immediately "I am SO there!"

"You are going to bruise like a peach," D warned me when I told him about the invitation.  I had heard that the paintballs can sometimes sting, but I was game anyway.  We went to Goodwill to find some ridiculous clothes that I wouldn't mind ruining, where I scored a sweet set of genuine camouflage fatigues.  Because I think we can all agree that if you don't have the skills, you gotta at least have the gear, right?

Friday afternoon, we shut the office down at 2 pm and headed across town to the paintball arena.  I drove with friends Jen and Jason in the car.  Pretty soon, I'm seeing group distribution messages on the crackberry reading "WTF?! Traffic sux!" from people further into the drive.  No problem - I know this town well, so I bailed off the freeway and, because we allowed no time for traffic in transit, took J and J on a manic drive through downtown Portland.  I'm pretty sure Jason (who had the front seat view) saw his life flash before his eyes when an SUV thought it could squirt into my lane as it hit gridlock.  I just laid on the horn and kept on going - while Jason grabbed the dash, stomped his right foot down in the passenger footwell trying to brake the car with his own telekinetic powers and screamed "I don't want to die!"  Okay - that last bit was an exaggeration, but I'm sure he wasn't impressed.  Anyway, we arrived in one piece, with a little adrenaline thrown in for my passengers to get them amped for paintball.  (Sorry kids!)

So we got kitted up with paintball "markers" (because guns sounds a little intense, I guess) and these black full-face visors that made it nearly compulsory to start breathing loudly and doing cheesy "I am your father, Luke" lines from Star Wars.  After a brief (well, actually kind of long and tedious) safety lecture, we were released into the arena.  Let's do this thing!

The paintball arena had these big inflatable objects that you could use for cover.  We split into two teams and started out behind the "home bunker" and at the sound of the horn, we moved out - trying to tag the opposing team.  Once you were tagged, you had to raise your arms and then walk around the edge of the arena to the opposing home base and start shooting at your former team mates, unless you got tagged again.  Lather, rinse, repeat until there were no more left on an opposing team.

Now, once I had determined I was going to play, I sort of put the possibility of pain out of my mind.  I mean, yeah, the paintballs could sting, but how bad could it be?  I was wearing three layers of clothes!  Then I got shot once - and I'm not entirely sure it wasn't friendly fire, since it seemed to be on the back of my shoulder.  Ouch!! I immediately forgot the instruction to put my arms up, but dutifully started walking to the other side - and not around the edge.  I was now a sitting duck for the paintballs pouring in from all sides.  Rookie error, won't do that again.

I get back to home base and find friend Jen cowering behind the bunker.  "What are you doing?" I asked.  "I'm scared!" she said.  I told her to rally and said she'd be all right and got back into it.  So much for 'never leave a man behind.'  Turns out she was the sensible one.

This went on a while, and I was having a good time, exclaiming at the sting each time I got tagged, but not really minding too much.  My aim was atrocious, compounded by less than accurate calibration on the guns.  Not sure I even once managed to tag one of the opposition.   I got shot in the head once, just above my hairline, and boy was it gross.  Did I mention about the paint balls?  I thought they would splotch us up with pretty primary colors, but no, for some reason our paintballs were filled with a greasy fluid exactly the color and consistency of milky baby puke.  And did I mention that the paintball arena had a concrete floor covered with dirt, straw, and of course, greasy milky baby puke?  Don't even get me started on the four foot pile of scooped up dirt, straw and greasy milky baby puke in the corner that was oozing this yellow/green fluid.  Mental note - stay away from that!

Then the fateful moment arrived.  I was crouching behind cover when out of nowhere three or four paintballs hit me square on the knee cap.  Truly impressive aim from someone.  I let out a stream of obscenities I'm surprised I knew and, after that subsided, found the pain was so intense I could almost cry.  There's no crying in paintball!  Time to retire, I think.

I went out to the lobby where, blessedly, I found friend Jen had already given up, so we huddled together and compared war wounds while watching our co-workers carry on, cheering on our favorites and hoping that the ones we thought had taken us out would get their just desserts.  After the carnage was over, everyone decamped to a bar to commiserate on the pain, tell war stories and make sure we all stayed friends.  Which I'm glad to say, with a group this cool, we are.

I've been asked twice now if I would do paintball again.  I have to say, though I had a great time and enjoyed the camaraderie, this might be a bit like bungee jumping.  Glad I did it once (and still have the welts and pancake sized bruises to prove it) but I'm not sure I'd put myself through that again.

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