by Eric Poirier
In high school I used to get invited by a friend, who in turn was invited by a friend of a friend’s, to join a band of miscreants for a day of paint-balling outside of Cornwall. Not because I was a guy everyone wanted to know but because more cannon fodder made shooting things more fun. I remember I used to get intimated because I was the no-name guy who didn’t know or speak to anyone. The band was usually made up of some of the cool guys in school who would also invite some of the bad-ass kids in town. These guys were intimidating because they were revved to do something that was closest to resembling killing a human being; second only to running over civilians in Grand Theft Auto or knifing bystanders in Assassin’s Creed. Plus, I was known as the “Army Guy” since word of my recent signup with the Canadian Forces Reserves spread throughout the school.
“Hey, you’re the army guy? So, you’re, like, trained to kill and stuff?” was usually the question. “I wanna be on your team!” And so usually there was pressure to play the part.
Besides my army affiliation, the other kids knew very little of me. I was relatively unknown to the cool kids and bad-asses who greeted me suspiciously because they couldn’t quite figure me out. They had never known anyone in the army (part-time army anyway) and it was difficult for them to tell if I was interesting or geeky. So the pressure during these social events with cool kids was not to fall on the side of geeky.
Which is why, during these paintball outings, I was always relieved when an absolute loner showed up and asked to join in for the day. I would think: Here is a guy who is even more of an outsider and who might reduce my chances of being deemed geeky through my actions. At least I knew the person who invited me (even though that person spent more time talking to his other buddies).
These were the type of guys who just showed up as if they lived in the bushes just outside the paintball property waiting for miscreants like us to arrive. They always had a Dungeons-&-Dragons-basement-shut-in-trench-coat-mafia look to them.
“Sure, why not?” the lead bad-ass would say. “We’re short on bodies anyway.”
Smirks and nods of acknowledgement would ripple across us because here was a guy who was automatically deemed geeky and who would be an easy target because they were usually on the heavy set side. The Call of Duty fans among us started salivating when a guy like this showed up.
However, the minute we gave the guy permission to join us, that’s when everything changed.
After joining the army, I had been invited to quite a few of these paintball days by different bands of cool kids and bad-asses. It seemed to be a fad one summer. In any case, I had been to enough of these paint-balling excursions to begin recognizing a distinctive pattern:
- Cool kids and bad-asses get together to do something macho;
- Loner asks to join in;
- Cool kids and bad-asses accept with contempt only wanting more bodies to shoot;
- Loner joins in making cool kids and bad-asses wishing they’d said ‘no’.
The loner at these events always turned out to be some paintball master. By the end of summer, the appearance of one of these loners/masters was a relief for me because he did reduce my chances of being deemed geeky and, even better, he knew how to put these hot heads in their places. Naturally the cooler kids and “badder” asses ganged up on the lesser ones thinking it would be a turkey shoot. How they were wrong.
The second the master was allowed to join us for the day, that’s when things became painfully clear to the opposing team.
“Sure, you can join.”
The next sound to follow was never the master’s voice saying “Thank you”, but THUD! The sound of the guy’s ultra cool, multi-functional, super warrior camouflaged rucksack (he was carrying over one shoulder) hitting the ground. The next sounds were ZZZZIIIPPP and WWHIIIPPPP! Him opening the top of his warrior rucksack and whipping out his perfectly camouflaged, well padded overalls that literally disappeared in his hands when he held it up in front of the tree line behind him. The sound after that was SSSWWWIIIIPPPP. Him pulling out his incredibly wicked paintball helmet with the never-fog visor and the built-in ventilation system.
The sounds would then stop as he slipped into his overalls and put on his helmet. There was always absolute silence as the rest of us watched this magnificent arming scene. The overalls were always so well camouflaged that the master turned into a floating head when he was done dressing.
The second to last piece of army to come out was what looked like an army patrol vest with numerous pockets most likely containing extra paintball cartridges, 3-day survival kit, rations, GPS, radio to call in air support, etc.
Then came the final sound. Not the sound of a bag being ruffled about. This sound seemed to come from the heavens. I swear that one time during this final moment of arming while was I straining my ears hard enough to hear, I heard a faint SSSHHHWWWIIIINNNNN! We all watched as he pulled out, not a samurai sword, but the mother of all paintball guns.
This was an auto-refill, laser-guided, semi-automatic thing of beauty, complete with high-powered scope and patrol sling.
“Ok, boys! Come get your stuff!”
This was the owner and the day’s referee telling us to pick up our rented blue car mechanic’s overall, Darth Vader-like helmet with instant fogging visor and paint gun (which, next to the master’s gun, might as well have been a paper towel roll with a halved dish detergent bottle tapped to it to hold the paint balls).
Even though our helmets covered our faces, I could still see the whites in the eyes of the opposing players. At the beginning of every match, the two teams always lined up and faced each other at either ends of the field in a kind of “I’m gonna eat your soul!” taunting face-off seconds before the whistle.
Then the referee/owner would yell “GOOOOOOOO!”
It was always the same tactic. In a flash, the heavy set master would bolt to the nearest tree, fly up it as nimble as a ninja and disappear into the treetop. Or, he would run to the nearest mound of dirt, leap off it, pull off an Olympic dive into the crater just behind and turn into the leaves sitting there. The master never reappeared until after the match.
Those members of the opposing team who weren’t quick enough to find cover seconds after the referee’s “GO” never stood a chance. They always fell to the ground dead. Not that they were shot for real. But the pain of being precisely hit by the master’s paintball always made them go down hard; like being struck by a pebble shot from a canon. Some unlucky bastards were unfortunate enough to get hit right in the visor as they were running, which usually made them run into something like a tree or one of the walls to the fort on the lot.
A few of the more athletic cool kids and bad-asses of the opposing team sometimes managed to survive long enough to pick off some of the members of our team. They were the ones who could run fast enough and use some of their athleticism to move from cover to cover. But youthful energy and unending courage always gave out against the high-tech awesomery of the master’s equipment and use of angles. It was majestic really.
What was really amazing was that you never saw any of the master’s paintballs travel through the air. They were invisible until they splatted against their victims. If you were lucky enough to remain under cover to watch someone from the other team run between cover, you could experience the execution of the master’s kill. Every time I witnessed a kill it made me think of some hunting scene from a wildlife show:
“The gazelle-like teenage boy, sensing danger, attempts to run for safety, but not knowing from which direction the predator is approaching, he can only helplessly exert precious energy as he tries to get away. The predator knows this and patiently waits until the gazelle-boy moves into his zone of attack. When he does…the predator makes his kill.”
All you heard was ZZZEEEEUUUUUMMMM!! as a little plastic ball of cheap paint cut through the molecules in the air. This was always followed by SPLAT!! then “FFFUUUUUCCCK! That hurts!!” And another one bites the dust, I would sing to myself.
It was often frustrating because our cheap rental guns shot paintballs that behaved more like a soft-boiled egg being thrown by a baby instead of a bullet from a sniper’s rifle. All we wanted to do was run like crazy, shoot from the hip, somersault behind walls and trees and feel like we were commandos in a final assault. It sucked being the guy shot at the very beginning of the match; our chance of pretending to be a commando cut short. And for a teenager spending his allowance to be there, it sucked really hard.
“Blue team wins!” the referee would yell, calling an end to the match because no one from the red team was left standing.
The referee/owner often told us how two teams of masters would go at it for hours, forcing him to call it a day. Some matches went on for weekends. But our matches, a band of miscreants with one single paintball master involved, ended rather quickly.
The aftermath of the first match of the day was always the same. We’d come off the lot back to the common area and look ourselves over to compare the welts. The master’s marks were always unmistakable. Enormous welts in the most sensitive of areas: stomach, back, throat! The black helmets of those hit in the face sported a rainbow across the front for the rest of the day.
The annoyance was always immediately visible on the faces of those who were hit first. You could see it in their eyes when they took their helmets off that this was not what they paid for.
And suddenly…the master would “apparate” next to the group like some valedictorian from Hogwarts. He would never take off his helmet. But you could tell he was scanning the ones he hit, assessing how he can be even more precise during the next match. Need to aim 2mm to the left in order to hit the jugular, I’m sure he thought when his dark visor eyes fell on the kid he hit in the throat.
As the group either bitched about being hit, or bragged about actually hitting someone (the master probably allowed it, not to make it seem like a one-sided massacre), or recapped their cool dash and dive behind a tree, the master simply watched. Holding his instrument of death-by-paint at the ready, finger on the trigger.
“Ok, let’s change the teams around.”
It didn’t matter to the master. No one ever dared to recommend the entire group go against the master. The thought of challenging him at his own art made your heart want to stop. The teams were shuffled around and it was always the same. We were just practice for this guy. He was probably fine tuning his skills before undertaking a quest to some mystical forest to participate in a tournament to the death against the world’s most elite paintball warriors in order to win the golden paintball. Who the hell knew? The only sure thing was no matter how cool we were in school or how bad we acted at the mall, we were mere padawans next to this jedi.
The only thing that was certain was that at the end of day, I achieved my goal. Every one’s focus was on the master: either to be on his team or to smartly gang up to kill the bastard. I remained virtually unknown. None of the cool kids saw interest in me, but more importantly, because I went unnoticed, there was no threat of being deemed a geek. When it became painfully clear that there was no defeating the master at his own game, the kids did what kids do best, try to save grace by trivializing the thing that intimidates them.
“What a big geek! He probably spends his whole life in his parents’ basement playing video games and reading paintball magazines” (which was probably true).
The master was never bothered. At the end of the day we all retreated to our worlds. The master didn’t go to our school and didn’t have to deal with these kids. But I did. And even though I saw right through them I still had to be among them and wanted to be accepted by them. So at least one social outing with cool kids didn’t end with me being branded the geek. I had the master to thank for that.
“Thank you oh great Paintball Master! Your presence touches us all.”
Copyright Eric Poirier 2013