So. Saturday morning, I woke up at 6:45 AM, which is the earliest time in the day that a human being has EVER gotten up, much less on a Saturday, to ride my bike to Long Island City, Queens, to participate in a charity event for the Moving Mountains organization, a non-profit youth outreach program founded by Jaime Hector, who played Marlo on the HBO series, The Wire. As it was billed, the event would allow ordinary civilians to play paintball with Jaime and other Wire cast-members, which is easily the scariest way to donate money to charity that I have ever heard of. Also, as it would turn out, the event would actually only allow ordinary civilians to play paintball with each other, in a bracket-style tournament, and then whoever won that would be able to play paintball with the cast of The Wire. This would have been a lot more disappointing if it didn’t turn out that paintball is terrifying, and if it was not always the case that being around “famous” people (even obsessive-nerd niche-programming famous) is awkward and uncomfortable, and if NYC Paintball, New York’s premiere (only) indoor paintball course wasn’t the most disgusting place in the world.
First, let us set the scene:
NYC Paintball is located on an industrial stretch of road just off of Queens Boulevard. Of course, this is not the Queens Boulevard mythologized and rhapsodized by Vincent Chase. This is the section of Queens Boulevard where the bus from Rikers Island unceremoniously drops off released convicts every morning at 5AM. It is a part of town that you don’t necessarily want to be alone in at 7:40 in the morning when you woefully miscalculated your bike ride commute, perhaps because you are awake earlier than any human being has ever been awake (look it up). Not because it is particularly dangerous, but because there is nothing to do. You could go get a donut at the Dunkin Donuts that is also a gas station under the BQE , but you don’t want to. Because gross. Eventually you end up getting an egg sandwich and a coffee at a deli and sitting by yourself and wondering who the other people are in this deli at 7:40 on a Saturday getting egg sandwiches and coffee like you. Are they ALL going to play paintball with the cast of the Wire? Probably! That’s probably why they are wearing coveralls and nurses uniforms. You know, for the paint. And the death.
But, OK, so, finish your sandwich and coffee. Because we have to talk about NYC Paintball: NYC Paintball is one of those rare (although not rare enough) windows into another world, like a Polish nightclub, or a laser tag center. (NYC Paintball also provides laser tag services, although its laser tag guns are refurbished paintball guns with lasers mounted on them?) The thing is: people hang out here. A lot. When I arrived at 8AM on a Saturday morning, the place was crowded with people wearing Official Paintball Gear. Wait, WHAT? I am pretty sure this event is for skinny, nervous, white nerds with crippling social anxiety who just really like the gritty realism and moral ambiguity of a critically successful but criminally underwatched HBO show that has been off the air for two years. Not, you know, PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY KNOW HOW TO PLAY PAINTBALL!
“I have made a terrible mistake.” — Gabe Bluth
We should all be so lucky as to find something that makes us happy in this world. I know that. And I am sure that paintball enthusiasts were popping bottles when it was announced that NYC Paintball would soon be opening in Queens. And perhaps New York’s premiere (and only) paintball facility was exciting when it was untarnished and new. But it is no longer those things. And the idea of spending any amount of time other than a couple of hours one Saturday morning BY ACCIDENT and FOR CHARITY and BECAUSE OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN ON TV THAT YOU WANT TO GET A FACEBOOK PHOTO WITH in this place is to describe a mindset and a way of life that is completely alien to one’s understanding of the world. Because NYC Paintball sounds fun and interesting when you describe it as New York’s premiere (and only) indoor paintball facility. It is less fun and interesting when you describe it like this:
A windowless, airless, abandoned storage shed that smells like kerosene and is lit by the same fluorescent bulbs they used to film Saw. The bathroom seems like something out of Grand Theft Auto. Going to the bathroom feels like a mission to kill a Haitian who betrayed a mob boss and is now hiding in a disused subway tunnel. Every single inch of every single surface (floors, walls, tables, benches, vending machines) is covered in a light-to-thick patina of greasy residue from a million exploded paintballs. Occasionally this environment is pierced by the explosive stutter of GUNS GOING OFF. (Because one thing they do not tell you about paintball guns is that, at least indoors, THEY SOUND AN AWFUL LOT LIKE BULLETBALL GUNS.) It is the type of place that you could definitely fill with dead bodies and nail shut and no one would ever find them, not even Lester Freeman.
Add to that serenity the sound of a dog barking from somewhere inside the building. NO JOKE. We are talking an actual living nightmare now. And it only gets worse an hour later when you discover that the dog actually belongs to Omar*.
Jesus Christ. I know we are all going to die some day, I just did not think we were all going to die at a novelty charity event!!!
Anyway, it turns out that I am exceptionally bad at paintball**. In our first round against a team of nerds (a few did finally show up, although they were showing each other bruises from RECENT PAINTBALL ADVENTURES. I remember a time when nerds used to be nerds!) One girl on our team is shot in the arm at point-blank range, leaving a white-hot welt surrounded by a deep purple bruise that will almost certainly result in a permanent scar. I am eliminated when a 17-year-old SHOOTS ME IN THE NECK. I held my gun and my free hand up in the air to surrender, at which point SOMEONE SHOOTS ME IN THE HEAD. What is this? Where am I? HELL? AM I IN ACTUAL HELL NOW? Because if I knew I was going to go to actual hell, I would have at least SLEPT IN A LITTLE, FIRST. (On that note, and I know that I am a sleepy princess whose diamond pillow is too tight, but the event was scheduled from 8-11AM but none of the event organizers even showed up until 9:30. I’m not actually surprised that a charity paintball event in Queens organized by the guy who played Marlo on The Wire did not follow its publicized schedule with Swiss precision, but if this was a tower it would have been TAKEN BACK.)
It also might be worth pointing out that whoever did go on to win the paintball tournament was going to be pretty good at paintball, because a lot of these people actually seemed to know what they were doing for some reason (where do they find time between all the paintball to watch TV?!!!), but the cast of The Wire, unsurprisingly, don’t spend a lot of time on the paintball field. Because they have better things to do. Like be in the cast of The Wire. And so the final round would just be halfway decent paintball enthusiasts slaughtering the cast of The Wire. Neat?
Being eliminated from the actual paintball part of the paintball event did give me more time to enjoy the “with the cast of The Wire” side of things, although “enjoy” might not be the right word. The thing about being near famous people is that it is really fun and neat and exciting for about 20 minutes, after which you are just in a room with some strangers who do not particularly like you, but at whom you cannot stop staring. Yikes. Add to that the fact that it is usually very hard to disassociate their screen roles from them as human beings, and now you are in a room full of strangers who do not particularly like you and who you think are ACTUAL MURDERERS. But Jaime Hector and Sonia Sohn were very nice. Bodie was there, too, and he was super Bodie the whole time. I’m pretty sure he was for real running a corner during the event. And I won’t get into how embarrassingly me and the people I was with nervously debated and hesitated to actually approach Michael K. Williams and ask him to take a picture with us, but let us just say it was VERY embarrassingly.
At 12:45, heading into my fifth hour of hanging around a dilapidated nightmare factory in Queens on a Saturday, ears still ringing with the sound of people shooting at each other’s faces, my neck throbbing with a bright red bruise, surrounded by people who wanted nothing to do with me, I left without getting to meet Felicia “Snoop” Pearson, who was reportedly still on her way (the event was scheduled to begin at 8) but was stuck in traffic. Sure. Hey, remember when she was in jail for real after watching a dude stab another dude to death?! Oh well. Maybe I’ll meet her next time there is a weird, expensive, novelty fringe sport event for charity with the cast of The Wire.
In any case, it was all for a good cause. I think. Probably.