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No Guts, No Glorias

paintball players
Wore Paint: Two dedicated paintball soldiers in full battle regalia lie low--he waiting to pick off the enemy, she dreaming of fashion statements.

Searching for balance between the battlefield and the beauty parlor

By Traci Hukill

LET'S GET ONE THING straight: I'm no priss. I bite my nails. My shoes stink. I do real pushups. So when the powers that be decreed that I play paintball and write an article about it, I thought, "Bring it on, boys!"

It would be a fine chance to experience maleness, I figured, and maybe settle some old scores against the Unfairer Sex. I began to plot my revenge, recalling pitiless snowball attacks and unceremonious swirlies from cousins and past boyfriends.

Who knows? I mused, I might even have a hidden talent for combat.

Savoring incipient victory, I made my way to The Adventure Game in Felton on a crisp October morning to join the Metro Santa Cruz team in a few rounds of paintball.

The first shot of adrenaline zinged through my veins when I pulled into the parking lot and glimpsed the Marines maneuvering about the base camp. They were dressed in full camouflage gear, in itself a bad sign, but they wore something less tangible, too: the mantle of importance and authority. Sure, there were only three of them bustling around in organized and officious fashion, but they managed to swarm nonetheless, and I suddenly felt very civilian and useless. It didn't sit well.

By the time some 50 players had assembled under the tent an hour later to hear proprietor Roland Chick spiel off the rules of the game, I was feeling like I'd brought a knife to a gunfight. It looked like a survivalists' convention in there. Too many of those freaks were wearing their own equipment, including spare CO2 cartridges for their "markers," while most of us had wandered up in sweats and tennis shoes and rented our gear.

The diminutive Mary Spicuzza and I, possessing the only extra X chromosomes in the group, glanced at each other in alarm. As if obeying some unwritten feminist rule, though, we didn't speak of our fear, not even to each other.

While Chick talked, the men eyed Mary and me casually. Not in that hungry or surreptitious way like they do in bars, but with looks that were both appraising and possessive. They were looking at us the way kids look at the slow, fat kid in P.E. class before a 50-yard dash: "At least I can beat him." Only this time it was, "Those two shouldn't be any trouble."

And they might have been right if Mary hadn't proven herself an Amazon trapped in a waif's body. Calculating and wily ("really scared," she assured me later), she hung back, securing cover and popping off the enemy with expertly aimed shots. In one game she was Last Man Standing. In Capture the Flag her rifle jammed, and she flung it down, made a rush for the flag and went down in a blaze of glory. The boys watched with incredulous faces from their hiding places. Go, Mary. Yeah.

The Hit Parade and the Parlor Games

I, ON THE OTHER HAND, mistakenly fancying myself invincible, threw myself without hesitation directly into harm's way. Repeatedly. I can't explain it--the moment the whistle blew to begin the game, every rational process in my brain stopped functioning, and I just wanted to kick some ass. So I'd rush forward like an idiot and take my hits in the first few minutes of play.

Seconds, more like.

I think I nailed two guys all day. My biggest disappointment was that I didn't survive long enough to vent my aggression. In fact, after a couple of games I got a little bored with the whole thing.

And that is where my identification with maleness ended. The boys--and let's not pretend and call them "men" in this instance--only grew more rabid with each game. In direct contrast, Mary and I began politely watching the time around noon. For, you see, we had more civilized amusements to pursue.

The ladies of Metro Santa Cruz--being inventive, thrifty and altogether delightful souls--had chosen that day for the long-awaited clothes swap. For those not in the know, a clothes swap is a many-splendored thing designed to achieve two ends: inspire each participant to clean out her closet and provide everyone with a new wardrobe, absolutely free. Mary and I are no fools. We weren't about to miss a deal like that on account of some shoot-'em-up game. So we left the boys to their sport and made our way to the parlor of Miss Camille.

We all agreed beforehand on one rule: No laughing at anyone else's stuff, no matter how hideous or out-of-date. But in female society one must observe other rules as well, rules that usually need no discussion. At the clothes swap, those unspoken rules included "no grabbing" and "no greed."

Those were the rules I broke that day. Those rules were like festive crepe streamers, and I was a charging rhino.

Remember that pent-up aggression I didn't get to release in paintball because I kept getting blown out of the game? Well, it didn't just disappear. Not only did I lustily seize on every scrap of available clothing that caught my eye, I also unwittingly snapped up items the others had chosen, creating some uncomfortable moments for my polite friends.

At the end of the afternoon everyone else had a small armload of clothes. My take filled a trash bag.

Mary was better behaved. Spent and battle-weary, she quietly selected a discrete handful of items and laid them neatly in a box. Her expression was serene, relaxed. After all, she had gotten in touch with her warrior spirit in an appropriate place--on the paintball field. She had had a perfectly balanced day. Yin had met yang. Mary had roared, and now she was purring.

I guess I experienced the same thing. As I hoisted my trash bag to my back, a feeling of satisfaction flooded my being. I may not have made the best soldier, but damn, I'd dominated the clothes swap.

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From the Oct. 23-29, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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