Y’s and X’s – Battle of the Sexes
A few weeks back my wife and I were invited to celebrate a close friend’s birthday in the form of adult paintball. In the weeks leading up to the event, there was a flurry of emails anticipating what was officially sanctioned the Battle of the Sexes. The lion’s share of the traffic was between the women aka “Bond Babes“ as they wrestled with such life and death issues as ideas on how to wear proper protective garments to reduce “ bruises that might show “, what shoes really do go with camouflage and how to remove paint from a garment. A sort of mob mentality started to creep into the emails which soon became a chat room of trash talk and female bravado. The strategies discussed ranged from using their feminine wiles to dupe us into submission to outright intelligence winning over testosterone. I could take it no longer and sent them an email on behalf of all the men urging the girls to stop whistling in the dark and to think long and hard about what they will do when they saw the “elephant.”
The “elephant “in Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage was a person’s first taste of battle. In the civil war, young men sat bravely around campfires and swore that they would never “not run “when faced with mortal combat. War is fickle and often the strongest and most boastful would end up dropping their weapons and racing into the woods while the soft spoken and timid would bravely dispatch their duty, fighting and sometimes, dying. None of the women actually remembered reading this novel, and assumed I was referring to myself as the “elephant “. This started an entirely less comfortable line of discussion about how big a target I was going to be and how “the elephant” was going to get brought down.
The evening of the Mother of All Battles arrived with nervous anticipation. People arrived in various forms of sweat suits, thick jackets, army fatigues and padded undergarments. My wife who is known for her calm and steady disposition, borrowed our fifth grade son’s football pants – replete with pads and body armor. As we were walking out the door, she began that no win question, “does this make me look …”
“Don’t even go there” I said.
During the hour that preceded the battle, we gathered in an anteroom and had refreshments. Not unlike so many warriors from the past, people were checking and rechecking their weapons, swapping folklore from other paintball battles and exchanging trash talk. “ Only teams of eight “ shouted the instructor above the nervous side chatter. “ If you are hit, an instructor will remove you. Do not, I repeat, do not take off your protective helmets for any reason in the combat area!” The “combat area “ is a slippery, 50’ by 100’ rectangle of paint splattered astro-turf interrupted by an assortment of foam barriers which serve as your cover and a primitive dividing line. The first group of men gathered and excitedly picked their places to assume cover. There was no discussion and no strategy. It would be like asking someone to show you how to hit a baseball. War is inate to men. Attack. Stay on the offensive. To ask for directions is to admit defeat. As I glanced over I saw the women huddled together, listening intently to their “instructor”, a young man in the loose clothes of a skateboarder wearing a protective helmet. His hands motioned frantically in every direction.
Like Flounder in the Animal House, someone behind me squealed, “this is gonna be great”…. The other instructor yelled something incomprehensible under his mask and shouted “go”. I rushed to my cover position where I was immediately met with a hail of enfilading fire. The men recklessly charged and were picked off by well coordinated bursts by the small teams of women.
I slipped down the right flank between a log shaped barrier and caught sight of the backs of several opponents completely vulnerable to my fire. I squeezed off several rounds striking a surprised hooded figure in the back. I moved quickly and hit another enemy as she rolled for new cover. Suddenly, a sniper moved out from my right but her gun jammed. I hit her with a quick burst and turned to signal to my brothers in arms that“ Dog One “ was now open. I was instantly hit with the sting of five bullets. I turned only to get hit between the eyes of my facemask. The judge had re-qualified my opponent because my paintball had not burst when it hit her.
I sullenly walked off the field. I watched my brave comrades surrounded and dispatched one by one. The instructor yelled “cease firing”. A shrill cry, not unlike a thousand nails on a chalkboard sent chills down my spine as the Bond Babes had destroyed the men in battle. The next group of men were slaughtered as the women, tucked into small spaces, using hand signals, spread out their fields of fire and picked off each determined but ill advised male. As in all warfare, there were reprisals and egregious acts. My fellow foxhole, Steve, found himself blindsided by my wife who had crawled into a defilade position. After shooting him in the back, he rolled forward writhing in pain. For good measure, she dispatched him with another unnecessary burst to his chest. “I’m going to get her.” was all he repeated as he clutched his chest. Like The Red Baron in WWI, her kill count went very high and so did the bounty on her head. When she was finally hit and told to leave the battle, she felt several stinging thwacks in the back as she scurried to leave the playing field.
In the end, I have to admit I was really in to it. My imagination convinced me I was like Crane’s Henry Fleming “facing the elephant and not running”. Later that evening after two hours of “kill” or “be killed”, I came home and paced the house, unable to sleep, wired by the experience and captivated by the adrenaline rush of the frenetic battles. The next day, I asked my wife what happened. “ You guys did not listen to the instructors and just went in with your own individual plans. We listened and had a strategy. We talked to each other, did not retire when we were hit and, the instructors told us where you guys were hiding…” She smiled. “I knew it, you cheated”. I whined. She just gave me that nonchalant, “all males are clueless” look and chirped, “we just had better intelligence.”