When I ask Eric, a cute grad student who tends my favorite bar, to play laser tag with me, I could see the gears turning in his head: did this qualify me as the coolest girl he'd ever met, or the least?
"Can't I be both?" I say, reading his mind.
"Both what?" he says, pretending I can't.
On the way to the Q-Zar laser-tag arena in Long Island,
I question my decision to ask this handsome, slimly muscled young scholar on a date that will expose how my brand new Puma sneakers are hiding two left feet. The waiver we're asked to sign before entering the arena doesn't reassure me.
"What kind of physical injury?" I ask the bored-looking kid at the front desk, squinting at the fine print.
Without looking up from his Isaac Asimov paperback, he answers, "If you climb on any of the foam equipment, you will fall and probably die."
After the obligatory briefing of rules and procedures, we face a dozen fourteen-year-old boys sitting on bleachers striped with glow-in-the-dark tape. Their acne-blighted faces turn toward us, and their eyes widen. A full head taller than anyone else, beard-stubbled and begirlfriended, Eric embodies all that puberty has denied them.
"He's with us!" both the red and green teams shout simultaneously.
I try not to look resentful. A foot shorter, I am, as at
It didn't take long for Eric to pull me into a dark corner.
all participatory sporting events, a liability.
There's a discomfiting silence until someone on the red team looks at my boyfriend. "She can come, too."
The Q-Zar employee lisps through the rest of the protocol and then leaves us to pick a team name. The green team quickly settles on Team Buttholes. The onus is on the red team to think of something scatalogically superior. Everyone looks to Eric. He pauses, and then whispers something to the other boys. They nod solemnly and put their hands together in the center of the circle.
"One, two, three, GO TEAM DIRTY SANCHEZ!"
I make a mental note to let Eric get to second base tonight.
We pick out our laser guns and outfit ourselves in plastic breastplates with sensory devices affixed to the front and back and a laser gun attached with a cord. Fully armored, we jog into the main arena. The maze is filled with black light and ominous fake fog, and there are foam walls with cut-out windows that one can duck beneath to spy on passing opponents. It feels like we're running around in a Russian disco designed by Nickelodeon.
It doesn't take long for Eric to pull me into one of the maze's many dark corners. I don't usually make out one hour into the first date, but the shadowy lighting and tension of combat make the idea irresistible. His plastic breastplate digs into my shoulders as he leans me against the foam wall, his gun swinging uselessly by his side. We're both wondering exactly how far we could go in the privacy of this dark corner when, suddenly, my gun vibrates. "WARNING! WARNING! RE-ENERGIZE YOUR GUN," a computerized voice advises from somewhere on my breastplate. A kid in green plastic armor darts away, shouting, "I got the girl while they were makin' out!"
We laugh awkwardly and resume our tryst. Soon we've tangled the cords attached to our guns and my hair keeps getting caught in his breastplate.
"WARNING! WARNING! RE-ENERGIZE YOUR GUN."
I re-emerge from our sweaty groping to see the same assailant peeking from behind a foam crag, snickering. "Take off her shirt!" he urges my date.
"Silence, you little punk," Eric booms, turning back to me. I envision a laser-tag duel to defend my honor, but my date is more intent on recommencing the makeout session. I like him enough to comply.
"WARNING! WARNING! RE-ENERGIZE YOUR GUN."
This time kids from our own team have joined in the snickering. My patience snaps. "You little bitches!" I yell at them, breaking away from the corner in a sprint.
Maybe it's the adrenaline surge from all the kissing, or maybe being around a pack of adolescent males who bathe themselves in Axe body wash really does have a mood-altering effect on women, but suddenly I care very much about avenging myself. I learn that each team has headquarters that we must guard. I duck behind a wall. When I see my former tormenter skulking behind the wall of the red HQ, I nail him effortlessly. Temporarily unable to fire, he attempts to shield another green member as they near the headquarters. I push him out of the way and shoot his partner point blank. They swear at me while retreating. Eric reappears to whisk me away to another dark crevice, but I back away.
"We're easier targets when we clump together," I shout over the clubhouse version of Moby's "Take the E."
My aim earns me a reputation on the field. The green team flees as I approach, screaming, "The girl is coming!"
"PZZZOW!" shrieks my gun as
There is something Freudian about shooting your gun into a large plastic orifice.
I target three boys. They run away when I hit the first one, and I peg the other two as they run away.
"TARGET SHOT AND DESISTED," my breastplate applauds over and over.
One of my teammates taps my shoulder. "You're the strongest one of us," he says earnestly. "You should go in front when we storm the HQ."
Eric rolls his eyes. Secretly, he is jealous.
One by one, I pick off the green team. They fall to the wayside like so many wounded soldiers, knowing they can't shoot anyone for the next twenty seconds. My red-team brethren creep behind me, and together we enter the green team's headquarters. Because I've paralyzed the majority of our enemies, resistance is futile, and we shoot at the unprotected hub of the HQ six feet above our heads until neon laser beams dance all over the walls and the volume of the techno music amplifies. There is something Freudian about the satisfaction acquired from shooting your gun into a large plastic orifice known as an HQ, but I try not to analyze it.
Suddenly, the lights come up and the music stops. We've successfully breached the headquarters, ending the game. Sweat beads on my forehead. I am nowhere near ready to leave. The Q-Zar employee is now standing at the exit collecting our gear. "You really surprised us all out there," he commends me. I am elated.
As we're leaving the lobby, the voyeur who originally pushed me over the laser-tag edge — he looks so much scrawnier in the daylight — whines to the cashier, "People were pushing me around. Someone really hurt my shoulder."
Eric shakes his head. "Who would push that poor little kid?"
"Boys," I scoff, walking quickly into the parking lot. It's just laser tag, I remind myself, but I can't help sensing a newfound appreciation for the physical. Maybe it's just the testosterone talking, but I am now fully prepared to make out with my date in a dark corner of Long Island. n°