Cold War Cousins, Part 1

Part 1, Part 2

When I was young and had birthday sleepovers, all the boys would sneak in BB guns and we would spend the nights in battle, welting each other till our faces looked as if a hornet nest had been dropped on our heads. A little blood was common, though it came mainly from running into fences and tree stumps in the dark. Where were our parents? Inside, enjoying a few precious seconds of quiet, thinking we were looking at the heavens and trying to identify the star constellations we’d studied in science class.

But then A Christmas Story hit theaters and popularized the idea that a BB gun can actually shoot your eye out. Though never proven to be true (we tried), even the NRA was helpless to defend our BB gun rights. All across America, mothers yanked weapons from youths’ hands in the most massive disarmament since Bush and Gorbachev signed the START treaty. Daisy, the BB gun supplier to the world, announced massive layoffs and the closing of a major factory, sending economic waves to Wall Street where the Dow Jones responded by asking, “What’s the spread on today’s Yankees game?”

But capitalism will not be restrained. In recent years toy manufacturers have answered pent up demand with the Airsoft line of weaponry. Could you create a more politically correct name? Adopting psychological marketing strategies, it stole the label from a new line of toilet paper – Airsoft. It worked.

“Mom, I want a BB gun for my birthday.”

She scowls. “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

An annoyed huff. “Maybe an Airsoft pistol then?”

The name conjures images of fluffy bunnies and flittering butterflies in the mother’s mind. “As long as you don’t aim it at your sister.”

That’s how it starts. Little Johnny brings his mom to the toy aisle of Airsoft weapons, the smallest ones strategically placed toward the front. He pulls a tiny one that looks like a squirt gun from the shelf.

“That’s cute. They just shoot these little green balls?” she asks.

Then Johnny points to one a little larger, further down the aisle, but not far enough to push his luck.  “Yeah. Harmless. But I like that one. It shoots the same plastic balls.” And so it goes till he seduces his mother to the end of the aisle and walks out of the store with a Gatling gun that runs off a truck battery and pumps enough green pellets through its eighteen barrels that it’s outlawed by Geneva conventions.

Recently we had a house full of young nephews, father being an Army colonel, so the testosterone levels inside our four walls were so high that random idiotic acts occurred spontaneously by the minute. They brought with them an entire Airsoft arsenal. Black pistols and stealthy assault rifles. Some were (I am not making this up) fully automatic with laser sights and tactical flashlights mounted on Picatinny rail systems.

I grabbed my single shot Airsoft pistol, slipped on safety glasses, and boldly stepped into cold darkness with the younglings, hoping age and wisdom would triumph over youth and eagerness. We teamed off with my son and me on opposite sides. I wanted to inflict at least a little pain as payback for the first three months of his life – filled with sleep-deprived, colicky fury. We reside in a quiet neighborhood and more than once I hoped our neighbors wouldn’t jump to conclusions as they drove by, car lights illuminating me prone on the ground, pointing my pistol toward a kid in full camo gripping an assault rifle running across the yard.

The experience drew me back to my youth, low crawling across our lawn with a Daisy BB gun. Back then, you had to be sure of each shot, more like a sniper. If you missed, the weapon had to be re-cocked which was awkward and gave away your position, inviting a swift counter attack.

Now, my wimpy single-shot pistol wasn’t much better. My son had borrowed the full-auto Airsoft machine gun from his cousin. Scampering across my yard under moonlight, I prayed to God he wouldn’t see me and unleash a stream of death, pelting my backsides and neck till the added weight of all the plastic pellets made me collapse from exhaustion.

One encounter that night was particularly memorable. My nephew and I had low crawled through a ditch to a strategic vantage with the moonlight behind us. It illuminated much of the field and concealed our position. We spotted the enemy fifty yards ahead, hiding against our storage shed, waiting in ambush. It was too far for any shot from my little pistol, so we waited till their patience wore thin and they moved to search for us. When their backs were turned, we sprinted from our cover. Within thirty feet, I dropped to a knee and raised my weapon. A tree shadowed the moonlight and in the darkness I had no way of seeing whether my aim was true. I squeezed the trigger, the sound of the pistol signaling my location. I quickly cocked it again, loading my next shot.

That’s when a laser flashed across my chest. By the time I squeezed off my second round, the enemy had fired thirty. I took shelter, but ultimately was out-gunned. I lay dead as my teammate fended for himself.

The moral of this story? Same as the Scout slogan: Be prepared. I’m going to visit the internet Airsoft armory. The same way America won the Cold War, this grown forty-something can outspend any fourteen year old. All I can say is, my nephews better be wearing Kevlar when they visit again.

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