I had no real idea about what I was getting into. All I saw was an email invite featuring the words “games” and “archery,” along with the date and time of where I was supposed to be.
“Dress sporty,” my buddy recommended. He’s familiar with the gauntlet, having ventured there to shoot it out with coworkers a few weeks earlier.
Equipped with no more than a pair of running shoes, my standard-issue camo cargo shorts, and a buzz cut that’s appropriate for war (which I happen to have anyway), I made the short trip to the shopping center just off Broadway up in Chelsea where some punks would meet their doom (aka me).
Of course, I didn’t start off as a gladiator. Don’t try to be cool like me during the mandatory educational session at Archery Games. When the instructor looked at me and asked, “Have you ever used one of these before?” I moronically applied my experience from camp three decades ago and said, “Yes.” But as I learned soon after while trying to fire one off and being rejected by my own bow, combat isn’t like riding a bike. Bottom line: It’s important to pay close attention.
On that note, there are several specific rules of engagement, sure, but for the most part the parameters are simple: stick on your team’s side, don’t shoot people in between the midfield lines, and walk off to the side if you are hit. Otherwise, you’re left to your own skill and devices once your group splits into teams and the ref blows the whistle.
Did I mention that instead of arrows at the end of the sticks you are shooting, there is a large padded fist that resembles a marshmallow? Nevertheless, these spears can do damage, especially if flung by someone of substantial size and strength. I took one lump on the knuckle and a couple in the face mask, and while none of the above shots stopped me from so much as texting as soon as the melee ended, I may sport batting gloves or some sheath on my future outings.
As for the competition I survived to bring you this here dispatch—my team dominated. I’m not too sure why, other than that a few of us discovered early that it’s best to stay calm while opponents scramble, then to aim directly at their midsections so that they can’t easily duck, jump, or dodge the incoming twigs. It’s something like a slow and steady wins the race approach, but especially the steady part, since speed is half the battle—whether you are barrel-rolling to evade a missile (as I did, making a complete ass of myself) or racing to duck behind one of the many protective barricades (in our session, the ref removed one with each round, leaving nothing but an open killing field for the last stretch).
What good came of this murder scene in the end? My team won. What’s even better? It may have been the best time I’ve had in a while—especially without consuming dumb amounts of drugs and alcohol.
I won’t kid you—on the days after the slaughter, my joints and muscles, all of them, screamed louder than my rivals did back on the field. Still, I don’t regret it for a second.
A second, after all, is sometimes all there is between defeat and victory.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.