I spend my life hunting for exercise in disguise — activities that will hasten my heart rate and tone my tail feathers without me much noticing. Too aggro for yoga, too wussy for … well, anything that hurts, I need to be tricked into fitness. I need it to just sort of happen while I’m living my otherwise delightful and not especially active life.
Which is why my friend Margaret suggested we spend a nice evening chasing one another around in the dark, trying to kill each other dead.
Margaret is not a scary person. She’s an erudite English professor and cookie-baking mommy who happens to have a jones for laser combat. For months, she has been begging me to join her at Motionz laser tag in Santa Maria for their weekly Lasercise night (wha … ?) and when I run out of excuses, I gather my up-for-anything gal pals Kate and Kalai and bite the bullet. Or rather nibble the bright red beam.
On the drive up, we giggle and snort as Margaret briefs us Spandex-clad suburbanites on Lasercise procedure. Clad in high-tech, sensor-laden vests and wielding bad-ass light-launching weaponry, we will do calisthenics then play back-to-back laser-tag games in Motionz’s two-story indoor war zone. The object is simple: Shoot people, and don’t get shot.
To drown out the self-doubt smoldering in our guts (guns? really?), we crack jokes about the task at hand. When we hear there’s no running allowed, Kalai quips, “Aha, so it’s like playing by the pool.” When we learn that code names will be assigned to us — Dark Sovereign, Venom, Dr. Doom — Kate pouts, “I just know I’m gonna get something fat.”
Margaret insists the game’s a stress buster: “It’s like an odd form of meditation. When you’re in there, no other worries can creep into your mind. All you can think about is not getting hit.”
What do you lose if you get hit? I ask. “Self-esteem.”
We arrive late. We’ve missed the group stretches and lunges; I like the place already. We suit up in the black-lit “vesting room,” where our eyeballs, teeth, and the startling amount of lint on our über-cute stretchpants glow eerily. Inside the dark labyrinth, colored lights flash and haunting techno music thumps.
“When are they gonna release the lions?” Kate mutters.
One minute the grandmotherly owner of the place is guiding me through the arena with the hospitality of a bed-and-breakfast proprietor (“Here’s the blue base. See that green light? Shoot it. Good!”). The next she’s coldly blasting me in the chest.
They’re hardcore, this Motionz militia. One fellow wearing fatigues and an unneighborly scowl seems to think I’m a threat to his freedom and stalks me like prey. He’s the kind of soldier who stealthily creeps up ramps and squats behind crates to pick off his enemies (read: humanity at large), all the while guarding his precious sensors from sight.
I’m the kind, it turns out, who shrieks and cackles every time I get shot — which is every three or four flipping seconds — and runs kamikaze-style through my friends’ vicious laser crossfire howling, “Leave me alone, you trigger-happy bitches! I’m just here for my gluuuuuutes!”
I’m hit more than 100 times that night, coming in last place.
“Don’t you feel cleansed?” Margaret asks when it’s over.
In truth, I feel gritty. And exhausted. And … sweaty! Holy fat-burner, Rambo, I really did get exercise!
Margaret got a bloody knuckle that night. Kalai bruised her elbow. The next day, I was sore, too: My face and sides hurt from laughing so much. Turns out I’ve got a new favorite workout. But it’s not laser tag. It’s laughing my ass off.