Of the eight of us who lived together my sophomore year of college, six owned just about every type of gun you could possibly own. Well, except for the ones that shoot actual bullets. They didn’t have any of those, but there was pretty much everything else.
It all started at the end of our freshman year, when a lot of the guys shared a day trip to the local Toys R Us to purchase military-grade water guns. My roommate Dale just sort of came home one day with what appeared to be a neon-colored rocket launcher. If I’m remembering properly the thing set him back between $60 and $90 and was the approximate size and weight of a slightly overweight toddler. It probably held two or three gallons of water.
“Check this out,” Dale said, holding the monstrosity to his chest with the pride of an Army of One. Dangling from a flimsy shoulder strap, he had to support with his hands just to keep all that weight from cutting into his shoulder and drawing blood. “I’m ‘bout to go soak these fools.”
The only problem was that “these fools” had also spent between $60 and $90 for equally ostentatious squirt guns, which seemed to grow increasingly ridiculous. One of my buddies had a backpack that held extra water. Another one—and this is too fantastic to make up—had a little kickstand on his gun to transform it into some sort of sniper rifle. Knowing that sniper rifles are constructed to shoot long distances, this gun also was built to allow for more air pressure in the gun’s barrel.
On a beautiful spring day towards the end of the school year, the guys took the water bazookas out for a test run and had a really fun, innocent time. They ran around campus like idiots, drenched each other, and giggled like flirtatious little school girls.
But then something happened. My friends started to think they literally were soldiers wielding powerful weapons, and the future safety of Illinois Wesleyan University depended on them drowning each other in ammunition. They started spraying each other at times when they’d least expect it, and this includes indoor environments.
The real trouble started when my friend Solomon, soundly asleep atop his rock-hard IWU mattress, stupidly left his door unlocked one Saturday night. So at 2:00am a few aqua assassins crept into his dorm room, pumped up their Super Soakers to full pressure, and unloaded on the poor kid. In his bed. Sound asleep.
Solo awoke screaming, probably thinking he’d either been shot with real bullets or that he’d wet the bed—or maybe some combination of the two—while his attackers fled the scene.
Working under the assumption that the culprits were Dale and our other buddy Jabari, Solo emerged from his damp cave the following morning with the spirit of vengeance in the air. He returned the favor over the course of the day (including a thorough soaking of our dorm room, which I remember seriously pissing me off at the time), and from there it was just this ongoing back-and-forth for the rest of the semester. Seriously, this is how gangs operate. My friends had turned into water gangs.
And I thought it would be a good idea to agree to living with these people sophomore year. Silly, silly me.
I moved into an eight-man suite that August as the only white dude in the room—the rest were either black or mixed—and honestly had the best college year of my career. But there were moments when I thought I’d explode and murder these young men. This, for example, won’t be the last story about our sophomore year exploits and how I almost killed some of my closest friends. But since we’re talking about their obsession with guns, that’s where I’ll start.
With a summer to stew over how they up the ante, six of my seven suitemates returned with pellet guns that genuinely looked real but instead of bullets shot tiny yellow plastic balls, which hurt a hell of a lot more than water.
For the record, the one suitemate who joined me in amnesty was Kwabena, a Ghanaian with one of the most peaceful, humble demeanors I’ve ever known. He’s a great guy, and so am I, but as much as tried to say out of it we’d still inevitably get caught in the crossfire.
A pervading pall of anxiety shrouded what should’ve been “home” for me, because my buddies didn’t all just decide it was pellet gun day and organize a war. These things just kicked up out of nowhere. Everybody slept with their “guns” under their pillows, and there were pre-set teams should anyone start something. These guys were ready to shoot the crap out of each other at the drop of the hat, and they dropped a whole bunch of hats that year.
At the first shot, everybody would come peeling out of their rooms, guns drawn, looking for cover. Our coffee table would get flipped over to act as a shield and guys would be turning and firing around corners like they were trainees in the local police academy.
Kwabena, oblivious to the altercation, would drift out of his room lazily and ask in his proper British accent, “What’s up, fellas? What’s going… OW!”
Both teams would temporarily gang up on the poor kid while he raced back into his room with his figurative tail between his legs. Once the door slammed and locked shut, the resumed blasting each other.
One of my suitemates, Lew, once got sprayed with pellets while he was in the shower. I still can’t block out those screams. The same way Solomon can’t sleep in the same house as those guys without having Vietnam War flashbacks about midnight water assaults, I’m pretty sure Lew won’t ever take a shower the rest of his life without seeing a barrage of sunshine-colored BBs flashing before his eyes.
For the most part I survived college without too many welts (and believe me, these pellet guns did some damage), but I got my comeuppance a few years ago when I went to Dale’s place to watch a Bears playoff game. This was a couple years after graduation, and we were supposed to be grown me, so it didn’t even cross my mind that I would have something to worry about.
I knocked on the door, but after a few moments nobody had let me in. I wondered what was going on, so I reached back to knock again but the door flew open before my knuckles could rap the door, and the next thing I knew my legs felt like they were being stung by dozens of bees that had been genetically enhanced, replacing their stingers with tiny chainsaws.
They were on all sides of me, and I had nowhere to hide. Once they’d had their fill (in other words, once their chambers were emptied of pellets) we all had a good laugh looking at my pock-marked legs. When I say “we” all had a good a laugh, what I mean is “they” all had a good laugh while “I verbally berated them and reminded them they were supposed to grown people and why were they still playing with toy guns?”
Plenty of time has elapsed since then and I’d like to think that these guys took my little tirade seriously, but I’m 100% positive they still own the pellet guns and still get giddy at the idea of using them on each other. Oh well. They’ve grown up in their own ways. I suppose one can only expect so much growth at a time.
Despite everything, I love those guys. Those first two years of college were, if nothing else, extremely entertaining. I also learned a very important lesson from them: Guns don’t kill people, but those little yellow pellets hurt like the dickens.
Life lessons from my friends. What would I do without them?