But perhaps the strangest of these temporary sales fixtures is the paintballing stand. Do you have those too? People in overalls, clutching guns standing at a table that’s bedecked in camouflage gear (which makes it far more visible in the sterile white alleyways of commercialism.) They have amazing offers to sell you – a whole day of paintballing for the discount price of… whatever. It has long confused me why they think the corridor of a shopping centre is the optimum place to sell paintballing packages. I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re targeting men who, after an hour spent following their wives around from shop to shop, are seriously considering a shooting spree!
Over time, I’ve developed a strategy for avoiding each and every one of these product mongers; the perfect combination of words and body language to deter them. I’m usually polite and to the point. But the paintballing guys are a bit more fun. I enjoy messing with them; asking ridiculous questions and making bizarre requests, like “If I buy one of these vouchers, can I cash it in now? One gun, six hundred pellets in this very shopping centre?” They quickly get unnerved. I think I do the wild-eyed look quite convincingly.
A year or so ago I was walking through the shopping centre and got accosted by the paint people and was in a bit of a rush, so fobbed them off with a succinct “no thanks.” I don’t know whether I got the body language wrong, or the tone of voice, or whatever. But they kept hassling me. So in a moment of sheer frustrated flippancy I replied: “No thanks, I’m a pacifist.”
Now this is both true and not true. True that my personal, theologically-informed position is one of pacifism. Not true that this precludes me from paintballing. In fact, I rather enjoy paintballing. But I thought it would be enough to end the conversation. And surely enough, it was. But as I walked away I could hear one of the staff members turn to the other and say, “What’s a pacifist?”
What’s a pacifist? Really?
As if that wasn’t surprising enough, I then heard his colleague reply: “I think it means he’s allergic to paint.”
This is not the first time the statement “I’m a pacifist” has caused people to look at me strangely. There is a great deal of confusion over what pacifism is and isn’t. Many consider it to be a weird, lefty, un-thought-through, cowardly thing, and all those who embrace it to be moccasin-wearing, herbal-tea-drinking, quasi-Amish, vegan, naïve, idealists with weak stomachs and no grounding in reality.
Some, apparently, think it’s a paint allergy. (As if Gandhi might have had a budding career with watercolours, if it weren’t for his darned allergy!)
I object to each and every one of these accusations, and will happily go round on round at paintball with anyone who holds them! (At a discounted rate, in a shopping centre of your choice.)
But all that is to say that if you hold any of those misapprehensions, or even if you don’t, you should really read Fight by Preston Sprinkle. His name may sound like an ice-cream topping, but his book is rather brilliant.