I'd never been to Coney Island before. Sure, I'd concocted a blurry mental tableau based mainly on "The Warriors," that early '90s Van Morrison song, and "He Got Game," a Coney Island of futuristic lesbian gangbangers and Jesus Shuttleworths and Van after he got all weird and fat, but it was a Coney Island based solely on fiction. Still I was hopeful. If a place filled with super tough lesbian street punks, Irish Soul music, and precocious roundballers actually did exist, I'd seriously consider moving. These, as the song goes, are a few of my favorite things. So when the band up and decided to spend our Thursday at Coney Island, doing the promo photo thing coupled with the frugal tourism thing, I was overjoyed. I braced myself for a day of scuzzy majesty in a place mythologized as majestically scuzzy. Except for the total lack of Ray Allen or Denzel, I was not disappointed.
Coney Island, to me, seemed like one of those traveling carnivals employed by the toothless, catering to the jobless, that, having arrived on a particularly lucrative patch of New York beach-front, decided never to leave. It boasts a wide selection of food ranging from "sugared dough" to "anonymous meat tubes" and horrible carny rides with names like "The Zipper," "The Regurgitator," and "The Concussion Giver." There's a boardwalk, a year-round freak show, and a beach with more trash cans than humans. But that's not why we're here today. We're here today for "Shoot the Freak."
To fully describe "Shoot the Freak"'s low-rent awesomeness would be impossible. That said, we shall try. "Shoot the Freak" is situated between a daiquiri bar and a place named "Cha Cha's," which sold booze and ice cream on the boardwalk. It is, for all intents and purposes, a vacant lot overgrown with knee-high weeds and has only two employees: The Barker and The Freak. The Barker, like any good carny, heckles folks into trying their luck at shooting the freak, only here, instead of playing some patently impossible game of "chance," you pay a nominal fee to shoot paintballs at a real live human being. The Freak is a well-tanned New Yorker with a BMX helmet, hockey pants, an athletic supporter (read: testicle preservation device), and a wooden shield, all bespeckled with fluorescent paintball explosions, and his job is to hide behind various barrels and fences while taunting you into firing shot after shot at his face and crotch.
It is deeply satisfying in a way I'm not fully comfortable with.
And it got me thinking: why the hell don't we have one in San Francisco? After all, all you need is a vacant lot, two employees, five paintball guns, and, voila: instant profit. I envisioned taking over a spot near Fisherman's Wharf, far enough from it to catch locals but close enough to it to ensnare tourists. It would be my great stroke of entrepreneurship. I'd buy a split-level Victorian with Shoot the Freak money, send my children to college with Shoot the Freak money. I would never work again, choosing instead to take treasure baths in a clawfoot tub filled with Shoot the Freak doubloons. By God, this was the best idea I'd ever had. I was beside myself. Then, I remembered one small thing: I lived in San Francisco.
See, Shoot the Freak could never exist here. First off, the name itself with be derided as insulting to all the great and noble bearded women, conjoined twins, and torso-less heads who fought valiantly against that derogatory title. So I'd have to name it something else. Say, "Shoot the Fully Actualized Gender-Neutral Person." Then, since Shoot the Freak is inherently violent, we'd have to replace the paintballs and the guns with something less fearsome like, say, aloe-soaked sponges. And you wouldn't be able to throw them overhand (still obviously too violent), so I'd have to mandate slow-pitch softball style tosses only. Lastly, the surly carnival barker would be classified as a noise polluter, so I'd have to find a far more polite version, one who spouted affirmations of our patrons' personhood before, during, and after the whole transaction. What I'd be left with the wife of an amateur Napa vintner not-pressuring passersby into a leisurely game of "Underhand Lob the Aloe-Soaked Sponge at the Fully Actualized, Gender Neutral Person." And that, my friends, is just lame.
Which is to say: hooray for Coney Island. Hooray for any place where "Shoot the Freak" exists in this day and age of kid gloves and seat belt laws. Coney Island may not have been teeming with Sebastian Telfairs, Baseball Furies, or even Requiem For A Dream era Wayanseseses, but with that one attraction, it earned a lifetime of repeat visits. At least until Nickelodeon buys it and turns the whole place into Sponge Bob Square Pants Beach.
Shoot the Freak while you still can.