Shiny new developers won't come knocking on the metal door of the crumbling warehouse on West 63rd Street near Stock Avenue, unless they're looking for a good place to dump a dead body. The former Swift Premium slaughterhouse, which hasn't seen a side of bacon since the 1960s, has all the ambience of a Third World prison: dim, unheated rooms and rotting walls varnished with soot and petrified piss. And that's the way Roger Green, whose Paint Ball City business occupies the eight-story building's top five floors, likes it.
So does Norm Sabol, a leader in the safety department of the Grafton Correctional Institution. He recently brought about twenty prison guards to Paint Ball City for SWAT team training, following the lead of a few other law enforcement agencies in Ohio. Sabol says the state doesn't have adequate indoor facilities to train guards for an inmate uprising, and in the winter, the cold weather restricts outdoor sessions. Paint Ball City provides shelter from the elements, though not much warmth. So Sabol's group plays a few rounds of sixteen-on-three--sixteen guards staking out three escaped "perpetrators" who've taken hostages in the belly of a city hospital. Such training has inspired Green to create a Paint Ball City SWAT game that civilians can play, minus the riot gear.
Before combat, the prison guards drink coffee, socialize, and adjust their gear. Meanwhile, Green, a former bricklayer, gives the sport all the commando allure of a Girl Scout troop. "About once a month, we draw a tear," he says, remarking that one dry-eyed ten-year-old bravely took a shot to the heart last week. And, "we see more and more ladies here." To bring in the babes, he's been hosting weekly "Ladies Appreciation Days," with the men voting on which female paintballer is the prettiest.
The paintball capsules are manufactured by pharmaceutical companies. Drug makers have hosted conferences at Paint Ball City, inviting brain surgeons to blast each others' brains out--after they've watched the requisite promotional videos on new medicines.
Up on the eighth floor with the prison guards, though, it's all business. "Keep your head down," barks a squad leader, pressed against a paint-splattered wall that looks likes it's been through a world war between pigeons and crows. "Just keep your ass against Larry's ass." After about fifteen minutes, the three perpetrators are gunned down and, faces flushed from staring down pretend death, Graf-ton's finest file downstairs for a coffee break.
Paint Ball City is located at 3214 West 63rd Street, 216-939-1999. Open play is Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. until people run out of steam (or ammo). Public rates are $30 per person, which includes equipment rental, plus $20 to $35 per person for paintballs.