Today was Lola’s birthday, so that alone is a big holiday in this household. But it was also National Oatmeal Cookie Day and to celebrate that, when I woke up this morning, I made a batch of Thick Oatmeal Raisinet Cookies. I’ve made these before. They are a recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction Blog and they have been one of Lola’s most favorite cookies from along thisî journey. I could have tried to make a different kind of cookie – there is no shortage of oatmeal cookie recipes – but making one that Lola was particularly fond of made more sense for her birthday. My goal was to make a batch and have them ready to serve as a dessert for her birthday party later in the day. This way we could share the joy of these cookies with others. I had them all baked and cooling by 11 am.
One of the things that you could say about me is that I pay attention to what people tell me (especially when it’s Lola), so when I hear something, I store the information in the vast emptiness of my head and retain it. Over the course of the year, Lola mentioned that she wanted to play laser tag on her birthday so it was an idea that has been simmering in my mind for the last few months. I think it started after I had played a game in New Hampshire last year and I told her about it. It sounded fun to her and a new type of adventure, so she told me that she wanted us to play someday. She randomly mentioned it again a few weeks ago but by then the wheels were already in motion. I had contacted a place in Fall River and had reserved some game time on her birthday. I just had to fill in the details of food and people. I tried to keep it a secret, but when Lola was in Florida with her sisters, the cat was let out of the bag, so when she got back home, I let her know some of the details but I still kept it all kind of vague so she wouldn’t get bogged down by party stress. I tried to keep it a nice small group for optimal laser fun.
When I woke up today, I had to get a few things done for the party but I also wanted to celebrate Lola. Lola is actually pretty low maintenance and one of the things she loves on special days is alone time where she can sit back, do what she wants to do on her own time and just enjoy. My goal was to stay out of her hair, so I told her that the only thing she had to do was be ready to leave at 2:15. I also told her if she needed anything at all, just ask me. So I was able to make her a nice smoothie on request and even a cup of coffee in the early afternoon with a nice warm oatmeal raisinet cookie. For the rest of the morning she was writing, crossword puzzling, sitting in the sun or gardening. I was prepping everything for the party like the cookies but I also baked her a cake (because you need a birthday cake). It was just a simple boxed white cake, but that was what she wanted (it is the cake her Mom would have made for her). My other prep duties were making a layered bean dip which was fast and easy, icing up our cooler filled with sodas and non-alcoholic beverages and putting together the goody bags for the guests. When you invite people to party at a Laser Tag spot, you can’t help but feel you are putting together a Chuck E. Cheese party for adults. We were aware of how silly this was, so we tried to stay to the theme of having a kid party for adults, hence the goody bags. However the goody bags did have some adult themes with a little alcohol nip in each one along with a condom and some tissues (plus candy and crackers).
When it was about 2:15, Lola had showered and come down stairs in her special birthday outfit. Keeping in theme with our Laser Tag fun, she was dressed in all black with black pants, black tank top and a black Rhythm Nation cap. She asked me if she could go out in public like this and I said YES! She really had the look down even accessorizing with her Dad’s old dogtags from his military days. She wanted to put a temporary tattoo on to add some extra fierceness to her look but all we had was a Harry Potter lighting bolt tattoo which, when applied, was not very menacing at all on her bicep. In fact, it looked like a birthmark, but we went with it. She would be The Girl That Lived on the battlefield. She put the final touches on her look and we were out the door at 2:25 (right on Lola time). I had already packed up everything we needed in the car. Thankfully the place was only about 15 minutes away.
The party was at a spot called Mission Combat at the Factory of Terror complex. The Factory of Terror is a haunted house that opens up during the Halloween season. It’s been there for years and is kind of an institution of horror in the area. In the offseason, they have started to use the space for Laser Tag. It’s in a sketchy part of town which seemed particularly deserted on a Sunday afternoon. The street was empty and when we pulled up, the parking spots in front of the building were oddly vacant. You couldn’t really tell it was a Laser Tag place, but there was no mistaking it as the Factory of Terror as it was clearly marked and a giant gargoyle sat above the door. On the door there was a small printed sign that said Mission Combat. We hesitantly got out of the car and walked to the front door which was looked shut. Uh oh. But then a minute later someone appeared and with a friendly smile let us in. Apparently we would have the whole place to ourselves today. We grabbed our stuff and moved inside.
In our mind, we had the vision it would be like a Chuck E. Cheese or any one of those spots that hold birthday parties for kids (or fun loving 36 year olds). But this was an old factory building that gets used as a haunted house in the fall. It wasn’t designed for fun parties – it was designed for terror. So we were a bit scared when we came into the main room. First because there were still all kinds of dummies and mannequins dressed in scary attire to bring horror to all those who cross the threshold, but second because it looked a little sketch inside too. It was dark, cold and not really a place that screamed happiness. There was a bunch of chairs to sit in, a folding card table for our food and a couple of old barrels to put more stuff in. But the staff was nice and welcoming so we decided to take it for what it is. We soaked it in, took a deep breath, laughed and then set up for everyone else who would be arriving soon. We put out the bean dip, the chips, the queso dip and the cookies. Like magic our lunch order was delivered right on time from D’Angelos. One of the other things Lola always wished she had on her birthday was a giant sandwich, so I ordered a few which came in at an amazing 29 inches each! One was a Thanksgiving Toasted (another Lola favorite) complete with soufflé cups of gravy. The other two subs were a combo of BLTs, Italians, Turkey and Roast Beef. I will say that when everyone got there and started to snack on the sandwiches, they got rave reviews. I was a little shocked that most people had not heard of the Great Divide Thanksgiving Toasted sandwich, but now they know. It’s really one of the best Thanksgiving sandwiches out there especially with the gravy to dunk in. That’s my sandwich tip for the day.
We were still feeling a little apprehensive but then the sisters started showing up and there was no turning back now. It was one of those rare days where all the sisters could come. Tara was first to arrive along with her son Ben and his buddy Roberto. There were age limits on who could play and Ben and Roberto just made the cut. We wanted our little nieces and nephews there too but they wouldn’t have been able to work the guns and they would have pooped their pants at the sight of the decorations. This was going to be an adult party. The next to arrive was Katie and Gary. Gary was the wildcard for the day because having gone to the Air Force Academy, he would have had legitimate combat training, so he really could have been a ringer. Lola’s friend Jessie and her husband Nick were next to arrive. We had just seen them before Easter and I invited them after that (back when it was still a surprise). They made the trip down from Framingham, MA just for the party which was sweet (and even while the Celtics playoff game was happening too, so big sacrifices). Jessie and Lola’s friendship goes back to when they were both babies as their mom’s were friends back then. That’s almost 36 year of friendship – some old school roots. The next to arrive was another one of Lola’s childhood friends, Steph. Steph and Lola go back to Hathaway Elementary school together and Lola always says how Steph has always been a person who loved adventure. When I reached out to her and mentioned laser tag to her, she was super excited and was ready to jump in full throttle. We were looking for that kind of enthusiasm. We tried to keep the party on the smaller size because of limits on space, but it was nice to have a few of Lola’s oldest friends there to celebrate her. That’s one of the downside of having a big family – once you make room for the immediate family, you are limited on who else you can have come. Cherie and Pete were next to arrive and they came along with Pete’s brother Dave and his wife Jeanie. Dave and Jeanie seem to always be part of our games and they really bring an element of fun and competition when they join in. The four walked in ready to roll fully decked out in camouflage outfits with sleeves cut off. It was game on. The last to arrive was Becky who came with Molly and Molly’s friend Logan (Jeff was not able to make it). Becky actually decided to go to the other Laser Tag place in Fall River first just to check out the competition. In truth, there was a slight mix up in her directions, but it did allow for this dialogue at the counter of the other place:
Becky: We’re here for a birthday party.
Clerk: What’s the name of the child?
Becky: The child is my 36 year old sister Laura (or it could be under her husband’s name).
When we were all assembled, we snacked on the food and got mentally prepared for battle. When we realized we had the whole place to ourselves, it got more friendly and warmer. Everyone’s cheer just brightened the place up. We were actually excited now to be surrounded by all this creepiness for our pending battles. We were instructed to pick teams so we divided into the Blue Crew and Red Crew (Lola and Becky captains respectively). Then we lined up for instructions. As small as a group as we were, we had a lot of enthusiasm and I felt bad for the instructors who were pretty much herding cats. After we were debriefed, we went into the next room and got our guns which were surprisingly heavy. There were sensors attached to the guns which you wrapped over your neck so they hung down on your chest. These were the spots that you would aim for to shoot people (plus a spot on the gun). The guns had a scope that had a laser pointer on the inside for aiming and you could shoot the guns in either semi-automatic style (rapid fire) or single shot. As each person got their gun, they started blasting away testing out the strength and power of their new weapons making the holding area we were in echo in gunfire like the streets of Aleppo. Soon however, we were all armed and ready to go. We were given final instructions and then led behind the curtain into the battlefield (each team heading to our home base).
The battlefield is undoubtedly the nooks and crannies of the building that have the greater purpose of being haunted rooms for the Factory of Terror. They are dark colored and often adorned with creepy things. You kind of forget about all that once you get in the heat of battle, but it’s still there. It makes the perfect backdrop however for the battle with lots of corners and rooms in which to hide or to set up as a sniper. When they tell you to go, you creep forward in the semidarkness not really knowing what is out there. It is a total adrenaline rush and you are giddy with excitement. You shoot the first thing you see that moves which is often your teammate (you couldn’t kill your own teammate, so friendly fire was not a big deal. Had it been, we would have all been lying dead less than ten feet away from our base). Then the shouting starts. Not scary shouting. The fun, over-excited shouting. When you see your first enemy you shout and fire. You scream when you get hit. You shout when you see someone running away. You just can’t stop getting excited. You creep along trying to hide with a game plan in mind, and then they shoot at you and you turn into Rambo. I shot my niece. I shot my sister in law. And it was all a blast.
I wish that there was a video of everyone playing because it would have given us laughs for years. It’s all so silly, it’s fun, but you really get competitive. You run. You heard me, thirty year olds (and some of us older folks) running around in the dark to get away from people shooting at you with fake guns. You turn into every war movie you have ever seen. I wanted to go on a mission and get Private Ryan back home safely. The best was when you just ran into someone from the other team. They would shout, and then you would shout back and then you would just blast away at each other. Then after the gunfire stopped, one of you would have to take the walk of shame back to base and recharge because you got shot dead. It was moments like this that made the day.
The first game was a timed battle and at a certain point, the game would end and the last person standing would be the winner. Lola’s team won that (I was on that team). We had a few people still alive at the end including myself but I had actually wandered outside the playing field which was super creepy. I was all by myself in an area in the building for about five minutes that was super quiet and every step I took would creak. I felt alone and even gave a “Come out, come out wherever you are” cry to see if I could engage someone. I got back on course eventually. Meanwhile, Ben and Roberto had survived it all and they were the true winners of round one for our team. The second game introduced a special box that was hidden out in the field that you had to shoot to switch over to your team color. At the end, the team that had the box in their color the longest would win. It took a while to find it, but when we did, where it was became the front line with both teams changing the color of the box and then trying to protect their color by forming a stronghold in the shadows. In the end, Lola’s team won again with about a three minute overall advantage. The final game was called a VIP Game and basically each team had a person that could only be shot five times, so your team’s goal was to protect your VIP and keep them safe before the other VIP was killed. Our team VIP was Steph because she had been able to move around pretty deftly without getting hit. She could move in the shadows and under enemy vision. We also felt that Lola or the boys would be too obvious a choice for VIP. The other team picked Cherie as their VIP which we eventually discovered because she was being well protected throughout the game. The last battle was all out war and there were straight shoot outs happening at the front line. By this game, everyone was kind of used to the nuances of play and the guns, so you took some more risks. I was able to sneak back to the other team’s base area and lurked in the shadows until I engaged in a raging gun fight. It was a bit of a suicide mission, but worth it if just for the thrill. I was shouting out,”Hand over Cherie and we’ll let the rest of you live!” I died shortly thereafter. The Red Team actually won that game, but it was a hard fought battle.
After that game, the instructors said for everyone to take off the sensors and wrap them around the gun. The games were over and as that sunk in, an audible groan made its way across the battlefield. We all packed it in and handed back our guns. We moved back out into the party area and I gave everyone their goody bag. We had some cookies and some more sandwiches. I had picked up a golden elephant statue at an antique store and it was going to serve as our trophy for the winner. It would go to someone on the Blue Team who won two of the three games and in the end, team captain Lola thought it should go to Jeanie who racked up nearly thirty kills throughout the day. Jeanie is always a star in our games so honoring her for another fine job was a fun way to end (plus the trophy could also act as a reminder to Dave that he lost – something he had yet to do in any of our reindeer games). Everyone was still buzzy about how much fun it was. We got to talk about who we killed, who we saw, how we ran. It was just a whole room filled with happy, excited chatter. Then it was time to clear out so we packed up and headed out into the brightness of the outside world which was an odd feeling after being holed up in a dark, windowless building for the last two hours.
We still had time in the day for more celebration and a cake too. I hadn’t really thought ahead on this, but if we were going to have cake, Lola of course would need some help blowing out the candles. Cherie and Pete were generous enough to invite everyone over afterwards to eat the cake (which was so nice because I kind of threw it at them very last minute). On our ride there, Lola was bursting with giddiness. She had so much fun and it was everything I wanted this day to be for her. She talked about all the moments she had out there, how her sister shot her dead after a bargained peace accord, how Jessie quietly led her into the other team’s territory, how much her sisters were laughing. She was just blissed out. When we got to Cherie’s, we brought the cake inside and we were met by little Calix who gave us giant smiles and laughs from across the room. He was cracking up with all these people in his home. We gathered in the kitchen and the war stories started to come out. We could have sung a rendition of “Goodnight Saigon” together and it would have seemed oddly appropriate. Pretty soon Wavy, Brix and Mae scampered inside after having been playing outside for the last few hours which meant it was time for cake. The candles were lit, the lights dimmed and everyone joined in with a rousing edition of “Happy Birthday” complete with the patented Mellow ending about being a horse and licking bathroom stalls (it’s an odd family). Lola got the help she wanted from her little friends blowing out the candles and soon everyone was enjoying cake in honor of Lola. The war stories were still being told, the wounds compared and talk of the next battle began to emerge. The guns will be blazing again at some point in the future.
When we got home, we were exhausted but it was the good kind of tired. The kind of tired that makes you feel you won the day. Lola was still beaming. We sat down and had some leftover sandwiches for dinner. Even the sandwiches were exactly what Lola wanted today, so it too was another joy of the day. I like making Lola’s birthday special for her. A few years ago, I sent her on a scavenger hunt throughout town for her birthday and I thought I’d never be able to top that one. Well today I did. It was everything she wanted. It was something different, it was a game, it was family and friends, it was big sandwiches, and it was just silly fun. As far as wives go, Lola is pretty low maintenance. She never wants diamonds or rubies, she just wants joy. All I did today was rent a spot and ordered some sandwiches. The joy came from Lola and those that love her. She opened up her heart to it all and soaked in the love. That will make you smile for days. And I made oatmeal cookies too. Those are good too.
Happy birthday my Lola. You are my gun in the laser tag game of life and you are definitely my favorite thing to celebrate (and I celebrate a lot of things).
Next Up: National Chocolate Parfait Day