It's not every day that I am E-vited to a birthday party promising to feature live ammunition. Excitedly, I E-sponded with a resounding "yes."
Paula was throwing a Wild West-themed shindig for her husband Bill's birthday. It was a "BYOF" (Bring Your Own Firearm) affair.
"Don't worry," Paula said. "Dale and Pete are bringing extra guns and they're willing to share."
After my husband and I signed a long, pesky agreement at the counter, I saw Paula, Bill and our friends firing away. I tried to bolt for the range, but the guy at the counter pointed to a pile of earmuffs and said, "Hey! You're going to need a pair of these."
I slapped a set over my head, and when I finally got onto the range I immediately jumped in terror at the sheer decibel level of a dozen guns going off at once.
Our friends greeted us, and the birthday boy, sporting a .38 caliber, was grinning from ear to ear. He seemed to be saying something, but I couldn't hear anything other than the rat-a-tat-tat of live ammo just a few feet away.
I had never known that Dale and Pete were marksmen, nor that Dale's wife, Nancy, a sweet mother of two who might weigh 95 pounds wearing a dress of sand, could make Swiss cheese out of a target within 100 feet.
Dale showed me how to hold, load and aim his .38. He clipped a fresh target paper on a reel and sent it back about 15 feet. The target featured a masked gunman holding a hostage.
"OK now, that guy with the gun has just broken into your house," Dale said. "The hostage is one of your kids. Go get him."
That was all I needed to hear. I took aim, fired and shot off a hunk of the ceiling. A lot of good I'd do in an emergency.
I aimed again, lower this time, and got about two zip codes closer. By the time my turn was up, I had clipped the dirtbag's shoulder and right knee. It was progress.
I stepped back to let my husband have a go at it, but I was eager for my next turn so I could focus on my target. In the meantime, Paula sidled over to me.
"I hate guns," she said. "I can't believe I'm doing this at all."
"Love can make you do strange and terrible things," I yelled, since our earmuffs made normal conversation impossible.
"I'm just waiting for the pizza and beer part. That'll be a lot more fun," she promised.
I wasn't sure about that. I was itching to try Dale's shotgun, which he soon put into my newly gunpowder-stained hands.
"Geez, this is heavy," I said. "Someone could really get hurt with this thing."
"That's the idea. Now let's have another go at the bad guy," Dale said, clipping a new target on the reel and helped me position the gun against my shoulder.
"Watch out for the recoil," he warned.
I steadied the gun, aimed and fired. The recoil was terrific, instantly bruising my shoulder. Amazingly, I got within the target, and my friends applauded and hollered. I began to turn to take a bow but Dale screamed, "Don't turn the shotgun! Put that thing down!"
I put the gun down carefully, took my bow and resumed firing.
Our kids joined us at the pizza party after, where I proudly showed off my bullet-ridden target paper to the oldest teens.
"Your mom's a good shot," Dale warned them. "Better keep your room clean."
I'm thinking of going back to the range for a couple shooting classes, to give me that euphoric rush that grocery shopping seldom delivers. Maybe, for my midlife crisis, instead of entering a deep depression, I'll join the NRA and move to a state that allows you to carry a concealed weapon. No one will know why I will have a smirky "make my day" expression. But I'll owe it all to Paula and her E-vite to Big Bill's Birthday Blast.
Judy Gruen is the author of two award-winning humor books. Read more of her columns on www.judygruen.com.