This Dave Bary column was originally published Sunday, November 12, 1995
Recently I was in a restaurant-bar called Taurus, which is in Coconut Grove, which is one of the more bizarre sections of Miami, which is definitely saying something, and I noticed that there were a lot of people there carrying blowguns.
One of the guiding principles in my life has always been: "Never hang around with people who have access to both mixed drinks and dart-shooting weapons." But these people seemed friendly, so I got to talking to them. It turned out that they were a blowgun league.
This was the idea of Leonard King, a professional artist and a Taurus regular (although, to be honest, the word "regular" does not really apply to anybody who frequents this establishment). King is also the man who came up with the idea of Clown Racing. The way that happened was, he was shopping in a discount store called MacFrugal's, and he found a battery- powered toy clown.
"The clown moved around erratically," said King. "It was a bumper-car type of clown. It was holding a balloon that lit up."
So he purchased 10 of them. He brought them to Taurus and staged Clown Racing, wherein the clowns were let loose on a table, and people bet on which one would be the first to get through a hoop. This was a big hit, and it gave King, who is always thinking, an idea.
"I was going to get 1,000 clowns and set up a hoop in the Miami Arena and race them for charity," he said. "But when I went back to MacFrugal's, they were out of clowns."
Some time later, King decided to purchase a blowgun, and for an excellent reason.
"I always wanted a blowgun," he said.
So he went to the Gun and Knife Show at the city of Miami Convention Center, which -- this being Miami -- hosts a Gun and Knife Show roughly every three weeks. There, King purchased (Why not?) 35 blowguns.
"I knew I could sell them," he said. And -- this being Miami -- he was right. Virtually all of the Taurus regulars wanted one. A typical example is Dan Ricker, a businessman, who said: "This was right after Hurricane Andrew. All my neighbors were armed, and all I had was a machete. So I upgraded to a blowgun."
Ricker, King and an eclectic, co-educational group of a dozen or so other blowgunners, mostly over 40, have been competing at Taurus every other Monday night for several years now. They set the targets up against a wall out front; this means they're blowing darts only a few feet away from the sidewalk. But they observe the rules of safe blowgunning (Rule No. 1: Do NOT inhale) and claim they've never hit anybody.
They use a variety of custom targets, including, one time, a pair of those foam heads that are used to style wigs.
"We had areas of the heads marked off," explained veteran blowgunner Corinne Smith. "You got 10 points for hitting the eye, and so on. At first people did really badly, because they were freaked out about shooting at body parts. But then everybody got comfortable with it."
The competition is generally low-key. Both weeks I was there, bands were playing in the bar; competitors, between turns, would wander inside and dance, sometimes still holding their blowguns. They also yell encouragement to other competitors. At one point, I swear, somebody yelled: "C'mon, Grimsley! Put a Robin Hood on that bull!" This was blowgun lingo: A "Robin Hood" is when you shoot a dart into the back of another dart; a "bull" is a bull's-eye; and "Grimsley" is a person named "Grimsley."
On my second visit to the blowgun league, I borrowed a gun and entered the competition. The blowguns are lightweight tubes maybe 40 inches long; the darts are basically long needles with plastic cones on the back end. When you blow a quick puff of air into the tube, the dart goes zipping out the other end very fast -- PHHHHTTTTT -- and flies straight and true directly into something other than the target. At least that's what my darts did. I have zero natural ability at this sport. I am the Elmer Fudd of blowgunning. There was no telling where my darts were going.
GOODYEAR BLIMP PILOT: Did you feel that?
GOODYEAR BLIMP CO-PILOT: Feel what?
GOODYEAR BLIMP: sssssssssssssss
As it became clear how truly bad I was, I began to receive coaching from a guy there named Nick, who took blowgunning -- there's always somebody like this -- seriously. He'd stand off to the side, puffing on a cigarette, watching me spray darts randomly into the night; then he'd come up, put his arm on my shoulder, and give me advice.
"You're jerking!" he'd say, exhaling smoke directly into my ear. "You've got to relax! Don't worry about what the other people are saying."
"What are the other people saying?" I asked.
"Don't worry about it," he said.
Nick's advice didn't work. It was just like when I was in Little League, and I'd be batting, and my coach, Mr. Parker, would yell: "Keep your eye on the ball!" I'd want to yell back: "No! I'm busy squinting!" But instead I'd just keep my mouth shut and strike out as quickly as possible.
Similarly, I shot my blowgun darts as fast as I could and retired to the bar. This turned out to be an OK strategy, because I wound up with the evening's worst score, which meant I won the "Low Blow" award, which meant I got $5, which is the most I've ever won in any kind of athletic competition. In fact, I plan to compete again, and next time I'll be using my own blowgun. Although, in the interest of public safety, I'm going to skip the darts.
© Dave Barry
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