I recently turned 54, experienced prostate problems, became hobbled with an arthritic knee, let my belt out a notch and noticed that when I don't shave for a week I begin to look like Santa Claus. At a moment like this, a real man knows it is time to take serious remedial action. I knew what I had to do. I had to fire a submachine gun.

(Prior to electing this course of action, my son and I tried to come up with the most macho thing a man could do to deny the aging process. Number one, we decided, would be to kill a guy with your bare hands, which I eliminated for its penal consequences. Having sex with Serena Williams would have been second, but, darn my luck, she was out of the country. So I settled on option three.)

Fortunately, logistics proved no problem. This is America. By federal law, there must be a machine-gun firing range within a 10-minute Hummer drive of any major intersection.

I found mine in Rockville, a place called Gilbert Indoor Range. As soon as I walked in, I began to feel more virile. Gilbert doesn't sell just handguns that fire bullets the size of zucchini, it also sells flak jackets, all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles and (I swear) spittoons. The owner's name is Dick.

Before I was allowed to touch a gun, Dick Gilbert sat me in front of a half-hour video on gun safety. Gilbert Indoor Range is all about safety and sportsmanship for the gun enthusiast, and, even though you can buy not only machine guns there but also machine-gun silencers, Dick assured me that all of this stuff is for the serious gun collector and target shooter, and not for some nut who wants to shoot people. Most of the targets are pictures of people.

Mine was Osama bin Laden, at 15 feet. My submachine gun was a relatively small SWAT-team favorite, an $18,000 H&K MP5 (9mm) Fully Automatic. (All machine guns have names like that. Wouldn't it be cool if American boys were given names like that, too? "I'd like to introduce you to my daughter, Amanda, and my son, S&C Ironmaster .38 Pump Action.")

The key to shooting a submachine gun is to understand that, once you squeeze the trigger, certain changes take place in you, and most are beyond your control. Among these is that your face twists up in a hideous scowl. It can't be prevented. Anyone would look mean and vicious firing a machine gun, even Katie Couric. Even Tweety Bird.

The other thing that happens is that, once you start firing, your entire field of vision disappears into a gassy, smoky blur, and you are no longer really able to see your target. All you can do is wrestle desperately to keep the barrel down against a ferocious upward kick. It is as though the gun is some Satanic beast that really wants to fire directly at God (a simile that, for the record, Gilbert Indoor Range Inc. does not endorse).

So you are firing wildly, sneering like Stallone, not sure whom or what you are raking with a lethal blanket of hot lead, leaning into your weapon. You are Sgt. Rock wiping out a nest of filthy, stinking Nazis BUDDA BUDDA BUDDA and suddenly, before it has really begun, it is over. You have emptied a magazine of 30 bullets in just under four seconds. And you're standing there, the acrid stench of gun-powder rising from your warm tommy gun, you are feeling . . . what? Just a little silly?

Are you kidding? Man, is it cool.

(Note to female readers: I didn't just say that. What I said was that it is not cool. Gunplay is childish and vulgar and crude and loud and violent. And selfish! It was all about me, and it was over way too fast! Okay? Okay. )

I filled and emptied the magazine four times, firing off 110 bullets. Total elapsed shooting time: roughly 10 seconds. Total cost: roughly $17 a second, which works out to about $62,000 an hour. It was well worth it. When we reeled in the target we found that 64 of my rounds were Osama kill shots.

So here I am, back home, feeling a little better about myself. And I notice, to my interest, that Serena is back in the country.

Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is weingarten@washpost.com.

Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon at www.washingtonpost.com.