Beware the Scarecrow
April 7, 2003
When I suggested we go for a walk around the block, my cousin Andy protested: “Not if you’re gonna jump in the woods and come out with a bag on your head again.”
I didn’t understand his problem. I mean, sure, my plan WAS to duck into the woods and emerge with a bag over my head – again – but I didn’t see why this was such a terrible burden on him.
All normal, well-adjusted American boys go through a superhero phase, right? I mean, there aren’t any deep, disturbing implications for a child to want to be a superhero, even to the point of walking around dressed as one, right? Even at age, oh, say, 11. Right? Absolutely.
Well, my hero of choice, at least at that time, was the title character from the obscure Disney movie, “Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow.” I couldn’t really tell you much about the movie, except that it was set in England in the 1800s and the main character, Dr. Syn, would spend his evenings dressed up in a scarecrow costume, galloping around protecting the innocent, or whatever.
The only real thing that stuck with me from this bit of cinematic wonder was how cool it would be to have a secret identity. Sure, there were other things that caught my attention, like how cool it would be to have a horse and how, well, naughty it must feel to dress up like a scarecrow, but neither of those were within my grasp.
The secret identity part, though – I figured that all that was required for that would be a hood like the one the Scarecrow wore.
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I tried to make a hood without assistance – the thing about having a secret identity is to let as few people in on it as possible – but it didn’t turn out well, so I had to ask my mom to sew one for me. She made me one out of a pillowcase. At the time I was living in the Deep South, and though I’d rather remain ignorant about this aspect of my lineage, I doubt that this was the first time anyone in my family had worn a pillowcase on their head.
So, one pillowcase with eye holes later, I’m a superhero. Mild-mannered 11-year-old Barry Smith by day, but when trouble strikes, I duck into the woods and emerge … the Scarecrow – righting wrongs, or whatever!
The thing is, I was spending the summer with my aunt in a very rural little subdivision in Jonesboro, Arkansas. There was never any trouble. There was hardly anyone around. It was a new subdivision and most of the houses had yet to be occupied.
There was the occasional tornado that came through town, which could be considered trouble, but I’m not sure how jumping in the woods and putting a sack on my head would have helped anyone. Plus, I was terrified of tornadoes, and wearing a pillowcase in the woods would be the last place you’d find me during a twister alert. Alas, I’d chosen to emulate a superhero with no discernible superpowers solely based on their costume. What does that say about me? Don’t answer that.
So, I had to pretend there was trouble. I’d be out strolling the empty neighborhood with my cousins and I’d suddenly announce that there was trouble, and into the woods I’d dash, emerging a few minutes later with a sack on my head. I’d hug the edge of the woods, which was actually right by the road, remaining in the shadows. I’d adopt a mysterious Scarecrowlike gait, completing my secret identity. I looked like the Elephant Man in grade school.
After a few minutes I found it hard to breathe in my disguise, so I once again became Barry, popping out of the woods and saying hello to my cousins, as if I’d just shown up. They’d roll their eyes, embarrassed to be seen with me despite the fact that there was no one to see us.
I suppose a psychiatrist could have a field day with this aspect of my childhood: secret identity, lack of powers, likes to spend time in the woods, etc. …
However, I don’t see the point in paying someone to tell me the same thing that my cousin Andy used to tell me for free:
“Will you just take that stupid sack off your head?”
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