Scary Costumes and Deer

“Fight or Flight,” shrinks call it. It’s a primal response in all of us. At that critical moment reason shuts down and instinct takes over, that we might survive. I saw it at a recent party, a costume party — a belated Halloween party to be precise. My chums had canceled the original Halloween party because I’d been jugged in Intensive Care at the time, following a hideous accident (since many friends have kindly asked, more on this next week.)

“Prize for scariest costume” read the new party invitation. Fine, I thought. They’ll get one with bells on.

I was hellbent on winning but the competition would be ferocious. Shirley kept me informed on all costumes the gang had in the works: Freddy Krueger, Regan from the Exorcist, a hideous rendition of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Hillary Clinton, even a scowling Rosie O’Donnel, which was widely rumored to be a shoo-in for the prize.

“They’re wasting their time,” I snorted at my wife. “Mine’s ten times as scary and a cinch to make.”

When we arrived the guests were all in the backyard around the pool, enveloped from the waist down in artificial fog from some machine Artie rented. He’s always been a stickler for details. I opened the back door and Pelayo (Frankenstein’s Monster) was the first to spot me. Even through his mask I could see his eyes bug. “RUN FOR IT!” he bellowed and shot off, leaving a swirling billow of smoke.

Artie (Count Dracula) looked over next. He froze in panic. Then Shawn (The Mummy — and yes, I spelled his name correctly. That’s how Cajuns spell it) looked over — and even through all that gauze I could see him gape. “LET’S GO!” Artie exploded. And every male in the backyard looked over, dropped their drinks and scrambled through smoke like panicked rats, hurdling chairs and azaleas, dodging tables, clearing the Jacuzzi — and keg in stunning leaps. Remember O.J. in that Hertz commercial? Remember Gale Sayers on any Sunday?

Chumps compared to this gang. Frankenstein’s supposed to plod along clumsily with his arms out front, right? Well, this one, even in his huge platform boots, looked like Michael Jordan running a fast break, covering a good fifty feet in three kangaroo-like bounds. Dracula creeps slowly and stealthily towards his sleeping victim, right?

Well, this one had his cape flapping furiously behind him as he galloped down the driveway then — Whooosh! — dodged sharply to the left as he passed a garbage can. The Mummy himself looked like a spider monkey on speed as he scrambled over a ten-foot fence. Instinct had kicked in big time, and all for the “FLIGHT!”

“Geezuz!’ I thought. “Maybe I went TOO far with my costume?”

I’d dressed as a game warden, you see. Yes sir, I was wearing a gen-you-wine Louisiana. Wildlife and Fisheries uniform, complete with the shiny, nerve-jangling BADGE and the big heart-stopping ENFORCEMENT DIVISION emblem.

Nothing in our glorious youth clamped that icy clutch around the guts like a surprise encounter with this get up. Nothing provoked more panic, more scrambling through the brambles, more bolting through the briars, more mad dashes through the canebrakes, more boring out of outboards, more stomping it to the floor of trucks, more revved engines and spinning, squealing wheels — than the sight of this get-up.

Alas, that panic (like all panic) was always mixed with a thrill — and that thrill increased in direct proportion to the distance our scrambling legs or Artie’s Gumbo mudder tires put between us and the wardens. There was no outrunning them in a boat — not in Bayou country. We knew better. Down here those enforcement boats are souped-up to outrun an F-14. They ain’t dumb. They know what they’re up against.

Obviously I exaggerate regarding the reaction. But I did run away with first prize for scariest costume. It wasn’t even close.

All regions and cultures have their hobgoblins. Central Europe its Vampires and Werewolves. The Pacific Northwest its Sasquatch. The Himalayas its Yeti. Well, over the generations nothing in Bayou country has caused more storytelling and anxious gaping around campfires than the sight of that little “Enforcement Division” emblem.

And for some reason, we never have any of those “deer infestation” problems down here. Last year in the U.S., according to an insurance industry report, 1.5 million Americans smashed their cars into deer. 150 of these motorists died, 10,000 were injured and total property damage ran to $1.1 billion.

But fear not! The experts and wizards have brainstormed and hatched a solution. “Be aware of your surroundings,” say the guidelines put out by State Farm Insurance. “Look well down the road and far off to each side.” (Indeed, that was rule one when, as teenagers, we’d venture out in Artie’s truck with the scoped 22 Magnum.) “At night, use your high-beam lights if possible to illuminate the road’s edges.” (We found that a Q-bean works better for this). “Be especially watchful in areas near woods and water. If you see one deer, there may be several others nearby.” (Yeah you rite, State Farm! We learned to work that rifle bolt FAST!)

At any rate, Louisiana cuisine and culture simply will not allow us to figure very big in those Insurance industry statistics. The only thing deer “infest” down here are our B-B-Q grills and gumbo pots.