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Halloween Rules the Universe

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Growing up Halloween was my favorite holiday.

Other kids in school, put Christmas at the top spot, but being Jewish, I always felt like I was outside looking in at a great party I wasn't invited to.

Sure, we had Hanukkah. Hanukkah smonekah. Mom would sit us around the dinette table in the kitchen every night for eight nights while she lit the Menorah and agonizingly doled out an array of supremely crappy gifts. I am talking about shampoo and socks here -- things people's folks are supposed to give them, not wrap up like a million dollar present. Every 10 crappy gifts or so, mom would give us something real, like a doll, but even the dolls weren't worth celebrating. She got them for half off because some part of them was missing. Usually it was just their clothes, but sometimes it might be something more important like say for instance, an arm.

As a kid, it was Halloween that I longed for. I loved staying out after dark trick-or-treating for the awesome prize -- all that FREE candy. This was not the excuse for sweets my mom gave us -- kosher for Passover chocolate that tasted like linoleum or (YECH) granola bars. This was the real stuff -- M&M's, Mary Janes, Snickers bars, Hershey bars and Almond Joys. I'm talking primo candy!

Another thrilling tidbit of Halloween was the ghoulishness. I was and still am a monster movie junkie. I'd forego the silly Disney movies my sister and brother watched any day of the week to watch Dracula, Frankenstein or Creature from the Black Lagoon. I happily traded in Archie and Betty comic books for Weird War or Ghost Tales and was far more interested in Godzilla than Herbie the Love Bug! Halloween week all the cool stuff was on TV!

I think the biggest thrill to Halloween was the chance to pretend to be someone else, anyone other then a chubby Jewish girl stuck in a small town on the Jersey shore, with a mother who felt paying full price for anything was an abomination. I could don a vampire outfit and get lost in the night, ringing bell after bell announcing, "I vant to suck your blood!"

Mom was so busy clipping the expiration dates off coupons that she didn't even notice that I was in the basement tearing up her sheets to make ghost outfits, or rifling thru my dad's old clothes to dress as a bum. The bum outfit was my costume choice three years running. It had the required criteria -- cheap, free and didn't itch!

And, oh yeah, I always dressed as a guy. I suppose this was something of an early indicator of things to come but so what? Tomboys rule!

My last official kid Halloween was when I was 12. My sister, brother and I stayed out until 10p.m. at night trick-or-treating until our sacks were so full I had to stuff the extra candy in my pockets and my mouth. I stashed my bounty under my bed and picked out my three or four favorites every night. Chocolate was the first to go. Anything peppermint was last. The treasure lasted a year.

Mom hated us being out alone at night, but she couldn't refuse when we pleaded our case. We simply went straight for her pocketbook. "Mom! It's free; it's all free!"

After my exhilarating 12th Halloween, I went to school feeling empowered and prepared to share some of my bounty with my pals. That's when it happened, the granddaddy of childhood humiliations. One of the mean boys -- you know the kind: they pull little boy's underwear up from their pants and call girls ugly? Yeah, one of those kids. Well, he'd gone trick-or-treating to our house and Mom had given him a granola bar.

I remembered those granola bars. They were free with the purchase of $20 or more, so Mom had split her groceries into $20 bundles for months, snagging a bounty of bars, but those bars hadn't been popular with us so they just sat in the garage getting dusty.

On the night of my greatest and last kid Halloween, Mom was handing out two-year-old granola bars to my peers.

"Your mom gave me a granola bar full of bugs!" the mean kid screamed in the grammar school cafeteria.

I did what any other kid might do, I lied, "That wasn't my mom, just some crazy lady we let stay at our house. We get a tax write-off for it."

"Tax write-off?" the bully stammered confused.

I used his puzzled moment to make my exit.

The next year I stayed home patrolling my mother! Every treat my mom wanted to dole out to the kids, I inspected first. Too old! Too weird! Mini breakfast cereal boxes?? Not for Halloween!!

It was the beginning of growing up I suppose; Duty over fun, but I missed being out there.

These days, I'm the baron-ness of bars, the doler of delights, the giver of goodies. I thrill to buy bags of the best candies -- Snickers, Twix bars, Three Musketeers, and mini Almond Joys -- all the stuff I would have eaten first as a kid. I proudly give them out to anyone who asks from the front door of my commercial kitchen on the lower east side in Manhattan.

I'm easy to spot; I'm the chef wearing devil horns and a smile as wide as Texas.