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Reaping benefits of the season

When I saw Lynnette Cobb sizing me up for a costume, I braced for the Santa Claus cracks. "Werewolf," one bystander said, "definitely a werewolf."

"Nah," Ms. Cobb said, "definitely a grim reaper if I ever saw one."

I was so pleased that nobody mentioned Shamu that I agreed with her request to dress up and spend an evening at her haunted house attraction in Brooksville, endeavoring to terrorize children.

I am only slightly disappointed that the only child I came close to terrorizing was a woman pushing 40 _ and that it was when I walked around a dark corner after taking off my mask.

With very few exceptions, I try to avoid seasonal columns.

Halloween is the exception.

I write Halloween columns because it gives me control over at least one seasonal picture and thereby lessens the chance that someone will take that awful kid-sitting-on-a-pile-of-pumpkins shot.

I also write it because it gives me a chance to twit those people convinced that dressing up like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle automatically will lead our young down the primrose path of human sacrifice, rock music and split-pea-soup spitting.

People read too much religious significance into Halloween (which, by the way, is

Allhallows Eve because it comes before All Saint's Day _ a Christian concept).

For 98 percent of the people involved, the holiday has no religious significance. It is, instead, a much more secular observance built around training our children to extort food and money from their elders by using threats of vandalism.

By the way, the Christian right is not alone in its concern over the holiday. I spoke to a witch a week ago who was quite concerned about how people of her faith were to be portrayed in school observances.

It was almost enough to make you feel sorry for school administrators.

But, from a strictly secular viewpoint, scaring people is just plain fun. In fact, because the night I did my grim reaper gig was slow, we spent a good portion of the evening drifting up and down the passageways between the executioner's chamber, the swamp, the witches room and the mummy's chamber and jumping out of the shadows at each other.

In fact, that's what we were doing when a completely unimpressed 9-year-old slipped in and walked through the whole thing twice, without blinking an eyelash.

It was as close to show biz as I have been for a while, and there was some thrill in performing anonymously.

The last time I entered a costume competition, I did it by getting a shave and a haircut and dressing in a three-piece suit and going as a Republican (nobody recognized me and only the real Republicans were offended).

The time before that, I rented a dragon suit and then got the party dates crossed up and found myself in the embarrassing position of being a 250-pound green lizard standing on a stranger's porch carrying a pizza (it was covered-dish).

And the premier night was one where Wife donned a rabbit suit, I wore a gorilla suit, and we went with two other couples dressed, respectively, as a pervert and a '50s teen-ager, and a wino and a hooker.

Problem was that we went to a relatively rough country bar at one point in the evening, and the pervert, wino, hooker and '50s teen-ager blended right into the crowd, leaving me and Wife to explain to Bubba and the boys why we were dressed as Bonzo and Cottontail.

It was a very long evening.

Ms. Cobb's haunted house is, by the way, a commercial enterprise, although not necessarily a profit-making one.

"I tried to arrange for us to be affiliated with several different groups," she said, "but we got started a little late and couldn't find one. We were already caught up in the excitement and just decided to go ahead with it."

She also is running a temporary costume rental operation from the location at Candlelight Plaza on the State Road 50 bypass. The haunted house idea stemmed from that.

"We've learned a lot this year," she said, "and next year we hope to have something established to offer when we go looking for a sponsor."

At $2 a head, nobody is getting rich, even with all but two or three of the participants being volunteers.

If you're looking for information, call (904) 799-2667.

If you're in a performing mood, there might even be a grim reaper suit _ extra large _ with your name on it.

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