Every year, someone or something takes pop culture by storm and inevitably becomes the must-wear Halloween costume of the season. Last year, it was Wonder Woman. In 2016, Eleven from the Netflix hit “Stranger Things” took the top spot. In 2015, it was Harley Quinn from “Suicide Squad,” complete with a baseball bat and in 2014, Elsa from “Frozen.” Traumatized parents everywhere suffer from PTSD due to “Let it Go” being played on a 24-hour loop. We will have to wait and see what costume takes the 2018 crown, but some early Pinterest buzz gives us a hint. Black Panther, The Incredibles, and Dinosaurs are all the rage. Tonya Harding is another popular choice, thanks to Margot Robbie’s tremendous portrayal in “I, Tonya.” If ice skaters are legion this Halloween, Robbie will have inspired an outfit trend twice in four years. Trends come and go, but there are costumes that never go out of style; clowns have been common since the 1920’s. One character you are guaranteed to run into every year is Count Dracula. The Transylvanian Vampire is not solely a Gothic and Halloween Icon but symbolizes insidious influences in your everyday life.

Close your eyes. What image comes to mind when I say “Count Dracula?” You may think of The Count from “Sesame Street,” teaching you numbers as he counts telephone poles. “Von, Two, Three! Three telephone poles, ha-ha!” You probably read that line in his exact voice–I did. If you ate too much glue as a kid, maybe you think of Edward from “Twilight.” Most of us think of the slick back hair, cape, medallion, and ominous fangs that hunt for a beautifully smooth neck to plunge into. That image comes from the 1931 Universal Studios classic, “Dracula,” starring Bela Lugosi. Lugosi spent much of his adult life in turmoil, starring in B-movies, bouncing from marriage-to-marriage, and afflicted with drug addiction. It is rumored that Frank Sinatra, a fan of Lugosi’s, paid for his rehab expenses. After all the turbulence, it is his famous portrayal of Count Dracula that keeps the Hungarian immigrant immortal. You can find a bust of him in Budapest or stroll past his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Even eternal, un-dead vampires have weaknesses. Garlic, mirrors, wolf’s bane, sunlight and the crucifix are guaranteed to make them hiss, flee, or burn. If you’re lucky enough to catch them napping inside a coffin, a good-old stake-through-the-heart will put an end to them, forever. Whatever you do, you’ll have to do it quickly. The vampire is cunning, deceptive, and has otherworldly powers. For example, Dracula can take the form of a bat or a wolf, or what he’d prefer to call “the creatures of the night.” Vampires also have the power of mind control over weaker-willed victims. Think of poor Renfield who became Count Dracula’s slave, doing his bidding while he fed on flies and spiders as he descended into madness. Incidentally, Renfield’s Syndrome is the colloquial term for Clinical Vampirism–the obsession with drinking blood.

Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic masterpiece, “Dracula,” started it all. In the original novel, Dracula had a hideous appearance, unlike the handsome versions you may remember from “Interview with the Vampire.” Stoker didn’t come up with the story from pure imagination–he had inspiration. A real man, living 400 years earlier, inspired both the name and the devilish actions of Stoker’s titular character. That man was Vlad Tepes–Vlad the Impaler. His father’s name was Vlad Dracul–Vlad the Dragon. He received the name after joining the Order of the Dragon, a group dedicated to fighting the Ottomans. “Dracula” means “son of the dragon.” It was Vlad’s notorious cruelty that shocked his people, the Turks, historians, and inspired Stoker’s character. According to historian Antonio Bonfini,  “… Turkish messengers came to [Vlad] to pay respects but refused to take off their turbans, according to their ancient custom, whereupon he strengthened their custom by nailing their turbans to their heads with three spikes so that they could not take them off.”

Another record states, “… [Vlad] had a big copper cauldron built and put a lid made of wood with holes in it on top. He put the people in the cauldron and put their heads in the holes and fastened them there; then he filled it with water and set a fire under it and let the people cry their eyes out until they were boiled to death. And then he invented frightening, terrible, unheard of tortures. He ordered that women be impaled together with their suckling babies on the same stake. The babies fought for their lives at their mother’s breasts until they died. Then he had the woman’s breasts cut off and put the babies inside headfirst; thus he had them impaled together.”

Like his father, Vlad remained determined to keep his country out of the Ottoman Empire’s hands. Historian Laonikos Chalkokondyles writes, “The sultan’s army entered into the area of the impalements, which was seventeen stades long and seven stades wide. There were large stakes thereon which, as it was said, about twenty thousand men, women, and children had been spitted, quite a sight for the Turks and the sultan himself. The sultan was seized with amazement and said that it was not possible to deprive of his country a man who had done such great deeds, who had such a diabolical understanding of how to govern his realm and its people. And he said that a man who had done such things was worth much. The rest of the Turks were dumbfounded when they saw the multitude of men on the stakes. There were infants too affixed to their mothers on the stakes, and birds had made their nests in their entrails.” Charming fellow, that Vlad. Undoubtedly you can see that Stoker had plenty of material to work with. For the record, 1 stade is 600 feet. Seventeen stades long and seven stades wide is a massive area–28 football fields.

Today, the barbarism of that sort is mostly relegated to fiction, though unfortunately, oppressive and brutal tyrants still exist. Kim in North Korea, Assad in Syria, and Maduro in Venezuela exemplify despots of antiquity as they imprison, starve, and gas their people. Real-life vampires that suck blood–Renfield’s Syndrome–are largely mentally-ill teenagers. It’s not the blood-sucking vampires you must worry about, it’s the ones that drain your energy, will, and quality of life. Dr. Albert Bernstein published a book in 2000 titled, “Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry.” In his writings, he identifies five types of Emotional Vampires: antisocial, narcissistic, histrionic, obsessive-compulsive and paranoid. For a detailed description, you can pick up the book. I’m going to discuss some new species, the Fitness Vampires, and how they impair and derail your fitness goals.

THE VICTIM VAMPIRES. These may be the worst ones of them all. Nothing is their fault or their responsibility. They will find an internal or external cause to describe their fitness problems. “Once I turned 40…” “If it wasn’t for my thyroid…” “My metabolism works differently…” “I’ve tried everything…” You know the ones. How do they harm you? You’re the one who has to listen to them moan. They will show up at every party, every family get-together, and they’re in every office. As they stuff cheesecake in their mouth, they’ll wail about how Big Pharma is making them gain weight. Because you’re a good person, you listen and provide that ear of support, and you don’t snap back with a “SHUT UP AND PUT YOUR CAKE DOWN!” It’s not without a cost. This Victim Vampire drains your life energy little-by-little, and you get closer to where they want you to be: in the victim quicksand alongside them. Victims need to be around more victims, to confirm their worldview.

THE GROWN-INFANT VAMPIRES. This is the one who always wants to go out and burn the midnight oil, and wants you along for the ride. You can’t adhere to your fitness goals when someone is shoving a cocktail in your hand every evening or trying to convince you to eat at a such-and-such restaurant. They can’t or won’t cook, are sowing their wild oats at 40, and think five spin classes per week will overcome it all. You have a hard time saying “no” to these restaurants and drinks because they are usually charming, charismatic, and fun. You’ll have fun, too, but after six weeks you’ll wonder what happened to your results, your sleep, and your wallet. Their needs are more important than yours. The sad part is, they’re not actively trying to derail you, they just don’t consider you in their self-absorption.

THE DIET ZEALOT VAMPIRES. In my “Religion of Dieting” article, I took a different approach when discussing why people gravitate to fad diets. I gave them the benefit of the doubt, and it was a fun exercise. That doesn’t excuse Diet Zealots from hounding you about joining their dietary cult. It would be acceptable if you said “no” and they moved to the next door, but they don’t. Instead, they lecture, guilt-trip, and send you incoherent YouTube videos. It’s not out of love for your health they do this, it’s because they’re right and everyone else is wrong, or stupid. They read a book by an MD in Sri Lanka, and they become an intellectual diet elitist, with nuclear-level arrogance. They scrutinize everything you do and eat. You can hear them make condescending remarks about how you cook, what you decided to order, and incessantly ask, “do you know how bad that is for you?” If they end up plateaued or regaining weight, it’s because they’re not “doing the diet right,” and they simply need to get “back to the diet.” They sound similar to the ones who claim that all the failed socialist countries “didn’t do socialism right.” Yeah, they did.

THE MEDIA VAMPIRES. Did I say Victims were the worst? These vermin make me reconsider. This category includes television, celebrities, magazines, social media, and books. To be fair, I will say “not all.” But my benevolence ends there. This coven is the most hypnotic of them all. And why not? They have big budgets and are all beautiful. I like beauty as much as the next person, but it can’t bait you into self-destructive thoughts and irrational health decisions. For you, it’s your life, for them, it’s a racket. If Cosmo makes you feel ugly, you’ll buy whatever is advertised in their magazine and their magazines so the can save your dying marriage and your ugly wardrobe. Am I wrong, or does every issue have tips like, “1,000 New Sex Tricks to Drive Your Man Wild?” If they put an obese woman on the cover and talk “body acceptance,” you get duped into tolerating your own harmful behavior, buying more magazines, and big macs. People use their celebrity platforms to tell you how you should dress, talk, eat, exercise, and live. They are completely out of touch but pretend they are “just like you” because TMZ snaps a photo of them at Pottery Barn.  To illustrate how disconnected they are, let’s talk Gwyneth Paltrow. This is how Wikipedia describes her: “Gwyneth Kate Paltrow Martin is an American actress, businesswoman, socialite, lifestyle guru, singer, and food writer.” I need to build up more earwax before I listen to her sing, so I can’t comment on that, but “Lifestyle guru” and “food writer?” Sometimes, I sit and think, “my lifestyle needs a guru. I wonder what the girl from ‘Seven’ has to teach me?” What’s in the box? Well, it’s her diet book, “It’s All Good,” which will set you back $300 per day in food. But hey, if you want to walk the red carpet, you have to sacrifice. The fitness media don’t just drain you of your money, they empty your self-worth and self-esteem, and replace it with what they think you ought to have. You should remain an obedient consumer, bled-dry of individuality, and at the beck-and-call of celebrity culture.

The question remains, how do you defend yourself from these various influences? First, pay attention to their track record. If they exhibit victim, zealous, or party-animal behavior before, they likely will again. Ask yourself, “what do they want and why?” Don’t rush in to help, listen, or get swept up in the adventure before thinking it through. The Vampire operates on impulses–you don’t have to. Secondly, vampires like their victims one at a time. So, if they can get you alone to listen to their sob-story, they will. They won’t often send their dumb YouTube documentaries on a group text. And often, you’re the one who has to drive Mr. Blutoski home. Get a trusted friend involved to help guard you. Third, do what they don’t. Tired of victims? Don’t be one. Have a fitness goal? Prepare foods at home, and if you must go out, you pick the place, parameters, and don’t be a “sidekick.” Also, If you’re getting hounded by a militant dietist, remember they want to be right and your conversion is for their gratification, not yours. Don’t debate. Wait it out, soon they’ll convert to a different diet and start all over. Finally, be OK with losing them from your life. After a while of not getting their way and throwing tantrums, they may move on to their next victim. That might mean losing a friend or a family member. Out of guilt or fear, you may try to keep them around. You’ll get more of the same unless you call them out on their parasitic behavior. Chances are, they won’t like that and flee, anyway. Good riddance.

Count Dracula is a wonderful character who has stood the test of time, and I hope to see future generations enjoy his movies and costumes. Real-life vampires are cooky goth kids in Utah, and I’m not worried about them. I worry about you, the one who wants to be healthy and fit. You have those around you who will pull you away from those goals, not because they hate you, but because of flaws in their own character. You can’t let it happen. I need you to become successful, vibrant, and a Van Helsing–the original Vampire Hunter.