Findings by the New York-based Vampire Research Center indicate that about 1,000 vampires exist worldwide.
As Halloween approaches, the work done by the VRC is of more than casual interest.
The VRC founded in 1972 by the late Steve Kaplan, studies legendary and contemporary vampirism. Kaplan developed a questionnaire, reprinted at the end of this column, which he sent to people claiming to be vampires.
Kaplan hoped to separate the real vampires from the phonies.
Another vampire scholar, the former VRC media director, Joel Martin (he holds a similar title at the American Parapsychology Institute) says that today's vampires keep a low profile, preferring large cities like New York and Los Angeles where they can blend into the crowd.
Vampires, according to Martin, are likely to be a twenty-something single person and a loner with a pale complexion who is secretive about his occupation.
Says Martin: "The vampire population is very fluid. They move back and forth a lot."
But warns Martin: "Don't think Dracula when you think vampire. While anyone would recognize Dracula, today's vampires are hard to spot."
Dracula, a character based on the 15th Century Romanian Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad the Impaler, is an endless source of fascination for his fans.
During the height of his power, 1456-1460, the Romanian prince Vlad earned the nickname "Tepes" (impaler) for his cruelty against his rivals, the Turks.
Prince Vlad dissuaded enemy armies from approaching by creating "forests of the impaled" where more than 20,000 Turks were impaled live on wooden stakes and left on display.
But the Turks got even in 1477, when they ambushed Vlad and decapitated him. (Kaplan sees significance in this; only a stake through the heart or decapitation could kill the fictional Dracula.)
After Halloween trick or treating, you might want to rent the original 1931 film version of Dracula starring Bela Lugosi.
From the sinister emphasis of Lugosi's first words, "I…am…Dracula…," the count fascinated and revolted moviegoers.
Lugosi's Dracula portrayal, the deep, accent-punctuated voice, his hypnotic come-to-me-and-stick-out-your-neck eyes, the pointed pearly white fangs and the erotic mannerisms, translated into control and power.
Dracula is the last word in vampires, of course.
But are there, as the VRC insists, really 1,000 others roaming about? Halloween is the perfect time to find out.
As a public service to readers, I'm reprinting several of the questions developed by the VRC. to make vampire identification easier.
If your spouse's behavior seems particularly peculiar, or if your neighbor's comings and goings are odder than usual, give them—if you dare—this questionnaire.
A single "Yes" answer to any question confirms your worst fears.
Your only hope is holy water or a crucifix. But you'll also need to move fast and have good luck.
Guzzardi comments: Reflecting on the VRC findings, I am quite certain that from time to time during my travels to New York and Los Angeles, I have met vampires.
Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.