2002's Strangest Stories

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"We could change 'I want to suck your blood' to 'I come to collect your tax arrears," said Ottomar Rudolphe Vlad Dracul Kretzulesco, who warmly embraces the moniker "Count Dracula."

Several elected officials in Schenkendorf, with a population of 1,200, are backing him in his bid to secede from Germany and create a country with a more responsive government.

Vlad, a 61-year-old retired banker and antiques dealer, has become a social activist in recent years, sponsoring "bloodletting" drives for the International Red Cross. "I want your blood," he said in advertisements, "for a very good cause." Vlad's in the process of turning his home — a Gothic castle — into a tourist attraction with a golf course, restaurants and vampire rides. For kicks, he wears a black cape. But forget fangs. He said, "They're tacky."

8. Muppet Sexuality — Are Ernie and Bert more than just best friends? Just like Tom Cruise, these two Muppet stars were threatening to sue independent filmmakers to prove they're not gay.

Rumors have long dogged those two felt legends. They're roommates. They tend to sing a lot of silly songs. One of them has a curious obsession with his rubber ducky. Not that there is anything wrong with any of that.

Lawyers for the Children's Television Workshop threatened to take legal action against Peter Spears, the director of Ernest and Bertram, a documentary spoof of two male puppets who become heated lovers.

Even before this incident, Ernie and Bert have been under constant attack. In 1993, TV Guide received dozens of letters railing against Sesame Street for condoning a homosexual relationship. Shortly after, a North Carolina preacher began a campaign on his radio show to ban them for their immorality.

The situation grew so unpleasant that the Sesame Street had to issue this 1993 press release:

"Bert and Ernie, who've been on Sesame Street for 25 years, do not portray a gay couple, and there are no plans for them to do so in the future. They are puppets, not humans. Like all the Muppets created for Sesame Street, they were designed to help educate preschoolers. Bert and Ernie are characters who help demonstrate to children that despite their differences, they can be good friends."

9. Bridesmaids Anonymous — A support group, Bridesmaids Anonymous emerged for disgruntled bridesmaids. After years of frustration playing the New York singles game, Ronit Ray turned her pathetic dating life into a cabaret show, and then into an ad-hoc support group for perpetual bridesmaids. Can a daytime talk show be far away?

At BA meetings, women put on their most horrible, overpriced bridesmaid getups. It might be a $400 sequined periwinkle gown with creampuff sleeves. It could be a frightful frock in incandescent lavender. Add up the cost of the gown, shoes, alterations, the bachelorette party — and let's not forget the present. BA members say the cost of being in a bridal party is easily $700. And for BA ladies, that's not a one-time cost. "I had three [weddings] within six months," said one BAer. "And I had to travel."