To go along with Xen’s GUTS story, I figured I’d post this.
It’s from his book of non-fiction (which Shugart reviewed on his web blog not too long ago), Stranger than Fiction.
By Chuck Palahniuk
“If everybody jumped off a cliff,” my father used to say, “would you?” This was a few years ago. It was the summer a wild cougar killed a jogger in Sacramento. The summer my doctor wouldn’t give me anabolic steroids.
A local supermarket used to offer this special deal: if you bought fifty bucks worth of receipts, you could buy a dozen eggs for a dime, so my best friends, Ed and Bill, used to stand in the parking lot asking people for their receipts. Ed and Bill, they ate blocks of frozen egg white, 10-pound blocks they got at a bakery supply house, egg albumin being the most easily assimilated protein. Ed and Bill used to make these road trips to San Diego, then cross the border on foot at Tijuana to buy their steroids, their Dianabol, and smuggle it back. This must’ve been the summer the D.E.A. had other priorities.
Ed and Bill are not their real names.
We were road-tripping down through California, and we stopped in Sacramento to visit some friends. At this point the cougar was still running wild. This was the countryside, but not. The wilderness platted into 2.5-acre mini estates. Somewhere was a female cougar with cubs, squeezed in among the soccer moms and swimming pools. This was less of a vacation than a pilgrimage from one Gold’s Gym franchise to the next along the west coast. On the road, we bought water-packed tuna and ate it dry, tossing the empty cans in the back seat. We washed it down with diet soda and farted the length of Interstate 5.
Ed and Bill shot the pre-loaded syringes of D-ball, and I did everything else. Arginine, Ornithine, Smilax, DHEA, saw palmetto, selenium, chromium, free-range New Zealand sheep testicle, Vanadyl, orchid extract… At the gym, while my friends bench-pressed three times their weight, pumping up, shredding their clothes from the inside, I’d hover around their giant elbows. “You know,” I’d say, “I think I’m putting on real size with this yohimbe bark tincture.”
Yah, that summer.
The only reason they let me hover was for contrast. It’s the old strategy of choosing ugly bridesmaids so the bride looks better. Mirrors are only the methadone of body-building. You need an audience. There’s that old joke: “How Many Bodybuilders Does It Take to Screw in a light bulb?” Three: one to screw in the bulb and two to say, “Really, dude, you look massive!” Yeah, that joke. That’s not really a joke.
The Sacramento people we visited, on our way home from Mexico, we stopped by their house again, and they pulled us inside and locked the doors. They were throwing a barbecue for some friends who’d been away at a men’s retreat. On this retreat, somebody explained, each man was sent out into the desert to wander until he had a revelation. Now while the tiki torches flickered and the propane barbecue smoked, one man stood clutching some kind of shriveled baseball bat. It was the desiccated skeleton of a cactus he’d found on his quest, but it was more. “I realized,” he said, “that this cactus skeleton was me. This was my manhood, abrasive and hard on the outside, but brittle and hollow.” Everybody else around the deck closed their eyes and nodded. Except my friends, who turned the other way with their jaws clenched to keep from laughing. Their huge arms folded across their chests, they elbowed each other and wanted to walk up the road to see some historical rock. The hostess stopped us at the gate and said, “Don’t! Just don’t.” Clutching her wine cooler and looking into the darkness beyond the steam of the whirlpool and the light of the tiki torches, she said a cougar had been prowling around.
The cougar had been right up next to their deck, and she showed us in the shrubs, a scattering of short, coarse, blond hair. That year, everywhere we drove, that whole trip, there were already fences and property lines and names on everything.
Ed juiced and lifted for a couple more years until he blew out his knees. Bill, until he ruptured a disk in his back. It wasn’t until last year when my father died, my doctor finally came across. I lost weight and kept losing weight until he whipped out a prescription and said, “Let’s try you on 30 days of Anadrol.”
So I jumped off the cliff, too.
People squinted at me and asked what was different. My arms got a little bigger around, but not that much. More than the size, the feeling was enough. Anadrol is an anabolic steroid, a synthetic derivative of testosterone. Possible side effects include: testicular atrophy, impotence, chronic priapism, increased or decreased libido, insomnia, and hair loss. One hundred tablets cost eleven-hundred bucks. Insurance does not cover it. But the feeling does. Your eyes are popped open and alert. The way women look so good when they’re pregnant, glowing and soft, and so much more female, Anadrol makes you look and feel that much more male. The raging priapism part - that was the first couple weeks. You are nothing but the real estate between your legs. It’s the same as those old illustrations in Alice in Wonderland where she’s eaten the cake marked “eat me” and frown until her arm sticks out the front door. Except it’s not your arm that sticks out, and wearing bicycle pants is totally out of the question.
About the third week, the priapism subsided or seemed to spread to my entire body. Weightlifting gets better then sex. A workout becomes an orgy. You’re having orgasms, cramping, hot, rushing orgasms in your delts, your quads, your lats and traps. You forget about that lazy old penis. Who needs it? In a way it’s a peace, an escape from sex. A vacation from libido. You might see a hot woman ant think, “Grrrrrrr,” but your next egg white omelet or set of squats are a lot more attractive.
I didn’t go into this stupid. This is a kind of weird aside, but a friend in medical schoolmate me a deal that if I introduced her to Brad Pitt, she’d sneak me in to help her dissect some cadavers. She met Brad, and I spent a long night helping her disassemble dead bodies so first-year pre-med students could study them. Our third cadaver was a 60-year-old physician. He had the muscle mass and definition of a man in his twenties, but when we opened his chest, his heart was almost the size of his head. I held his chest open and my friend poured in Formalin until his lungs floated. My friend looked at his freaking big heart, and his equally freaky big dick, and she told me: testosterone. Self administered for years. She showed me the coiled little wires and the pacemaker buried in his chest and told me he had a history of heart attacks.
About this time, a bodybuilder magazine ran an occasional little feature in its back pages, a catch-up profile about a star bodybuilder from the 1980s. Back then, these stars posed and gave interviews swearing they were blessed with great genetics and determination, they just worked hard and ate well, they never used steroids. They swore. In the update features, these same guys were pale and doughy, battling health problems from diabetes to cancer. And they admitted they had been using steroids.
I knew all this, and I still jumped off the cliff.
My father was dead, Ed and Bill were a mess, and I was fast losing faith in tangible shit. Here I’d written a story, a make-believe book, and it was making me more money than any real work I’d ever done. I had about a 30-day window of free time between my book obligations and the opening of the Fight Club movie. Here was a 30-day experiment, an updated Jack London adventure in a little brown bottle. My friends didn’t stop me. They only told me to eat enough protein to make the investment worthwhile. Still, I didn’t buy the 10-pound blocks of egg white. I never filled my fridge with rows and rows of foil-wrapped boneless, skinless chicken breasts and baked potatoes the way Ed and Bill used to. I just took the little white pills and worked out and one day in the shower, I noticed my nuts were disappearing.
Okay, I’m sorry. I promised a lot of friends I wouldn’t go here, but this was the turning point. When the old goose eggs shrink to ping-pong balls, then to marbles, then your doctor asks if you want a refill on your Anadrol script, it’s easy to say no. Here you are looking great, bright and alert, pumped and ripped you’re looking more like a man than you ever have, but you’re less of a man where it counts. Besides, the appeal of being a freaky, massive pile of muscle had already started to wane. Sure, at first it would be fun, like owning a rambling Victorian mansion, but after the first couple weeks the constant maintenance would eat up my life. I could never wander very far from a gym. I’d be eating egg protein every hour. All this and the whole project would still collapse some day.
I jumped off the cliff because it was an adventure.
And for 30 days I felt complete. But just until the tiny white pills ran out. Temporarily permanent. Complete and independent of everything. Everything except the Anadrol. the woman in Sacramento, hosting that barbecue all those years ago, she’d said, “Those friends of yours, they’re crazy.” Beside the swimming pool, the man cradled the brittle cactus skeleton of his masculinity, the woman still stared at her clumps of bleached “cougar fur.” Pumped and huge in their tanktops, Ed and Bill disappeared, lumbering down the road. Out in the dark was the cougar. Or other cougars.
Ed used to wear a T-shirt that said, “Fuck Moderation.”
The hostess said, “Why do men have to do such stupid things?” “As long as America has a frontier,” Thomas Jefferson used to say, “there will be a place for America’s misfits and adventurers.”
Now Ed and Bill are fat eyesores, but that summer, really dude, they were massive. A good pump, my father, the Anadrol, all that’s left is the intangible story. The legend. And okay, that thing about frontiers, maybe it wasn’t Thomas Jefferson, but you get the idea.
There will be cougars outside. It’s such a chick thing to think life should just go on forever.