Two days later Pete and I were sitting in Ricky’s kitchen with him and Frankie. The two older men were wedged into the little breakfast nook where the table was located, both of them far too large for the space. They looked like modern-day Samsons who might tear down the nook’s framework at any moment. Pete and I were across from them, and all of our collective attention was focused on a large brown paper bag set on the table, which was otherwise empty. The table even looked to have been recently cleaned, and it gave off a faint whiff of ammonia and lemon. I imagined Ricky must have treated the arrival of these goods the way one prepares for a special guest from out of town.
“You wanna do this with the blinds open, Puj?” asked Pete, looking around.
“Huh?” said Ricky. “Who’s gonna look? We’re just sittin’ here hangin’ out. Nobody gives a shit.”
Frankie laughed. “Don’t worry,” he said, winking at Pete. “If anybody comes in we’ll let you take the fall.” He smiled and then began to empty the bag of its contents with a delicacy that belied his enormous hands. Out came a cornucopia of pharmaceuticals: ziplock bags of pills and a variety of small boxes and blister packs of pills and rows of ampules and a little mountain of syringes.
“Jesus,” said Ricky. “It’s like Christmas.”
Frankie shook his head. “This is nothing.” He took up a couple of the plastic baggies and tossed one each to me and Pete across the table. They were filled with a few hundred small pink pentagon-shaped tablets.
“There’s the Dianabol,” he said. “You know what to do with that.”
“And remember the mineral water,” Ricky added, nodding sagely at us.
Frankie then lined up the small glass ampules, his giant hands moving with almost catlike dexterity. Each vial was little over an inch high, with a white label around the lower half. I picked one up and looked at it; in the kitchen’s light the oil-filled glass seemed to glow with some faint inner fire. On the top of the label there was a blue band with “CYCTAHOH 250” printed in white Cyrillic letters; below was more writing in tiny blue type.
“Beautiful, no?” Frankie said.
I nodded, too enthralled by this object to trust myself to speak. The perfect, efficient simplicity of the little container was fascinating. I rolled the ampule between my thumb and forefinger as if I might read the foreign writing. Next to me, Pete picked one up and did likewise, examining it as though it were a slide or a rare gemstone.
“Sure you don’t want any?” Frankie asked Pete.
“I’m good,” he said. “Just curious…”
“That’s the Sustanon,” said Frankie. “Four different types of test, supposed to keep your levels consistent. You got twenty ampules.”
“One a week?” I asked.
He made a rough circular gesture with one hand and looked toward the ceiling, as though calculating a figure. “You could do one a week. One every five days. Two a week… Depends how long you want it to last. Just make sure you stop by March or so at the latest. You want to make sure this is out of your system before Nationals.”
As I was taking in this information and regarding the little vial I noted that its ability to hold the oil seemed almost too perfect. “How do you open it?” I asked.
“Yeah. How do you open the ampules? To get it out?”
“You just crack it open,” Frankie said, as though it were the most natural and obvious thing in the world.
“The top,” he said, indicating the top half of the ampule. “Just crack it off. Some people use a file to score the base of the top a little, to make it pop off easier, but it should just crack open no problem. Just try not to get any glass in it.”
“And if I do get glass in it?”
“I don’t know. Don’t!”
I set the ampule down with its siblings and considered the incredible chemical potential in the glittering rows before me. “Is one ampule every week or so a lot?”
Frankie shrugged. His shoulders and neck were so thick that the action called to mind the shifting of tectonic plates rather than something strictly biological. “Depends,” he said. “For a bodybuilder or a serious powerlifter, that’s nothing. If you were a woman, yeah, that’d be a lot. You’d probably start growing a small penis and a mustache with that. But for you, it’s good. Especially with the d-bol.”
“Hear that?” said Pete. “You might start growin’ a small penis!”
“Hope springs eternal… What about for you?” I asked.
Frankie grinned hugely and put up one hand in a gesture of dismissal. “For me, this is what I put on my oatmeal.”
Ricky roared with laughter. “Guy’s nuts. I love it.” He paused for a moment and looked around the table. “Speakin’ of girls on shit… Libby…”
“Is she dirty?” said Pete, leaning forward in excitement.
“No! But she should be. You see that eighty five the other day? Girl could be snatchin’ a hundred. You ever mention any of this to her? Frankie’s got shit that’s easier on girls.”
Pete shook his head. “Man, she ain’t the type.” He then looked at me. “You?”
I also denied having done so.
Ricky sat back as best he could in the tight space of the breakfast nook. He awkwardly tried to arrange himself in a more comfortable position and gave up when he realized neither Frankie nor the nook’s architecture would be moving. “Never know,” he said. “Just… you know. Feel it out. She says she wants to go to Worlds next year. If she’s serious she might be down.”
“We can get to Libby later,” said Frankie, bringing us back to the bag and its contents. He took up one of the little boxes and handed it to me. “Test propionate. When you finish the Sust you switch over to this.”
I took the box and opened it. Inside was a little glass bottle with a metal top and a plastic cap.
“You need an instruction manual for that, too?”
By my silence he assumed this to be a “yes.”
“Just pop the plastic tab off,” said Frankie. “There’s a rubber stopper underneath. Insert the needle there, turn the bottle upside down to draw from it, and that’s it. Some guys like to change the needle after drawing. Put a fresh one on the syringe for the injection. Your call.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“Pushing through the rubber dulls the needle a little.” He raised both hands. “Not a big deal. Depends on how many pins you got and whether you mind the needle a little dull.”
“What about you?”
“I’ve used needles so dull I’ve had to screw them into my thigh. But don’t follow my example.”
“Wait,” I said, returning to the Sustanon vials. “How do I draw the oil out of the ampules if the top is cracked off? I can’t invert them like the bottle, can I?”
“You just…” he started, then stopped. Clearly this was something he’d been doing so long that he’d forgotten he’d ever learned it in the first place. “You just draw it out. I don’t know. So many questions! Don’t you kids use the internet? There should be pictures or something somewhere.”
“The internet. Fantastic…”
He waved this aside. “You’ll figure it out. Use the Google.”
“Is that how you learned?”
He raised one eyebrow and laughed. “I learned in the Stone Age, buddy.”
I picked up another of the boxes on the table. It featured a picture of a horse on it, and on one side was printed the phrase “Uso Veterinario.” I turned it over in my hands and then looked at Frankie. “Who’s this for?”
Frankie smiled in response and I noticed that Ricky was smiling as well.
“Horseface over here,” said Frankie.
“Gettin’ back on, Puj?” Pete asked.
Ricky laughed and looked at each of us. “Eh, who said I ever got off? Ha!”
“You ol’ dog!”
“I figure a little Winstrol for a few weeks. Or months. Whatever. Get a little stronger without gaining too much weight. Maybe… maybe, you know, take a crack at some Masters records or Masters Nationals. Or maybe Senior Nationals,” he said, grinning and winking.
Frankie laughed and began extricating his massive bulk from the breakfast nook. “You’ll be a senior, alright,” he said. We all stood with him to give his form ample berth. “Okay kids, I gotta run.” He gathered up his things and shook all our hands. “You need anything else you let me know. We’ll talk about Clomid or Nolvadex and some HCG in a few weeks. Have fun in the meantime!”
He zipped up his brightly colored motorcycle jacket and walked out. We took the items he’d left in his wake and shoved them into our gym bags.
“Ain’t he something?” Ricky asked as we walked to the front door and watched him go. Frankie rode, of all things, a Vespa. It groaned under his weight when he sat on it. I think deep down we all felt sorry for that little motor scooter, such that we could empathize with a piece of machinery.
“He’s somethin’,” said Pete.
“You know he used to work in a nuclear power plant? Has a degree in it and everything.”
“You shittin’ me, Puj?”
Ricky shook his head. “Swear to god. Got fired after he got caught doing pushups on the job or somethin’. Said he was glad to go, since it got in the way of training. So now he’s a security guard part time somewhere and just trains. Does math problems by hand in his spare time when he’s not in the gym.”
I tried to envision this: Frankie hunched over his kitchen table licking a pencil in an effort to figure out Fermat’s Last Theorem or something. All this while hundreds or thousands of dollars of chemicals coursed through his muscles and a degree in nuclear engineering gathered dust somewhere. What a strange beast…
“You kids wanna come in, watch some lifting tapes?” asked Ricky when Frankie had pulled away. “Got a bootleg of the ’92 Games I been dyin’ to watch again. Whaddaya say?”
And yet here was one just as strange, if not stranger. And weren’t all of us a little off? No way to avoid it… We thanked him for the offer but said we had to go, and I think he understood our eagerness to get home…
“Okay,” he said, waving to us before stepping back in his house. “See yous in the gym.”
We nodded and waved and walked down his driveway. As we got in my car Pete buckled his seatbelt and looked at me. “How’s about we do the speed limit on the way back?”