A friend gave me the two-page order form and asked me what I thought of it. I glanced at the sheets and said I thought it was remarkable.
"It is nothing for someone on Steroids to gain 20...30...or even 40 pounds of muscle in just 12 weeks or less!" the pages screamed. "Isn't it about time that YOU make your bodybuilding dreams a reality!! Make all that hard work pay off! TAKE ACTION NOW!" The form was from a Toronto company called Mass Machine, and it offered most of the anabolic steroids I'd heard of in my sporting and sportswriting careers.
"Can this be real?" my friend asked. I said I didn't know. It is illegal to sell or to use steroids for nonmedical reasons in the U.S. and Canada, but there have long been smuggling pipelines and underground sources for these drugs that are so coveted by bodybuilders and others seeking a shortcut to manliness. I told my friend I would try to find out what was going on.
The most direct way to find out, I reasoned, was to order some drugs from Mass Machine and see what happened. I sat at my kitchen table, and I went down the list: Dianabol, Anadrol 50, Winstrol, Anavar, Halotestin, Testosterone Undecanoate, Deca-Durabolin, Testosterone Cypionate, Equipoise. What would the Boz have chosen, or Steve Courson, or the late Lyle Alzado? If I were a 19-year-old weightlifting male with a frail ego—and I decided that was the sort of person most likely to find an order form like this irresistible—what would I tick off the list?
I checked Dianabol, 5-mg tabs, 100 tablets to the bottle. The granddaddy of them all. What the heck, I'd better get three bottles. At $28 a pop, it seemed like the kind of thing a kid wouldn't pass up. I knew the bodybuilder's cynical credo: Die young, die strong, Dianabol. But does that worry the hundreds of thousands of adolescent males in the U.S. who currently take illicit steroids to try to pump themselves up, or the thousands of other kids who try to get the drugs and can't? Does it worry the professional wrestlers, football players, runners, shot-putters, weightlifters, swimmers, boxers, tennis players—yes, tennis players—who are looking for an immoral edge? Not much, it seems. Die young? I recalled the battle cry of the steroid-abusing players on the University of South Carolina football team a few years back: "Bury me massive!"
But I knew about the potential side effects of steroid use, from the relatively benign—baldness, acne—to the serious: endocrine-system damage, heart and liver problems, tumors, cholesterol buildup, strokes, and shrinkage of certain—ahem—male body parts. And I knew also about Void rage, the mental mayhem that often grips users. Every athlete who had ever told me about using steroids had described the edginess, the irritability and the open hostility that rose within him during his cycle.
And so I couldn't believe that a person could simply order all this illegal stuff through the mail the same way you could order a sweater or boxed fruit. My friend had been given the order form by a man who works with him at his real estate office, who had received the form in the mail, unsolicited, at his house. The only thing this original recipient had done that might have made him a candidate for receiving the order form was to subscribe to a couple of running magazines and to Joe Weider's Muscle & Fitness magazine. "That doesn't mean I want steroids," he had said.
My friend thought that perhaps I could get to the bottom of the matter.
I wanted my request to look legit—not so big that it would draw attention and not so small that it would be dismissed by the purveyors as unworthy of their response. I checked off a bottle of Winstrol for $28, a bottle of Halotestin (2-mg tabs, 100 to a bottle, $35), a box of Periactin Appetite Stimulant for $22, four vials of Deca-Durabolin for $48, four doses of Sustanon for $48 (though I had no idea what it was) in 1-cc preloaded syringes (I was compelled by the "danger" element of the syringe), two 10-cc bottles of Testosterone Cypionate for $50, one bottle of Winstrol-V for $65 (wasn't that the juice of choice for disgraced Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson?) and one bottle of Equipoise for $85.
I added up the numbers, threw in the $6 postage charge and sent a check to Mass Machine for $471, a substantial but not unreasonable amount, I felt. (The "$471 for steroid purchase" may be the most unusual item I've ever put on my company expense form, however.) The front page of the mail-order form said that minimum orders were $75; that all new customers would receive a free copy of the 72-page Steroid Users Guide Book, a "professional manual" that showed "how to take steroids safely and effectively"; and that the order would arrive in plain packaging marked NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS. No registered letters would be accepted. All checks had to be filled out with the payee line left blank.