And now for the sublimely inspirational and truly heartwarming tale of two boys and their dog. Well, to be absolutely honest, the dog is in there for comic relief—that's because the dog is all sort of shambly and burps a lot, a Newfoundland puppy named Chiang, soon to be 150 pounds, with paws the size of saucers. She has a tendency to gulp her food, including fingers if you feed her by hand. And then she sits around smiling and looking terrifically cuddly until finally somebody will say, "My, what a cunning dog," and Chiang will go braaaaaaggph, like that.
The dog lumbers around the parking lot outside of Gold's Gym in Venice, Calif. every day while the two boys are inside, turning themselves into monsters. Venice is a particularly lunatic suburb of Los Angeles, and it seems to be just about the right spot for the gym. Gold's, as most everybody knows, is the world headquarters of bodybuilding.
There are no innuendos intended here. Bodybuilders are a delight to know and assuredly no more loony than you or I. Always remember that other people can hide their little vices, but with bodybuilders, the results of their obsession show. Besides, how can one not like a race of people whose conversation is studded with stuff like, "Today I'm going to do my pecs [pectorals] because yesterday I did my abs [abdominals]"? How can one not stand in wonder when a bunch of bodybuilders is assembled and there's a giddy sense that everybody in the room has just taken a deep breath? At any time of the day, it seems possible that Gold's Gym will tear loose from its foundations and rise, mirrors, body oil and all, and float lazily off toward the Aleutians.
The truth is, something almost that strange and wonderful is about to happen. Indeed, this story is by way of a scoop, for even as you read it, the world of bodybuilding and possibly even powerlifting and God knows what-all else is on the verge of a shocking change. Up until now, bodybuilding has been, at least most of the time, a peaceful, narcissistic, insulated world. But no more. The Barbarians are here and a new order is at hand. Hark! Hear that? Braaaaaaggph.
June 27, 1982
The Barbarians are a team, two 25-year-old giants named Peter and David Paul—how sweetly, how innocently, those names fall upon the ear—recently of Hartford, Conn. and Narragansett, R.I. They stand 6 feet and 6'1", respectively, weigh 235 and 245, and have 20½-inch necks and 59-inch chests. Peter and David are fraternal twins, the third and fourth children of Lenny and Teddy Paul, an erstwhile vigorous, athletic couple whom the boys totally exhausted before they finally left home a few years ago. "As babies, we were what is known as late walkers but early climbers," says Peter, "and it wasn't long after we were born that, for the first time in her life, Mom would sit down at the end of a day and pour herself a drink."
Now the twins are busily exhausting Venice specifically and the world of bodybuilding generally. Peter and David don't really train, they rampage. They invade the gym, falling upon huge weights and lifting them and then piling on more weights. They lurch from station to station with a rolling, top-heavy gait, often growling loudly as they go. When they are under enormous stress, perhaps a bench press with 500 pounds of iron held overhead, their roars of effort rattle the big windows at Gold's.
They don't claim to be the strongest men in the world—just the strongest bodybuilders. And definitely the strongest twins. "These guys are really radical," says Pete Grymkowski, who was Mr. World of 1977. "Pound for pound, they have greater muscle density than any bodybuilder in the country. And we don't even know what their peak will be because they're still climbing." Nobody has ever combined the two disciplines of bodybuilding and powerlifting before, and the simple effrontery of the idea has raised goofiness to a high plane.
And now, Peter stands trembling under a bar loaded with 535 pounds, veins standing out like thick phone lines along his neck. He glances to one side and grins. "How much fun can one guy have?" he says.
From behind him, David celebrates the lift. "Punch it, Pee-tah!" he yells. And then, while Pee-tah groans, he explains their motto. Well, one of their mottoes. This one is imprinted on the backs of their T shirts. A drawing depicts crossed axes, medieval-looking, presumably barbarian, with the blades lightly edged in blood. Above the axes it says:
NOT TILL YOU CRY
And below the axes, it says:
TRAIN TILL YOU DIE
That's if, and it doesn't get any more complicated, no matter how many philosophical curlicues the Barbarians add to it. They believe that, to attain physical—and thereby mental—perfection, one must train like an animal, a beast, a barbarian. Traditional bodybuilding niceties are out—the carefully logged schedules and graduated weights, and those long reflective moments spent staring into the mirror at the lyrical curve of a deltoid. Savagery does it. "See, you've got to react in training," David says. "You can't spend any time thinking. You must learn to be mean by instinct, get to the point where you're operating just on your id...." Indeed, that's how they got their name. It has nothing to do with the current movie, Conan the Barbarian. What it's about is lurching around under weights that no sane bodybuilder ever considered and then looking at each other one day, through red eyes, and murmuring, "Jeez, this is barbaric."
Peter, weight no longer in hand, holds up one paw for attention. "In order to do the impossible," he says, "you've got to see the invisible." Then he blinks in sincere wonder at the majesty of what he has just said.
"Let me put it another way," says David, "so that you can understand it. This is very tricky psychological territory. Now, suppose you're training in a gym, say, and your girl friend is there. And some great big guy comes in and—whap!—he smacks your girl friend in the face and knocks her down. You got that? Well, now, do you look down the line of dumbbells on the rack for a 10-pound one you can pick up? No, you just grab the 250-pounder that's lying at your feet and you break it over his goddam head. That's a Barbarian reaction—and that's the way you should train."
"In-stinct!" says Peter. "You do it, you don't think about it. After all, the weights just lie there; they can't think."
David nods solemnly. "I've got another one," he says. "You ready? O.K. The Barbarian training method unchains your potential."
Well, maybe so, maybe not. But whatever it does, it plays in Los Angeles. Perhaps the community was fresh out of nut-ball fads when the Paul twins came along. In any case, the Barbarians have suddenly developed a following, small but intense. In bodybuilding, they're getting national publicity, and they're even receiving a degree of warm regard from the world of powerlifting, which has never exactly lavished affection on bodybuilders. The Barbarians actually made the cover of Powerlifting-USA magazine; the story called them the Cheech and Chong of the iron game. The Los Angeles Times has done them, as has local television. As for national TV, the twins have already lifted Merv Griffin and will no doubt bench-press Johnny Carson any time now. And they've written a screenplay that, they say, has captured the fancy of a certain Hollywood studio. Swell plot: It's about these twin brothers who are bodybuilders, see, who are "crudely lovable—totally without manners but, conversely, very moral."
But here's the wonder of it. So far, all of this has been done without the Barbarians ever appearing in a bodybuilding competition. Not one. Not Messrs. America, Olympia or Universe, not even Mr. Ocean Avenue in Venice. This phenomenon goes against all tradition. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno and Franco Columbu, all of the noted bodybuilders, paid their dues in an exhausting round of contests, each man carefully seeking and grateful for small scraps of publicity.
Not the Pauls. They have their special reason for staying away from contests, and it's part of a rather nifty plot that includes lumberjack costumes and eating 36 eggs apiece a day. Thirty-six eggs? But first, to better understand the peculiar makeup of these two boys and their dog, one has to go back to the beginning.
"I'm supposed to be the oldest by three minutes," says Peter, "but it's possible I might really be David and he might really be me because the nurses put ID tags on the cribs but not on us, see? So when they picked us up, who knows which baby was put down where?"
"There were plenty of early signs of what we were going to turn out to be," David says. "In nursery school, the teacher yelled at Peter for something, and I ran over and leaped on her and bit her on the leg really hard. I got expelled. From nursery school." "And you've heard about show-and-tell time," says Peter. "Well, in kindergarten, when David's turn came, he'd get up and show the class the fresh stitches on his head."
Their older brother, Hap, now 33, and sister, Debbi, 30, had grown up more or less peacefully. Hap graduated from Notre Dame, studied in Paris and is now a respected veterinarian in Davis, Calif. Debbi is a nurse in Ithaca, N.Y. The entire family is athletically oriented: Dad was a track star at Vermont, Mom has twice run the New York Marathon, last year in 4:08:39, and they all are avid skiers. But the doings of the twins had everybody off balance for a time.
"We were well known in the hospital emergency ward," Peter says. "We'd push each other's high chairs over—crash!—and cut our heads open. We sawed the legs off antique furniture. And there wasn't anything we couldn't destroy with a screwdriver." Says David, "We were finally diagnosed as hyperactive. They separated us in kindergarten."
A more searching series of tests at the first-grade level established that both Peter and David had dyslexia, a learning disability. Peter was kept in public school and David went to a private Catholic school. They were reunited in the sixth grade, and by high school, both were channeling their runaway energies into wrestling and football. "I started in the eighth grade at 90 pounds-and-under football, and I had to lose 10 pounds to make it," says Peter. "Imagine, a poor little schoolkid having to live on ice cubes and celery." Not long after that, as a 15-year-old 145-pounder, David was bench-pressing 300 pounds, "a world record, if we'd known back then." Inevitably, their bodies began to distort and swell.
It figures that David made All-Connecticut as a middle guard in football in 1974 and that both boys made All-New England in wrestling the following summer, despite being awash in what they call negative energy, "because," Peter says, "the stereotype is that, if you're big and strong, you're big and dumb."
Ahh, but the magic of pumping iron was already starting to cast its inescapable spell, as the Barbarians now put it, and after a run at five colleges between them, the twins opened a casual sort of gym called P & D's House of Iron in Narragansett in 1977. "Nice place," says Peter. "I rather liked the way it was furnished," says David. "The mirrors all came from men's rooms at the University of Rhode Island." It was about that time that the twins began having occasional run-ins with the Narragansett cops, mostly over Barbarian driving habits, and it was also about that time that the Big Family Conference took place.
The way the twins tell it, their relations with Mom and Dad are strained, are in what might be called a state of testy cordiality. Things really began to go bad when the boys wanted to go to California to seek fame and fortune. The folks wanted them, for heaven's sake, to settle down and do something, anything, sane. So David made a little speech to his parents. "We're going to become really rich and famous," he said. "And there'll be national magazine stories and big television shows and all stuff like that. And when we get on Johnny Carson, he'll ask us if our folks were supportive about our career as bodybuilders. Now, what do we say in front of the whole world? Do we tell the truth, or do we say that, yes, the folks were behind us all the way?"
As Peter recalls it, their dad growled, "Why don't you tell them the truth?"
We must now face this pungent fact of life: Nobody has ever heard of a well-groomed barbarian. True barbarians do not mince around trailing the faint, woodsy scent of good cologne. On this steamy afternoon in Venice, Peter is wearing a blue plaid flannel work shirt and tan work pants and lumberjack boots. The boots are untied and the laces trail back on each side. A red cowboy bandanna is wrapped around his forehead. David is wearing a maroon velour hooded pullover that, from some angles, looks like the cover for a settee, and gray sweat pants tucked into white cowboy boots. A blue bandanna is tied around his head, Aunt Jemima style, and perched on top of that is a green-and-white mesh billed cap a few sizes too small. In spite of their stunning getups, the twins look startlingly alike. For identification: David is the one with the two earrings in his left ear, one a plain gold loop, one with a modest diamond chip.
All this stuff isn't costuming. This is what they wear—training, eating, hanging out. They have shambled into the gym on this day, Peter's boot laces trailing behind him like dirty spaghetti, and attacked the weights. No special sequence, no sense of orderly workout. David stretches out on a bench under two dumbbells, each loaded with 130 pounds, and does curls, 20 reps. "It ain't easy," he says, his voice shaking, "being big and being all muscle."
"That's for his biceps," Peter says. "When we were playing football, the coach would tell us, 'Don't do them, biceps won't do you any good in the game.' But this is 260 pounds we're curling, and many linemen weigh about that."
There are other numbers: the fearsome, seated, behind-the-neck press—225 pounds for 20 repetitions and then 365 pounds just once. That one's performed only by the Barbarians and, they think, maybe one other guy somewhere in Canada. David does a 500-pound reverse-grip bench press, knuckles forward, that's frightening in its degree of difficulty. He staggers around for a few moments, huffing, and then does a 235-pound barbell curl, 20 reps. Then, each Barbarian does a 500-pound front squat. That's with the barbell across the chest, the great lung-collapser of all time.
There are other lifts, each as outrageous in its way, and as the numbers and the groans and shouts grow, gradually the rest of the gym falls silent. Otherwise brutish bodybuilders stand watching, sometimes groaning softly in unison or flexing their chests in sympathy. When the weight slams down with its metallic clang, a sigh goes around the room.
As the twins work out, their clothes grow gradually darker, then totally soggy with sweat. Elsewhere in the gym flashes of bare chest glisten under loose undershirts and tank tops, mighty exposed thighs tremble beneath the skimpiest of shorts. But with the Barbarians, nothing comes off. Well, maybe the boots now and then. But even that doesn't really matter because their feet are covered with two and three pairs of sweat socks, the floppy toes curling around and under like feet on monster Dr. Dentons.
Nothing unusual, says Lisa Schultz, Peter's girl friend. At the gym, Lisa hovers just off to one side every day; she's 17, a shapely 104 pounds, with absolutely perfect teeth and inch-long maroon fingernails. Lisa appears on the Barbarian posters with the boys, though her mom grumps that Lisa's costume shows entirely too much bosom. "The guys don't care too much about clothes," Lisa says. "When these are being washed, they've got others just like them. They keep all their clothes in green plastic garbage bags in the trunk of the car, and sometimes, if they haven't got time to wash them, they'll just throw the sweaty wet ones into a dryer. It's faster."
Life has been like this ever since the twins came to California in May of 1979: Being a Barbarian is a hectic, slapdash existence.
"Our first apartment was a ratty little place on Ocean Avenue not far from the beach," Peter says. It was also smack across the street from the Pritikin Longevity Center, a famous place, in its way, particularly among dieters. Early in the morning, the Pritikin people would come out for their obligatory jog. First they'd line up for calf-stretching exercise, palms flat against the building, feet placed well back. And Peter and David would burst out of their apartment and run across, yelling, "Wait! Just a minute, we'll help push it over!" And they'd lean against the building with the rest, pushing mightily, muscles all flexed. Nathan Pritikin and staff didn't take kindly to that, and thought even less of what happened later on a typical morning.
"Well, we were on this protein binge then," David says. "Our muscle mass was growing and growing—so we got to eating 36 eggs a day. That's 36 eggs each. Open our refrigerator door and inside was a solid wall of blue egg cartons. We'd soft-boil a dozen at a time, see, and then pour the mess into a blender with a half-gallon of milk and some ice cream and drink it all down." Says Peter, "It was awful. We'd have to lie down right away to keep from puking."
"He means throwing up," David says loftily, eyebrows raised. "Be nice."
"I'll tell you what I mean," says Peter. "Here would come this Pritikin exercise class, all sparkling in their matching warm-up outfits with the logo, every damn one of them existing on maybe half a calorie a day. And just as they'd get opposite our apartment we'd both come dashing out and puke over the railing of our balcony. Now that taught them something about nutrition."
That apartment in Venice probably should be dipped in bronze as a sort of monument to free spirit in sport. The shower faucet dripped from the moment the Barbarians moved in. "We asked, we begged, the landlord to fix it," says Peter. "So one day David said, 'Never fear, I'll shut that sucker off.' And he grabbed it and gave it a huge twist, and damn near twisted the whole wall down, tile and all." It never dripped again. Never showered again, either. The twins were thrown out. Well, of course they were thrown out; it's a matter of both pride and practicality with them. They've discovered that the throwing-out process creates a sort of legal vacuum for about six weeks during which the evictees can stay on while disputing the action.
The Barbarians now agree that all this was a bit excessive, and Mr. Pritikin might be pleased to hear that they've also modified their diet considerably. "We've settled on 7,000 calories each per day," says Peter, "and with two long workouts a day and often another at night, we're burning them all off."
"Fastest metabolisms in the West," says David.
The twins now lay down a base of carob milk or kefir, a fermented milk beverage containing 3.5% butterfat, some 200 calories per cup. They drink a quart before working out and another quart after, adding occasional packets of Hostess Cup Cakes. Counting regular, more or less nutritionally balanced meals, including not quite so many eggs, the twins eat every half hour or so all day long. At night, watching television, they snack on Popsicles, ice cream, cookies, Doritos and Cap'n Crunch breakfast cereal, maintaining, withal, a scant 6% body fat, impressive by anybody's count.
Indeed, the Barbarians figure that their regimen—particularly the constant workouts—has put them somewhere out there far beyond any need for steroids, which they think are for lifters who don't want to train hard. And, little by little, the legend grows. A bit fantastic, true, but only because the Barbarians really believe about half that stuff about instinct. They instinctively feel that the best way to build a career is to leap on the public and stomp it into attention.
This pays off in curious ways. Take that thing with the car, for instance. "Wellllll," says Peter, "you know how it goes. You're busy training all day, and at Gold's former location—the gym recently moved—it was all parking meters out front. So when we'd get into the car, we'd pluck the parking tickets from under the windshield wiper and toss them over our shoulder into the back seat."
"Then late one night we just happened to be going the wrong way down a one-way street," says David. "Cop stopped us. He watched Peter sort of lunging to get his shoulders out of the car door. It isn't easy for us to get in and out of cars. And then I got out, and the guy radioed for reinforcements. Still, it was all very friendly until one of the cops happened to shine his flashlight into the back seat of our car. 'What is it with all this confetti?' he said."
Peter nods reminiscently. "What it was," he says, "was $6,000 worth of parking tickets." The cops have taken to saying resignedly about this sort of thing, "Just get out of here." Peter says, "We don't know what it is, but we just get away with that kind of stuff—the cops think it's so ridiculous."
It is now time to speak of secret plans and campaigns, to tell of a scheme that promises to rattle the cage of bodybuilding. It will work, of course—ain't no way it can fail—and the boys will make even more money from the sale of Barbarian T shirts, posters, training equipment, etc., and somehow the rest of us will all be just a little finer for it.
The dog is waiting at 9 p.m. when the twins and Lisa and a friend come staggering out of Gold's Gym. There have been three tough workouts today and the dog has been lonely. She leaps excitedly in great black-and-white bounces, flapping those big paws. "Sit!" says David, and she sits down, plop, on the friend's right foot. And goes braaaaaaggph.
Everybody—everybody—gets into a limeade-colored Plymouth Reliant K that the friend has rented from Hertz. The Barbarians and Lisa and Chiang have been using the K-car for a couple of days. They borrowed it because all of their vehicles are currently wrecked. Getting the troupe into the Plymouth takes quite a bit of time, with much shoving of shoulders and biceps and big feet, but it works out, with the dog suspended between the front seats, drooling indiscriminately on everybody. The twins are between apartments—it was because of the dog that they were evicted this time, and they've been sleeping on the floor here and there with various friends. The dog has been staying overnight at the home of a suburban pal who also owns a couple of sheep. The twins have, as mentioned, worked out three times today, and they haven't changed clothes once. In fact, they're still soaked with sweat. Quickly, the windows steam up in the little Plymouth. Within minutes, the atmostphere inside the car is enough to make the eyes water. "Tell you what," says Peter, "let's maybe find a place where we can clean up so we can get some dinner, huh? Or we can go like this."
"Umm, somebody's got to shower first," says David. "Us or the dog."
The dog nods vigorously and burps.
By now, all of this has begun to seem perfectly normal to the friend, and off they go in search of someone, anyone, who'll let them borrow a shower.
"Now for our plan," says Peter, tooling through Venice and then Marina del Rey, everybody in the car ignoring the stares from other motorists. "See, there's a reason for our wearing clothing all the time. Baggy stuff like this hides a lot. Oh, we've been seen, sure. We've been photographed a bit, and we've occasionally appeared in more or less proper bodybuilding regalia. But not often. And meanwhile, strange and wonderful things are happening under these clothes."
"We were big when we got here," says David. "But we're monsters now. Necks, 20½ unflexed. Biceps, 21, pumped. Waists, 31, and thighs...wow!"
"Our potential competitors fear that this is the case," Peter adds. "But the thing is: They don't know for sure."
Both brothers take great delight in the fact that a year or so ago rumor had it that the Barbarians were fine as far as they went, but that both suffered from a case of dreaded matchstick leg, an impossible condition for any serious bodybuilder. "In truth," says David, "Arnold Schwarzenegger is 27 inches around the thigh on a good day. We are 28, easy, and growing. And our symmetry is more perfect. On the day we decide to show our legs, people will cry."
And so there it is: One day soon, the Barbarians will achieve what they consider to be perfection. Absolute symmetry of line. Flawless muscle shape, size and proportion. Their cuts (muscle definition) will be just right. And only then will they consider entering a contest of any kind.
"I'd score them 100% right now, this minute," Grymkowski had said earlier in the day. "Right now, they could win just about any title they wanted."
But the idea is to enter and....
"We just want to come out and stand there," says Peter. "We don't want to pump or flex. Just stand there and..."
"...and have everybody go crazy," says David. "That will be perfection."
"It's Barbarian," says Peter.
All this is eminently possible. It helps that the bodybuilding world is about ready for a stunt like this—things have been mostly dull since Arnold went off into the movies—so the twins have but to wait for the right moment.
Any day now.
The problem is: Mr. America as a title doesn't really do it. Not quite right. Nor Mr. Universe, nor Mr. Olympia. They're nice, in their way, conjuring up as they do visions of bodies all oily and shiny like slippery statues. But they just aren't enough for the Barbarians. A gentleman named John Flynn, who represents the twins in some of their ventures, figures that perhaps a whole new contest ought to be created and called MISTER INFINITY. Twin winners.
Well, it's best to let others work all that out. Most likely what they decide on will be majestic enough to fit the occasion. But in the meantime we've got to get this car somewhere, anywhere, where somebody can get cleaned up, or Hertz is never going to be able to rent it again.
Shower time, right, puppy dog?
The dog sniffs the air happily, wagging her tail as the car sways from lane to lane. "Braaaaaaggph," she says.