Sex and the Suburb

Sounds like there's a lot of finagling going on there, having little to do with the real costs of uninsured immigrants (who almost never get expensive procedures like transplants). Not that the 'Pipe wants to suggest that FHA is tied in with conservative anti-immigration interests, but its real intent is clearly to dramatize its members' funding dilemmas in hopes of wheedling more federal aid.

K.B. Forbes, executive director of Consejo de Latinos Unidos, a group representing uninsured Latinos, looks at FHA's frequently cited figures with a skeptical eye. "Hospitals charge their uninsured patients five, six, even seven times as much as they charge insurance companies," he says. "They can do as many self-serving studies as they want. The fact is that hospitals are making gobs of money and balancing their books on the backs of the uninsured."

Muscles in a Bottle

George Coghill

There were plenty of oiled-down bods struttin' on stage at the Southern States Bodybuilding, Fitness and Figure Championships a couple of Saturdays ago at the Broward County Convention Center. But the 'Pipe figures that, pound for pound, there was more raw, hormonal energy on display over at the sales booths.

Here, for example, was antsy sales rep Howie Zwain pitching one of dozens of bodybuilding supplements that were laid out, glossy and brimming with energy, like rows of antiballistic missiles. "This stuff," said Zwain, raising his forearm and clenching his fist in a familiar crude gesture, "will make your dick hard." Not interested? Zwain picks up another bottle. "This stuff will keep you buzzing all day. It'll let you work 16 hours a day."

Zwain himself was working. The manic pace of his words and the constant motion of his body suggested to Tailpipe that Zwain's not just a sales rep for LMR Sports, he's also a client.

These are tough times in the $18-billion-a-year supplement industry, which is still coping with the loss of ephedra, an herbal stimulant that was widely used in weight loss and energy-boosting supplements. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the stuff in February because of its tendency to kill people -- most famously Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler (physiologically, it works something like cocaine or a megadose of caffeine).

But the folks in the "nutriceutical" business are nothing if not resourceful. Get yourself a creative chemist who knows how to tinker with molecules and you come up with a workable approximation of the key ingredient without breaking any laws.

Like the stuff in a syrupy "fat burner" from Pharmagenx whose label proclaims: "Feels like ephedra! Acts like ephedra!" The slogan "Barely Legal" was emblazoned all over the Phamagenx display at the center. Sales rep Cory Braden handed out samples, premeasured in medical syringes, sans needle -- a subtle tactic to remind eager iron-pumpers that many of their products are, as Braden put it, "borderline steroids." Always ready to take one for the team, Tailpipe tried a 10-milliliter dose. The elixir burned as it oozed down, the taste equal parts hot sauce and paint thinner.

Braden looked without sympathy at the 'Pipe's gag reflex in action. "Do you want something that tastes good or do you want something that works?" he asked, gesturing at his own inflated torso.

Cutting-edge chemistry isn't cheap -- $116.95 per eight-ounce bottle -- and it had the old tube buzzing. After the sample of Zwain's miracle drug, it was cold sweats and shakes until 4 a.m. Not bad for an over-the-counter product available to titans and toddlers alike, but the Tailpipe himself plans to stick to an old-school weightlifting regimen. -- As told to Edmund Newton

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