By: Jacob Stovall
The videos he put out in the last five days of his life, the ones after the transformation, will rightly overshadow everything else Lou Pavese did in his life, but for me the video that defined him was one he made four years ago. He’s pacing around his weight room talking directly to the camera, wearing a ripped muscle tee emblazoned with a simple command: “Stay Hungry.” Up until the very end he reminded himself to stay hungry. There was nothing that seemed to scare him more than stagnation, so he made himself bigger and bigger and bigger.
The video begins as one of his standard motivationals. Even his boilerplate motivationals were fascinating in their own way, but this one is different. While mindlessly curling a dumbbell Lou expounds on some crude dream theory and explains the benefits of lifting weights right before sleep. When you finish go look at yourself in the mirror. Pose. Flex those muscles. Look at your veins popping right out of your skin. Then go straight to sleep, so when you dream you’re watching your arms fucking grow. This last word in a guttural voice – low and animalistic. Even in his sleep he was thinking about getting bigger.
That image has never quite left my head, of him instructing his followers to train their bodies so that they dream of nothing but swelling body parts. A lot of Lou’s videos focused on a single part of the body in isolation, the camera zoomed in on one contorting muscle totally alone. Just the same repetitive movement of the same muscle, over and again and alone. I imagine him dreaming of dismembered limbs writhing back in forth in a controlled regimen, or of limbs just growing, swelling uncontrollably, in empty space. He never seemed to view himself as a complete person and he never showed any desire to do so.
He elaborates on his theory. Muscles grow while you sleep, and if your mind is focused on growing while you sleep then your muscles will grow larger, quicker. It makes sense, but I have no idea if it’s actually true. But as he’s talking about dreams of swelling muscles the motivational speaker mask slips. He keeps talking about dreams, but not to illustrate a motivational point. He’s stood up and just sort of pacing the floor of his weight room. His words are unspooling at a frantic pace, but he never takes his eyes off the camera. For a moment he stops making sense: he’s comparing his method to dreams about being stabbed, something about dreams of stabbing someone, or a recurring nightmare he’d been having about his body falling apart, literally; one about his arms and legs falling off or his teeth falling out and how the only thing that stopped them was to flex in the mirror right before sleep. He’s talking too fast to really understand what he’s saying. You can catch fragments as they fly by.
After a couple of minutes his panic attack subsides. He looks into the camera and talks frankly. We all have little moments like this sometimes. He brings the viewer into his moment; we all have little moments like that sometimes. F**k. I felt like I couldn’t breathe for a moment their man. Hoooly s**t. But you know what? I’m not ashamed. I get attacks like that sometimes. Not as much as I used to, but it still happens from time to time. He’s gasping for air. He goes on like this: talking frankly about insecurity and fear for the rest of the video and as he talks, his voice regains its strength and his breathing returns to normal.
Look – I know that in all honesty it was pretty banal stuff, but I was so starved for honesty that I could have swallowed any bland, empty expression, as long as it seemed genuine. It didn’t feel like a motivational. His heavy-handed emotional generosity meant a lot to me after months of hearing nothing but calculated and cynical half-truths from the mouths of smart people. It was refreshing to see some struggle to find the right words for once. For a moment, it made me feel like profundity could only ever be wrung out of something banal. The video is nothing special; it’s probably even stupid, but for whatever reason watching it I felt like I finally understood words I’d been hearing my whole life.
That was one of the first of Lou’s video’s I saw. I’d been living in D.C. for about six months and struggling to break into journalism. I went on to live another two years in D.C. It’s impossible to make real friends in that city. You have to think of every relationship in the terms of networking. We were only as valuable to each other as the next person we could introduce each other to. Of course, this meant that our value was always deferred. Each connection only brought the next connection, which only brought the next connection, but by the point I realized it I was in too deep; I was already committed to the cycle. Everyone knew what was happening, but we also knew that if we kept our head down and plowed ahead, it would most likely be someone else’s problem.
And we were just at the lowest level of the Washington food chain: journalists who were hoping to get a few thousand more Twitter followers or small-time aides hoping to get a full time position, whose biggest accomplishment would be getting a parking space on the Hill, or maybe, if they were lucky, have a paper they’d co-authored cited by the congresswoman from New Hampshire’s second district. But we fought over these small strips of power with our teeth barely knotted into mannered smiles. We all knew we were all plotting against each other at every moment, but it was okay as long as we all kept civil and didn’t mention it.
I felt trapped by the codes of D.C. There was no greater crime than to be impolite. I got depressed early on, and it got worse the longer I stayed. I rarely left my room. All I did was sleep and watch YouTube. The videos I watched would come from Lou’s channel more and more often. He seemed to offer me an alternative to the petty power dynamics of Washington small timers. It’s stupid, but at this moment in my life Lou seemed to be the only thing that kept me from giving up hope. His videos reminded me that the way things were isn’t the way they had to be. I’m just not sure why it took the world’s dumbest bodybuilder for me to realize it.
As Lou got bigger, his appetite increased. More muscle mass requires a higher calorie intake. He got bigger so he ate more, so he got bigger so he ate more more. His diet was grotesque, even before the transformation.
He filmed himself making breakfast every morning. A dozen eggs mixed with protein powder, a bowl of oatmeal mixed with creatine, a steamed chicken breast. He cooked it all up in the bland kitchen of his suburban Vegas McMansion while he talked to the camera. He didn’t stop talking, even while he ate. He kept chewing as he would describe the other five or six meals he was going to eat throughout the day. His mouth was a distending organism and the way he smacked his oversized collagen-filled lips is still one of the grossest things I’ve seen. But I couldn’t look away.
Have you ever seen someone eat in Washington? It’s done furtively. Food was an indelicate topic that was best left undiscussed. People treated eating a lot like they did shitting: unavoidable bodily functions that weren’t to be brought up in polite society. Even during stilted meals growing up in suburban New Jersey I was never exposed to such a pathological relationship with food. It was so disturbing that it made Lou’s animalistic way of tearing through creatine powder seem like a respite.
The thing is, beneath the coarseness the videos are actually stunningly boring. He talked about what he was eating, what he was going to eat, how he had worked out, and how he was going to work out. That was it. I watched them every day for months on end. I would wake up at two in the afternoon, rollover and heat something up in the microwave next to my bed and watch Lou’s video from earlier in the day. Eventually, I stopped eating all together, but I kept watching Lou eat. The videos had a mesmerizing rhythm. Maybe I was so far down that I would have been mesmerized by anything. Probably. But I was transfixed. The monotony was reassuring. The videos were the only orienting point in a swallowing emptiness. Look. It happens. Sometimes we get so heavy we start floating. I never said I wasn’t embarrassed. But it happens.
No video ever showed him cleaning up the mess. He would leave the house every day with a pile of dirty dishes, but the next morning the kitchen would be spotless. No housekeeper was ever shown on camera, but he definitely had one. Their presence was felt in absence, in the almost impossible cleanliness of Lou’s house. I learned how to imitate the impossible cleanliness. I was careful to keep my mess from spilling out of my room into the well lit apartment, or onto the pristine streets of downtown DC. I hid my depression from my roommates, even though I barely cared to learn their names. They were all uptight policy wonks, and I’m sure they would have had no sympathy for a floor covered in empty bottles and vomit.
Lou must have had another life, one that he didn’t film, but it sure didn’t feel that way. He was so open in his videos that it was hard to imagine that there was anything left out. It was hard to imagine anything being hidden. I fell into the trap and confused the Lou Pavese I saw on my screen with the actual Lou Pavese; I fooled myself into thinking I knew him from the videos he posted.
I was never quite sure where exactly Lou got the money, but I guess he would have made a decent salary as an in-demand personal trainer, with money from sponsors and advertisers on top. Besides, so much of the suburban Las Vegas desert where he lived seemed to be about projecting as much wealth as cheaply as possible. Like his house: it was obvious the builders had hastily built a giant house in the middle of the desert, threw an ostentatious veneer over everything, then sold it for a pornographic price. Two Styrofoam columns glued to the wall flanked the front door. He filmed quite a few videos in his front yard, a tiny patch of grass lawn surrounded by vast desert. His house towered over the flat landscape. It was huge, and sometimes he seemed to be growing just to fill it. It always felt empty. Despite the size of the house, he only seemed to spend time in a few rooms. He ate in the kitchen, slept in the bedroom, and worked out in the weight room. If he went anywhere else he didn’t film it, and he filmed everything. And I watched everything he filmed. I hid in my tiny D.C. room watching his videos in the dark. The only light came from the computer screen. I was falling apart and I certainly wasn’t working as a journalist.
Even before the transformation Lou was grotesque. His muscles popped out of his body like tumors. There were so many of them. The human form beneath them vanished. He was nothing but muscles. They warped his skin, pushing his veins right to the edge of its surface, the throbbing vessels struggling to burst out of their body. Lou cultivated those veins. He made videos to show them off and videos detailing how to get veins that burst through the skin. He was completely inhuman. His obsession with gaining mass was probably ignited and enabled by a hyper masculine culture, but he stretched masculinity beyond the limits of man. He had a deeper hunger.
So, it wasn’t surprising when in a video a couple of weeks ago he announced that he’d bought some new steroids. He was always buying new steroids and was always open about it. Every now and then he would put out a video defending steroids, mostly from critics within the bodybuilding community who thought those sorts of enhancements were cheating. But he never claimed that his body was natural. To him, that was completely beside the point, to him. Maybe it wasn’t beside the point to everybody, but it was to him. He only cared about one thing: getting big. Nothing was off limits as long as it helped him grow.
He filmed the injections in a close up shot of thin metal penetrating his massive glute. Everything else was cropped out. The first sign that something was wrong appeared right away. His skin started to crack. One video shows him peeling it off and making jokes about it. Within a couple of days, it was obvious that there was something seriously wrong, but he remained unconcerned. His skin was falling off, and the muscles below were pushing into the outer world. Exposed sinew was hanging off body, his body was hanging off itself. He was warping into a knot of unrecognizable shapes as the red body below his skin pushed its way to the surface. But even as his skin came off revealing the muscle underneath he remained as strong as ever. He was still huge. His muscles twisted themselves, but they were still powerful and they were still inhumanly large. Only now the raw muscle was exposed.
Like he did everything else in his life, Lou Pavese filmed his final week and posted it onto his channel. The unconcealed horror of it drew millions more viewers than he’d ever had before. His descent into madness was the trending topic for several days, but a new horror always comes along and replaces the old one. Even being a monster without precedent is only worth a few days of attention.
I’m not going to go to much into the last acts, the video’s where Lou kills and eats people. Plenty of people are already addressing them. If you don’t know about it by now it’s because you don’t want to, and I don’t blame you. I don’t have the stomach to watch videos of actual cannibalism. If you really want to see these last videos they’re still being reposted faster than mods can take them down. People seem to like them. They’re getting more views than Lou ever did in life, and way more people are talking about them. In life, his celebrity never went beyond bodybuilding forums, but his death has resonated far more widely. His body was swollen beyond recognition, his muscles tore out of his skin, his stomach burst and spilled itself over the front of his legs. He was turned inside out. Pictures of the scene have been making the round on gross-out forums. I can’t blame them. The pictures are intolerable, repulsive and raw, but they’re brutal. Maybe some people just want to try to wrest intolerable beauty from the wreck. I can’t blame them.
I already fell for the trap – that there had to be something deeper than the body, deeper than the violence a body could do to another body. In Washington, I despaired that there had to be something below all this power, and I thought I found it in Lou’s body. I fooled myself into thinking that the body could exist above, or at least below, power, but when you peeled it away, it just revealed more power. Lou’s skin peeled off, and it only revealed more body, more brutal body. Below the surface was only more surface, layers of surface all the way down. The base is already the base. He had no deeper motivations. He only wanted to grow, and swallowed everything that got in his way. I thought I found something that escaped the pull of the center, but the center only grows and eats everything. The center is all surface.
I could say that Lou swallowed everything to find an inside, only in the end to realize there’s only surface. I could say that this was something below masculinity – the thing, whatever it is, that created masculinity. I could say no such thing exists, or if it does, it exists in a different circle than us, and we can only see it through its agents, and these are the agents we can and have to address. I could say there’s always something below. There’s a lot I could say, but I think that every word takes us further away and puts another layer between us and it or you and I-
But I’d just be talking my way out of a truth that I don’t want to recognize: as true as this all is, which is very true, it’s just as equally false. So, I’m sure you can see the problem. All I can say for sure is that in the last days of his life Lou Pavese killed and ate seven people. This is the fact. Everything else just floats from it. The fascination will die out soon, and a new horror will replace it. At least we’ll got some good memes out of it.