The Phallus Palace

This story in The Week is a writers dream. Anytime you get to write the word “penis” in a non-medical way you’re going to have a good time writing the story. When the reason to write the word “penis” is because the subject of your story is someone who collected penises, it’s like hitting the lottery. Everyone suddenly has penis envy.

“It’s my morning ritual,” says the collector. “I get a cup of coffee and open up eBay and Etsy. I’ve bought two or three penises before most people’s alarm clocks have gone off.”

The collector, who wishes not to reveal his name, lives in an $850-a-month rent-stabilized apartment on the Upper West Side — the same place he’s resided since 1977. The spacious, railroad-style abode has seen its fair share of collections come and go over the past 24 years. First, he collected various versions of the five of spades, from playing card decks. Then, it was misters — anything to do with the word “mister,” be it Coffee, Clean or T. There was also the series of devils and a collection of Nancy comic strip paraphernalia — that androgynous, hollow-eyed, Brillo-haired girl made famous by Ernie Bushmiller. But in the end, one collection stood high above the rest: penises.

Lost in all the penis talk is the fact that this guy is paying $850 a month for an apartment in Manhattan. The average rental is $3800 a month right now. In most cities in America, a sump is going to cost at least a grand a month. Most likely this guy was grandfathered in under rent control or some similar scheme.

There are well over a thousand pieces of penis-related art in his home, and yes, the collection is growing on a daily basis.

Upon entering the apartment, the first penis you will most likely notice is a winged phallus hanging from the entrance to the living room. After that, your eyes may settle upon the upward curve of a bronze coat hanger, the drawing of a little boy peeing into Humpty Dumpty’s mouth, or the statue of David above a toilet. The collector’s apartment is a cacophony of cocks. A deluge of dicks. A plethora of penii.

Standing 6’2″ with snow-white hair, the collector, age 58, admits that even he has to be careful not to hit his head on some of the low-hanging fruit when moving about his apartment.

“You should see the faces on the delivery guys when they come up. I open the door to get my food, and they get a glimpse inside. Dicks everywhere! You can see their eyes widen, and then they always take this tiny step backwards. I live for the day when a hapless religious proselytizer makes the mistake of knocking on my door.”

Alas, the rest of us will most likely not have a chance to see the apartment. The collector chose to remain anonymous for this article not because he is embarrassed of the sexual content of his collection (“I have no shame, and I love the shock effect,” he says), but because he would like to avoid having random people tracking him down for a viewing.

“I like that it’s a private collection. It’s just for the people I choose,” he says. “I can’t help it. I’m an elitist.”

Back in 1977, the collector was a sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll party animal who hung out at music and dance club icons like Danceteria, The Mudd Club, and CBGBs. These days, he’s more of a homebody with 25 years of sobriety and an extensive collection of independent films.

Although he makes a good living, most of his money goes to his collection. As such, he sometimes has trouble making ends meet. He supplements his day job as a concierge in the Garment Center, which he’s held for more than two decades, by working “mad hours of overtime” running a freight elevator.

This is why the power centers of the Empire are nothing like America. In the hinterlands, a concierge lives in a small apartment on the seedy side of town, not in a tony apartment building with members of the elite. He’s not building a collection of dicks and getting written up by some hipster snob either. The lands of our rulers are nothing like where the rest of us live.