Keith Maneri has 20,000 pairs of balls on his hands. That’s right — 20,000 pairs of tiny, off-white, growable balls, and he’s trying to sell them.
What started as a throwaway conversation during a business trip has turned into a ball-breaker of a side-project for Maneri, who by day is the design director of a small Brooklyn creative agency called New Antisocial. But with half of the profits benefitting the Testicular Cancer Society, it’s all for a good cause.
Over the summer, while the thirty-year-old Maneri was traveling with members of his New Antisocial team, he was chatting with a friend who was complaining about her husband. She told him, ” ‘Yeah, he just needs to grow a pair of balls,’ ” Maneri explains. “We thought, ‘What if we started brainstorming a gag gift like that?’ ”
The concept turned out to be pretty simple. Taking their cue from the spongy dinosaur capsule toys that expand in water, Maneri and his co-workers figured they could engineer and produce a pair of testicles that would engorge themselves with water and grow to be six times their original size. Officially named Grow a Pair, the product would go on to feature a tagline: “It’s a hilarious gift for friend or foe.” Working with TCS seemed a no-brainer, as testicular cancer is the leading cancer among 15- to 34-year-old men — the target demographic for the project. And in a world where there’s a market for anonymously shipping bags of gummy-dicks, the possibilities for, er, expansive distribution seemed endless.
But it turns out creating faux gonads is a tough nut to crack. After coming up with the idea, Maneri figured that with logistical help from his two colleagues at New Antisocial, the balls would be ready to ship by November. They had already lined up a Chinese manufacturer through e-commerce giant Alibaba, and they had the enthusiastic endorsement of TCS. Testicular cancer is “awkward to talk about,” says Mike Craycraft, founder of TCS and a cancer survivor. “If there’s ways to start a conversation that are a little less abrasive, we’re all for it. We thought it was a great gag gift.”
But when Maneri got the first prototype of his design from the manufacturer, the big, growable balls had a small problem. “The first one didn’t grow very much at all,” he says. They returned the prototype, and while the second version expanded as intended, the design seemed a bit too — clinical. Rather than a gag gift, it seemed like something out of an unfortunate sex ed class. “It looked like we were trying to teach kids about genital warts,” Maneri says. By the third iteration, things had gotten a bit better. The testicles appeared to grow to full size over three days of waterlogged life, but they would quickly dissolve, a sight Maneri describes as “horrifying.” Then there was also a Goldilocks-style selection process to find the perfect hue. “They sent us a whole variety of skin tones, from just way too white — almost like ghostly pale mole-man — to very, very dark ethnic balls,” Maneri says. “We basically just picked the one in the middle.”
Though a couple months later than they anticipated, the group has finally arrived at the perfect set of balls. They’re wart-free and grow without dissolving. But whose balls are they, exactly? “I remember one of my art teachers once saying, ‘An artist always ends up drawing themselves one way or another,’ ” Maneri recalls. “I’d probably be the closest match if you put us in a police lineup.”
And while Maneri is unabashedly happy with the end result, he admits there are downsides to going balls-deep into a project like this. “I think the most awkward conversation was with the girlfriend’s parents,” he remembers. “Eventually, when you ask the question, ‘What are you working on?’ you can only gloss over that for so long.”
At roughly $7 for a set of balls, Grow a Pair has sold just 300 of its 20,000 units through its website, Kickstarter, and partnerships with local businesses. But Maneri says he’s already seeing signs of growth, and he predicts an uptick over the holidays. “People love it,” says Samantha Bard, co-owner of SHAG, a boutique sex shop in Williamsburg that has agreed to sell Maneri’s jewels. “We sell a lot to bachelorette parties. And for the holidays, it’s a good stocking-stuffer.”
But Maneri acknowledges that, even if the balls take off, it’s unlikely he’ll devote the rest of his life to making what are essentially testicle-shaped sponges. “Once the last ball has left the warehouse,” he says, “that will probably be the end of the project.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 17, 2015