(First published November 2012)
While walking in New York this summer I came across a large public sculpture I had quite forgotten about. It had been many years since I last visited Bowling Green and so I was surprised to find the three and a half ton bronze bull that stands tall over a pedestrian peninsula that points up Broadway. The peninsula was packed with tourists and so at first I could only see the top of the mighty beast above the throng. But after wriggling to the front row I soon found the cause of all the excitement.
Two enormous bronze balls. You knew they were the main attraction because millions of fingertips had worn away their patina to a bright golden glow. The crowd was basically a big happy group of people waiting their turn to touch a bull’s testicles. The favoured position for the I-was-there snap was to be seated directly under the bull’s bum while reaching up to caress the golden fruit.
Everybody was into it. True, I did not see any obviously religious types enjoying this innocent paganism but otherwise it was all ages, nationalities and genders.
I wondered, naturally, what precisely was the idea behind this practice? Was it supposed to bring good luck or maybe wealth? The Parks Department was no help. I looked around for an explanatory sign. Fondle the bull’s balls and become fabulously wealthy, perhaps. Or simply, Lucky ox scrotum. But there was nothing.
This seems odd when you consider that public testicle touching isn’t something most people generally do. But there they all were lining up to polish the bull’s bollocks.
My big dictionary of symbols has nothing on nut noodling. Wiki likewise. This must be some sort of deep folkloric instinct that people don’t even talk about it’s so deep. It seems that at the sight of a prominent and well polished pair the hands know instinctively what to do.