Arts & Culture » Calendar

Department of Collections: meet Mr. Condom

These Parts--Trevor, WI



Maybe you remember the type from your high school days: a raunchy guy who talked about sex in the most casual and clinical ways, putting you at such ease that there was nothing you were reluctant to ask him. Dr. Ruth, but with a leer. Donahue, but in graphic detail.

He was never around when you really needed him. But we've tracked him down to Trevor, Wisconsin, a small town near I-94 just over the Illinois border. He's now specializing in condoms, condom accessories, and condom vending machines.

Meet Mr. Condom, ne Nolan Panisiak, a beefy, jolly 40-year-old man with a handlebar mustache. You'll find him most weekends in or near a shed behind his modest white-sided house, ready to sell you a vintage vending machine or enlighten you on the joys of a French tickler.

No embarrassment necessary. No need, as in the old days, to shyly approach a drugstore counter and put out three fingers, silently instructing the pharmacist to fork over three rubbers in an aluminum can. Panisiak is gross, yet entirely aboveboard.

"I'm Mr. Condom, the rubber man," he says, puffing out his stomach.

Panisiak sells rubbers in all varieties. Some come smeared with antisperm cream. Some are sold in assorted colors. Others, typified by the French ticklers, have doodads--fingers and bumps--protruding from their latex surfaces. "We call them European-style condoms," Panisiak explains. "Girls love 'em, because it's like you have warts on your dick."

Trip into Panisiak's stock of vintage condoms, and you can choose from old tins of Sheiks and Ramses (priced up to $75), and Black Cats, dark rubbers that authorities long ago pulled from circulation because the carbon that made them black leaked onto customers' privates. A woman's plastic condom carrier from the 50s that resembles a lipstick tube runs $10.

Accessories at Mr. Condom's include a horse rubber called Tex's Latex, an array of dirty-joke books, and packs of nudie pictures, all small enough to fit into a condom vending machine. Panisiak sells a gel that allegedly enables a man to last through his climax. Then there are "Love Drops"--strawberry, hot fudge, coconut cream, and pina colada--that you are supposed to lick off your beloved's nipples. "Those Love Drops are so good," Panisiak swears, "that in our family we put 'em on our ice cream."

However, it is Panisiak's collection of more than 100 old vending machines that truly distinguishes him. Among those now on hand is one from the 50s that bears the image of a cartoon cop carrying a sign that reads "Stop VD." A 20s-era treasure bears this pro-birth-control message: "Should the presence of this machine be offensive to you, visit our hospitals, health institutes and asylums. You will be astounded. You may well place the blame upon yourself and others who think as you do."

Panisiak sells his machines from his shed, through ads in antiques and vending magazines, and through his own catalog. He will decorate machines for you with decals (expect the likeness of a panting woman) or repaint them to match any room's decor.

Priced anywhere from $60 to $1,500, the machines attract buyers from the U.S. and abroad, but liberal Californians buy the most. An LA interior decorator once special ordered a black porcelain model with gold-plated knobs for a star's bathroom. (Panisiak forgets which star.) One west-coast mother even ordered a machine for her 13-year-old son. "She knew the kid was screwing around," explains Panisiak, "and so she figured, this way, he could have his own machine."

Panisiak's merchandise impresses even the esteemed Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In January Michael R. Harris, a medical-sciences specialist for the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, visited Panisiak and was evidently bewitched. He ordered $3,700 in decals, condoms, and vending machines. "It's nice to see our tax dollars going for this," Panisiak says.

The subject of condoms, says Harris, "is an important part of our day-to-day society that usually doesn't get addressed." Their examination, he insists, throws light on birth-control and public-health issues.

Harris knows the history of condoms inside out, having traced it back to the first published account (in 1564) of a sheath, which was created by the Italian anatomist Gabriel Fallopius, whose name was later given to certain female tubes. That condom, a linen cap impregnated with oil, was meant to prevent syphilis.

In Harris's opinion, Panisiak has amassed "the most impressive collection of material documenting condom vending that I have come across." Besides, Harris says, "Nolan's a wonderful resource because he's so open and free. The information he gives you is so--uncut."

Seven years ago Panisiak was a cement contractor based in Chicago. Then he tried to settle a gripe he had with a bank in Sharon, Wisconsin, by busting $9,000 worth of bank windows. While lounging in jail afterward, he picked up a vending-industry magazine. "Join the exciting world of condom vending," said one advertisement. And soon he did.

In time, Panisiak and a partner, a Wilmette man he identifies only as Marty ("He prefers a low profile"), built up a roster of 400 customers in four states. The clients--taverns, gas stations, truck stops, and strip joints--would agree to have a vending machine installed in their bathrooms. Panisiak and his partner would take up to a 50 percent commission on the sales.

Panisiak's sales approach is straightforward. "I used to beat around the bush," he says, "but there's no point to that." Now he says he walks into a new establishment and says, "I'm the Rubber Man. I notice you don't have condoms in your bathroom." If the person behind the counter doesn't toss him out on his ear, he usually gets a chance to finish his pitch. His briefcase contains samples of 200 condoms and novelties, although with new prospects he pushes his tamer items, such as basic lubricated rubbers.

The advent of AIDS has made the business a lucrative one for Panisiak. "Let me tell you," he says, "AIDS is the frosting on my cake."

Recently, he split the enterprise right down the middle with his partner. Panisiak says he lost some prime locations, such as the Hard Rock Cafe and She-nannigans in Chicago, but he isn't complaining. "Mine is the most satisfying job you could ever have," he says. "Most guys get into a strip joint once a year. I'm in those places all the time. What could there be better than that?"

The condom-distribution trade enabled Panisiak to get into condom esoterica, and he has started taking his act on the road. He and his wife, Gina, have brought their booth to coin-operated-machine exhibitions in Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and even the Pheasant Run Resort in suburban Saint Charles. The Mr. Condom booth is easily identified by the color blowup of Gina pregnant with Adam, their firstborn.

Panisiak brings along some special enticements, such as white boxes of generic rubbers--"for cheap fuckers." But his vending machines go over the biggest, especially among women, who buy one-third of all condoms. "Girls go nuts over this stuff," Panisiak says. "I guess it's kind of their statement."

Most weekends Panisiak is in Trevor, at 11417 271st Ave. But call first (414-862-6797) to tell him you're coming.

As a sideline, Panisiak sells gum-ball machines and old neon signs. He'll also send along, for free, one of his catalogs, which lists items that include fortune-cookie-containing condoms. "Just think of the potential with this item," goes the blurb.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Loren Santow.

Add a comment