The Joy of Rubber Balling

(The Rubber Fetish That's a Real Ball)

by Jeff Bagato

Rubber band balls start as an innocent childlike game but grow into an obsession. A ball starts out so young, tender and small, but perseverance and dedication can yield a heavy, healthy ball of considerable size. If you've never seen a big rubber band ball, you'd be surprised at its heft. The striped orb is so heavy with rolex breitling watches densely packed rubber bands that it's beautiful--round, colorful, and bouncy. The heavier the better. Before you know it, your days are filled with rubber, thoughts of rubber, and searches for rubber. You've got it bad. A rubber fetish of an alien kind. You're a rubber baller.

There are many joys of rubber balling. It's fascinating watching your rubber band ball grow and evolve. Various rings of color hold court for a while but gradually disappear under new layers of rubber. The rubber band ball thus teaches a valuable, Zen-like lesson about the impermanence of all things. Don't get too attached to that purple or blue broccoli band stripe--if your ball is to remain healthy and growing, that color will be gone in a few weeks. There will fake breitling watches always be others. You can even consider your ball a Fluxus-style art experiment. The changeability of the ball fits perfectly in the same gallery with Fluxus works such as Joe Beuys' "Corner of Fat," and Rudy Schwarzkogler's wrapped fish and mummy photos. Everything changes, nature changes, art reflects nature--and so the changing face of your rubber band ball is a fine study for your next art history class term paper.

Rubber band balls also have a social conscience. Think of all that rubber going to waste on mail room floors, offices and sidewalks every day. Your ball is perfectly happy to gobble up each and every one of those bands and use them as fuel for its expanding corpus. But the recycling revolution starts with you, brothers and rolex perpetual sisters. You must stoop, pick and pocket those bands and then port them to your eager ball. You have a key role to play in this recycling game. The ball knows it is important not to waste the earth's valuable resources, not to clutter landfills with otherwise perfectly serviceable rubber. But you have to know it; you have to do your part to save the earth--and your ball.

And I do mean that seriously--your rubber band ball is in mortal danger. New band growth must at least exceed the decay rate of the older bands on your balls surface. The sad fact of rubber balling is that rubber rots. On a slow growth ball, you can see the broken and cracked rubber bands held fast by the sparse new rubber. It's a frightening sign of your ball's mortality. You must be careful also that you only feed your ball with the best, freshest rubber. (And it must always be found or salvaged, never bought.) There's nothing more discouraging to the rubber band scavenger than to pick up a band that fails the initial and very necessary stretch test. I curse the wasted effort of picking up a band that merely breaks when I test it. I rejoice when the newly scavenged band stretches wide and holds fast. Bring only these mighty, stretchy bands as offerings to your ball.

Your rubber band ball is in danger of another unpleasant fate. Believe it or not, a ball can get too big. Most rubber bands have a stretch limit. One thing you must face early and often is that eventually, as you build your ball, it will exceed the stretch capacity of the common rubber band. Eventually, it will grow too large for uncommon rubber bands. At this point, you must resort to the rare industrial size rubber bands that can stretch many feet. Here is where even the most diligent rubber baller faces a terminal slowdown of ball growth. You must wait and wait for a big band to appear at your feet, like manna dropped on the Israelites as they wandered lost and hungry in the dessert. Its not a pretty sight, but it waits in every rubber baller's future.

In the meantime, you can proudly weigh your ball and measure its circumference. You can compare your ball with a friend's. And you can admire your ball's surface shape. 

You will notice that a rubber band ball is not truly round, but bumpy and slightly askew. If you broke out your calculus formulas, I'm sure you'd find the ball approaches roundness, much like a curve approaches the asymptote of an ideal endpoint. It is in this approach toward roundness that a rubber band balls true beauty lies. The ball is not round and never will be round, thank God! It's the imperfections that make the ball the miracle that it is. This is a moral lesson that each of us can take to heart. Just one more of the joys of rubber balling.

[Slightly different  versions of this article appeared in MOLE magazine #12 and Utne Reader #101, Sept-Oct 2000.