Joel Waul, 28, with the five-ton ball some neighbors have come to love, in Lauderhill, Fla.
October 30, 2009
In Florida, Fond Farewell for a 5-Ton Ball of Rubber Bands
By DAMIEN CAVE
LAUDERHILL, Fla. — The five-ton ball of rubber bands groaned and swayed as the crane lifted it from the driveway. A small frog hopped out from underneath.
“Let’s cross our fingers and hope we don’t see if it bounces,” said Edward Meyer, who bought the ball for an undisclosed sum for Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
Then he called to Joel Waul, the ball’s creator. “Pretty exciting, right?” Mr. Meyer said.
“Yeah,” said Mr. Waul, 28, the soft-spoken son of a surgical administrator and Jamaican musician. “Cool.”
That was enough for him. After five years and 730,000 rubber bands, his baby — Nugget, as he used to call it — was moving on. And so was he. Mr. Waul, who works at the Gap, said he would use his Ripley’s money for stuntman school next year.
His neighbors, however, were not quite as thrilled to see it go. Here in a town where ’50s Florida homes are peeling and too many people are out of work, the giant rubber orb was a quiet comedian that could always get a laugh. No one ever tried to roll it away or deface it in the five years it took to build. Everyone seemed to enjoy watching it grow into the size of a small hatchback.
“I’m going to miss it,” said Letitta Bush, 30, one of about 20 neighbors who gathered to watch its departure. “When I give directions, I can’t say anymore that I live next to the big blue ball.”
Mr. Waul’s mother, Maureen Latham, 50, saw something even more meaningful in her son’s creation: independence and hard work. And this act of endurance did not even include pain. It was far better, Ms. Latham said, than the time he attached 76 clothespins to his face, or an incident with acupuncture that she is still too afraid to ask him about.
“I’m proud,” she said, watching the crane move the ball toward a flatbed truck. “He’s done it all by himself.”
Darlene Bush, 50, Letitta’s mother, nodded. “I love him for that,” she said. “You’ve got a smart son, right there.”
Mr. Waul was tougher to read in his moment of glory. He wore tan pants, a matching collarless shirt and flip-up Oakley sunglasses with an MP3 player and earphones attached. Looking and sounding younger than 28, he answered questions for television reporters in a quiet voice that was often drowned out by Mr. Meyer.
Mr. Waul said he took on the project after seeing a Ripley’s re-run on television in 2004 that highlighted a rubber band ball at nearly 4,000 pounds. He figured he could do better. Only later did he realize it would require getting a physical therapy company, Stretchwell.com, to donate industrial-size elastics.
But now, he said, he had bigger plans. At the stunt school in Seattle where he hopes to enroll, students are set on fire at graduation and he hopes to beat the record of 2 minutes 38 seconds ablaze.
The Waul Ball, he said, as it headed toward Orlando and its final destination at a Ripley’s museum, was just an opening act.