One of the most bizarre news stories of 2009 involved a guy who broke into a health clinic and slashed exercise balls with a sharp knife to fulfill a sexual urge. The story landed on the front page of the Duluth News Tribune, and the guy soon became well-known around town as the "Ball Slasher."
Something about the story has bothered me for months. No one, not the media and not the various people talking about this in barrooms and barber shops or anywhere I've been, have been able to explain exactly what could go on in the process of slashing an exercise ball that would produce sexual gratification.
How does an exercise ball fetish work? Does he penetrate the ball? Does it pop and snap back, so it's like a whips and chains thing? Does it deflate like a farting whoopie cushion, giving off a little tingling sensation to the ol' genitals?
Where is the media when the people have questions they want answered?
I am perhaps bothered more by this than most people, because I have an exercise ball. It belongs to my fiancee, but she keeps it in our home, in my office. So there I am, working alone each day with this sweet voluptuous exercise ball -- this big, glowing fluorescent blue bulb calling to me from across the room ... all ... day ... long.
Of course, I'm not really tempted at all by that seductive orb in the corner because I don't even understand what I would do to act on my impulse. Would I slash it slowly or with a violent stabbing motion?
Of course, while I'm sitting in my office thinking about this, I'm constantly aware that just down the hall is a wide array of kitchen knives. If I'm going to write about this, certainly I should do some research and slash a ball, right?
There's really only one thing stopping me: What if I really enjoyed it? I have seen this story play out in the media, and it is not an outcome I would choose for myself. Clearly there is a lot at stake.
Some people react to this subject with disgust, but I'm not sure why. As weird as the fetish is, and as much as I don't understand it, I have sympathy for the ball slasher. He has a history of mental illness that influenced his exploits, for starters, but what people should also realize is that his kink couldn't have been easy to keep private.
Most people have weird sexual desires of some kind, and it's generally preferred that we not get into those details in newspapers. It should be noted, however, that ball slashing is a difficult hobby to sustain. Exercise balls cost about $10 each on the low end. Even if you can afford them, you'll look kind of suspicious going into Kmart every day buying the same thing.
Once you break into a fitness center, you kind of have to do the slashing on site, because you can't really steal a dozen exercise balls. What are you going to do, juggle them on the way out? You can't take them out the door one at a time; they'd probably roll down the avenue. You can't drag them out in a giant mesh bag; there's no way you'd get that through the door.
The main reason I have sympathy for the ball slasher is that he tends to get lumped in with another bizarre sex-related crime story. I'm referring, of course, to the guy in Superior who had sex with a dead deer he found on the side of the road.
Yes, Duluth has the exercise ball slasher and Superior has the deer carcass molester. These are our people. This is our heritage.
Superior and Duluth have had a long standing rivalry, spending the past 150 years trying to one up the other. This time, Superior has finally won.
Mental illness was involved in both cases, as I guess it would have to be, but I still think it's fun to imagine the ball slasher and the deer carcass molester in prison together.
"Hey buddy, what are you in for?"
Although the deer carcass molestation wins in terms of being icky, I have to say that all points for sheer innovation have to go to the ball slasher. Most people were familiar with the concepts of bestiality and necrophilia before hearing about what happened in Superior. But I doubt many considered they could get their jollies slashing exercise balls.
Again, though, I should emphasize that it is wrong to lump these two crimes together. The ball slasher turned himself in and faced charges of first-degree damage to property. We think his fetish is weird, but we wouldn't lock him up for that alone. On the other hand, someone who humps a dead animal needs to be carefully monitored.
One thing I wonder about the ball slasher, though, is whether he could have patched balls for reuse rather than seeking out new ones. Then he could have been considered a nice, normal person who happens to have an exercise ball covered with duct tape and shoe glue.
Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His e-mail address is mail @ paullundgren.com.