By Richard Splett
The Disco Ball did not have an unhappy life.
Each night from about 8 PM until sometimes long after 2 AM, he spun and spun, around and around. He threw his tiny lighted stars against the walls and floors of the disco and sometime on the dancers themselves.
When his lights first began to spin, the crowd would roar with delight. He knew that he brought joy to others. And this, in turn, made him happy.
Sometimes he spun fast and sometimes he spun slow. At first, back when he was just an 8 inch diameter ball, he used to get dizzy. But as he spent more time spinning and grew from 8 inches to 12 inches to a top-of-the-line 20 inch ball, the problem went away. Mostly. As he liked to say, “You never want to lose the dizziness completely, sweetheart!”
In part, his lack of dizziness was a consequence of the geometry of spheres, as reflected (no pun intended) in the basic literature on the subject starting with the writings of Autolychus of Pitane who wrote “On the Rotating Sphere,” the earliest known work of mathematics. Spherical trigonometry teaches us that, to put it in terms the Disco Ball might understand, any line drawn at a right angle from a line between two diametrically opposed antipodal points will define a great circle of the sphere. The longer the line the larger the circle and, therefore, the sphere.
To properly understand to perceived (and actual!) variation in his spin rate from his 8 inch “birth weight” to his current 20 inch size, we need to first calculate the difference in surface area using the formula A=4πr2. Once we know the Δ, we can calculate the difference in angular velocity and then the difference in angular momentum, defined for our purposes as a (pseudo)vector that is a crossproduct of the sphere’s position vector, r, and its momentum vector, p=mv. Since angular momentum is conserved, just from the vector sum of the angular momenta alone, we can see that, as a grown-up ball, the Disco Ball could spread even more stars across the disco floor and therefore bring more joy to more people while spinning at a more leisurely rate than his younger self. Such is the wondrous gift of experience, the only gold we can earn which can never be spent!
The Disco Ball knew no other home than the disco. Though he had been born in a factory in far-away China, his memory of those days had faded to an imperceptably faint palimpsest. He had once appeared in a commercial for a local bail bondsman but, even for this, he did not have to leave. The video crew had come to the disco and the director had shouted at him to spin while a cameraman shot him from various angles. Afterward, he had overheard the director say that he had “looked great.” Disco Ball felt proud and dared to hope that he might get to be in other commercials for mattress stores or a funeral home, perhaps, or maybe those lawyers who helped drivers get out of DUI arrests. But a second offer never came. Still, Disco Ball was not disappointed. A career in show business might be for others but for him it was not to be. And, frankly, the more he learned about the drug and alcohol abuse and marital problems that were rampant in show business, the more he became convinced that things had worked out for the best.
While the dancers gyrated on the dance floor below, blissfully unaware, above them in the rafters, a small, hardy, and deeply dedicated group labored to keep the party going. There was gruff, noisy Speaker who loved to hear himself talk, sing, and hum. There was exuberant, irrepressible Confetti Cannon, waiting with barely concealed excitement, for the chance to shoot his thousands of paper children out over the dance floor and watch them float and spin and shimmer in the air for a brief, glorious moment. There was conceited Neon Cocaine Nose who only deigned to come down from his exalted VIP room on high on weekend nights and sometimes not even then. There was helpful Catwalk; cool, calming Air Vent. There was mysterious silent Sprinkler Head who some considered ridiculously stand-offish and others worried might be on the Spectrum.
Then there was Disco Ball’s best friend, warm, loving, supportive Spotlight. Spotlight always seemed to find what was best in people and point it out to others. People basked in her glow. While Disco Ball brought the disco-goers excitement, Spotlight brought them attention, which they loved and needed just as much.
Spotlight was more than just a friend to Disco Ball. She was his partner; the wind beneath his wings. She completed him. He used to tell her, “Without you, I’m just a ball of mirrored cardboard. Without you, I am nothing.”
And so it was Spotlight, of course, who began to notice that Disco Ball was somehow not quite himself. Sure, he continued to spin every night and, sure, he cast his little stars across the dance floor by the millions. But somehow his spinning was not so sure and confident and his stars no longer glowed with quite the same special inner fire. There was no denying it.
Disco Ball had lost his sparkle.
At first, the others took no notice. But after a while, as Disco Ball’s spin rate slowed and his stars diminished in both number and brightness, even diffident and self-centered Neon Cocaine Nose could see that something was wrong. Only Sprinkler Head showed no awareness, a mystery to the last.
They debated among themselves how to broach the subject. They did not wish to offend their friend. But they also wanted to make sure that he knew they cared. And that they wanted to help.
One afternoon, before the doors to the disco opened and the crowds flowed in, Spotlight said to Disco Ball who was spinning listlessly from side to side, “DB, (for that was what she called him) your friends are worried. You are not yourself. We love you. You have given us all so much joy. We want to help you. Friends must stand by friends. They cannot do otherwise. We know that you would be the first to show your care and concern for any of us if something were wrong and we were in despair. And, most importantly, we want to know that however you are, whatever you do, we will all always love you forever. ”
It had taken a lot for Spotlight to say all this because she was normally shy and retiring and did not wish to attract any attention to herself.
At first Disco Ball did not say anything. He stopped spinning. He began to speak. He hesitated. Then he said, “That’s the problem, Spots (for this is what he called her.) I don’t know what the problem is! I am unhappy, it is true. And I have tried not to show it. I have tried to focus on my job and give pleasure to others but lately I have begun to fear that I can no longer do that. And that has made my vague, special sadness worse.”
There was a hubbub of disagreement.
“Nonsense! “ blared Speaker.
“Ridiculous!” Confetti Cannon ejaculated.
“Balderdash!” sniffed Cocaine Nose.
“Impossible!” offered Catwalk.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” puffed Air Vent.
“Tell me, DB,” said Spotlight, “Is there a time when you feel more unhappy than others? Is there something in particular that makes you sad?”
“Well,” Disco Ball began, “Sometimes when I look—“ He stopped. “No. I can’t.”
“You can’t what?” Spotlight asked.
“I can’t say it.”
“Whatever it is, DB, it cannot be so bad that you cannot tell your friends who love you about it.”
“It is shameful.”
“I cannot believe that. I know you and you are kind and decent. You always try to do the right thing. You are respectful of others. You would not lie or cheat. You would not steal. I do not believe that you could do anything shameful.”
“It is not what I have done. It is how I feel. It is what I want to do.”
“Nor do I believe that you could want to do anything shameful,” Spotlight replied. “But whatever it is, you may tell us what it is or you may keep it private. I believe that it is better to share one’s problems with one’s friends. They grow worse if left unaired. But the decision is yours. We respect your privacy.”
Disco Ball thought for a minute. Then he said in a very small voice:
“I want to dance.”
There was a pause. Air Vent gasped.
“You want to…dance?” Spotlight asked tentatively.
“Yes,” Disco Ball answered. “I watch the dancers every night and they look like they are having so much fun. The more fun they have, the sadder I become. I want to dance, too.” And then he added, “And I know I cannot.”
The friends were stunned. They had never heard anything like this. None of them had ever imagined leaving their lofty abode and joining the revelry below. They knew this was not their place. Their job was to make everything perfect for the dancers and make sure that everyone had a wonderful time at the disco. But they could never join the party. Such was their lot in life.
Over the next few days, the mood in the rafters turned very gloomy indeed. The friends rarely spoke and, when they did, they were very irritable. They snapped at one another. They made mistakes. And in the center of it all, Disco Ball spun slower and slower. Spotlight began to fear the worst. If Disco Ball did not recover his high spirits, he might be taken down and put away. He might never shine again.
She spoke to Air Vent who was the most reliable of her friends.
“We must do something. This cannot go on.”
“I have been thinking the same thing,” he said. “It is very simple. Disco Ball must dance. Or he will die.”
“But how?” she asked despairingly.
“We must work together. When friends work together there is nothing they cannot do.”
And so they resolved that Disco Ball must dance, someway, somehow. Air Vent designed and manufactured a cushion of the sort that was used by police departments when someone threatened to throw themselves off of a high building. For this purpose, he relied on the advice of several highly experienced Hollywood stunt coordinators who were moved by the story of a disco ball who wished to dance. Air Vent came to believe that despite its reputation as a community of selfish narcissists, Hollywood people were actually kind and generous.
Speaker and Confetti Cannon were tasked with obtaining a cutting device that would allow them to sever the heavy cable that attached Disco Ball to Motor, the mechanism that spun him around and around but from whom we were unable to obtain the life rights for purposes of telling this story which is why he has not been mentioned until now.
Speaker and Confetti Cannon failed to find a tool that would do the task. They were bickering about who was to blame when Neon Cocaine Nose unexpectedly interjected, “I can do it. Leave it to me.”
Spotlight, with her nurturing manner, teased out the tale. It turned out that before Neon Cocaine Nose was the Toast of the Town he had been simple “Nose,” a welder from Bayonne, New Jersey. As a welder, acetylene cutting torches were one of the many tools he had mastered and so, while Confetti Cannon created a diversion, he stole one from a nearby construction site.
As all of these preparation were going on, Disco Ball’s state of mind continued to deteriorate. His friends were in a race against time. As he wobbled from side to side, Spotlight began to worry that he had become mentally unstable, as well.
Finally, they could wait no longer.
As luck would have it, it was New Year’s Eve, which, in this particular year, fell on a Saturday. The disco’s owner, Parvez, had made the unprecedented gesture of coming upstairs and strolling out onto Catwalk to tell the entire team what a great job they were doing and how much he valued their effort.
As Midnight approached, Disco Ball became more and more listless. Instead of building excitement, he was draining it from the crowd. No one could tell exactly what was wrong but everyone could tell that something was wrong.
The countdown began. Spotlight nodded to Air Vent who flipped the switch to inflate the large air bag. Catwalk moved Cocaine Nose into position and he began to cut the cord which attached Disco Ball to the latticework of pipes that suspended the lights and other devices over the heads of the dancers.
Disco Ball, sunk in a funk of despond, remained oblivious to what was happening even after Motor, in a panic, began to spin him frantically. Speaker, seeing this, called out a warning. “Come on! Come on!” he urged, leaving out the next part of the song about how it was Friday night and Sia needed to put her makeup on.
Disco Ball began to slow further. He was coming to a stop. Spotlight moved anxiously back and forth attempting to compensate for his lack of movement.
“…7…6…5…” the people chanted. By the time they got to midnight, Disco Ball would be completely stationary. At the biggest moment of the year, possibly the biggest moment of his life, his stars would sit frozen in place illuminating the shocked faces of the dancers who had come to expect something very different from Disco Ball.
The sparks were flying from Neon Cocaine Nose’s cutting torch. Would he make it in time? They all held their breath, even Air Vent, which caused the overpowering scent of poppers to waft across the dance floor, increasing the sense of nervous excitement.
At the very last moment, the last strand of the steel cable came apart and Disco Ball, by now nearly comatose, plummeted toward the ground. As she watched him fall, Spotlight thought about the many things could still go wrong. The Hollywood air cushion could prove inadequate. Or Disco Ball could miss it completely and be dashed to pieces on the parquet. He could strike a dancer on the head or even become lodged on a dancer’s head. While some might find this image funny – a dancer staggering around with a disco ball enveloping his head – to Spotlight it was no joke.
“…1…Happy New Year!”
With a loud “Puh!” sound, Disco Ball hit the cushion, right in the center. An EDM remix of Guy Lombardo’s recording of “Auld Lang Syne” began to play as Disco Ball rolled off and out onto the dance floor. At first, no one moved except for a few dancers who stood aside to clear a path for the slowly rolling disco ball.
The friends were at a loss. They had successfully delivered Disco Ball to the floor but how could they help him dance? Spotlight was seized with inspiration. “Listen to me!” she cried. “Speaker, I need a drop to end all drops. Confetti Cannon, Coke Nose, you guys do your thing!”
Spotlight trained her beam on the slowly rolling ball and a myriad tiny stars popped into being. She jiggled back and forth in time to the music making them dance. As the song approached the drop, Speaker turned the volume up all the way shaking the entire building to the throbbing beat. Confetti cannon fired again and again while Neon Cocaine Nose descended and began blinking his lights in a pattern that made it appear that a neon line of cocaine was actually being inhaled into his sinuses.
The effect was immediate. No one had ever seen anything like it. A dancer, afterwards no one could say exactly who, tentatively rolled Disco Ball in a new direction by pushing him with his (or her?) foot. Then someone else rolled him back. In a flash, Disco Ball was moving and whirling so fast that it became hard for Spotlight to follow him. Soon someone picked him up and began passing him through the throng. Someone tossed him gently to someone else. Someone rolled him across the floor at high speed. A girl held him in her outstretched arms and spun around and around. Then she planted a big wet kiss on his silvery surface.
Sheer joy radiated from Disco Ball. His stars had never shone brighter or moved in a livelier fashion.
Their plan had worked!
Disco Ball was dancing!
But there was one more surprise in store for the evening. All of a sudden, without any warning, gallons of water began to pour from the ceiling onto the gyrating dancers below.
Sprinkler Head had joined the party!