“What kind of jackass launches a beach ball in a Franz Ferdinand crowd?”

When the first beach ball took flight over the thousands of fans (and malingerers) gathered to see FF at the Austin City Limits Music Festival last weekend, I was both surprised and disappointed. Jimmy Buffet seems like a good beach ball concert. So does Jimmy Cliff. Or Jimmy Swim and the Beach Ball Bunch. But not Franz Ferdinand, a group of Scotsman so thin and wan they look like dimly charged fluorescent tubes flickering onstage. But the first rule of Festival Concerts is this: once a crowd exceeds 70,000 people, EVERY show becomes a Jimmy Buffet show. This means you’re going to have to live with beach balls and beer cozies. And you’re going to have to live with shirtless dudes in bucket caps and pookah necklaces, doing that weird, dodge-dodge jackrabbit dance they teach you at Phish Concert Orientation Weekend.

So there it bounced, through “Auf Acshe” and “Jacqueline,” making its way from the tight swell of under-twenties crowding hard against the stage, and back to the less dense throngs of (older) people more prone to heatstroke in the park’s shadeless 95 degree weather. As the beach ball floated within 20 feet of me, I began to strip away my own initial reaction to its presence and see only the subtext of my complaint, which was, “Oh dear God please do not hit that fucking beach ball to me.”

While I’m perfectly capable of gently tapping a beach ball into the air – I’ve a Masters Degree to prove it – my performance anxiety mounts in direct proportion to the number of witnesses for the event. (see “How to Make Mistakes in Public” for a further discussion on this matter.) I was sure the beach ball would at some point reach a bouncing frenzy and the shirtless masses would begin counting out its consecutive bounces like they were God’s miracles – “67…68…69 (“tee hee!”)…70″ – and, which each successive bounce the crowd’s pitch would grow wilder and wilder, until only dogs would be able to count along. Soon, the beach ball would reach me and, with sweat cascading off every ridge of my body and dual cool rivulets of perspiration sneaking through the hair on my legs, on their way to the lips of my sneakers, I would raise a hand to swat the ball and one of the following things would happen:

  • I would swing and miss the ball completely, letting it fall to the ground.
  • I would swing, miss, and snag a fingernail across the cornea of the most beautiful girl at the concert, blinding her instantly and turning her into a misshapen monster. She would find herself unable to cope with a leading a life this way, no longer capable of using her tremendous beauty as a crutch for social anxiety. She would later throw herself into Austin’s lake and then Jack Johnson would write a song about her.
  • I would swing, make contact, and the ball would instantly burst in mid-air, its pieces floating down like butterfly wings, and everyone would go home disappointed, knowing that if it weren’t for me, we could have made it to at least 200 bounces before Franz Ferdinand’s encore.
  • I would swing, make contact, and send the ball on its way. However, right after my swing, someone in the crowd would yell out, “Nice hit, queerbait,” and all 80,000 people at the Austin City Limits Music Festival would laugh, including the drummer from Franz Ferdinand. (this would fuck up the tempo during “Michael” for just a second, which would cause someone to punch me in the face for “fucking up my bootleg, dick.”]

It was because of this concern that I cannot tell you a single song FF played during the second half of their set, as I spent the entire time watching the beach ball, worrying, practicing a swing in my head, and cursing those jackasses who set it loose at a Franz Ferdinand concert.

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