Rumors abounded about how Comfest ’10–the annual “Party With a Purpose” in Goodale Park–would be different this year, or whether it would even happen at all. During last year’s festival, an 18-year-old man stabbed himself to death (see Columbus Dispatch story posted here in the blog in a separate entry), and that cast a pall over the entire celebration. It was the first fatality at the festival since the first one (in 1972), and the Internet was humming with rumors that it would be cancelled, that Goodale Park would be swarming with police officers, and that the police officers would more rigidly enforce laws than before. (They’ve usually turned a blind eye, or issued friendly tsk-tsk-tsks, when they’ve encountered pot-smoking, in the past, but rumors abounded that police officers assigned to Goodale Park for the weekend were going to start kicking ass and taking names.)
I went Friday night, from about dusk until after midnight, and was in the park Saturday from early afternoon until the celebration officially ended at 10 p.m. (That was one difference that was blatant: A set ending time for bands, vending, etc. Even when these events ended in the past, there was usually something going on into the wee hours, including movies, where they’d show B movies–drive-in quality and below–on a bed sheet stretched between tree limbs.)
My friend Scott and I sampled the terrain Friday night. Goodale Park was wall to wall with people when we arrived about 8:30, and police were visible everywhere. They weren’t antagonistic toward the people at the festival, quite the opposite. They’d say “hello,” were helpful with questions, and went with the flow of (pedestrian) traffic, trying to blend in as much as their uniforms would allow.
The beer lines were many people deep, and the smell of Cannabis sativa (intimately familiar to anyone who went to Ohio U.) was almost anywhere you turned. The people were friendly, with “Happy Comfest!” greetings passing back and forth among strangers passing on walkways or on the grass. It was a warm night, so the welcome sight of topless women, many of them sporting elaborately and painstakingly painted breasts, was everywhere. I saw more topless women this weekend than at the Pride Festival last week.
The most memorable of these women would probably do quite well jumping out of a cake at an Ancient Order of Hibernians stag party. Independence Day is just around the corner, but she was decked out in the garb of St. Patrick’s Day:
The other group went around the festival, two young men and a woman, wearing cardboard signs around their necks that said “FREE HUGS–HFTR.” After taking advantage of the free hugs, I asked what HFTR meant. It stands for Hope for the Rejected, “a community of believers within the underground subculture.” My initial thought is to admire what they claim to be doing–sharing faith “through our friendships and exemplified by our actions,” but many destructive and faith-destroying religious cults began with generous invitations and love-bombing. Initial Googling hasn’t brought up any complaints or adverse anecdotes. They have not cut the horrible swath through families, relationships, and careers that the University Bible Fellowship considers a sacrament, no one is signing over all their worldly goods to HFTR, and no family has tried to “deprogram” a loved one involved in it. But all fringe religious groups will reach out especially to anyone who feels rejected, and a person who thinks he/she is drowning will reach for any rope extended, even if it’s going around his/her neck.
Here is the card they gave me: