Comfest 2010

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.

Dr. Lincoln Goodale gets his Comfest on,
and is more “stoned” than anyone there!

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:

I know I used this line on Facebook, but I was proud
of it, so I’ll use it again: “I thought it was ‘Erin Go
Bragh,’ not ‘Erin, go bra-less!'”

When it was 11 p.m., Scott and I both wondered if there was going to be an announcement to “Proceed to the nearest exit in an orderly fashion, the park is now closed!” coming from the police.  There wasn’t.  The beer booths staggered (if you’ll pardon the expression) their closing times, so people would gradually leave, and so police and Comfest security could monitor fewer areas where people were leaving drunk.  (I don’t know what time they stopped selling beer tokens.)
Scott and I were never told to leave.  Both of us were sober, and not causing any trouble, so the police and Comfest personnel never said anything.  We walked around the park, talked to people, and stopped to rest at the stone tables and benches in the park.  Several groups of teenagers sat under trees in different sections of the park, most of them under the influence.  (Scott was pushing a two-wheel grocery cart, and one of the guys in the aforementioned groups was totally convinced he was pushing a stroller.)  I think if you were sober and not causing any problem, they weren’t in a hurry to shoo you out of the park.
Yesterday was sunny and warm, and the bands, poetry readings, vendors’ tables, and drum circles were in full swing.  One family played badminton, and I marveled at their ability to find enough square feet of vacant green space to accomplish this.  Unlike Pride Weekend, I saw no one foolhardy enough to swan dive into the pond, although many people (most of them teenagers) sat at the edge dangling their feet in the water.
One woman (who would only tell me her name was Z) would be quite upset if they ever pulled the plug on Comfest.  She is pregnant with her third child, and has plans for this one to be a Comfest habitué.  She advertised her intentions on her belly:
The little voice balloon pointing to the
baby says, “Party in the belly.”  The
face of Comfest Future.

There were minor emergencies all over the park all weekend.  An emergency squad truck stood by at all times, and a fully manned first-aid station was open for the duration.  The only time I saw anyone needing medical attention was when I saw a guy huddled on the ground with his girlfriend bending over him, looking very concerned.  My first thought was that he had just fallen asleep on the ground, like many other people did wherever they could find enough shade.  As it turned out, he had been chugging beer almost nonstop and hadn’t thought to keep himself hydrated.  When you have access to beer, who wants a no-fun liquid like water, right?  Two police officers managed to bring him around.  I don’t think they had the squad take him to the OSU Medical Center.  They probably told him to lay off the beer and start drinking lots of water (and maybe Gatorade to get his electrolytes where they belong).  He’s probably paying dearly for this today.
Most of the police were on foot, occasionally you saw one on a bicycle.  The Comfest safety personnel moved around the park on golf carts, many of them (especially after dark) with the care and respect for others’ safety exhibited by kamikaze pilots.  (I saw more than one person driving golf carts while holding cups of beer.  That makes me turn a jaundiced eye at the official statements about not driving home from Comfest if you’ve overindulged.)
Comfest after dark, Saturday night.
Soon after nightfall, I felt intermittent raindrops here and there, but no steady downpour.  The sky still looked relatively clear, even though the park was briefly illuminated by a lightning flash once in awhile, none of them followed by thunder.
Saturday’s activities officially ended at 10 p.m., and the bands (especially the Bozo Stage–the main one) ended their sets no later than 9:45.  This was fortunate, because they had turned off all their microphones and equipment by the time the thunderstorm and downpour hit, almost at the stroke of 10.  People first began to move under trees, but that meant risking a lightning strike.  The little shelters and makeshift canopies became very popular very quickly.  I waited with several others under several of them, waiting until a break came in the rain and then dashing to another shelter just ahead of the next cloudburst, until it was dry enough for me to make my way to High Street and catch a bus back to Clintonville and home.
Waiting for a break in the rain and thunder.

Two religious groups were quite prominent at Comfest this year, and they struck me as wonderful people.  One was Ekklesia, a small non-denominational house of worship whose main church is a small property on Buttles Ave.  Their beliefs are distinctly Trinitarian, but their mission is to those who have been ignored, vilified, or marginalized by more mainline evangelical denominations.  I have walked past their church several times, and knew they were good people when they hung a Lenny Bruce quotation in their front window: “Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.”  Recently, I stumbled on a YouTube video about their outreach to my erstwhile neighborhood, Franklinton.  The video, Bringing Faith to Franklinton, is linked here.  Ekklesia also generously gave away Frisbees, cold bottles of water, Sierra Mist, and Faygo, as well as bumper stickers.  I have no bumper, but I took home one that said, When Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” I think he probably meant don’t kill them, which my friend Jacques sports on the bumper of his car.  (I’ve wondered if the Gideons should be allowed to hand out New Testaments on military bases.  If the soldiers starting reading them, there’d be desertions en masse.)

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:

The Comfest theme this year was “Live every day the Comfest way.”  That would be murder on many peoples’ livers, but I understand the applaud the overall idea of such a slogan.
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Not Much Sleep, But Plenty of Pride

Another one of those weekends that is so crammed with activity that I almost feel like I’m going back to work to relax.  I spent much of the weekend in Goodale Park, taking in the sights and sounds of Pride Weekend.  It was almost an unofficial precursor to ComFest, which is next weekend at the same site.  (Until recently, these events coincided, but they now occur separate weekends.)

Scott and I went down Friday night, when the festivities were just starting.  We perused the food booths, the art booths, and the political ones (not just gay rights issues, but Stonewall Democrats, pro-choice groups, repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Libertarian Party, etc.), and the many, many vendors.  I entered a raffle for a trip for two to Florida (unless you hear otherwise, readers, I did not win).  I did win a book, Kings in Their Castles, from TLA on Demand (“We put the HARD in hardcore VOD”) when I spun a prize wheel.

Spinning the wheel to win a copy of Kings in
Their Castles.
Progressive Insurance’s booth featured a unique way of attracting people.  They handed out small cards with the Progressive logo (Flo the Progressive Girl was not there in person, I’m sorry to say), and the women at the table wrote risqué slogans on them and laid them out on the table so you could pick out the one you liked, or you could make your own.  Two of my favorites are below:
Too much glare on the Progressive badge, but hers
reads YES, THEY’RE REAL.

No double entendre, no blatantly political message:
I LIKE EVERYONE.  She’s just keeping it simple.

And, lastly, my own.  I opted for safe.

The Pride theme this year was Family, and I had been lukewarm about whether or not to participate, until I received some email from volunteers at Find-A-Grave.  They provided me with a picture of the tombstone of my aunt, Mary Anne Evans, who died in 1980, aged 49, and is buried at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Wheeling.  Aunt Mary Anne was a lesbian, although the word was never used in our family.  She and her life partner, Lois, lived together in the small house on Third Street in Marietta that had been ours until I was six years old.  I did a Google search on Lois and found out she died this past New Year’s Eve in an assisted living facility in Wheeling.  I looked at her obituary online from The Wheeling News-Register, and there was no mention of Aunt Mary Anne preceding her in death.  They are buried in the same cemetery, but not together.
Aunt Mary Anne and Lois were happier together than a lot of heterosexual couples I knew, especially my parents.  Lois was, I believe, the first adult I was allowed to call by first name, rather than Mr. or Mrs. Someone, and that was a big deal to me as a kindergartener.  I never thought twice about the fact that they shared a bed.
The same was true of Owen Hawley, a longtime colleague of my dad’s at Marietta College.  My dad told me when I was very young that he lived with another man, the same way someone else would live with a wife or a husband.  His partner, Ralph Schroeder, died in 1976, and Owen Hawley died in 2006.  They are, like my dad and stepmother, buried in Mound Cemetery, along with many Revolutionary War soldiers and the early political and religious leaders of Marietta.  I am not sure, but they may be the first gay couple to be buried there:
They’re hard to see, but there are ankhs engraved
at the top of their tombstones.

I slept too late to march with First UU in the Pride Parade, although I scrambled downtown by bus in time to take some pictures of the parade as it turned off High Street onto Buttles and into the park itself.  I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around, talking to people and taking pictures.  Around 5, I went back north on the bus so Susie and I could have dinner at Burger King and then head to Olympic Swim and Racquet to see Alice in Wonderland once the sun went down.  (It was the one with Mia Wasikowska and Johnny Depp, but Susie spent most of the time in the pool rather than watching it.)
The Weather Channel icon on my main menu was flashing “Heat Alert!” all weekend, and vendors were charging outrageous prices for bottled water.  Two women were so desperate to escape the heat that they stripped down to bras and panties and dove into Goodale Park’s pond, which is always green (and not from reflecting the grass’ color).  I saw several teenagers (boys and girls) do this at ComFest one year, and I shuddered at the thought of the algae, the trash, the broken glass, and the other objects that lie beneath its surface.  (The fact that the bottom isn’t clearly visible is a red flag that you shouldn’t be in there.)  Yet, they were undeterred:
She was prudent enough to dive in there with mouth closed.
After she gets dressed, her next stop should be the booth
where they were giving out free hepatitis shots.