Raccoon Stories

By Peter M. Zoernig


Chapter Two


How I Became “General Junk”



In 1984 on an early dumpster run to Redding during the seed-camp phase of the 1984 California Rainbow Gathering my 1978 Chevy pickup truck, equipped with a brand-new topper, was getting too cluttered to have room for additional dumpster goodies without being reorganized. Hunter had only recently decided that he was from thenceforth to be known as Raccoon. Hunter was woodsy enough of a name to suit him, with his rawhide leather poncho and feathers, but the Raccoon moniker somehow fit instantly, without replacing Hunter. He didn’t mind being called Hunter, particularly, but after that he would always refer to himself as Raccoon. He had decided that I needed a “Rainbow” name, which I thought was unnecessary and possibly too undignified for a recent college graduate such as myself. For a while he called me “Chameleon” on the theory that I tended to blend in naturally regardless of what society I was keeping, whether that was a bunch of tramps at the Rainbow gathering or a bunch of over-edumacated artsy-fartsy shitheads like myself. This did not stick. For a while he was trying out a new name every time he addressed me, which I shrugged off as more bizarre Raccoon street theatre.


On this occasion, I was more concerned with keeping my tire iron and jack separate from forty gallons of Top Ramen noodles and a half barrel full of sugar candy, (more properly referred to as “zu-zus” in the Rainbow vernacular) and making room for more comestibles to be gathered from the bountiful California dumpsters. So, we acquired a nice assortment of sturdy cardboard boxes, and unloaded the entire contents of the vehicle in the parking lot of a grocery store.


“Put bread in this box, fruit in this box, vegetables in this box, tipi supplies over here, tools over there and this box will be for general junk.” I said, not knowing the impact that these words would have on the rest of my life.


“That’s it!!!! That’s it!!!!! General Junk!!!!!!!! You’re General Junk!!!” I was sorting broccoli from rope and vise grips, not sure why Raccoon was so excited, but he was jumping up and down hooting and hollering “General Junk!!!!” Raccoon was positively ecstatic, and I had to admit, the name suited me to a t. I was fairly new at hitting grocery store dumpsters, but I had been a scrounge from way back. Even my father, a businessman with his suit and tie, would pick over an interesting collection of garbage, and my mother used to drive home from church through the alleys to see what treasures we might find. From that day on, I became “General Junk” whether I liked it or not. The name stuck, it stuck like dumpster juice on an over-ripe tomato.


Back at the gathering, I was surprised and a little unnerved at how quickly the “General Junk” persona acquired a life of its own. My style was not nearly as flamboyant as Raccoon; I did not weave feathers into my hair or participate in Rainbow politics. But our campsite was one of the very first to appear on the actual site of the California 1984 gathering. When we got back from our dumpster run the seed camp had disappeared. At the new site, there was a drunk Indian named Jesse guarding the trail head, and Raccoon was determined to sneak all of our food through. The usual custom, it seems was to deliver all bulk food to central supply, where it would be apportioned according to some pre-determined agenda, and Raccoon had another agenda, a kitchen supplied solely from the dumpster, and completely separate from Supply and their procedures. It was necessary, it seems, to keep everybody happy, and when we got to the roadblock, I let Raccoon do the talking.


While I had no issue with eating food that was taken from the garbage, my criteria was still pretty much the same as it would be for food under any other circumstances, if it was a dented can, or a partly squished loaf of bread, no problem, but questionable meat products have always been where I draw the line. Nevertheless Raccoon had plopped on top of everything else an entire side of beef, only one end of which was not looking too good, the other end of which was actually still almost frozen when we got to the gathering. It was this item that Raccoon used to bribe the gate security into letting us on through, and we took off up the mountainside, driving until we could drive no further because the road was blocked by an old 1950’s panel wagon stuck in the snow. I managed to get the pickup off the road into a little nook, and we crashed for the evening in the vehicle. In the morning, there was no difficulty in choosing a campsite, as the snow was still covering everything except one small area at the head of the trail. A group of four people were there in a tipi, Carolyn, Marilyn, and Zip. They had a 12 year old kid named Billy with them, and an old dog. We set up our tipi on the other side of the thawed area, literally with the snow still partly in the tipi, where we buried lots of dumpster vegetables, bread, and some goodies we had actually purchased.


There was an incredible view of Hat Mountain in the distance, and an open bowl shaped meadow that looked fairly modest at first glance, with some rocks here and there. But in actuality it was a half days hike out to the ridge, which looked way down to a big lake. Those rocks turned out to be huge boulders when you got up to them, taller than a person. The next day a group of Deadheads calling themselves the Solar Gypsies showed up, surprised to see two tipis already up. They moved on down the hill and set up their kitchen, and Raccoon built a shelter for our kitchen which he dubbed “The Pilot’s Lounge For Spaceship Earth.” Over the next 6 weeks, our little group of a few grew into something like 25,000 people filling that meadow, by which time our seed-camp dumpster kitchen had been appropriated by Swami Mommy, (legendary Rainbow garbage guru who started the Rainbow concept of seven categories of garbage for the seven colors of the rainbow) for her tea house which at that time was a Rainbow staple. Swami Mommy named the trail head “General Junk Pass” and her garbage station, possibly one of the most essential links in the very loose Rainbow infrastructure, was that year called “General Junction.” So without particularly doing anything other than showing up, I ascended to the hierarchy of Rainbow characters of the 1984 Gathering, and almost everybody there knew about “General Junk.” That’s what it was like to be in proximity to Raccoon… ordinary life was suspended, and everyday reality was an adventure full of twists so offbeat that you couldn’t make up a story that could rival it. The music that occurred in that tipi at that gathering was magical; there is something about a fire, and something more about a fire inside a tipi at the Gathering, and something about Raccoon and his music that makes those memories truly beautiful.


Occasionally I meet a person who is getting on in years, already starting to slow down, and there is a sad tired look in their eyes. A conversation will reveal that that person feels an emptiness and a regret at having poured all their youthful vitality into a meaningless job, a bad marriage, a boring life. They had an ok life, but the high moments were watching a movie about somebody else’s adventures. They got up, went to work, went home, watched TV, got old and crusty without much of anything happening to them , and now they’re just sitting around waiting to die. When I got out of college, I decided I was not going to be one of those people- I was going to go out into the world and have my own adventures. I can’t believe that was over twenty years ago. I can’t believe that Raccoon is dead, but I will always look back on those times as the best possible way a person could ever spend their early adult years… just tearing around having the times of our lives. Raccoon told me over and over again that he would die young, and I just passed it off as part of his eccentricity. Now that his story is complete, I feel privileged to have been a part of that story, and partly thanks to Raccoon, I will never, ever be one of those sad, tired people. I guess he won’t either. Who knows what the future will bring, but whatever may come, I have memories I wouldn’t trade for anything. Thanks again Raccoon!