Raccoon Stories

By Peter M. Zoernig


Chapter Three


Respect The Bagel



In 1984 Raccoon and I were hanging around for a few weeks in San Francisco, prior to the Rainbow Gathering. Following our usual habits we frequented the local grocery store dumpsters, in our ongoing research project on the question of whether or not tons and tons of perfectly good food goes to waste in North America every day, while there is an epidemic of hunger in other parts of the world and even here at home. On this occasion we happened upon a cache of gourmet specialty items, very pricey fancy cheeses and croissants and bagels and such to go along with the cheeses. Going by the price tags, it was hundreds of dollars worth of food, and as we planned on experiencing San Francisco for a while before we headed back to the gathering seed camp, it made sense to share the feast, and load up again before heading home.


We set up at the end of Golden Gate Park, near a McDonalds with a liquor store across the street, and a big church bell tower. Behind us was the spot known as “Hippie Hill” where earlier in the day we’d jammed with a round headed Caucasian reggae musician who was wearing flowing white robes, and played a lengthy skittering beat G C D groove over which he sang simply the words “Jah Love Sunshine” to celebrate the wonderful clear blue sky, abundant sunshine and give the pretty girls something to dance to. This was part of the inspiration for the chorus of Raccoon’s song “Yahweh Sunshine.”


We set up the feast at the end of the park, just a block or two from Haight-Ashbury and people began to gather around. In no time the police showed up and informed us that we couldn’t sell food there in the park and that we must disperse. When we explained that we were not selling anything, the cops actually went back to their vehicle and radioed in to find out whether it was illegal to give away food in the park. One cop looked at me like I was up to some sort of nefarious antisocial conspiracy and said, “You mean you’re giving this stuff away for free?” He was looking at the price-tags and the conspicuously tres chic packaging, and the grubby assembly of street people, deadheads and random park wanderers digging in with gusto, and he shrugged his shoulders and left with a bagel and some peach flavored cream cheese that would’ve cost $4.75 at the deli that threw it out. He looked embarrassed to grab that snack, but it was lookin’ good and he must have been hungry. We followed our don’t ask don’t tell policy as to the dumpster origins of the snack he’d tried to arrest us for selling, and everybody was happy.


The event morphed into a Rainbow Family Council thanks to the proximity of several dozen people headed for the gathering. In the Rainbow family there is a Council tradition intended to keep some type of order in what could otherwise (and often does anyway) quickly dissolve into chaos, that tradition being that an eagle feather is held by the person who wishes to address the assembly, giving him or her the right to speak without being interrupted or drowned out by dissenters. When someone does inevitably end up being interrupted and talked over, there is a chorus of “respect the feather!” Given the shortage of eagle feathers, a turkey feather has been known to serve as a substitute. On this occasion, not even a pigeon feather was handy, so some resourceful sister proposed the use of a bagel as a substitute. On that day, passersby may have been puzzled to see a cluster of hippies on the hill arguing about who knows what, and hearing Raccoon yell out, “Respect the bagel!”