Raccoon Stories
By Peter M. Zoernig

Chapter Five

In Which Raccoon And General Junk Go To Jail


I have been reminded by the recent trials and tribulations of a certain errant heiress, of another unforgettable adventure that I had with Raccoon in 1985, prior to the Missouri Rainbow Gathering. We were on a dumpster diving expedition to Springfield, Missouri, noted among garbologists for its spectacular assemblage of refuse containers brimming over with delightful comestibles to be had for the taking by anyone with the prerequisite intestinal fortitude to get their dinner from a garbage can. The first time I hit a dumpster with Raccoon, (whose name was still Hunter in those days) we got one moldy onion, the year before in Iron Mountain, Michigan, on the occasion of our meeting. Springfield was a much more productive environment for the serious dumpster diver, and serious we were. We had assembled a team of noted experts in the field from the attendees at the Rainbow Seed Camp for the occasion. Wanderin' Willy, Hop-a-long Tom, Dirty Dan, myself (General Junk), and Raccoon had been camping for three weeks without particularly tending to the sanitary ablutions taken for granted among most city dwellers... after two weeks, one’s olfactory system adjusts to the reality of human odors as they naturally develop when modern plumbing is unavailable. As the purpose of our visit to “Babylon” (as Rainbow folks refer to any city they may chance to visit) was to dig in the garbage, it seemed unnecessary to get all fancied up, so we went ahead and hit all the major grocery store dumpsters in Springfield, MO wearing the same clothes we’d been wearing out in the woods for several weeks. Wandering Willy’s modesty was only preserved by a tangle of crusty threads, as his jeans had developed extensive ventilation especially towards his backside. Raccoon had a rawhide rough-stitched poncho and feathers woven into his hair, I was wearing a vest made out of an antique American flag, Dirty Dan had long straight hair down to his ass and a mean look in his eye, and Hop-along Tom was deeply sunburned, totally covered with biker tattoos, and he had had a brain injury that left one side of his body partly limp, so he “hopped along.”


All together, we looked like a fairly disrespectable bunch, though we were up to nothing more sinister than recycling garbage. We had a pick-up truck full of scuffed watermelons, dented but still fresh, loaves of bread, and a good load of other perfectly serviceable foodstuffs when it was starting to get dark so we called it a day and we were heading out of town when Wanderin' Willy wanted to hit the McDonald's dumpster to supply his “Dog Kitchen” at The Rainbow Gathering. Actually a brilliant idea, as dogs are often neglected at The Gathering, and will form packs that can tear through a supply tent and totally ruin the day at a Rainbow camp. Wandering Willy had organized a dog kitchen to be sure somebody was looking after the dogs before they raided supply.


We pulled into the parking lot next door to McDonald's, and before I shut off the engine and exited the vehicle, I noticed a police vehicle behind me blocking me in. I got out and went up to the police car to ask what the problem was. We were not drinking, nobody was doing anything illegal, I was licensed and insured, and it didn’t occur to me that we were in any trouble. “I’ll have to see your ID’s,” said Officer S.E. Allen, (I will never forget that fat little Hitler mustached twit’s name) and the shakedown began. He ran all our ID’s and there were no wants or warrants on anybody. The owners of the fruit market parking lot we were parked in came down and declared that none of the contents of the truck was stolen from their business. For a couple hours they had brilliant spotlights lighting up the open parking lot, four cop cars with the lights flashing the whole time, a very thorough search of my pickup and all of us was conducted, and just when I thought they would let us go and we’d have a good laugh about it, a paddy wagon showed up and they hauled us off to jail. I had never been arrested before, and in my naiveté, I thought that we would be able to explain to somebody that no crime had been committed and of course they should let us go, but shortly after we got to the jail, I found out it was a holiday weekend, meaning our first chance to explain anything to anybody would be on Tuesday morning. This was Friday evening.


Without much say in the matter anyway, we all decided to be somewhat good-natured about the whole thing. I was assigned a cell with Dirty Dan, and the first thing he did when we got locked in was he pulled out his dentures. Dirty Dan was 25 years old, and I wasn't expecting the toothless grin, but he explained that he'd been in a fight or two or three over the years, and that he hadn’t necessarily won all of them. Dirty Dan’s first words upon our being locked in were, “What kind of bird doesn’t fly?” I dunno... what kind of bird doesn’t fly? “A jailbird.. har har har!!!” I could have done worse for cell-mates, but Dirty Dan loved the fact that I was a “virgin” where incarceration was involved, and he made it his mission to educate me on a few things. We had one pack of cigarettes and half a book of matches. Dirty Dan showed me how to split the matches in two and get two lights out of one match.


On the other hand, in the morning, I was awakened by the sound of loud smacking lips and I found him finishing off what appeared to be my breakfast, (a half cup of slightly orange colored room temperature water and a still half frozen microwaved sausage and egg biscuit.) If you should find yourself a guest of the constabulary, don’t overlook the possibility that your cell-mate might steal your breakfast if you should chance to be sleeping when the jailer shoves it through the slot in the steel door. Dirty Dan had actually stashed my breakfast under the bunk, and I am happy to note that I have not had occasion since then to utilize those valuable lessons he taught me there in The Springfield City Jail.


Raccoon was next door locked up with Wanderin' Willy, while Hop-a-long Tom was cell-mates with a stranger. We played chess somehow, I recall, using pieces made of paper. He had his and I had mine, and we yelled out the moves. We had sing-a-longs and Wanderin' Willy surprised us with baritone harmony. We had the whole jail singing “Amazing Grace.” But I guarantee you, it gets old fast being in jail, by the third day when they finally took us before a judge I was not particularly amused anymore. The jail was not a nice place at all, the sink and toilet were one fixture, and the single faucet gave slightly warm water for twelve hours, and room temperature water the other twelve hours. It smelled like it had never been cleaned in years. There was no TV, no radio, no reading material. Nothing. A trustee, on the third day, gave me a stack of Zane Gray westerns, and I found myself in a powerful position as other inmates negotiated for a book, slinging cigarettes and pieces of candy, matches, whatever, over to me in exchange for me slinging a book I’d already read over to them.


I was still naive enough to think that we would get the chance to explain to reasonable people that no crime had been committed, and that people don’t get arrested and locked up, just for not bathing recently, in America. When we got to the courtroom, after three days in jail, we were in a long line of people, all of them nicely dressed, and some of them with their lawyers, while we still hadn’t been invited to bathe by our blue-suited hosts at The City Jail. The cases were being handled quite efficiently with ten or fifteen folks ahead of us, each getting 30 seconds or so of the judge’s time. When our turn came the judge scarcely glanced at us, and started talking to the prosecutor. Wanderin' Willy stood up tall and pointed a finger straight up in the air, with his pants seat almost nonexistent, and only the filthy remains of his underpants shielding his butt-cheeks from the tender eyes of the persons in attendance in the Courtroom. “We demand a trial with a jury of our peers!” announced Wanderin' Willy, in a forceful voice that caught the attention of all present, including the bailiff, who had mutton-chop sideburns and resembled Winston Churchill. The Bailiff cut him off with a still louder and more forceful voice, “SILENCE!! OR YOU WILL BE HELD IN CONTEMPT OF COURT!!” he thundered, and Wanderin' Willie shrugged and shuffled his feet resignedly.


The judge, not amused, gave us a contemptuous look and announced “Trial August 30th, bail set at $200.” The gavel banged down loudly. This was in mid-June, meaning that between us we were required to cough up $1000 then and there, or be led back to jail, presumably to be held for almost three months awaiting trial for the alleged crime of “trespassing.” Just then Hop-along Tom had to get in his two cents worth, muttering aloud “We just got fucked!” Just as the bailiff prepared to render his opinion of that, the shocked silence of the courtroom was treated to a well-timed addendum, as Hop-along added ruefully, “NO GREASE!” To the sound of a fair amount of not very well suppressed laughter in the courtroom, the judge disgustedly waved us off to be led back to our cells, and the bailiff looked truly horrified that we were not all further charged with contempt.


Back in the jail, the cops allowed me to make a phone call to my bank to have some money wired in to get myself and Raccoon out of jail. I was only very casually acquainted with the other members of our entourage and fairly certain that none of them would be in attendance at our trial, so I was disinterested in posting bail for the whole crew. They let us rot in jail for one more day while they held the position that someone had to actually come and bail us out, they were not obliged to drive me to the bank to get my money. Knowing I had the cash waiting at the bank, they insisted that somehow we had to have a family member or a friend drive to Springfield from hundreds of miles away, or make some kind of arrangement with a bondsman, which was not possible either, as I had no credit card or local connections. I even called the ACLU and they offered no assistance.


Finally, on the next day I discovered a nasty ulcer on my leg, which had developed from sleeping on a hard iron cot not quite long enough to stretch out, with my leg hanging off the side. (Like Hop-along Tom, I have a disability, my own from a spinal cord injury that left my legs partially numb and paralyzed.) I actually stuck my gamey leg out the slot of the cell door where they put the food trays in, and kept it there with my open draining wound in their face, demanding that they release me or they would be liable for denying medical care. They released me within the hour, and even gave me a ride to the bank, though they insisted it was above and beyond their responsibility. “We are not a taxi service,” they said. I bailed Raccoon and myself out, and they let me leave a carton of cigarettes and a box of matches for Wanderin' Willy, Hop-along Tom, and Dirty Dan. When I retrieved my pick-up truck, almost all of the food was rotted, and naturally we were eager to just get out of town and back to the Gathering.


They released the others the next day on their own recognizance, provided that they pled guilty to trespassing and promised to pay a $250 fine within 30 days. Ha! As I learned later, Hop-along actually stayed in Missouri after that, as did I, and he got it all cleared up one way or another. But the others just left the state as far as I know, and may still be wanted criminals in Missouri based on completely false charges for which there was virtually no evidence.


Raccoon and I showed up for our “trial,” with photographs of the “crime scene” proving that it was not only devoid of any “No trespassing” signs, but that it was also a completely open public parking lot. Also in attendance were the owners of the fruit market, who had apparently followed the case and had come down to testify on our behalf. The police did not bother to show up to testify at all. Based on the clearly written statute which specifies that trespassing consists of entering a fenced in area that is posted “No trespassing,” as well as the testimony of the fruit market owners, the prosecutor declined to present a case, stating that there was no evidence to present and that she was baffled as to why we had been detained and charged in the first place. The charges were dismissed; they actually apologized for our trouble and gave me the bond money back. I had always said that if I ever got tossed in jail I wanted it to be something utterly ridiculous just like that, as generally speaking I am a law abiding citizen and have a healthy respect for the law and law enforcement. I got my wish; I’ll never forget my “prison experience” (as my father called it thereafter.) I wish I had taken a picture of Raccoon wearing the white suit Bessie had bought him for the occasion, but suffice to say that in those days Raccoon cleaned up well and presented a very dashing picture in the courtroom, in contrast to the decrepit appearance we all offered on the occasion of our arraignment.


The real moral of the story is very simple - during daylight hours, Raccoon and I had been interviewed many times by the police all across the country, from Virginia to California, and numerous points in between, as we hit the dumpster. Never had any of these close encounters of the cop kind led to any trouble whatsoever, they always checked our IDs and let us go on our merry way. Dumpster divers are therefore strongly advised to limit their garbological expeditions to daylight hours. I am certain that if we’d closed down the operation before dark, the police would have ignored us. It also goes to show that while most cops and prosecutors are good sensible people, all it takes is one prick like Officer S.E. Allen to take a disliking to you for you to end up in jail for a long weekend and facing a similar problem with spurious trumped up charges. So just lay low after dark, if you are doing anything to draw attention to yourself, however innocent it may be, the police are likely to hassle you and they might just haul you in. Raccoon himself, who wrote the book on garbology as a lifestyle, added this little rule to his canon after our experience in Springfield, MO: “Stay out of the dumpster after dark!”