I’ve been noticing a stylized raccoon appearing in the city around me. It’s been more than a year since I first spotted them, maybe two years. In the beginning, I mainly saw tiny stencils spray-painted onto a wall or a curb, or at the Green Dragon on Belmont – on one of those wooden folding signs that businesses place on the sidewalk during open hours. The most astonishing find was a giant raccoon face on the side of a soaring red Petco balloon during a store event on Glisan Street. These days I see black and white stickers of a simple raccoon face.
The design is consistent and easily recognizable. There is something about the white eyes of the raccoon that stick with me.
The mystery fades every so often and I think I don’t care anymore till I see another one. Just that face, staring with ghost eyes right at me. Somehow not creepy, but absolutely compelling. What is it? What is it?
In my attempts to find out a back story of the raccoon, I asked many of the people in my life: “You know that raccoon that has been popping up everywhere? What’s up with that?”
I tried describing it, to no avail. When I told my daughter Tara about the one on the Petco balloon, she rolled her eyes. “Well, it’s obviously just a promotional thing from Petco,” she said. But there was no question of that. A person gets a sense of things, and you have to go with your sense because it’s often smarter than your brain. There was a message. And it was not corporate.
When a sticker showed up at my bus stop on Stark & 86th, I finally had something helpful. I took a photo with my phone and showed it to my daughter that evening. She had never seen one.
But didn’t I tell you it’s a remarkable design? One glimpse on a phone, and she could already pick it out. A month later she spotted one. We had turned off Burnside onto Thorburn St, and were waiting at a light. “Mom! It’s one of those raccoons!” I gave her my phone and she got a quick photo of the sticker on the road guard before the light changed.
I could end the post right there.
I could sum it all up with a happy paragraph on how much I love Portland and it’s eclectic inhabitants, a confession of my interest in tagging, or maybe a nod and a smirk to those of you in Portland who will now SEE this thing, because you can’t help it once it has been pointed out. But I am not very comfortable with mystery. I just want to know what’s going on.
Periodically I have scanned the Internet trying to find something else that refers to the raccoon. The first few times I found nothing. Maybe nothing was out there a year ago, or maybe I used the wrong search terms. Then I found a blog that cleared it all up, and the name of the artist, and artist’s Instagram page. I actually feel relief to see a dozen images of the raccoon on line. I’m not crazy. It is a thing.
The blogger is Katie, who wrote a three-part post titled No Schools, No Churches. She is one other person at least, who noticed the raccoons. She was motivated enough to get to the bottom of it. Katie’s explosion of questions was nearly identical to mine:
Why are you doing this? What does it mean? Where did the raccoon come from? How long have you been making stickers? Do you put them up by yourself or with other people? Do you make other kinds of art? Where did you grow up? Is it OK to peel stickers? How do you feel when the raccoon is torn down or scratched out? What has the reaction been? What are your goals for the raccoon? What’s the Portland sticker scene like?
The story is hers, of course, so read her post and see how she unraveled her mystery. She introduced me to the artist: Just1. His raccoon was inspired in part by Studio Ghibli – isn’t that perfect?! I am struck by how many invisible things link people together. (I am also inspired by the art in Studio Ghibli)
In answer to my question, and maybe yours, there is no call to action. No Great Message. But from what I can tell, there are a few deceptively quiet messages that are profound: pay attention and think about what’s going on. I haven’t talked to the artist, I don’t know anything about Portland Art except that I love it (examples: Heavy or Wall Art). But the raccoon IS a thing. And I guess I realize now that I made it a personal thing.
I envy Just1 for doing what I want to do with my art: get through the fog. I want to reach out to take the shoulders of people, shake gently till they notice, and say, “Hello.”
“Don’t sleep,” says the raccoon on the wall, in the latest discovery I made two weeks ago, as I gazed out the window of the #15 bus. It crystalizes the message for me. (Did you get my pun? hyuk!) Whenever I see the raccoon, I do wake up. My senses go on alert, I pay attention, I think. I’ve spent time with the raccoon; we have a relationship. I’ve pondered the meaning, looked for more raccoons, and searched the Internet, all because of a black and white face I can’t forget. The raccoon gave me something to talk about, some sleuthing to do, and a story to write.
From now on, when I see a new one, I’ll be grateful for the reminder to engage with my life while I am living it.