Don’t Sleep

This is the first raccoon of its kind I have seen in colour. Art near the intersection of Belmont and 60th.
This is the first raccoon of its kind I have seen in colour. Art and a message, near the intersection of Belmont and 60th.

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.

at  my bus stop
at my bus stop

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?”

“What raccoon?”

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.

on Thorburn Street
on Thorburn Street

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)

I took this photo of a furry dude in my back yard a couple months ago. Afterward I realized the flash caused the same white ghost eyes as the stencils and stickers. Is there a message in that, as well?
I took this photo of a furry dude in my back yard a couple months ago. Afterward I realized the flash caused the same white ghost eyes as the stencils and stickers. Is there a message in that, as well?

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.

12 thoughts on “Don’t Sleep

  1. This is so great! I’m glad you enjoyed my posts. It’s good to know that other people are paying attention. Once you start looking, there are raccoons everywhere… seriously.

    1. It’s a good message! It has been a private delight for me, each time I spot another one. On our way into a pizza parlour last week, I found a couple more on a sign post, and was able to point it out to my boyfriend, too. It makes me feel like a kid: discovering things that all the grownups walk past without seeing..

  2. my bf and I live on se 61st and Belmont, we have watched this raccoon face get tagged on the wall and then its repeatedly painted away, for years! fascinating! I love seeing the raccoon face when I least expect it. I heard that the raccoon is in color on that wall, I just got home from a major surgery and am unable to walk, so its awesome to see this photo!!

    1. Nancy I am just tickled that you had heard about the colorful raccoon, and got to see it, even though you aren’t up and about yet. Heal fast, be well, and keep an eye out for that fascinating raccoon face. I keep wanting to investigate other parts of the city, and see if it shows up as frequently in NoPo, say, or on the West side, you know?

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