March 4, 2008: International Transdimensional Raccoon Day
Witnesses who were present at that little speakeasy in Bismark, North Dakota, swear that when Toots Mondello and Herman Hildebrand founded the International Order of Friendly Sons of the Raccoons on March 4, 1907, neither of them were consciously aware of the significance of the date, or much of anything else, for that matter. But March 4th is the only date of the year that is simultaneously a command, a duty, and a rallying cry that encompasses the Coon credo: March Forth into the vertical with noble tails entwined, ye mighty little beasts! Woooooo!
Of course, at first -- and to be honest, ever since -- the yearly cooniversary of our founding was mainly an occasion to hoist a few (and if the stories about brothers Herman and Toots are more than apocryphal, "stagger forth" was perhaps more accurate than "march forth"). This is why tonight at "beer o'clock," all dues-paying adult Raccoons everywhere in the world will raise the spirit of their choice (the "shot glazarus ceremony") and repeat the sacred coontra, Fingers to fingers, thumbs to thumbs, watch out below, here she comes.
Subsequent generations of slightly less libationary Coons came to appreciate the bi-cosmic synchronicity of the date, especially after bylaw, sec. 2 was changed to require a public school diploma for membership. Before that, none of the members had heard of the word "synchronicity."
"Where have we been"? Where are we going"? "Does Gladys look pissed"? These are not just idle questions that Toots posed in the early morning hours of March 5, 1907. Think of how much things have changed in just 100 years. Today he would have mumbled those questions in the back of a squad car instead of a paddy wagon. He would have been fined and given community service instead of being released into the custody of a none-too-pleased Gladys waving that formidable rolling pin. Wasn't that punishment enough? Have we become a crueler society? Or was the greater cruelty being married to Gladys? That was certainly Toots' view.
When we prophylactically reflect upon a century of unadulterated Coonery, we first notice the many things that have changed, including more liberal divorce laws that might have given Toots a chance at coonjugal fulfillment. Perhaps not, for whereas Herman was the more coontemplative "much loved disciple," Toots -- like his latter day servant, Cousin Dupree -- was always the more headstrong, fire-breathing Ovangelist, what with his frequent "celestial fits." Both temperaments were required to accomplish the divine mission, for the "church of Herman" and the "church of Toots" are ultimately one, as we all know.
And since "Raccoon nature" is eternal and unchanging, it is equally striking that the nature of the anti-Coon adversary is also unchanging. For example, the headline of the March 4, 1908 Los Angeles Daily Mirror histrionically warns of false prophets and phony cults, in such a way that it could cause people to indiscriminately lump them together with the benign cult of Raccoons -- the only cult, I might add, that "has no members." Toots always said that if a cult ever formed around him, he would be the first to quit, which he did many times. Thus, to this day, no one can "join" the Transdimensional Order of the Friendly Sons & Daughters of the Cosmic Raccoons, they can only be kicked out -- which sets us apart from Islam, which everyone is compelled to join and no one is free to leave.
Anyway, the sensational headline from 100 years ago:
WHIPPED HIS WOMEN SLAVES
Head of Free Love Cult Ruled Like Czar
Only Divorced Men and Single Women Admitted
Affinities Furnished for Cash Consideration
"A revelation of a strange cult -- one more weird and unusual than that of Jacob Bielhart of the 'Spirit Fruit' fame, more insidious than that of the prophet who conducted his 'heaven' with its corp of 'angels' in Englewood, and more ritualistic than the cult of Mazdamen, which flourishes among Chicago sun worshippers -- was made in Judge Walker's court. Lola P. Sadony asked for a divorce from 'Professor' J.A. Sadony, founder and 'chief' of the cult known as the 'Society of Psychological Science,' or the 'Institute of Mental and Athletic Development.' She attacked her husband in a sensational bill.
"The story of the wife was of a 'healer by hands,' who has gathered together a cult of admirers who worship him under the title of 'Chief,' take his orders as imperative, bow down to his 'chief disciples,' and give him money they obtain by toil and sacrifice....
"Sadony would go into a trance and tell wives to leave their husbands, and husbands to leave their wives. The women were directed to cleave to the pundit and give him all their earnings.... Sadony had a throne in the attic of the house on Winthrop Avenue, where seances were held [and he] went into trances while reclining on a gilded chair upholstered in red plush....
"Seventy-five dollars a week was considered a fair estimate of the prophet's income. Every time he wanted money he would 'throw a fit' and make his wants known. No more than thirteen, including the high priest, were ever permitted to belong to the queer sect. Witness said they had to give practically all their earnings to Sadony, and didn't have enough to buy clothes. However, clothes were not considered essential at the colony."
Yes, there are some superficial similarities -- the seances in the red plush chair, the mandate to "cleave to Petey," the sale of indulgences, the clothing-optional credo -- but to tar the Merry Cult of Raccoons with the same lurid brush is to... get tar all over us.
But today, of all days, is not one for looking back with bitterness. Rather, it is a day for Marching Forth with.... with unbitterness, which I believe was one of the rejected early mottos -- not because we don't believe it, but because nothing rhymes with "unbitterness." The closest thing was "critterness," which some of our southern brothers favored, but gave the fight song too regional a vernacular. In a compromise, the final version of our marching song became,
In the West and in the East
There’s a mighty little beast
For courage there is no other.
When the chips are all at stake
We are proud to call him brother.
So with our noble tails entwined
And a spirit strong of mind
We'll have hearts that cannot melt.
In the forest, in the trees
On the land or seven seas
We're brothers under the pelt
It was felt that there was no need to specifically commemorate our founding by referencing "marching forth" in the marching song, since, after all, it is a "marching song," and no one marches backwards except for progressives. "March forth." It's what we do -- in word and in deed -- but always with "tails entwined." With or without clothing.
Obviously, in his wildest beer-fueled Coon-vision reveries, Toots could not have foreseen the technological wonders of the present age, in which initiates from all over the world could coongregate in their underwear and entwine their tails in cyberspace. I just checked out my site meter, and it shows me that at this moment (7:03AM) there are Coons (or possibly anti-Coons) in ten different countries besides the U.S., including the UK (Beaglehole?), Germany ("das Kulturcoons"), Canada ("Coonucks"), Australia ("Koongaroos"), Netherlands ("Vikoons"), Korea ("Coonfucians"), Saudi Arabia ("soon to be late Coon") and "Unknown Country (probably just some other place outside the U.S. such as Manhattan or Berkeley).
When you think about it, this is remarkable, since my book has not yet been translated into most of these languages. My publisher has informed me that, in order for that to happen, they want me to first translate it into english. They've always been very supportive like that.
A while back we kicked around the question of whether Paul chose God or was chosen by Him, and I think we all agreed that the latter was the case. Even if he had wanted to, Paul could never have chosen, much less designed and implemented, his mission. Most people who "want" to become prophets or gurus or spiritual teachers are driven by impure motives, since it is always out of one's hands anyway. These gifts are graces from heaven, not self-willed, and God generally chooses unlikely vehicles just to emphasize the centrality of grace (although it is certainly necessary to align our will with the grace, which is where free will does come into play).
It was the same coonundrum with Toots and Herman. Did they "choose" Coonhood? Or were they merely instruments of higher forces? Knowing what we know about the early lives of Toots and Herman, I don't think anyone could make a case for the former. Coon lore euphemistically refers to the "boyish peccadilloes" and "legal entanglements" of their youth, but for one thing, since when is a 35 year-old man a "youth," and since when is a state penitentiary a "reform school?" But let's not nitpick on the one day we should all be enjoying a picnic.
Please, I do not stand here today in judgment of the character of our founders, which speaks for itself, at least since those "lost" documents were discovered through the Freedom of Information Act. No, I think we have to be honest with ourselves, and realize that none of us deserves to be called "Coon" -- although we must never stop trying to earn the title, and we must always pay the $2 monthly dues.
For as Toots whispered in his dying breath before sloughing off the pelt, "Why do you call me Coon? There is no Coon but the Grand High Exhalted Mystic Ruler."
And Petey's term isn't up until sunset on March 4, 2012, when we name our new Exalted Ruler during the grand mystic ceremony of the Nocturnal O-mission.
Words to reflect upon and coontemplate on this sacred day. So March Forth and go vertical, young Coon!
From the hallowed streets of Greenpernt,
To the shores of Sheepshead Bay,
From the Verrazano Narrows,
To Canarsie across the way...
We have come together, one and all,
In fellowship to commune,
And to glorify the Grand Exalted
Brotherhood of Raccoons.