1998 Arizona Banking Report

It was the Disco Ball that did it. How foolish I was to believe that I could just casually observe it without being drawn into the spells it can cast.

It was the 24th., and I was at the Dinner Circle for the first time. Mink was carrying the Disco Ball around the circle as it dangled on a string attached to a stick, while he held the Magic Hat in his other hand. I started listening to his oral routine, following him outside the circle as he walked. After several steps, I heard Gypsy Tripper's booming bass voice from behind saying, "Butterfly Bill, you want to help me count this?" Help him I then did, and in the course of a few questions found out that no records had been kept of the Hat's transactions at all - and somebody had to do it, and there was nobody else at the time - and before I realized what was happening, I was on the BANK COUNCIL. Well, Robbie Gordon giggled when I told him what happened, but there was no turning back now - this was the cross I had to bear for the Family this Gathering, so there was nothing to do but pick myself up, dust myself off, say a solemn "oh shit", and press on.

Actually, it wasn't at all for me the hassle that others have depicted. This was the second time I had banked for a Gathering - the first time was under the tutelage of Robbie, and he had left me with enough confidence (or temerity) to do it. I was also soon blessed with the help of two other people to join me - Marken (of Info, from Oregon) and Whitney (of Kiddie Village, from Hawaii) - either of whom could join with me quite effectively in presenting a show of firm moral resolution when anyone else started making some questionable demands. I usually had both of them on my side. I've seldom had so little trouble finding agreement with two other people.

Probably the only thing that could be called a drag was committing myself to show up every evening at Main Circle, with all of its usual polemics and confusion. Every evening Gypsy, Mink, and I stood off to the side of the speaking circle and waited until the feeding had begun. While standing just outside the perimeter of the mob around the feather, I absolutely couldn't understand anything being said, and we would grumble among ourselves asking about how long the orators would be going on. There was a multitude of counter-conversations going on all around, and frequently drumming going on at the same time over by the trees on the other side of the meadow. I'm sorry, but there is no way any focus will ever be achieved at Dinner Circle until some kind of sound amplification is accepted.

It sometimes took 15 to 20 minutes for the people to be herded into the eating configuration of two concentric circles. When the serving finally began, Mink would go one way with the Disco Ball, and I would go the other playing this real cute little dumbek drum that was 6 inches long and had a head 4 inches in diameter. I donned the best items from my wardrobe for the occasion. Musicians would appear spontaneously to accompany me, as would people to carry the hat. (Diamond Dave insisted on it three times.) Sometimes we would have somebody's children to carry it, and those were some of the times we got the most collected. Each group would go completely around the circle, meeting each other halfway around, passing the potential contributors twice.

After the Hats had been passed, Gypsy accompanied Mink and us three out to the middle of the circle, where we spread a cloth on the ground and counted the money - according to tradition, the reasoning being when we're out in front of everybody, anybody can see if any of it goes into our own pockets. One person would count the tens, another the twenties, and so on - each reporting to me the amounts which I would add up with a calculator. I recorded the results in my book. We counted the bills only, letting the change accumulate without spending it - until July 7th when we finally counted it and used it for cleanup.

Gypsy (who had become the Main Supply ogre) would then hold the money from the dinner Hat, since he was the one who was going to be spending most of it the next day in town - while Marken held the money from the Hat bucket that sat at Information. He gave out all the money for non-food transactions. I kept the records, and otherwise touched the money only when we were counting it. This counting session we started calling the official meeting of the Bank Council, and I started telling everyone who had requests to go there. There was an early complaint that there were no sisters in the circle, so we asked any who were interested to join - and a few did a few times (Turtle, Sparrow (who posts to this group), and two first timers named Heather and Tanya.) We let anyone who was interested join in the meetings, and sometimes we had as many as ten people in the circle - but it was Gypsy and us three who kept coming consistently until the end of the Gathering.

The environment was often noisy with talking and drums, and frequently getting dark enough for flashlights, and I thought for a while of suggesting a better one - but soon decided that it put on us an urgency that discouraged long convoluted discussions. We usually were motivated to sort out quickly what was relevant and not, and the council was seldom longer than twenty minutes.

The council had a few demands made of it that were material for controversy, but nothing really serious. Most decisions went remarkably smoothly.

One sister had spent some money for cardboard and aluminum foil for solar ovens. She came to our council wanting a little reimbursement. She was a little nervous, and she brought several receipts from store to prove that she had indeed spent the money as she said. It was the most carefully documented request we had. Then it turned out she wanted only 20 bucks. Marken and Whitney took no time agreeing on the merits of solar ovens and consensed to granting her request. She said after it was over, "That wasn't anywhere near as hard as I thought it would be."

Another evening another sister came around asking for money to reimburse a CALM worker who had been buying supplies for years, with no compensation. She launched into a long eulogy about how hard a worker he was, how he was really dedicated, how he was maybe getting a little burned out doing so much with so little support - repeating herself in the manner of a council speaker trying to convert you to a cause by saying it enough times. After a few minutes I interrupted her and asked how many dollars, and she said 400. This was still June, so we wound up telling her we would have to wait until at least July 7th before we would know if we could afford that much. (She never came back.)

Yet another evening a brother came around, asking for permission to set up a "Homelands Council Magic Hat". I told him he could ask for contributions for anything he wanted, without needing our permission, as long as he didn't call it the Magic Hat. He could call it (Adjective) Magic Hat, but just Magic Hat we wanted to reserve for the one that was supporting Main Supply, so people would know that was what they were giving to. Then he wanted to put his hat in Information, and that threatened to turn into a discussion lasting a long time. Marken (who also was with Info) thought there were getting to be too many begging cans around Info, diluting the incomes of each other. I suggested that this was now an Info issue, and not one for the bank. Nobody protested this, and nobody said there was any more bank business, so I adjourned myself out of the meeting and left them to argue, while most of the others left, too.

A more controversial thing we did was to give the contents of one day's Info hat, $125, to Whitney to go to Kinko's to print up some copies of some documents brought by Miles, a Cheyenne Indian who had about 2000 acres of land that he wanted to give to the Rainbow Family for occupation and use. (Ask someone on the Homelands council to tell you more). Whitney also thought it would be a good idea to print up some color copies of a beautiful book about foreign gatherings that had been brought. Printing this book turned out to be more expensive than he thought. A few days later Sailor stopped me in the middle of the trail to give me a blast about why are we taking family money to print "political stuff". Why, he had to print the Rap 107's out of his own pocket! I told him to come to a bank meeting and ask for some reimbursement, but he walked away saying he couldn't find us the other night. He never came to a bank meeting thereafter.

The biggest controversy was John Buffalo asking us for money to buy batteries for all the radios that the Shanti-Sena people were carrying. He said they'd need "about a hundred dollars a day". Some or the radios were using 8 AA cells at a time. There was a long discussion about rechargeable batteries and solar power, but we had to accept in the end that any reworking of their technology would have to wait until the next gathering. They eventually got over $700 from us (but that came to only 6 percent of our total income.)

Wade of Carnivore Kitchen was asking me if "there might be, by any chance, anything left over for a stipend upon leaving" for him and his kitchen. Plunker supported him, asking me personally to put in some good words for him. Then I found out that no good words could make up for the feelings of some of the sisters about Wade. It seemed that he had gotten into some arguments and incidents last year with some women. I didn't press the issue any more when I had gotten an earful from one sister after suggesting it. He came around on the 9th to hear me tell him there was barely enough for cleanup, (I didn't mention the other reason), he believed me, and somehow we got into a conversation about surfing.

Another person wanted $500 to take some people to a Gathering in Russia, but we were also saved from having to decide by our poverty. Garrick Beck was hoping to get back the almost $600 he had spent on cellular phone calls arranging the finding and transferring of the man who had been wanted by the police for some real felonies (that's another story that's been discussed on this group) He was placated with a few plastic jugs of change.

On the 9th, Turtle came to me in the early afternoon asking for travel money for two elder women who were very popular as storytellers and counselors, Margarita, the Mexican woman who was always speaking in Spanish with an interpreter, and Crow Dog, a Navajo woman. There was pressure for an immediate decision because they were both leaving that day. She was asking for only $50 apiece for them, and I figured this amount would make a nice precedent, so we sought out Whitney and Marken and got consensus, and gave the two their money. These were the only two to get travel money while I was still there.

Looking back, I'm thinking we might have had more trouble if we had had more money to deal with. As it was, we could only give money to things that everyone agreed was needed, and everybody seemed to realize that fast.

The amount of money collected before June 24th. was not recorded, but it was enough to cover $631 of expenses. From June 24th until July 7th, when Magic Hat collections were ended, the Hat brought in a total of $14,477.35. 70%, or $10,111.28, came from the Dinner Circle. $4,366.07 came from the bucket at Information, and other sources.

$10,324 was spent on food, 82% of total payments. The next largest outlay was for radio batteries, $726, or 6%. Propane expenses were only 303, or 3%. (tangent: Oh I just LOVED those fire ban days, when I didn't have to dodge smoke everywhere I went. My eyes were dry, my clothes didn't smell like bacon, I wasn't roasting on one side and freezing on the other while making music. Just think - we CAN break our dependence on wood! We could have a gathering in the Cimarron Natl. Grassland in Kansas. Think of the new possibilities!) $2455 was left on the morning of July 10 for cleanup.

Tucson Cooperative Warehouse did $4,757 worth of business with the Family. Superstition Ranch Market of Wagon Wheel AZ sold us $2944 worth of fruits and vegetables, Silver Creek Mill $1289 worth of flour, Show Low Shell $320 worth of propane. The Safeway in Pine Top got $505 off of us. The local Wal-Mart $364. I'd say the local economy benefited at least a little bit from our presence.

Some have estimated 20,000 people at the Gathering. If this is true, then everyone gave an average of 72 cents. You might say, "What a miracle it is that all those people are fed for 72 cents each!", but this is obviously not the case. Many kitchens passed their own can and got their own supplies, notably Kiddy Village and all the Krishna kitchens. Many kitchens came with their own supplies. Gypsy told me that a few kitchens gave him capital outlays in the hundreds of dollars to make his first supply runs. The Purple Gang paid for $900 of fruit to be passed out on the 4th. Many new people brought their own food and propane stoves, and never went to kitchens. There was the black market called Trading Circle. The Magic Hat-Main Supplykitchen machine provided for perhaps only a minority of the gatherers.

What can be done to bring in more money to the Hat? I'd say the most effective thing would be: speed up Main Circle, cut the oratory, get all the food out at the same time - so people are still in a good mood when the Hat comes by, so potential donors don't walk away in disgust before the Hat even gets to them. There's no substitute for this. As long as dinner circle is halfass and inefficient, it will be hard to get more contributions.

And in closing, I want to make my confession now, so I don't have to worry about it later. Thruout the course of this Gathering, while spending every evening literally drumming up money from our prosperous and generous Family, I did not put even one cent of my own money into the Magic Hat (even tho I came to this gathering shitting in higher cotton financially than I ever have before). But somehow, I didn't feel too guilty about it.