No, I don't know what it means. “The season of the witch” — neatly printed in white chalk on the wall opposite Fifth at Market. This is the wall of graffiti that first gave us “Ecology — The Last Fad,” a chilling piece of writing. And “Support the blind — they're out of sight.” Not an obscenity to be seen. Just general nastiness, such as “Happiness is a new governor.”
Religion is very much with us here on the scorched and steamy side of Everybody's Favorite City. “Praise Jesus, praise Jesus,” chanted the old black man in his sackcloth robes. He is wearing a wooden sandwich board on which is written, “America, come back to God.” On sidewalk newsstands wooden plaques implore, “Don't go to Hell's fire, Jesus loves you.” “You are entering wino country,” reads a chalked inscription on the sidewalk. The old black lady with the Aunt Jemima kerchief is huddled on the stone steps, covering herself with newspapers. Shivering in the heat. There is enough irony there to make you shiver with her, for she is on the steps of the United States mint, sick and penniless.
The wailing wall. You stand there in the smoggy air and go on reading it, dizzy in a miasma of patchouli oil, sweat and poverty. “You think police are bad? — try calling a hippie,” somebody has chalked. The meaning has changed: Somebody has inserted the word “one” after “calling.” Okay, try calling one a hippie. “Rock's Grass is Beat Grass,” reads another inscription. I don't dig it. Is the grass good or bad? In black letters he has written, “For a cop not to be aggressive is fatal to you and others. Think a minute.”
Out there in the middle of the street the new folk heroes, the hard hats, are lounging on their equipment. They look relaxed and should. Their jobs will go on forever. They demonstrate their virility by making loud cracks at passing girls in tight pants. The Silent Majority has found its voice, but the girls look straight ahead, pretending not to hear.
Back at the wall I read the white chalked words: “Herb Cain” — sic-sic-sick — “is still over there and I know that the paranoia exist between him and that funny paper.” Yeah. “It's all part of the total experience.”
Oh, there are stirring sights to see if you don't get mugged, slugged, bugged or jugged. At Fifth and Mission, the cap is off the fire hydrant and water gushes into the gutter alongside the Pickwick Hotel's trees that are dying for lack of it. The newsboy with the ratchet voice crouches in his wooden stand listening to blaring rock music as his headlines go unsung — headlines that tell of the death of kings and the triumphs of Herr Kissinger.
You sidle along the wall past the pale young girls carrying pale babies who look older than their mothers. Two young beards fall into a conversation. “Hey, how you fixed for grass?” “Depends. You buyin' or sellin'?” “I'm selling, man.” “Well, so am I.” They split. Around the corner the flower stand with its corsages wrapped in foil looks as dated as the gambler who stopped to buy one for his henna-headed girl. A better looking girl whispers coarsely: “How about a little fun, baby?” But the Adam's apple gives him away. In front of Bank of America at No.1 Powell, the sweet faced lady so proper in her neat gray coat and hat is selling 'Awake' and 'The Watchtower.' I've seen her for years. I've never seen her sell one. But she goes on smiling blankly at a world she can't possibly understand.
“The Season of the Witch,” it says there on the wall. I don't understand it, but it makes sense.