Planet Waves | Bones Where Hearts Used to Be







by christopher grosso

illustration by michelle waters

And I dreamed I saw the bomber jet planes
Flying shotgun in the sky
They were turning into butterflies
Above our nation

-Joni Mitchell, 'Woodstock', 1970

Freddie called me up late on a Sunday night 10 years ago when Neptune and Uranus were slow-dancing backwards through Capricorn, holding each other tight at 18 degrees in the moment's 9th House.

"Gross . . . Feel like goin' for a ride?"


"Atlantic City."

"Right now?"


We made sound paintings together in a secular rock n roll cult named:



(pronounced: The Schwä Sownd). Our motto was "We Kill You." This was before my decision to make no compromises in which death plays a role, even kidding around.

"Uh . . . Yeah, I guess. How you goin'?" He didn't have a car; neither did I. We had guitars. And broken down motorsackles, as my grandmother called them.

"I rented one. C'mon, I'll pick you up. Gitchure guitar."

The Cold War was declared "over" and its chill transferred to a "new world order" declared to take its place. A jury in Los Angeles had been deliberating the fate of Rodney King's uniformed assailants for four straight days, and they would go on for a couple more. I stuffed a backpack with two tee shirts, two pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks and two pairs of jeans with two holes in the knees, and the two of us drove the night to New Jersey.

As the sun rose before us the morning light revealed a shantytown all around, highrise casinos towering beyond, sucking the neighborhood dry of its tax dollars, contrasting the secret American split labor market there before our eyes. We drove through a dump onward past some Trump monument to Trump, and found a cheap motel to set up camp from where we could catch the salt spray of witless boredom, walking around the boardwalk strumming into the Atlantic, fingers frozen, empty out-of-season spaces, day dragging on until nightfall when it started to rain.

Out the motel window into the cold rainy neon glare I watched two whores on the corner, faces painted, string-strap pocketbooks. I swigged from a bottle of bourbon, passed it over to Fred who was fingering out chords I had never heard before. He set his guitar down, swallowed some booze; the room stank, like cheap motel rooms do and Freddie bobbed his head like he does, looks like a bird.

"[sigh] . . . Wanna go to Vegas?"

Next morning we turned around facing West and began shuffling along with Poseidon and Prometheus in the clandestine dance of the unforeseen voyage into distant and exotic North American wastelands. Starting off as we did through the wasteland known as Atlantic City I felt ill in my stomach, backtracking through the dilapidated neighborhood next to the casinos, sensing something was unfair: piles of money and pretense right back there, and piles of trash, rubble and human debris right here; just move some of that wealth there over here, and everything will balance out. Twenty-six hundred miles away and a few hours later, Libra would be rising on Los Angeles, with an asteroid named Tisiphone conjunct the Sun in the 8th house of the moment that would come to be known as the LA Riots.

Tisiphone is one of the Three Furies, or Erinyes. She's the sister associated with avenging for spilled kindred blood. For the more mathematically inclined, her equation might be represented thus:

56 steel baton blows
+ 6 kicks
÷ 4 pinkish police officers cheered on by their supervisors
=> 11 skull fractures, brain & kidney damage
x 1 brown man
+ "Not Guilty"
x South Central Los Angeles

The moment the verdict was read, about 3:15 pm Pacific, the Virgin was on the rise, Vesta and Jupiter rising along with her, and Mars was squaring all three of them. Mercury was conjunct Juno in Aries. The Sun and Tisiphone were square Saturn and Chiron. Less than two hours after the verdict came down the Sisters were out in force, and they be fuckin' SOMEbody UP.

But back in time and space in our East Coast moment, the Bull was ascending the Jersey Shore, Mars was trine-and Saturn squaring-Pluto and Chiron. Mercury was square the Neptune-Uranus eclipse.


Traveling cross-country with a buddy, or a lover (or a stranger, for that matter) is something of a rite (not to be confused with "right") of passage, if you do it properly, which means blindly, spontaneously and with the high degree of uncertainty that you glean from less money than you need to get back to where you started. There's something to be said for the great (and lesser) hobos of America. And Zimmerman about said it all.

. . . Which is-as far as I can tell-that it has less to do with seeing America than with seeing America. The transformation that results is all about you, about your eyes and your vision and what it was and what it becomes, how it's redeemed (thought-again), and nothing about where you are or where you're going.

It's less about being a part of America than giving up the part you played. Parts cease to exist-discrete "things" dissolve into the whole -- as you become the process, the event itself. You are an "event" because you are not the same person you were the mile before, but have changed exponentially with each one passing; a funny little trick Buddha does with spacetime.

It's the same for criminals who go on multi-state crime sprees.

My partner-in-crime liked to have a bag of sunflower seeds on hand, the kind with the shells still on, cracking them between his crooked teeth, spitting the shells out the window as we drove. Fred nudged me from the driver's seat to get my attention, mumbled something that sounded like

"Turn around and watch the car behind us."

I turned around to watch the car behind us, and heard Freddie spit hard into the wind. Half a minute later the windshield wipers on the next car back activated, slapping something off its windshield. I looked at Freddie, who was looking at me laughing, head swinging side-to-side; covers his uneven teeth with his tongue when he laughs. It was his last mouthful of sunflower seeds so we pulled off the highway to find a grocery store to get some more, while I watched through the back window to make sure the guy with the windshield wipers wasn't following us.

He wasn't.

On the sidewalk outside the shopping center was a table set up by an Army recruiter. We were approaching from across the parking lot when Freddie whispered to me, "Gross, talk to this guy. Act like you're interested."

"Get outta here."

"C'mon. I wanna try something. Go 'head."

My friends were mercurial; masters of unsettlement, catalysts for creativity in a world of people who saw us as deviants. But we sensed that our presence served to force the people with whom we came in contact to think more creatively, if only subconsciously.

And besides, it was fun.

The table was neatly organized with uniform stacks of Army brochures and bumperstickers laid out in a fan. The recruiter, a nice enough feller, struck up a conversation immediately, asking had I ever considered a career in the armed forces. Never for a second had I considered it because I saw first hand the iron bands it wrapped around my father's heart and felt the frost wafting from his mind, and peered into the bottomless coal pits of his angry eyes. He thought he could raise me as a Marine Corps POW. But not me, brother. I'm a coward. I don't believe in war. Not unless you strap a bass guitar on me maybe for the battle of the bands.

"Well, yes, as a matter of fact I've been considering it for as far back as I can remember," I lied. Fred was standing off to the side so the recruiter engaged me, ignoring him altogether.

He went on to explain to me all the benefits that derive from military service: discipline, trade skills training, marketability, self-respect. They'll even pay for my education.

After listening congenially for a while, I looked for an out. "Would I have to get my hair cut?" I asked, grabbing a strand of my dirty stringy hair.

"Um . . . 'fraid so . . ."

"Well, I can't just . . ."

"C'mon, let's go," Freddie interrupted. "We gotta get back on the road."

"Alright . . . Sir, I'll just . . . I'll call the local recruiting office when I get home."

"Okay, boys. Okay. Take it easy. Have a safe trip." Nice enough feller.

Fred got his sunflower seeds, threw me the keys and we got back on the road.

Rolling into Kansas I remembered a friend from college who told me to look her up if I was ever out west. Janine was teaching at a Navajo school on a reservation somewhere near Zuni, New Mexico, under a government program that picked up her education note in exchange. Good ol' America.

I looked over to ask Fred to get my wallet out of the glove box, her number was in there somewhere, and I noticed he had a stack of "Be All You Can Be" bumperstickers. He was cutting off 2 inches from the ends with a penknife.

He opened the glove box, threw me my wallet, and took a black magic marker and drew a crude, cartoonish dog bone on one of the blank square stickers. He looked at his work.

Satisfied, he began mass producing them.

"What are you doing?" I asked him, the jokerman.

"You'll see." He was grinning.

I called Janine on a truck stop pay phone and got directions to her place in New Mexico. Pine Hill. Way out there, a hundred miles from Gallup, thirty miles from the nearest gas station and trading post. Wasn't even on the map. We'd stop there on the way back from Vegas and stay a few days. Probably need to, given what little cash we had.

"Rooms in Vegas are cheap," Freddie told me. "So is food. Prime rib for a buck and a half. It's the tables where they gitcha." He had been there the summer before, working construction with his old man. We figured we could stay two days in a motel, then sleep on Lake Mead before we headed to the reservation.

"It's gorgeous on the lake," he told me.

We kept rollin', through Colorado and into some remote region of Utah. It was late, I was tired of driving and I pulled over at an overlook, and stretched out on the hood while Fred slept in the back seat. There was zero glare because we were many miles from any town or city, and I just lay against the windshield gazing at oceans of oceans of stars and planets and clusters and galaxies, and felt myself immersed in them, swimming, never having seen a night firmament with such little space between the lights. But you know the feeling: Peace in wonderment.

There are People still here who knew it before us, who live it, understand it. And love it so dearly.

The North Node of the Moon was rising through Sagittarius, and Luna was at right angle to Jupiter as he stationed direct. An asteroid named Navajo was at 20 degrees Gemini, the same degree occupied by Mars in the U.S. natal chart, and the venue for the total solar eclipse of June 10th, this year.

At the time of this writing in 2002, asteroid Hopi is exact to the Uranus-Neptune conjunction of '92: 18 degrees Capricorn.


We didn't hear about the verdict in the police brutality trial until we were settled in our Los Vegas motel room because we didn't listen to the radio during the entire drive; we listened to tapes: Exile On Main Street and Goat's Head Soup; Hunky Dory; Nashville Skyline; T. Rex. We had picked up a good Muddy Waters tape at a truck stop somewhere in Missouri. And Fred brought along this tape of trucker music, Red Sovine or something.

"Big wheels/Rollin', rollin
Smoke stacks/Blowin', blowin . . ."

Silliest damn thing I ever heard. Next morning, roll into Vegas, and we noticed the heightened security forces everywhere around. We found out that some minor rioting had spilled over into town, but no major damage; nothing like what was going on one desert and a mountain range away. We watched on the bolted-down television LA smoldering and a continuous tape loop of Jesus, dressed all in white, being pulled from his rig and beaten nearly to death in the street. Four brown people, watching at home on their television sets, got up, went out and rescued the bloody Jesus.

We got up and went down to the casino, where they bring you free Bloody Marys. I had never had a Bloody Mary before. Tangy buggers. Celery stalks.

Fred ended up winning $170.00 at the Blackjack table, and I went looking for a pawn shop to sell my guitar, they're everywhere. But Fred stopped me.

"You're not gonna do that, you hobo. I got you covered. We'll get back, don't worry. Drink another Bloody Mary."

At some point Fred decided he was at the juncture of diminishing returns, and we both were sick of the Vegas hype, so we pointed ourselves in the direction of Lake Mead and Janine's on the rez. But before we hit the city limits, Fred made me pull over in a shopping center parking lot.

"What -- you gettin' more sunflower seeds?"

I hadn't even stopped the car when he jumped out and soft-shoed it over toward a parked Chrysler LeBaron, looking like a thief trying not to be seen.

Now, I think it's good and helpful to understand that not all Jesus's pearls made it into the Bible. And since there's not a swine among us, here's one for you: The reason that thieves steal things, he told two of his best disciples, is because they are trying to protect people. That is, psychologically, it's a "possession" issue, which derives two tiers: 1) an attempt to possess another person, i.e., a lover, which typically ends in disaster of one kind or another and which, in extreme cases, results in sex crimes; or 2) an attempt to possess another person's stuff, also risky but usually far less catastrophic in its outcome. In effect, the thief chooses the one of the two that's easier on everyone involved, thus earning some measure of our gratitude.

Come to think of it, seems we'd be much better off with thieves running The Church.

"What the hell is he doing over there?" I asked the dashboard . . .

"Fred was squatting down at the rear bumper of the LeBaron, upon which was affixed a bumpersticker that looked something like this:

Freddie stood up, looked around and quickly returned to the car, revealing a bone where the heart used to be.


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