Somewhere in South Dakota. Neon Jesus is the best Jesus.


The motel manager was unnervingly chipper when I checked in, a shine in his eye that could have been religion or drugs. Now he’s walking the perimeter of the parking lot at midnight, staring straight ahead and making perfect ninety-degree turns. I close the blinds. I think about praying but I don’t know how. Instead I fall asleep thinking about the origin of the word hotel until I become convinced it is a portmanteau of home and tele. A distant home.

In the morning, billboards along Interstate 90 tell me that God owes us nothing, love is an action verb, and the key to forgiveness was hung on the cross. I drive with the windows down, thinking about forgiveness and my fifth grade teacher. I wanted to play the saxophone but she said my hands were too small. She made me play the violin and I was terrible. At our Christmas recital, she told me to just pretend my bow was touching the strings.

The towns in South Dakota have solid names like Reliance, Interior, and Alliance. A sign near a rest area says several hundred victims of smallpox are buried nearby. Inside the travel plaza, giant flatscreens teach us the history of random celebrities. (Julianne Moore’s maiden name was Smith.) I wander the parking lot looking for the rental car, exchanging intense looks with a woman wearing a sweater that says “I’m not bossy, I just get everything I want.” I stare at the electrified gates of golf courses named after slain tribes. I speed past a dozen military planes propped up on concrete blocks like offerings to the machine gods.

Each night in 2020, I wrote a short post for a series called Notes From the End of a World because I wanted to etch these days into my memory. Before the world changed completely.
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