Some people worry the American president won’t cede power if he loses the election this year, an observation that would have been unthinkable four years ago. Our president. I am embarrassed to write his name into this journal, a name that looks like an obscenity on the page. Maybe it’s because I thought we deserved a worthy villain.

Nine years ago I was sitting in a Waffle House when my telephone buzzed with a CNN news alert: White House has pix of #Osama bin Laden with open head wound, his burial at sea, scenes from raid. The face of mass murderer, hashtagged and hyperlinked next to the word “pix.” Then I saw a headline that said, “12 Pop Stars Tweet About the Death of Osama bin Laden.” Nine years later, and I still can’t get that phrase out of my head. It was a modern koan, a signpost of things to come. The trivial sits next to the catastrophic like never before, producing creatures like our president. I keep scrolling: American suicide rates continue to climb. Eight reasons why shampoo is a waste of money. Coronavirus death toll hits 812. Your pets might smother you while you sleep.

I remember racing against the sun to reach the Badlands before dark, but I didn’t make it because I kept pulling over to photograph little white churches that flashed like teeth. I visited a tractor museum and a family playhouse. I cruised the streets of a leafy little town whose name I’ve already forgotten. When I reached the edge of South Dakota, the Badlands lay out there unseen, crouching in the dark. That night I dreamt of Natalie Wood, leaping and yelling hit your lights on the edge of a cliff, her arms swinging through the headlights again and again, my mind looping the scene until it felt like a prophecy.

Dirty Beaches – True Blue

from Badlands | Zoo Music, 2011 | Bandcamp

From Alex Zhang Hungtai, Badlands is a perfect 26-minute record that soundtracked my drive across the Dakotas. “True Blue” loops the Ronettes into a beautiful blur of AM radio drums and desert twang that sounds like memory.