State of the Arts: Texas

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Texas is an innovative state. It breeds originality. Perhaps because beneath that strutting cowboy persona lurks something that doesn’t quite fit in. We’re misfits. Texans, though they may hate the comparison, are really the new world French. The difference is that the French have had a millennium to hone, perfect and market their creative wares. Texas is behind by more than eight hundred years.

It is an interesting phenomenon how many creative people, no matter the area of
interest, one finds originating from Texas. Though this is by no means researched fact, I would bet my bottom dollar in saying that the Lone Star State has produced as many artists as any acknowledged state, maybe more. One may ask, “But what about New York and California?” True, there are far more exports from those two states, but their respective exports were initially an import from another place—many times Texas.

And this is the gist of my argument.

Even today, having taken the helm of advanced civilization, Texas still can’t seem to get it right with regards to nurturing its vast pool of creative souls. For to be an artist in Texas is to be an outcast. Does anyone see the irony here? But wait, it gets thicker. What am I getting at, you ask? Aren’t there plenty of great artists that call Texas home? Celebrities that the state honors with Apollonian laurels? My retort would be simply, “You are correct…but,”

These hoards of creative people had to leave the state in order to reach their potential. When, after success, they returned…of course they were greeted with open arms like the Prodigal Son. But they had to leave. That’s the point.

This seems insane given the fact that people are flocking to Austin in search of some kind of stardom, much like they have for nearly a hundred years to places like New York City, Los Angles and Nashville. But even with all its arty weirdness, the capitol city has yet to spawn a style beyond its country and western roots from the 1970s (a single exception being Texas Blues). As for the rest of the state, when it does export the arts, like say, post- Baby Boomer Texas Country, it’s weighted with mediocrity and is at best a footnote to something far better.

The reality is that Texas has never had the entertainment infrastructure to package and market its infinite talent. Why is that? Even our institutions of higher learning have little to offer. Particularly when juxtaposed with the universities of our elder siblings to the Southeast.

Having grown up in the state from a family thoroughly Texan in every regard, my conclusion is that for all our self-assuredness, Texans are blind to the arts out of lack of confidence. Someone from the outside must point to that which has merit. We need approval. The misfit prevails.

And the endless waves of invaders from the far reaches have yet to alter this truth.

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The 85th Texas Legislature: A Survivor’s Tale

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Texas Politics in a Nutshell-2

The 85th Texas Legislature plain sucked. That’s really the only way I can describe it. From someone who lived through it day in and day out, it’s one of those occurrences you wished you’d stayed home from. It’s one thing to be aware of things in the abstract but it is another to know of them first hand. And what do I know firsthand? That I am a meaningless pawn in a petty, vindictive game? My life has no significance; my work futile?

Pretty dark huh? I told you the session sucked. Now let’s touch on a few specifics.

It’s little secret to anyone that follows Texas politics that the state legislature is divided. The senate and the house despise each other, or rather the respective power structures do. What is not widely known is that the structure of a legislative session itself is partly to blame for this dysfunction. (I’ll address this in another segment—losing focus…)

The state is run by three men essentially: Governor Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Strauss. Among this paradigm the Lt. Governor is, “The only some-bitch that knows what he’s trying to do,” to quote from the classic film Patton. Nature favors the aggressor and thus Patrick is in control. The Governor by his recent actions (pushing further to the right while chastising the legislative body for inaction) has confirmed this. The House Speaker is either an obstructionist or a pragmatist depending on your perspective.

The Texas Senate has become Draconian in its attempt to render the state the superior governmental body in the state, as opposed to counties and cities. The predominantly red ‘Land of the Green Carpet’ spit out a multitude of bills intended to reign in local governments. This seems a bit ironic given the fact that the horse-beaten mantra of the Republican Party is ‘local control’. Nevertheless, the proverbial horse bypassed the plowshare and was being beaten directly into a sword.

Then there was the bathroom bill. Regardless of your opinion of it, what unfolded that day Senate State Affairs heard it was nothing less than bizarre. Some were repulsed and some sympathetic. The House would not reciprocate and our compromise would be soundly wiped like a child regiment.

It went like this with basically everything. In fact vital state agencies still hang in the balance due to petty unrelated squabbling. Teacher retirement continues to rot, the stench ignored; the actual business of state an annoyance.

Days ran into nights which collided with mornings. The hours were brutal.

Myself, I was looking forward to its end, but found that when the gavel fell and I returned to my farm back in district…that I was displaced somehow. It didn’t help that I now had herniated a disc in my low back apparently from sitting for countless hours reviewing bills; hiking some twenty five miles (according to my pedometer) up colossal flights of stairs—morning in, next morning out.

Not to disrespect the suffering of our returning soldiers from afar, but I can only describe my mental state as a sort of PTSD—or at least that’s how my wife described it.

At the outset of session Texas Tribune deemed the 85th as nothing more than a side show to the bigger circus eastward just off the Potomac. What else could it be? But during World War I the war against Turkey was considered a sideshow as well. And so, with another battle looming in Special Session starting July 18, so I view the first act of the 85th. It was in effect the taking of Aqaba—but for whose side?

I just hope its sequel is not Gallipoli.

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Upcoming Book Signing – Reading Between the Wines

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On Friday, March 31, I’ll be a featured author at Reading Between the Wines at Safari Texas Ranch. This event, hosted by the Literacy Council of Fort Bend County, will feature wine, food, and auctions. Local and national authors (including yours truly and Candace Bushnell of “Sex and the City” fame) will have books available and participate in a book signing.

This will be the highest-attended Reading between the Wines ever, and I’m honored to be a part of the evening.

Reading between the Wines

Safari Texas Ranch

11627 FM 1464

Richmond, TX 77407

 

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Writer’s Digest Review

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The District Manager by Matt Minor starts slowly but builds to a compelling finish. Mason Dixon takes center stage in telling this tale of his gig as district manager for a Texas State Representative.  His assignment to travel the district and handle problems for his boss and his boss’s constituents puts him in the path of good folks and bad and eventually of those MINOR_final_TheDM.fcwho surpass bad.

The plot moves slowly through the beginning chapters. Nothing much seems to be happening until late when Mason Dixon and the reader start putting pieces together to come up with a surprising (or not) conclusion. 

The narrative is skillfully constructed from firsthand knowledge to be sure. The array of characters is well developed with each having distinctive characteristics and consistent dialogue. There is something for everyone in this novel—a bit of romance, humor, nail-biting suspense, murder and mayhem and a conclusion to set us all on edge in this political season. 

The one typo that caught my eye was in chapter two with the use of slated that likely should have been slatted. Otherwise, the novel is free of distracting errors. Perhaps, with ebooks, the cover is less important but this one works.  The notes about the author give insight into the authenticity of the tale. This a book is surely one I would recommend to other readers.

Judge4th Annual Self-Published e-Book Awards

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The era of the ‘New Censorship’

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In Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, the character of Strelnikov comments to the novel’s protagonist, “each man will be judged politically.” With this single statement the Bolshevik partisan commander sums up a new pedigree of morals: a relativist belief system that nullifies actions by incriminating thought.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, author of the Gulag Archipelago (the most disturbing book I have ever read) after the Soviet State Security had seized the manuscript, wrote, “I have no alternative but to publish it immediately.”

Both these writer’s had an avenue of escape for their work. Both of these authors knew screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-12-24-04-pmthat if their manuscripts could breech the eastern bloc that they would be vindicated in the ‘free world.’ But that ‘free world’ is imploding before our eyes. And not only is the West rapidly dying, but the ideas expressed above by Strelnikov, have become mainstream due to the government-media complex.

I believe we are at the threshold of a new era of censorship.

I realize we live in a relativist age and that there are no standards for anything. A man that pukes on a canvas is equal to the old masters. Our literature has been deconstructed and there are highly credentialed people today who have never read Hemingway. That’s where we are at. However, I firmly believe that if writing is to be of any value at all, it must be honest.

Our current politically correct environment is terrified of honesty. And in its infinite fear it has, is, and will continue to muzzle expression deemed ‘offensive.’ Through legislative manipulation the day is near when those that engage in unpopular speech will be charged with a crime. The sad reality is that a growing portion of our populace will support this criminalization of thought; but not all ideas, only the wrong ideas, as determined by the state, the media, and their inculcated herd.

Let’s take a page from recent events:

In the summer of 2015, a white male shot up an African American church. Though I am not a fan of hate crime statutes, it cannot be argued that the man in question was not a racist, if not insane. A brief time later it was discovered that he had posed in pictures where a Confederate battle flag was present. Immediately there was a calculated movement to ban the symbol. Amazon considered pulling books whose covers donned the flag, as did computer game manufacturers. Numerous influential corners openly expressed the need to ban the novel, Gone with the Wind. If not for the short attention span of our 24-hour news cycle, all of the above would have been acted upon and consummated. And though the removal of the flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol was in good taste, the expulsion of it in the past year from federal cemeteries that contain Civil War dead…was not.

An insidious motivation lurks at the core of this impulse, a desire to erase the American experience absolutely. An experience, however imperfect, deserves to be told.

But what I ask for now is consistency. My mistake?

Let’s now take the Quran. The Quran is cited repeatedly in the slaughtering of innocents all over the world. It is the only modern religion which is wholly political, meaning the ideas found therein are codified in law absolutely in Islamic countries. A rationalist is compelled to ask the question, ‘is this really a religion or is it not a political movement?’ But we are not a rational society any longer. We are an emotional society. And a people that digest the day’s events exclusively through the prism of feeling can be easily manipulated by those who do not.

Not only has the state-media-herd complex not called for the banning of the Quran, but increasingly any suggestion that it is culpable in the actions of its faithful is considered hate speech.

I am not advocating for the banning of the Quran or any other book or symbol any more than I am defending the Old South. I am simply drawing a comparison. I am illustrating how the new censorship operates.

So you agree with the government-media-herd complex…think it won’t affect you? You’ve made a deal with the devil.

*****

What if the West were no more? Like it or not, it has been, as illustrated above, an avenue of escape for fugitive ideas. Without it, the political prisoner in North Korea or Abu Ghraib, has no path to vindication; suffering without the hope of redemption.

A great irony exists at the core of the movement to eradicate the Confederate flag (I am using this simply as an example to illustrate my point. There are a multitude of ironies at play in this dynamic). Though a symbol of slavery to many, by its very existence and survival, it ensures that freedom of expression endures, as well as truth in history.

This crisis is not of a political nature, but rather it is one of fundamental liberties. And yes, there is a distinction.

Ask yourself a question, do you believe in free speech? Really believe in it? At some point your life and liberty might dependa on your answer.

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The District Manager Pt. 14

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“Pretty much, Mason.” There is a pause. It’s time to get down to business. “So what’s been going on?”

“Well, not a lot. However, I was alerted to an interesting situation in Bowers this past week.”

“Bowers. What’s going on down in Bowers?” he asks, sit-
ting up.

“Well, sir, it appears there’s an illegal dog fighting operation going on.”

“Dog fighting, what kinds of dog fighting are we talking about?”

“If you are referring to what types of dogs are being fought, then it’s pit bulls.”

“Pit bulls, aren’t they super-vicious, with jaws like goddamned bear traps?”

“They definitely have bad ass jaws, but I think they are bred to be vicious because of that very fact. I don’t think they are necessarily vicious by nature.”

“Well this is terrible, Mason! How in the hell did you find out about this?”

“A constituent: a man by the name of Julius Reynolds. A coon ass from the swamp lands.”

“Coon ass? Reynolds doesn’t sound like Louisiana to me.”

“Yeah, I know. By the sound of his voice I thought he was a Yankee, but he’s from New Orleans.”

“That’s an easy mistake to make, Mason. They sound similar. So tell me about this Julius Reynolds fella.”

“Well…”

I proceed to tell my boss all the details, including the part about Bowers Power, Inc.

“That’s interesting, Mason, very interesting indeed. I suggest you proceed with caution. But definitely proceed.”

“As I’ve told you, sir, I don’t know how to proceed, as all other governmental avenues have been exhausted. I guess we are Mr. Reynold’s last resort.”

“Have you tried the attorney general’s office?”

“No. Do you think I should?”

“Not yet, Mason. Before we do that we should try to figure out all we can ourselves…with the help of Mr. Reynold’s of course. Such as, who licenses dog kennels? That might be a good place to start.”

“Well, it would have to be the TDLR.”

“I’m not as good with these damn acronyms as you, Mason; who is that again?”

“The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.”

“Good thinking, Mason. See what they have to say. And remember…be discrete.”

Something’s been eating at me since I left the apartment; that something is Keith. I change the subject—again.

“We wouldn’t need so many of these acronyms if we legalized drugs.”

“The TD—whatever the hell they are—they don’t regulate drugs, do they?”

“No sir, if it’s legal then it’s the FDA, with edicts occasionally from the DEA. What I’m talking about is illegal drugs.”

“Christ NO! Jesus, Mason, we can’t do that. Are you out of your mind?”

“Not in the least bit, sir. Think about it…think about all the agencies that exist in law enforcement specifically because drugs are illegal.”

“Well, I know the DEA is a huge cost to the federal government.”

“And a fucking failure!”

“I love your passion, Mason. It’s one of the things that makes you so good at what you do, but no. It won’t work, think about the unintended consequences.”

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The Art of Orlando Reyna on display at B R Vino’s in downtown Rosenberg

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Originally published in the Fort Bend Herald July 19, 2016.

ROSENBERG –

The evening of Saturday, July 9th I popped into B R Vino in downtown Rosenberg’s Cultural District. The atmospheric wine bar doubles as an art gallery. On display was local artist Orlando Reyna.

Reyna’s art varies from multi-medium pieces to traditional canvas paintings. He has found his niche in the painting and resining of old acoustic guitars. Reyna’s palette offers the eyes a mixture of the bizarre, and dare I murmur…even the beautiful.

Reyna’s virgin offering in the guitar series is titled Lighting Strike. Imagine an eighties L.A.-style abstract fashioned in the underworld, roughed out over a macabre background of dark blues and purples. The patches of red, magenta and yellow serve not to brighten but to burn. The single coil of copper that snakes its way up the fret board is a fitting garnish.

Other standout guitar art pieces are Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead.) The background dia-de-los-muertosfrom which the painted guitar is fastened is in the shape of a jet black coffin. Night of a Thousand Drunken Vatos is as colorful and crazy as its title suggests. Lluvia Purpura (Purple Rain) is a tasteful tribute to the late Artist Formerly Known as Prince.  These guitar art titles are just a sample in a collection of many noteworthy pieces.

The bulk of Reyna’s canvas paintings, set against the guitar pieces, serve largely as filler. There are several worth citing due to their individual merit though. Sin Sentido (meaningless,) has a portal effect reminiscent of Mark Rothko. Breath of Fire, with its diagonal brushwork and vivid colors is engaging, as is Mascara Rojo (Red Mask.)

The center piece which ties the entire exhibit together in a loose theme is the canvas painting, Cabeza Loco. With its large, scribbled, skeletal-like visage and graffiti scrawled backdrop, it would hang perfectly at home in the dungeon of one of Walter White’s competitors.

Reyna’s brush technique is a self-taught, largely staccato application. His style is notable for his ability to lift dark undertones out of even the brightest of colors.

Orlando Reyna’s art collection will be on display at B R Vino’s through September. Stop by for a drink, a bite and a gander.

www.brvino.com

www.estudioorlando.com

Matt Minor is a culture columnist for the Fort Bend Herald.

The District Manager Pt. 13

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I have to meet my boss at his place of business in Wagoneer County. The Rep is a financial advisor by profession and his office is across from the county courthouse. When I get there, a strange car is parked where I usually park. I grab my briefcase and hurry inside. I’m late.

“He’s got somebody in his office. I have no idea who he is,” The secretary informs me as I dart past her.

“Ah, Mason, come on in,” he says, standing up from his desk.

“Have you ever met Jack Clark? Jack is a political consultant fresh back from Europe.”

Clark stands up to greet me. He is frighteningly thin and nearly bald. He’s wearing an American flag tie.

“I don’t believe I have. How do you do, Mr. Clark?”

“Call me Jack, Mason. You don’t mind if I call you Mason
do you?”

“That’s the handle they gave me, Jack.”

I take a seat next to Jack. We both sit facing the Rep., who sits behind his sprawling, messy desk.

“Jack here was just telling me about England and Amsterdam and…where else did you work?”

“Bulgaria. I worked on the presidential election in Bulgaria. That’s one of the Balkan states.” He turns and addresses me.

“Yes, I know my geography,” I answer.

“Fascinating stuff!” My boss declares. “By the way, Jack and I have been discussing a possible run for Congress.”

“Congress?” I ask. The remark startles me.

“Yes, Congress,” Clark interjects. “The incumbent is very weak. Terrible really. I think your boss has a good shot. Besides, this redrawn House District 100 could revert back to what it was previously if the state loses its lawsuit with the DOJ.”

“That’s right, all these redistricting legal fights with the federal government make campaigning almost impossible because you don’t know where you’re at. That said…Congress is all about raising the money!” the boss interjects.

“We’ll work on that, sir,” Clark concludes. Standing, he shakes our hands, and then excuses himself, leaving the boss and me alone.

“You know, Jack was partners with the late Warren Jenkins.”

“You mean the consultant who was murdered by the cartel a couple of years ago?”

“The very one, although the cartel part was never proved.”

“If I remember correctly, that was pretty gruesome, wasn’t it?”

 “Oh yeah, they dressed the sad bastard up in some strange clothing and cut off his balls. Tried to make it look like some deviant sex thing—I don’t really understand. People of your generation know about that kind of shit better than mine.”

“Yeah, that’s right…some kind of S&M thing, but it was a diversion.”

“What the hell does S&M mean?”

 “Sadomasochism.”

“See what I mean…?”

“Yeah, I see. The world is pretty sick.”

“It’s always been sick, Mason…it’s just gotten sicker… and perverse.” He adds, “Jack might have suffered a similar fate if he hadn’t been hired across the pond. I think it was good for him all the way around. He used to be kind of chubby.”

I’m tiring of this tragedy turned self-help story and want to discuss what was just actually brought up by Jack Clark.

“So what’s the deal with this congressional run?”

“Oh, probably nothing. Just something I’m entertaining; probably a pipe dream.”

“Not if you can get the cash. I agree with Clark, our guy in the Federal House sucks. He’s a fucking patsy for the establishment. And I think you would have difficulty in the old HD 100, that is if it reverts back to the old lines.”

“It’s a two million dollar race, at least.”

“Holy shit!”

“Right.”

“What a joke. Don’t talk to me about representative government and democracy. It’s representation of the wealthy by the wealthy.”

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The District Manager Pt. 12

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Chapter Three

A Meeting With the Boss

It was hard sleeping without Ann. It still felt unnatural even  though I was now crashing on a fresh, smaller mattress. The fact that I knew where she was sleeping every night made it that much harder.

I’d been having some pretty gruesome dreams, of late. But on this night, it was over the top terrible.  It was like one of those campy horror movies—only it wasn’t campy.

I awake like I’ve woken from a bad dream. The bad dream I awake from… I don’t remember. Upon waking I turn and find Ann’s softly curved naked body. Her hip is warm and she starts to moan as I caress its crescent. I nestle up against her and we lie in the spooning position. Her bare bottom is pressed against my groin and I’m getting hard. She releases herself from my right arm, which is pulling her tightly into my erection.

She turns around and looks me in the eyes, studying me. After some silence, she speaks in a strange repetitive tone, “Don’t worry, Mason…you’ll get your revenge. I promise, baby, you’ll get your revenge. I promise you, baby, you’ll…” But before she can finish she starts to profusely vomit chunks of blood.

Horrified, I wake. I sit up. This…this was a bad one.

I feel like I’m steeping in something…a hot dampness, not like sweat but more like…!

I fall out of bed and hit the flea infested carpet face-first. I can feel the little fuckers tugging on my legs.

The light through the blinds has faded into a paler shade of purple. I look at the clock:  6:15 a.m. It’ll be light soon. I realize that Keith is in the den. I can hear music faintly playing. He’s passed out with the stereo on.

“Mason…” Keith asks. He’s sipping a cup of coffee as I hurry about, getting ready for work, “Do you know anywhere I can get some weed?”

“What?” I ask, flabbergasted. I emerge from the tiny bathroom with a mouth full of toothpaste.

“Some weed?”

“Jesus Christ, Keith, you know I can’t do that. If I got nailed, not only would I lose my job but I would damage my boss big time!”

“Yeah, I suppose.” He sounds dejected.

“What do you need marijuana for anyway?”

“It helps with the pain.”

“What pain?”

“Why do you think I have those prescriptions, Mason? I live with chronic pain. It’s a medical condition.”

“So weed is supposed to help with that?”

“Yes. It helps more than anything; and, it doesn’t constipate me.”

“I knew you did drugs before prison…but how do you know it works on this pain?” I swish water in my mouth.

“Because I smoked in prison.”

“What?” I ask, spitting into the dirty, cluttered kitchen sink.

“That’s right. I smoked in prison. It helped with the pain. It helped a lot.”

“Goddamn, these places are worse than even I thought. How the fuck did you get weed in prison?”

“The guards.”

“The fucking guards?”

“Yeah, that’s right. They sold it to us. It was one of the only things they were useful for.”

“Is this how you used the money I sent you… for drugs?” I ask rhetorically, then comment, “I don’t know, Keith, I was there yesterday and they looked like they wanted us for lunch.”

“Not all the guards sold, only a few. One or two.”

Before I bolt out the door I tell him, “I’ll think about it.”

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The District Manager Pt. 11

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I arrive in Bellville, which is south of San Antonio, after a few drab hours. I’ve never had to pick up a released prisoner before and don’t know what to expect. Everyone is curt, if not hostile. I sign some papers, they give me several prescription bottles full of meds. I wait for several hours.

Doors clang with metallic urgency. At last a haggard figure is rolled out by one of the guards. The red hair is going gray and the face looks like an old baseball glove. The only thing I really recognize is the John Lennon-style rims of his cracked glasses.

“Keith, God bless you, man!” I declare, genuinely glad to see him. But his appearance ignites my spleen. “What, they couldn’t at least get you some new glasses?” I ask verbosely, looking around the room at the stagnant prison employees. “Why didn’t you put this in your letters?”

“Save it, Mason,” Keith demands, under his breath.

But I’m not finished. “What the hell am I paying taxes for anyway?” I ask angrily. The guards have turned and are looking at me hungrily, like wolves on a hill surveying an outcast. “I guess to pay your salary!” I say, looking right into the eyes of some bitch with a badge.

“Get me out of here, Mason. Please, let’s go,” Keith pleads. There’s a genuine fear in his voice.

“Don’t worry, bro, they can’t hurt you anymore.” And with that comment, the guards start laughing as they look at each other.

Once out to my car, I discover a problem: I’ve never had to get someone crippled into an automobile. It ain’t easy.

As we head east towards H-Town, Keith and I sit silent. We listen instead to the Drive-By-Truckers, a favorite of his. When he doesn’t respond I throw on Son Volt. Still nothing. I roll the volume down after we pass Sealy.

“I got that Butterscotch Strat out of hock several years ago. It’s been sitting in my closet for quite a while. I bet you’d like to sink your fingers into that fretboard, huh?”

“Yeah, maybe. My hands burn all the time now. Nerves.” Not only do I not know what to say but I feel guilty for even bringing it up. Luckily, Keith continues. “I remember you telling me about that. I really appreciate it, Mason. I really do. You’re the only real friend I have. You really are…” Keith starts to tear up and now we both start feeling really uncomfortable.

I stop at a liquor store and buy the sad bastard a cheap bottle of vodka. We continue to my place in silence.

Getting into my apartment is our next challenge, as I’m on the second floor. There is a ramp, but it’s difficult to negotiate. The doorways of my apartment are not cut to accommodate the handicapped.

Keith sits up all night listening to music and quietly weeping. I have to get up for work in the morning so I go to sleep. But before I close my eyes… I worry about how I’m going to tell him about Ann. He thinks she’s away on business. He’s really looking forward to seeing her.

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