GUEST POST: Ron Vitale

Ron Vitale

Author Ron Vitale and I met online through the NanoWrimo Facebook group. While cheering each other on writing-wise, we realized that we share similar political views. With today’s political climate, the need to develop tolerance is stronger than ever. Ron offered to share this post about what happened to him after being mugged.

What happens to tolerance after you’re mugged?

“Give me your camcorder bag,” the black man had his hand in his jacket pocket and threatened me, “or I’ll shoot.”

A thousand things went through my head. Did he really have a gun? Could I run? Should I attack him? I just didn’t know what to do. I had never been mugged before.

Before I could do anything, he lunged forward, and grabbed the strap to my bag. I wrestled with him and the strap broke, he got the bag with the camcorder inside and ran off into the cold February night.

My heart raced and I didn’t know what to do. I watched him run off. He was shorter than me, black hair, and dark eyes with a dark jacket. I stood in a parking lot outside of the Philadelphia Museum of Art on a weeknight a little after eight o’clock and I had just gotten mugged. I took a deep breath and ran to my car, opened the trunk and pulled out an old army shovel that I carried there in case I ever got stuck in the snow. And then I did something stupid. I chased after the black man with the shovel and the first thing that came to mind is that I would chase after him, hit him with the shovel, and get my camcorder back. I hadn’t even finished paying off the damn thing yet.

I crossed the busy street in front of the museum and saw that he had disappeared into the unlit side filled with tall bushes. I’d not be able to see a thing there. Thankfully, my sanity came back to me and I stopped. I had only lost a camcorder. If I went any farther, I could be hurt or even killed. I lowered the shovel, turned around and went to the police. An officer was kind enough to take my statement, filed a report and then he opened a briefcase and pulled out stacks of photos. He asked me how tall I thought the black man was and he took the pile that was marked 5’9” and undid the rubber band, spreading a stack of several dozen photos in front of me. All were black men who were 5’9”. When asked if I recognized any of the men as the one who had mugged me, I shook my head. We even went through the pile of photos of black men who were 5’8” and I still couldn’t identify the thief.

Afterward, the officer drove me around in his police car and we looked at all the street corners in the area, but still I couldn’t find him. The officer told me that most likely the camcorder had been sold already for a few bucks for drugs and that I’d never see it again. I got to my car, drove home and my girlfriend at the time listened to my story and comforted me. Both she and my family were glad that I was safe and had not been hurt. I had been lucky.

The next day I went to work at my department store job just like normal. It was a slow night in late February. I sold cologne at the Men’s Fragrances counter. The money I earned helped pay my graduate school bills. I helped customers and had started to forget about the events of the night before until a black man came up and wanted to buy cologne from me. He was in his 20s, about 5’9” with dark hair. I’m ashamed to admit this, but on seeing him, I flinched and recoiled in fear. Logically I knew that he wasn’t the same black man who had mugged me, but I still felt afraid. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to run, but I needed my job. I fought back my fear, and helped him get the cologne he needed. An hour later, a black family came to the counter and I helped them and my fear slowly began to subside.

I knew that not every black man was a mugger and out to get me, but I did have to fight to overcome that initial fear. I won’t deny that. We now live in a world in which we’re afraid of terrorists. I’m hearing the news about how “all refugees” need to be blocked from coming into America or how all illegal Mexicans will somehow magically be whisked away and brought back over the border and we’ll build a wall. A magical wall made out of adamantite that will solve all our problems.

But I don’t agree with that. You see, I remember being raised by my single mom. We were Italian and when I was young the firmly established people in our area called us “wops.” I had friends who were Irish and called “Micks” or I’d hear others say that all Irish were drunks. Yet none of that was true. My mom worked hard to raise my brother and I. Between her and my grandparents, we were given the best possible education that they could afford. I took to learning, studied hard and now, as a third generation Italian/Irishman, I’m a productive member of society. There was a time when my mom needed to be on welfare to feed and clothe us. Without help from my grandparents and through welfare, I would not be where I am today.

No matter if you’re Black, Syrian, Asian, Hispanic or any other race or nationality, not all people from that group are terrorists, rapists, thieves, cheats or what have you. People do good and bad things. When I look back at my life and see where I am now, I know that the sacrifices that my family made for me to have a good education made all the difference. If we cast out those different than us, would we not be spiting ourselves? The next great world renowned inventor, doctor, or artist may be Syrian, Black or Asian.

I have been held up at gunpoint and have decided not to hate. The older I get, the less I know and I realize that I want to learn more about different cultures, religions and races. I believe America is such a beautiful country because we have opened our doors to the world. Yes, there are terrorists out there. There have always been people who have wanted to harm others all the way back to the beginning of humankind. But in today’s world, we need now, more than ever, to be brave. Tolerance and empathy is so needed in our world today. I wish we could wave a magic wand and solve all the problems we have, but that’s not reality. Yet I firmly believe that to help solve the problems of tomorrow, we need to educate ourselves and those around us—the more we learn, are open to different ideas and cultures, the better off we will be. If Malala Yousafzai  could be shot in the head as a teenager for trying to learn, but then heal and strive to fight worldwide for a woman’s right to go to school, why can’t we do one small thing? It’s a tiny thing, but I admit it’s frightening: Be open to try, trust and show empathy. Each day I try to do this more and more. Some days I fail, but other days I succeed. If I can do it after being mugged at gunpoint, so can you.

Ron Vitale was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Influenced by the likes of Tolkien and Margaret Atwood, he began writing at an early age, creating short fiction from his Dungeons & Dragons role-playing sessions.
His writing has appeared in various places from elephant journal, SFWA’s The Bulletin and SEARCH magazine. When not writing articles, he also is the author of the Cinderella’s Secret Witch Diaries series geared toward new adults. Currently, he is keeping himself busy by writing his blog, and on learning how to be a good father to his kids all while working on his next novel. Read more at

FREE READ: Feeding the Beast

Leo, JC OBrien

After scooping my last bite of Indian curry, I set the plate on the floor in the kitchen for the dog. He’s eleven, old in human years, so I spoil him and put up with pizza farts and having to share the tip of every ice cream cone.

But there was no ice cream on this January night. Instead, there was rain. Lots and lots of rain. Not the charming misty wet that used to happen when I moved to Seattle in the Eighties, one of the downpours we started having a few years ago. The kind of rain that loosens soil enough that Douglas fir trees are transformed from charming sentinels into possible instruments of death. The windstorms that follow the rains kill people in Western Washington when the trees start coming down like so many pick-up sticks.
So while my husband settled in under the covers with his book and the dog curled up in his bed, I lay lit by the light of my phone, ignoring Facebook while I listened to the rain pummel the roof.
The husband snored.
The dog snored.
And sometime after midnight, I drifted off to sleep.
Around two, my phone was right there, making it easy for me to check the time, the dog flipped over onto all fours. He whined and cried and stamped his feet until my husband climbed out of bed and took him outside in the rain.
While I lay there listening for wind and the creak of falling trees, I heard my husband cursing quietly as the dog came in. Without bothering to dry off either of them, he climbed back into bed. I kissed his wet hair and wrinkled my nose and pulled the covers tighter while the rain continued to fall.
An hour later, the dog was at it again. Only this time, he was bumping his nose against the bedroom door, demanding to be let into the kitchen. We like our Indian food spicy, so we let him out, but he refused to return.
Now here’s where I should tell you that my dog, even as a pup, could never see very well, but he has excellent hearing and we have wood floors. While listening as keenly as the dog, I was able to track him, moving from the far picture window in the living room to dart back to the dining room and over to the large window near the front door.
Outside of the rain, I heard nothing.
Or, that’s what I like to tell myself.
North Seattle isn’t like downtown. We have lots of Douglas fir trees and rhododendrons grow taller than garages. And we have animals. Neither raccoons nor rats have no problem sauntering about during the day, but while walking the dog on moonlit nights I’ve heard other things—sounds that make no sense in an environment surrounded by houses as well as trees. At the end of our street, just before the golf course, is a preserved bit of land: Llandover Woods. We walk the dog there and have seen only bees and woodpeckers, but there are places off the trail that appear dark, even during the day. And I tell myself that this is where something that didn’t sound right next to a house or a car would go at night when it was raining and it needed a place to sleep.
It would have no need to be around my house, driving my dog to distraction.
Leo’s nails clattered against the windowsill, squeezing a bark out of him. After another five barks, I got up and went into the living room to check on him.
He looked at me and snorted. No way I was getting the dog into the bedroom now.
I pulled the curtain aside and peered out into the wet, seeing nothing other than the dripping trees and phone lines, but I could sense something. When I was little, I read a book about a boy who went blind after playing with firecrackers. Nearly a whole chapter was devoted to the moment he learned to sense objects by feeling displaced air.
We live in an old house with cracks around the door and double-pane windows that no longer hold their seal. I closed my eyes and felt for the small sips of air that always find their way into the room.
I felt nothing.
I didn’t even hear the dog creep up beside me until I felt the shock of his fur against my bare knees. He wedged himself between me and the wall, pointed his nose at the door and began to bark.
He was close enough for me to feel the sides of his rib cage squeezing in and out. Between barks, I caught the slow scrape of claws against wood.
But Leo was on the carpet.
The front door shook on its hinges, bellowing in and out in response to each of the dog’s barks. My husband yelled for me to settle the dog down and come back to bed. I reached for the dog’s collar and he dashed to the other window, mounting the window sill and shoving the curtain out of the way as he barked, barked, barked.
His legs tangled with the curtain. As he dashed to the next window, the fabric was yanked back from the rod. I squinted out into the dark, but saw nothing. My nose twitched. Not the weird ozone smell that happens after some rain. Something vaguely rotten seemed to be coming in through the cracks in the walls.
I moved closer to the window and a tree branch cracked against it. I jumped and crashed into the piano and onto the floor.
The stench grew stronger as I lowered my nose. The dog dashed from door to window to door as a sound grew in my ears.
Not quite the growling sounds I’d heard while walking the dog. More like the soft sounds of everything that had ever scared me in the dark.
The dog came and stood in front of me. His barking grew more frantic as he bounced up and down on his front legs, his jaws snapping with sound.
My husband snapped on the living room light. “It’s four in the morning. Get the dog and get back to bed.”
The light seemed to chase away the smell, which didn’t make sense, but I didn’t feel fully awake. I tugged at the dog’s collar. This time he came with me, even if he did keep looking back over his shoulder into the empty room.
“I think we should leave the light on,” I said.
“Sure. Just sleep.”
The dog refused to stay in his bed. Instead, he stationed himself right in front of the bedroom door and curled up with his nose pressed into the space between the door and the floor.
By morning, he lay on his side.
The wet hadn’t stopped. I sent my husband out the back door into the rain with the dog while I tried to wake up with a cup of tea.
I sniffed as I walked around the house. Nothing.
My husband returned with the dog. I dried the dog while he dried himself. I had the towel in my hand when it occurred to me to check the front door.
Pulling it open proved harder than expected. Seattle rain can make it feel like night, but after telling myself that the street lamp was off, I turned the knob.
There on the front door was a set of twelve scratches. I ran my finger into a deep groove and brought it to my nose and nearly vomited. Whatever was under its claws was rotten.
“I don’t think we should feed the dog any more Indian food,” my husband called from the kitchen.
“I think you’re completely wrong. Have a look at this.”
The dog came along with my husband, he sat on his haunches while we examined the door, ears alert, face as perky as when he expected a treat.
“The dog eats whatever he wants,” I said and locked the door before going to find the dog something scrumptious.

Hiring a new internal editor

I wrote my first short story at my grandmother’s kitchen table while she and my mother drank Cokes and talked family business. I was fifteen. My burnout boyfriend had dealt (and smoked) a little pot while I was in his friend’s car. At that time, I didn’t drink or smoke and since we were within three blocks of our high school I was freaked out. Honor students didn’t get busted for pot.
Instead of talking to him, I wrote a surrealist story that explained how I felt better than the “what the hell” that was running through my mind. I wrote longhand while my mom and grandmother chatted and I finished the thing in one sitting. I turned it in and my English teacher suggested I enter a local college’s writing contest. If I made it, I’d get to go to a writing workshop with other teens and maybe win a scholarship.
I got in. But instead of putting me with all the other short story writers, I ended up at drowningtable full of poets. The teens were cool. They put up with reading all the extra pages of my writing compared to the handful of poems they’d each submitted. The adult running the table was a published poet and he proved less helpful.
He fixated on a central image in the story and told me it was wrong, but explained that he didn’t know why. So I turned to the teens and asked them what they’d gotten out of the story. My feelings of drowning, struggling to swim — all seemed to have come across. So I shook my head at the poet and explained that I’d reached my audience. I hadn’t written the story for him. I’d written it for other teens and they had the exact reaction I was after — they got that it was about drugs and all they confusion and trying to fit in and fear that went with them (this was the ‘Just Say No’ era). He continued to disagree with me until the speaker started talking.
Oddly enough, I don’t clearly remember my boyfriend’s reaction to reading the story. A part of me wants to say that I tried to give it to him and he laughed it off, but I can’t be sure. What I do remember clearly is that poet sitting there in his three-piece suit shaking his head no while I was so certain I was right. Maybe I didn’t win the scholarship, but I walked away confident.
Or I thought I did.
I’ve never liked editing my own work. Give me someone else’s story and I’ll do my best to remain true to their vision, to tease out the lines of what’s there and ask questions so that the story remains the author’s, but ends up stronger than when it first landed in my hands.
I edit this way for other people because I have a deep respect for them and their stories. I feel it’s my place to help them find their own way, not grab their story and rework it until it’s mine.
I’m working on two large projects at the moment: a 600-plus YA novel that’s about to be beta-read by a teenager and a steampunk that’s given me troubles off and on for three years. I just realized that the editor in my head looks nothing like me. The editor in my head doesn’t even have a clear sense of how to tell me what he thinks is wrong.
And there it is.
The editor in my head is that male poet in his three-piece suit, leaning on the back of his chair, shaking his head no. And here I am trying to figure out how to politely thank him for his input and ask if he could kindly go find another member of the faculty. I don’t remember what any other teacher at that event looked like, so I’ll have to make someone up. Toni Morrison comes to mind, but frankly, I find her daunting. I’m not certain I can live up to her standards. So I’m going to pick someone I think would be more encouraging, but perhaps just as tough. Right now, I’m doing my best to get my cool, new editor to hang out with me. If you’re wondering what she looks like, she’s a bit like Stevie Nicks.
Yeah, the suit is still bleeding through, but this is new. I just created Editor Nicks in my mind. I need to give her some time to settle in.