Astoria Characters by Nruhling
Nancy A. Ruhling
Aug 30, 2016 | 20406 views | 0 0 comments | 118 118 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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Astoria Characters: The No-Sit Guy
by Nruhling
Apr 16, 2019 | 178 views | 0 0 comments | 72 72 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Daniel’s the owner/manager of Unlimited Body NY.


Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling


To stay fit, you can’t sit. This is the mantra that Daniel Berrioslives by, body and soul.

He doesn’t really have to worry, for as the owner and manager of Unlimited Body NY, he has a schedule that never lets him quit, much less sit.

Right now, he’s taking down the punching bags and the exercise barres to get the space ready for the too-early-morning tai chi class. He’s also running back and forth to the front desk to check students in.

This is only the beginning; later, he’ll be teaching classes and giving massages.

But it’s Sunday, a relative day of rest. If all goes as planned, he’ll be out of here by 3 instead of 10 p.m.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Leo’s the mascot of the fitness center.

Daniel’s over-full life has been jam-packed since he opened the fitness studio toward the end of 2014.

It was the event that he spent most of his adult life preparing for.

Although Daniel’s from Bayside, he spent much of his childhood in Astoria, where he now lives and where he has cousins and other family.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Want fitness? Unlimited Body NY has it all.

Daniel, who is tall and strong and wears his shoulder-length black hair in a bun or ponytail, has always been athletic.

He grew up playing baseball and soccer and was on his high school football team.

“I used to do weight training and workouts at home,” he says. “I used a chair and encyclopedias as a bench press.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Daniel takes a practice punch.

It was while he was earning a degree at LaGuardia Community College that he saw an ad for a personal trainer that changed the course of his life.

“It said that you could make money while working out,” he says. “I wasn’t a personal trainer – yet – but I ended up working at that gym in sales.”

It was hate at first sit.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Unlimited Body NY’s vision board — it’s easy to erase and start over.

“It was a desk job,” Daniel says. “And I didn’t like trying to make people buy memberships. After about four months, I told my boss that I had no heart for it any more and said I was going to quit.”

Instead, he finished his personal training certification and continued to work with private clients there.

“After five years, it got to the point that it was all about hitting quotas and making money,” he says.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Leo taking a break between classes.

Just as Daniel was running out of steam, he started studying massage therapy at Queensborough Community College.

He worked for a couple gyms and a massage clinic before deciding to strike out on his own.

“I was really hustling for clients,” he says. “At one point, I owned a van and did house calls for personal training and massage therapy.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Daniel working out on the rings.

In 2012, he started working for Seek Fitness on 23rd Avenue in Astoria, and when that business closed, Daniel took over the space and transformed it into Unlimited Body NY, renovating it with the help of his father, Danny.

“We’re all about restoring posture and getting the body to move again in a sitting society,” says Daniel, adding in addition to pain management/rehab, the center offers classes ranging from kickboxing and strength training to Zumba and yoga. “It’s not about vanity; it’s about the journey, about getting a better quality of life.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Weighting to be picked up.

Daniel isn’t the only one who’s at Unlimited Body NY virtually all the time: Leo, his 2-year-old snow-white pitbull mix, greets every client with a tail wag and a toothy grin, and Daniel’s 3-year-old daughter, Savannah Rose, is a fixture.

Daniel, who is about to turn 39, doesn’t know how long he will be able to keep up this nearly 24/7 pace. He dreams of getting a bigger space and opening additional centers.

“I’ve started to feel overwhelmed,” he says. “I don’t have time for family or friends or even to watch TV.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Daniel and Leo taking a walk.

He has considered other options, such as going into the field of home renovations.

“But I don’t want to quit,” he says as Leo follows him to the front desk. “I love being here and doing what I’m doing.”

Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 22, 2019.

Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhing@gmail.com; @nancyruhling, nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com, astoriacharacters.com.

Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Widow Who's Starting Over
by Nruhling
Apr 09, 2019 | 270 views | 0 0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Molly’s building a new life.
 
Text and photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

When Molly Gelb’s husband died early last year, she didn’t break down.

She tore down.

She removed nearly every wall in the living room and kitchen of their apartment, which also serves as the nerve center of their business, LL Overhead Garage Doors, so she could build herself up again.

She also removed her wedding band, replacing it with the gold and onyx ring her soul mate always wore.

“It’s my way of taking him with me wherever I go,” she says, looking at the oval stone that’s as big as a bird’s egg.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

A detail of a blanket Molly made for a friend.

Molly, a tall, elegant woman of 70 whose black carefree curls have only recently been betrayed by strands of silver, had been with her one-and-only love, Louie Lauri, for 45 wonderful years.

She was 24 and he was 42 when they met on a blind date at a Chinese restaurant in Flushing, so there was a vague expectation right from the start that Molly might have to carry on alone someday.

But dementia’s a demon, and they were blindsided when it began chipping away at Louie’s mind.

Louie, who suffered a stroke in 2016, never left the rehab center.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

She had a corporate career.

By the time he passed away in January 2018 at age 88, Molly was enjoying retirement.

She had a varied and interesting career.

After graduating from Flushing High School, Molly took a job at a printing company.

“I didn’t get along with school, but they sent me to Cooper Union to learn drafting, and I loved it,” she says.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Sammy doing a catwalk pose on Molly’s new rug.

By the time she and Louie locked eyes, she was working as a sales historian for Paramount Pictures, recording dollar-data for syndicated shows like Star Trek.

Immediately, Molly and Louie became inseparable.

Louie, who was a divorced dad, was in possession of a two-bedroom apartment with an ample walk-in closet.

A year after they met, Louie invited Molly to move in.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Molly took over LL Overhead Garage Doors in 2016.

“He told me I could have half the closet,” she says. “He didn’t realize that I had been bringing my clothes over piece by piece and hanging them up in there. We ended up living together for 39 years before we got married.”

One thing led to another, and they bought a two-family house in Astoria.

Molly’s parents took the upstairs unit, and Molly and Louie and LL moved into the first floor.

Louie had established LL in 1956, long before he met Molly.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Sammy taking a catnap between chasing balls of yarn.

While he worked out of their home, Molly commuted to Manhattan, where she worked for Estee Lauder then Coty before retiring in 2013.

She set up a simple life for herself.

“Once I didn’t have to go to work, I stayed up late, slept late and filled in my time with knitting and crocheting,” she says. “I didn’t pay much attention to what was going on at LL.”

In 2016, when Louie’s decline began, Molly started running the company, which has four employees, including Louie’s son-in-law.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The only ring Molly wears is the one Louie never took off.

“I didn’t know a spring from a cable,” she says. “I thought about selling it, but I wanted to keep Louie’s legacy alive because he put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the business.”

Molly spends about four hours a week on LL matters, letting the crew run the day-to-day operations.

“I don’t butt in, but I want the employees to know that I take an interest,” she says.

The rest of her time is devoted to her cats, Sammy and Little Molly; her piano playing; and her knitting and crocheting.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Louie established LL in 1956; LL stands for Louie Lauri.

This winter, she’s been making gloves, mittens and blankets, stitching to the sounds of blaring music, everything from Beethoven to Cardi B.

“I’m carrying on my mother’s tradition,” she says, showing off a shawl her mother, Betty, made 60 years ago for a bar mitzvah.

Molly’s renovation gave her space to remember Louie properly.

“He’s always in my thoughts,” she says, adding that she visits his grave frequently. “I think of him every day. There are times when I’m sitting at the island in the kitchen that I can still picture Louie coming down the hall. Nearly everything here reminds me of him.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Molly is right where she wants to be.

She put her desk in the same spot that his occupied and decorated a table in the hallway with photos of Louie in his younger years.

“His karma is still here and always will be,” she says.

As for her life, Molly sees no reason to alter anything else.

“I want to keep LL open as long as possible,” she says.

And that’s likely to be a very long time; Betty lived to be 102.

Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 22, 2019.

Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhing@gmail.com; @nancyruhling, nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com, astoriacharacters.com.

Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Actress Going Through Stages
by Nruhling
Apr 02, 2019 | 230 views | 0 0 comments | 36 36 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Mara wants to entertain you.


Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling


“I’ve been a ham since day one,” declares Mara Jill Herman. “I’ve always liked to be the center of attention.”

What, you don’t believe her?  

Mara makes a series of funny faces – she sticks out her tongue, she bulges her eyes out bug-like, she pouts and even tries to look like a mean girl.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

What can she do to make you laugh?

Then she reaches out for a street sign and makes it her dance partner, twirling around it like Gene Kelly in the musical Singin’ in the Rain.

This is New York City; nobody notices. This is Mara, she’s been entertaining since she was 7; she doesn’t notice that nobody notices.

If these antics don’t get your attention, she can do them while she’s reading and writing Hebrew, speaking and singing Spanish or practicing her Brooklyn, Southern, Irish and British accents (choose standard or Cockney, luv).

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

She’s been performing since she was 7.

And she doesn’t have to stand still – she can dance her way through any jazz, ballet, tap or theatre routine.

Would you like to tango with her?

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Wow! Her career has taken her around the world.

Mara wasn’t born on Broadway. She made her debut on the Upper West Side then moved her act to Searingtown, Long Island when she was 6.

Immediately, she auditioned for roles in community theatre productions.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Does Mara have your attention yet?

“My parents are patrons of the arts,” she says. “My dad is a lawyer; we did community theatre together. He taught me about rock music from the 1960s. My mom is a writer – she’s written children’s books – and she also can draw and paint murals.”

In the beginning, Mara’s passion for performing was nothing more than an amusing hobby.

By the time she finished singing and dancing her way through high school, however, she knew that the stage would have a starring role in her life.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Mara putting on her thinking cap.

At the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, she majored in musical theatre, and when she graduated, she returned to the Big Apple with big-time dreams.

“I wanted to work as a musical theatre performer doing things I loved at a serious level,” she says. “And I wanted to go on national tours.”

For five years, that’s exactly what she did, bowing to applause in Japan, South America, Bermuda, Canada and even Antarctica.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

OK, this has to make you laugh.

“I was ready to go where the work took me,” she says. “And that was here, there and everywhere.”

After a while, though, she grew tired of always missing out on family events.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Go ahead, embrace Mara’s embrace.

“The spotlight isn’t glamorous,” she says, “so I’ve started making my own opportunities.”

These days, in between auditions, Mara devotes her time to teaching theatre to youngsters and developing her own projects.

Last year, she directed and produced Stronger Than Hate: A Benefit for Tree of Life Synagogue, which raised $5,000 for the Pittsburgh congregation whose members were the target of a mass shooting that left 11 dead and seven injured.
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Mara teaches theatre to children.

“I felt I had to take immediate action to fight anti-Semitism,” she says. “The money won’t bring back the dead, but it will help restore the building and defray some of the costs for the families.”

Such entrepreneurial performance projects, she says, create “fire in my belly.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

She’d like to be on Broadway someday.

So does singing with America’s Sweethearts, a trio that celebrates history through harmony by bringing to life pages from the Great American Songbook, classic Broadway, 1950s pop tunes and jazz.

“America’s Sweethearts is a fantastic challenge,” says Mara, who is a mezzo-soprano. “It’s not solos – it’s three-part harmony.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Let’s dance in the street.

Mara, who goes to Broadway shows with her mom, says it will always be her dream to perform on The Great White Way.

“I want to be on Broadway, but not just any Broadway show,” she says. “I could see myself in a show like Wicked, but I’m not going to chase every Broadway show just to be in a Broadway show.”

Whether it’s on a big stage or a small one, Mara’s show will always go on.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Whatever happens happens; Mara’s ready.

“I’m getting closer and closer to the life I’ve always wanted to live,” she says. “I love the balance of performing and teaching others to perform. When I was growing up, I had such amazing mentors that I want to give back to the next generation.”



Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 22, 2019. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com;  @nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com,  astoriacharacters.com.

Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Little Young Lady Driving the Hummer
by Nruhling
Mar 26, 2019 | 405 views | 0 0 comments | 70 70 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Headbands and Hummers are Connie’s thing.


Text and photos by Nancy A. Ruhling



"I L-O-V-E life,” purrs Connie Arroyo. “Every day is a gift.”

 

Smiling, she wraps herself in her white mink (it’s second-hand from Buffalo Exchange), slips her bare feet into a pair of white ankle boots with 3-inch heels and heads for her white Hummer.

She’s 4-foot-10, and the Hummer’s 6-foot-5.

It’s no contest: She conquers the behemoth, climbing behind the wheel like a mountaineer scaling Everest.

“I’ve had a lot of practice,” she says. “And I know where to hold on.”

Connie, who favors cashmere sweaters, tights and colorful headbands that strive to restrain her ringlets, started driving the beast regularly after her husband, Sam, died some 15 years ago.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Connie won’t reveal her exact age, but she gives some big hints.

The vehicle was new, he loved it, she loved him; she couldn’t bear to part with either.

Connie’s had a long, exciting life, and she’s done a whole bunch of things, like fearlessly backing her huge Hummer into her pint-sized garage, that will astonish you.

A mother to two and super-cool grandmother to six who has been everywhere, including the Amazon, she’s eager to tell you everything about herself.

Except her exact age.

“If people know how old I am, they will make judgments,” she says, conceding that she is, indeed, well into her eighth decade. “I don’t fit the senior citizen mold.”

So suffice it to say that she’s a singular senior who doesn’t look or act like one.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Connie is a life coach and energy and spiritual healer — and a lot more.

To begin with, she has a young lover (he’s 16 years her junior).

They met at Astoria Park six months after Sam died.

They started out as friends and became intimate about eight years ago.

“I’ve always enjoyed sex, and I still do,” Connie says. “I celebrate life through sex. I have sex with my lover two to three times a week. He calls himself my sexual healer.”

She adds that she keeps herself in sexual shape with Kegel exercises.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Connie doesn’t act her age — whatever that is.

“I started doing them after my daughter was born,” she says. “I worked my way up from 10. Now, I do 100 a day.”

She belly dances. “I wear a costume, but it’s conservative,” she says. “I perform with a seniors group.”

She paints. “I made most of the pictures on my walls,” she says, adding that she did them because she couldn’t afford to buy artwork. “Now, I only paint greeting cards to give to friends and family.”

She takes yoga classes. “I really wouldn’t say I practice yoga,” she says. “I try to do it.”

She beat breast cancer. “I had a bilateral mastectomy 30 years ago,” she says. “I had scoliosis surgery at the same time. I was in a back brace for a year.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Connie married her high school sweetheart.

She volunteers at the Astoria Park Alliance. “Up until recently, I was on the board,” she says. “But I figured it was time for someone else to take over.”

She’s counsels others. “I hold group spiritual healings in my living room,” she says, producing her business card that proclaims she is a life coach and energy and spiritual healer.

She walks great distances; the 18 blocks down Ditmars Boulevard to the subway are a piece of cake. “Sometimes I take the bus,” she says. “I used to drive the Hummer to visit my son in Wayne, New Jersey, and Rye, New York, to visit my daughter, but I recently gave that up because my daughter has forbidden it.”

She just got out of the hospital. “I had a recurrence of blood clots in my lungs,” she says. “But I feel fine.”

She feels like she’s 40. “That’s the age when I felt the freest,” she says. “It’s when I blossomed, when I became myself.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
She’s not a biker, but she looks good on one.

Connie, whose parents are from Puerto Rico, was born in Manhattan, in a year she won’t mention, and was raised in the Bronx.

“At that time, there were drugs all over the place and gang shootings,” she says. “Some of my boyfriends were shot to death.”

She met Sam when they were attending Morris High School.

“I was 15,” she says. “Right away, in my heart, I knew I was going to marry him. It took him longer to realize we were made for each other.”

Five years later, in 1954, after Sam came home from serving as a Marine in the Korean War, they got married and he joined the NYPD, where he rose to the rank of detective.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Connie’s more mink than leather.

They moved to Astoria and lived in a two-family home with her parents, the same one Connie now owns.

For a while, Connie stayed home to raise their son and daughter, but when she was in her 30s, she went back to school, earning a bachelor’s degree in education from Queens College and a master’s degree in education from Hunter College.

“I only took a few courses at a time,” she says, “so it took me 10 years to finish.”

Connie, who by that time was in her 40s, got a job at P.S. 76 in Long Island City, where she spent her career teaching special ed students.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Connie says every day’s a gift.

“I made the students believe in themselves,” she says. “I wasn’t teaching them; they were teaching themselves.”

When she retired, she expanded her hobbies and interests, becoming who she is now.

The age thing, she says, that’s just in your head.

OK, sometimes it’s in the body.

By the front door, there’s a cane.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Connie invites you to feel the joy.

Connie’s lover made it for her from a tree branch that fell in Astoria Park. It’s about a foot taller than she is.

Like her, it doesn’t follow a straight path; it can’t help itself, it curves.

Does she ever use it?

“Not much,” she says, with a look that implies that such aids are for much older, less physically able persons.

“Sometimes it comes in handy when it’s icy,” she admits as she puts it out of sight.

Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 22, 2019. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com,  @nancyruhling, nruhling,nancyruhling.com,  astoriacharacters.com.

Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Puppet Masters
by Nruhling
Mar 19, 2019 | 362 views | 0 0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Z and her husband, Chad, are the founders of WonderSpark Puppets.


Text and photos by Nancy A. Ruhling



There’s a lot going on.

The pet rats, Softee and Gray Spot Star Sword, are climbing their cage.

The children, 5-year-old Leif and 3-year-old Finn, are tucked into a corner hovering over a smartphone.

The adults, Chad Williams and Lindsey “Z” Briggs, are playing with puppets.

Z literally has her hands full with Grandma Ellie and Grandma Nancy, while Chad is armed with Mystery Max and Finn the Fox.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Chad is a country boy at heart.

The husband-and-wife duo make funny faces and say silly stuff.

They’ve had a lot of practice: The founders of WonderSpark Puppets, they have been entertaining audiences in the metro area for the last decade.

Although Chad and Z grew up in Western New York, they didn’t meet until they were in college.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Finn the Fox.

Chad, who lived in a house in the woods in what he describes as the middle of nowhere, developed a deep appreciation for nature.

“I’ve always had a huge affinity for the outdoors,” he says, adding that to country boys like him, New York City seemed frightening.

Z, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to leave Le Roy, the tiny village between Rochester and Buffalo whose main claim to fame is that it’s the birthplace of Jell-O.

“It wasn’t good for me,” she says. “I wanted more.”

 

She’s always loved puppets and after doing research, audaciously informed her parents that she was going to the University of Connecticut, which offers a degree in the subject.

“They said ‘absolutely not’ and told me I needed something to fall back on like biology or teaching,” she says. “They told me I had to go to a state school that was within 100 miles of home. I got out a map and drew a circle.”

SUNY Fredonia was the farthest Z could get without breaking those boundaries. She enrolled in its media-arts program.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

It’s all in the hands.

Chad, who is two years younger than Z, also was trying to figure out his future.

In high school, he was looking for an easy class and ended up taking one in art.

“I liked it and excelled,” he says.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Mystery Max.

SUNY Fredonia’s media-arts program sounded like a perfect fit.

When Z needed technical help with a project, she was connected with Chad. They each remember the details differently, but the important thing is that fate threw them together for better or worse.

They dated briefly, but nothing happened.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

One of Z’s puppets in progress.

“I had feelings for Z, but I don’t think she did for me,” Chad says. “Her lifetime dream was to go to U Conn for a degree in puppetry, so she did.”

While Z worked on her master’s degree, Chad graduated from SUNY.

He got a job in an ice cream factory in Fredonia and started making films.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Z in her design ‘studio.’

He had no contact with Z – and no hope of ever seeing her again – when, out of the blue, she called him.

Her thesis documentary film was due the next day, and she needed someone to burn a DVD of it so it could be screened.

“He was the only one in my phone who knew anything about technology,” she says. “I didn’t even know whether he had the same number.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Z and an old friend.

Chad adds: “I had to break it to her that it wasn’t going to happen because there wasn’t enough time. She cried and slammed the phone down.”

When Z came to her senses – her words, not his – she called Chad to apologize, and they began chatting.

She suggested he come for a visit; that weekend, he drove eight hours to see her.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The puppet is based on Z’s grandmother.

When he got out of the car, she thought, “I love you, let’s get married.”

When he got out of the car, he thought, “I love you, let’s get married.”

It took them a while longer to say those words out loud.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Mutual admiration.

Chad’s courtship commuting continued when he got a job in Albany making films for the state’s Department of Correctional Services.

A year and a half later, Z got a job in New York City as a puppeteer in a TV show. She told Chad while they were on a date.

She made it clear she was going with or without him.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Z clowning around.

“I had to light a fire under his butt,” she says.

“I cried in the restaurant,” Chad says, “because I thought New York City was a scary place, but by the end of dinner, I said I would come with her.”

In 2006, he did just that.

While Z played puppeteer, Chad worked on films.

By 2009, though, Chad was burned out.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

WonderSpark Puppets puts on more than 300 shows a year.

“I was working 15-hour days,” he says. “My hours were different from Z’s, and we sometimes didn’t see each other for six months.”

Luckily, Z needed his help again. This time, it was for a puppet show.

Chad had so much fun that they decided to become perpetual puppeteering partners.

WonderSpark Puppets, which they founded in 2009, puts on more than 300 shows a year with the help of two other human performers.

In addition to entertaining, Chad handles business matters.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

They want to make you happy.

When Z’s hands are not on stage, she’s working part time for the Jim Henson Foundation and making puppets in a small space next to the dining table in their two-bedroom apartment.

Chad’s office is in a corner of their bedroom, which also serves as a props storage space.

Yes, things are cramped, but Chad and Z are performing a labor of love.

“We are spreading the gospel of good puppeteering,” Chad says.

Z puts a puppet head on her desk; if she works on it diligently every night, she will finish it in two to three weeks.

Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 22, 2019. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com,  @nancyruhling, nruhling,nancyruhling.com,  astoriacharacters.com.

Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Soccer Star
by Nruhling
Mar 12, 2019 | 442 views | 0 0 comments | 43 43 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Jonathan plays for the New York Cosmos.


Text and photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

The first time New York Cosmos defender Jonathan Borrajo kicked a soccer ball, it was down the hall of his apartment.

“I was 2,” he says, smiling at the memory. “My father told me, ‘Don’t let the ball hit the walls.’ That’s how I learned precision.”

The connection went from his foot straight to his heart, where it has remained for the last 29 years.

“Soccer’s in my blood,” he says. “My father, who is from Spain, loves soccer – he even got a college scholarship for it. I became addicted immediately, and I played it in the streets and the backyard all the time.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

He kicked his first soccer ball when he was 2.

Indeed, Jonathan was such a quick study that by the time he was 4, the family had moved from Western New York to Clifton, New Jersey, so he could hone his skills.

“Clifton’s known as a soccer town, mostly because of its high school program,” Jonathan says. “It has famous coaches and has produced famous players.”

For those keeping score, Jonathan made rapid advances in the sport.

At 5, he had graduated from recreational soccer and received special permission to play on a traveling team comprised of 7-year-olds.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

He turned pro while in college.

At 13, he had advanced to a national team and was considered one of the top 20 players in America.

“I’ve been the captain of almost all of the teams I’ve been on,” he says, quickly adding that it’s been a humbling experience. “There’s a saying in soccer that you should care more about the name on the front of your shirt, the team’s, than the one on the back, your own.”

At 15, coaches and colleges were courting him.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

He’s been playing for 29 years.

“I was getting a ton of mail from recruiters,” he says. “I got offered a lot of full scholarships.”

He played soccer all through his years at George Mason University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting with a minor in economics.

Jonathan began his professional career while in college: He signed with the Real Maryland Monarchs.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

He also coaches and teaches soccer.

“I was a player by day and a student by night,” he says.

He then went on to play for Norway’s HamKam, the New York Red Bulls, Norway’s Mjøndalen IF, the San Antonio Scorpions, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and the Miami FC. Since 2018, he’s been with the New York Cosmos.

When Jonathan’s not on the field, he’s coaching other players at the New York Cosmos’ U.S. Soccer Development Academy.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

He’s always on the ball.

Through SoccerShape, the company he founded, he trains adults in the sport. In Astoria, he gives lessons at the Upper 90 Soccer Center Queens.

“When it comes to soccer, there’s a void in the fitness market,” he says. “SoccerShape bridges the gap.”

The last year has been one of great change for Jonathan. In addition to signing with the Cosmos and moving to Astoria, he wed his longtime girlfriend, Stephanie, who is an elementary-school teacher in Chelsea.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

He can’t imagine a life without soccer.

Jonathan’s a pro at soccer, but he’s the first to admit that he’s an amateur when it comes to marriage proposals.

He decided to pop the question on July 17, 2017 – there was no particular reason for that date, but he realized later that there was significance because he and Stephanie met, through mutual friends, on July 17, 2008.

Stephanie was in Paris visiting a friend, so Jonathan enlisted her as his accomplice. After a game in San Francisco, he got on a plane and took a taxi to a traffic circle by the Eiffel Tower, a grassy spot he chose because it’s a more private section of the street.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

You can take lessons from Jonathan at Upper 90 Soccer Center Queens at 34-23 38th St.

 The ring had been in his backpack, but he took it out during the drive.

As soon as the taxi pulled away, Jonathan realized the ring was still on the seat.

“I had no way to identify the driver,” he says. “I had paid cash. I started running in the roundabout with my suitcase and stopping cars; people were looking at me like I was insane. I got half way around the circle and I thought, ‘I blew it’ and started walking back.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Ask Jonathan to tell you how he proposed to his wife.

As the minutes ticked by, he weighed his options over and over again: Should he return home and never let Stephanie know he ruined his romantic surprise? Should he meet her and tell her the truth? Should he go back to the drop-off spot in the hopes the cabbie came back?

Then, just like a too-good-to-be-true plot twist in a rom-com, the taxi driver returned and handed him the ring.

“I opened the front car door and hugged him,” Jonathan says. “I told him to drive me to an ATM and I would give him any amount of money he wanted as a reward, but he drove off, saying he was happy to do it for love. Fortunately, Stephanie is known for being notoriously late, so I had an hour to calm down before she arrived.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Taking a short break.

Stephanie was surprised to see Jonathan and even more surprised when he got down on his knee and proposed, a moment that was captured by a photographer he hired to record the event.

The wedding was Jan. 19, 2019, and “the first thing I did after the ceremony was sign up for insurance for the ring,” he says.

Getting the ring back, getting married, getting to play soccer – Jonathan considers himself one lucky guy.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Ready to go back out on the field.

At 31, he’s the fittest he’s ever been; he can’t imagine a life that doesn’t include time on the field, but he knows he can’t play forever.

“Soccer is the most beautiful thing in the world,” he says. “I see myself as a soccer player and businessman and a good son and now a good husband. I want to be an example to the kids I coach – it’s the most beautiful thing I can do.”

Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 22, 2019. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com,  @nancyruhling, nruhling,nancyruhling.com,  astoriacharacters.com.

Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Sisters Who Are Raising Astoria
by Nruhling
Mar 05, 2019 | 517 views | 0 0 comments | 52 52 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Eleni, left, and Thekla are the owners of Raising Astoria.


Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling



Perhaps it’s because they have young children. Maybe it’s due to the fact that they had so much fun growing up. Or it could be that they just love being around kids.

Then, again, it’s likely to be a combination of factors that have led Eleni Graciano and Thekla Manoloudis to devote themselves to Raising Astoria, the children’s educational center and play space they bought a little more than two years ago.

Eleni and Thekla, who are sisters, never dreamed that they would own a business or that they would be working together.

They are 10 years apart – Eleni is the older – so during they youth, their paths intersected only because they made a great effort to spend time together.

“Eleni took care of me,” Thekla says. “She was my superhero.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Raising Astoria is at 26-11 23rd Ave.

Thekla, adds Eleni, “was like my dolly.”

The sisters, who kiss each other on each cheek when they meet, are from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which is where their immigrant parents settled when they left Thessaloniki, Greece.

Given their closeness, it’s not surprising that they graduated from the same college – American University in Washington, D.C. — and earned the same degree– a bachelor’s in international relations.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Thekla married Eleni’s husband’s best friend.

“We never used our degrees,” Eleni says. “We like to joke that at Raising Astoria, we do relations and there are international people who come here.”

Eleni got a job in Bethesda, Maryland as a sales manager for an internet security company, and Thekla eventually became her roommate, commuting to classes and then to a series of jobs in nonprofits.

Eleni fell in love with a co-worker, and Thekla became enamored of his best friend.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Eleni married a co-worker.

“Our husbands are from Queens and went to high school together,” Thekla says. “They were always hanging out together.”

Soon, adds Eleni, all four were hanging out together.

Eleni got married first, but Thekla was the first to move to New York City.

“We came home from her wedding, which was in 2008 in Thessaloniki, and we packed up and left,” Thekla says. “I had always dreamed of living here.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The sisters have a ton of fun at Raising Astoria.

Eleni continued to work until shortly before the birth of her first child, Eva, who is now 9.

“I was laid off when I was five months pregnant,” she says. “My husband, who still worked there, was out of the country on a business trip. He was so upset that he resigned about a month later.”

Eleni became a stay-at-home mom; her second child, Lily, is 7.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Children’s artwork adorns the walls.

In 2014, the family followed Thekla to Astoria when Eleni’s husband got a job in the city.

Thekla, meanwhile, earned a master’s degree in public administration from Baruch College while she held down a full-time job.

She pulls her wedding band off her finger and examines the inscription. She got married – yes, it was to her sister’s husband’s best friend – and moved to Astoria in the same year, 2012.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

What they do a lot of.

Her children are young – Angelos is 3, and Aris just celebrated his first birthday.

In 2016, the sisters were out of the work force and looking for something exciting to do.

“We were on a beach in Greece when we saw the email newsletter saying Raising Astoria was for sale,” Thekla says. “I had been staying home with the baby for a year, and I was feeling a little lonely and dull. And Eleni wanted to get back to work.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Eleni getting the room ready for class.

They had each taken their children to classes at Raising Astoria.

It was Thekla’s idea to buy it together.

At the end of December 2016, they became the new owners.

“This is like our third child,” Thekla says. “We feel a responsibility to be here.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Raising Astoria stimulates little minds and keeps little hands busy.

“We’re very hands-on,” Eleni adds.

The sisters split the shifts at Raising Astoria, which offers everything from cooking and Spanish-language classes to CPR and baby/toddler sing-alongs.

“We are not doing this for a salary,” Eleni says. “In fact, we’ve never had a paycheck yet.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Their payoff: watching their little charges grow up.

Fortunately, the sisters don’t measure their progress in dollars and cents. Instead, they chart the achievements of their cute little charges.

“We’ve been in business long enough now that the 2-month-old babies are toddlers,” Thekla says.

Eleni adds, “It’s like watching our own kids grow.”

Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 22, 2019. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com,  @nancyruhling, nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com,  astoriacharacters.com.

Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Undecided Dancer
by Nruhling
Feb 26, 2019 | 740 views | 0 0 comments | 39 39 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Rachel Baird is used to taking things in steps. She is, after all, a dancer.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Rachel was born in Ottawa and grew up in Ontario, Canada.


Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling


Rachel Bairdis used to taking things in steps. She is, after all, a dancer.

But she’s at a crossroads, and it’s her heart, not her feet, that she’s counting on this time to lead her in the right direction.

Rachel, who is from a town too tiny to mention in Norfolk County in Ontario, Canada, has a career choice to make. And she doesn’t have much time to come to a decision.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Rachel’s rescue, Winnie the Purr.

She’s been living in New York City under an artist visa, and it’s time to renew. Doing so could cost her $5,000 to $6,000, which is quite a lot of money for a dancer whose feet make their living freelancing.

There’s a lot to keep her here – she has steady teaching and performing gigs, a live-in boyfriend she’s devoted to and a pair of 7-month-old rescue cats, Winnie the Purr and Newton, who think she’s the cat’s meow.

“I just got the cats,” she says. “I can’t leave them.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Rachel started dancing when she was 5.

Aside from a seven-month stint when a previous visa expired, she’s been away from home for eight years, and even though Toronto is only a 10-hour flight away, she misses her family.

“Nothing compares with New York, but I’ve never given a Canadian city a chance,” she says as Winnie the Purr and Newton cuddle up to her, creating a cozy family portrait.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

This is how dancing makes Rachel feel.

Rachel, a pixie with a baby-doll voice, a mile-wide smile and an abundance of long, curly hair the same ginger color as the kittens’, started dancing when she was 5. It was her own idea.

“My older sister was taking lessons, and I wanted to do everything she did,” she says.

Dancing swept Rachel off her feet.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

She joined the Joffrey at 17.

“I loved performing on stage,” Rachel says. “I felt like a different person because I was so shy as a kid that I didn’t talk to anyone the first few years of school. Dance was a fun outlet and helped me build confidence.”

So confident was Rachel that by the time she was 10 she was going to National Ballet of Canada summer programs, and by 14 she knew that dance was what she wanted to pursue.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Dancing swept Rachel off her feet.

In her 17th year, she moved to New York City to dance in the Joffrey Ballet School’s summer program. She performed so well that the company invited her to join its year-round program.

“I was living my dream,” she says. “I was dancing all day.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Rachel has to decide whether to renew her visa.

Six days a week, Rachel was on her feet from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. She stayed up every night until 11 taking online courses to earn a high school degree.

“Just thinking about this schedule makes me tired,” she says.

Rachel stayed with the Joffrey for two years, becoming a member of its touring company.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Graceful, even dancing in a down jacket.

She thought she might go back to school to become a doctor – a university in Canada offered her a scholarship – but chose instead to join the Alonzo King LINES Ballet in San Francisco.

“This was my dream company,” she says. “My family was supportive of my decision to pursue my passion. They reminded me that school would always be there.”

During her two years there, Rachel mastered the art of contemporary ballet. She returned to New York City to join Pushing Progress Contemporary Dance, which sponsored her on an artist visa.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

She must choose: Canada or America.

“Contemporary ballet is my favorite form,” she says. “It combines the structure of classical ballet with the freedom of contemporary dance.”

When her three-year visa ended, Rachel returned to Canada until her one-year extension was granted. She spent most of that time teaching dance.

These days, she dances, choreographs and teaches. Through the nonprofit Dancin Power, she works with hospitalized children.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

She’s living her dream.

“Teaching kids in the hospital allows me to step out of the studio,” she says. “It’s refreshing and gives me perspective on my own problems. I love to see how the children are transformed by their moving bodies.”

Recently, Rachel has taken up acting, which she declares is her new passion. (She was a stand-in for Kristen Bell in the 2018 Netflix movie Like Father.)

That training has paid off: In March, she will play the role of Blanche in a dance/theatre production of A Streetcar Named Desire at a Tennessee Williams festival in New Orleans.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Rachel is studying acting.

Thinking about all the things she’s been fortunate enough to accomplish in such a short time only makes Rachel more confused about her future.

She’s knows, though that whatever path she chooses will lead her to the same place. It’s just a matter of deciding whether her feet are going to dance a direct route or a detour.

Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 22, 2019.

Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhing@gmail.com; @nancyruhling, nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com, astoriacharacters.com.

Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Special Teacher
by Nruhling
Feb 19, 2019 | 696 views | 0 0 comments | 45 45 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Nicholas’ last name used to be Alexander.


Text and photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

Growing up, Nicholas Alexandrakos was always interested in his family’s history.

With grandparents from Greece and Italy who spoke their native languages at home, how could he not be?

“So much of my upbringing was talking about foreign lands I’d never been to,” he says. “When we celebrated the holidays, everyone talked about how it was done in the old country.”

That’s why he changed his last name.

Alexander, not Alexandrakos, was the one bestowed upon him when he was born in Brooklyn, and it was the one he went by when he was growing up in Queens.

It was, after all, his father’s. But, as Nicholas came to find out, it was not his family’s.



“My grandfather was an undocumented laborer,” says Nicholas. “He jumped ship and changed his name to Alexander. He didn’t become a U.S. citizen until he married. He died when I was young, so I never got to hear the full story or know his point of view.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

He has a keen interest in history, especially his family’s.

But that didn’t keep Nicholas from speculating. Was the alteration done because Alexandrakos was too difficult for Americans to pronounce? Or was it switched to hide his grandfather’s real identity from the authorities?

“I never liked the feeling of explaining why Alexander is and isn’t right and wrong,” he says. “So after I graduated from college, I changed it to Alexandrakos.”

If things had worked out differently, Nicholas would have turned his passion for history into his life’s work.

That’s what he majored in at Hunter College.

“Actually, I wanted to be an archaeologist,” he says, adding that his interest intensified when he did field work during a study-abroad program in Pylos, Greece. “But I was $28,000 in debt when I graduated, so I decided to teach a little then return to school when I had paid it down.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

He’s the gym teacher at Robert Louis Stevenson therapeutic college prep in Manhattan.

His first job was at The Child School/Legacy High School on Roosevelt Island, whose students have what the institution classifies as “learning challenges.”

Nicholas’ salary was $28,000 – the same amount as his college debts.

The job was tailor-made for Nicholas,  who “with one foot in Queens and the other on the other side of the Atlantic,” kept trying to see where he fit in.

He started as a full-time substitute teacher and took over a math class then a gym class.

“I thought, ‘Math is fun, but PE is more fun,’” he says.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

He started the school’s after-school athletic teams.

After a year, he got a job at Robert Louis Stevenson, Manhattan’s only therapeutic college prep independent school.

It enrolls bright students in grades 8 through 12 who cannot navigate the traditional school environment.

Nicholas, the gym teacher and director of athletics as well as the advisor/counselor/in-school advocate to a group of nine students, is one of 20 teachers at the school, which has an enrollment of 75.

“When I went there 12 years ago, there were no after-school programs,” he says. “So I started ones for soccer, basketball and track and field and founded a league with similar schools.  In the beginning, I was the coach for all of them; now I only do some.”

Nicholas’ teams train in Astoria Park, which is where the league competitions are played.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

An avid cyclist, he’s ridden the 165 miles from Brooklyn to Montauk in 11 hours.

“I realize that I’m entitled, so I feel a responsibility to help the youth, especially this population, which is neglected, misunderstood or has fallen through the cracks,” he says. “The connections I have with the students, especially the student athletes, have an impact on their lives; I share in their success and excitement.”

When Nicholas is not at school, he’s spending time with his family. His son, Filippo, who is 1 and a half, will carry on the Alexandrakos name.

An avid New York Cosmos fan, he coaches soccer.

“I’m big on fitness,” he says, adding that he works out four to five times a week to work off stress. “In the Queens Turkey Trot 5K last year, I finished 21:18, which was ninth in my age group. Most of the time, I ride my bike to work – I go over the Triborough,” he says. “Door to door, it’s 6.5 miles.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Nicholas loves making a positive impact on people’s lives.

He’s also ridden his 18-speed Scattante the 165 miles from Brooklyn to Montauk.

“Non-stop, except for five- to 10-minute breaks to drink and eat, it takes me 11 hours,” he says. “I rent a hotel and sleep over or have someone pick me up.”

Nicholas fills in the rest of his schedule by volunteering at the Coney Island Lighthouse Mission’s food pantry.

He says it’s important to give back, adding that The Notorious B.I.G. lyric “spread love, it’s the Brooklyn way” is his motto.

At this point in time, Nicholas, who just turned 38, can’t see himself doing anything else.

“Teaching at Robert Louis Stevenson is the perfect place for me,” he says.

Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 22, 2019. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at NRuhling@gmail.com, @nancyruhling, nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com, astoriacharacters.com.

Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Artist in Training
by Nruhling
Feb 12, 2019 | 701 views | 0 0 comments | 48 48 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Jose is from the Dominican Republic.


In the spare bedroom of his apartment, Jose Mota is standing at a monumental work table, using an oil-paint marker to create the black, undulating lines that define his latest work.
 
The mixed-media abstract painting, Related Formation, is part of a series of 20 large pieces titled From A Distancethat, when viewed together, form a complete picture.

The works consume most of the space in Jose’s makeshift studio.

And all of his free time.

Of which there is not very much.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Jose looks through some sketches.

Jose, who makes his living as a personal trainer, paints between clients and long into the night after he finishes his stints at the gym.

Sometimes he’s up until midnight or even one or two in the morning canvassing each canvas.

He doesn’t notice the passage of time.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Jose was raised in an orphanage.

His solitude is broken only by the soothing sound of classical music, which plays softly in the background like a mantra, and the satisfaction that things are progressing.

“For me, this is not a hobby,” he says. “It’s a dream.”

Andi it’s been a long time coming – Jose is 43 years old, and he’s been filling in the lines of his life with drawings ever since he could hold a pencil.

Jose, who is from Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic, might never had found his artistic spirit had tragedy not changed the course of his life almost before it began.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

International Cooperation, one of Jose’s recent paintings.

His mother died when he was 3, and a hurricane ravaged the island.

“We went from poverty to extreme poverty,” he says. “Our relatives tried to help out, but they couldn’t afford to keep doing it.”

Jose and his three siblings were sent to an orphanage run by SOS Children’s Villages, the world’s largest independent, non-governmental, nonprofit international development organization.

Their father eventually remarried; he and his five new children lived 16 miles away in San Cristobal.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Denying The Existent Correlation is part of Jose’s From A Distance series.

“My dad was allowed to visit every Sunday, and we took summer vacations to his house,” Jose says. “And we also had contact with my mom’s side of the family regularly.”

Jose concedes that although it may not have been the ideal childhood, there were many positive aspects.

“Because of SOS, all of us got an education, which would not have happened otherwise,” he says. “SOS allowed us to do things that no regular family in the Dominican Republic at that time could afford to do. I got exposed to art and sports through SOS, and I fell in love with opera after seeing one. I hid the fact because it was not a cool thing to like — the other kids would have laughed at me.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

He spends all his free time painting.

The institution supported Jose all through school, including his years at the Universidad Católica Santo Domingo, where he majored in hospitality.

“I had wanted to be a chef, but the Dominican Republic is so dependent on tourism that I figured hotel management would be a better choice for advancement,” he says.

It was a seasonal job that brought him to Florida and that helped him hone his English-language skills.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Sometimes Jose works far into the night.

“While I was there, they told me that if I were a trainer, they would pay me more money,” he says. “So I got certified.”

In 2006, after two years in Florida, Jose moved to New York City. He lived and worked in the Bronx, where he had friends, before getting a job in Manhattan. Since 2009, he has worked for the New York Health & Racquet Club.

That same year, he moved to Astoria to live with the woman who eventually became his wife.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Jose adds details to Related Formation.

“We met at the gym,” he says. “She was one of my clients.”

They rented a two-bedroom apartment so Jose would have space to create his paintings, and when they divorced in 2016, Jose started painting larger works.

Aside from a couple of printing workshops at the School of Visual Arts, Jose has no formal training in art.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Jose is working hard to make art his full-time career.

“I drew all the way through middle school and high school as a distraction,” he says. “In college, I copied art from books.”

The first completed pieces of the From A Distance series — Localized and Out of Coordinates are on exhibit in Jose’s living room; the two large canvases are showcased on a wooden easel that stands as tall as the door into his studio.

The series features what Jose calls “elevations” – 3-D elements that are meant to suggest a geographic topography.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Localized and Out of Coordinates on display in Jose’s living room.

“The idea is that everything in this planet is connected,” he says. “I view this piece as an aerial view – an eye from the sky.”

Jose has found making art so transformative that he’s decided to do it full time. Recently, he started cutting back his hours at his gym job.

“I had to push myself and make a sacrifice financially,” he says. “Otherwise, I would never do it. I hope that in one year from now —  or even less – I’ll be a full-time artist.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

A 3-D detail from Out of Coordinates.

He’s also begun to think about getting a show at a gallery and renting a separate art studio.

Actually, he doesn’t have a choice – the new pieces he wants to create are too large to fit into his apartment.

Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 22, 2019.

Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhing@gmail.com; @nancyruhling, nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com, astoriacharacters.com.

Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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