Astoria Characters by Nruhling
Nancy A. Ruhling
Aug 30, 2016 | 10891 views | 0 0 comments | 67 67 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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Astoria Characters: The Golden-Haired Triplets
by Nruhling
Aug 07, 2018 | 260 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling


Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

It is Athena Levesque who opens the door.

She is wearing a white long-sleeved sweater. The importance of her subtle sartorial statement will become immediately clear once you see her sisters.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling


Andrea is outfitted in a black halter top.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling


Arianna is clad in grey.

Athena, Andrea and Arianna, 5-foot-6 models who have magnetic blue eyes and long, sunshine-blond hair parted down the middle, are identical triplets.

Don’t worry if you can’t tell them apart.

When they were little, they had the same problem: They couldn’t figure out who was who until they were 4. And even now, they can’t positively identify themselves in their baby pictures.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Arianna, Andrea and Athena

Their mother is the only person who has never made a mistake.

Neither have Chip, Athena’s pitbull/mixed-breed rescue dog; Piper, Andrea’s black cat; and Momo, Arianna’s shy white kitty.

Their alliterative appellations – triplets with a trio of As!  — don’t make things any easier.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Arianna is a fashion designer.

“We know it’s a lot to process,” Andrea, of the black top, says. “And it gets even worse because my sisters often call me Ani.”

They say they are not totally alike and agree that it’s too simplistic to peg their personalities in a sound bite.

Andrea: “I’m more introverted; I prefer to be in back of the camera instead of in front of it.”

Athena: “I’m the most talkative and the least girly. I’m the funny/silly one.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Andrea is a pet/portrait/fashion photographer.

Arianna: “I’m feminine and sweet, but I can also be loud.”

They look at each other and declare: See, we’ve very different.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Athena acts as an extra in TV shows and movies.

Hmm, this way’s still easier: Andrea (black), Athena (white), Arianna (grey).

When they put their heads together, which is all the time, their ideas bounce around like a baby bunny let loose in a clover field for the first time.

They don’t finish each other’s sentences, at least not all the time. They amplify each other’s ideas, or as Athena says, “We yin and yang each other because three is a lot.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Arianna got their modeling career off the ground.

Although there was a time when the sisters strove to look different, these days, they are playing  up their sameness. It helps, they say, with their budding modeling careers.

The triplets, who share a three-bedroom apartment, were born in Boston under the sign of Taurus, the Bull. (Had they arrived a litter later, they would have been Geminis — twins and triplets.)

Technically, Athena was first, followed by Andrea then Arianna, but birth order doesn’t define them.

“Our mother had a Caesarean section,” says Andrea, “so, really we were pulled out about the same time.”

They are quick to point out that they are not the result of fertility treatments.

Andrea, Athena and Arianna, who recently celebrated their 25th birthdays, grew up in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where they dressed the same until they were in first grade. They pretty much did everything together.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Can you tell which is which?

“Our goal was to have our own TV show,” Arianna says, adding that they tried to persuade their mother to move to Los Angeles so they could pursue this idea.

After a year at Framingham State University, they went their separate ways.

Andrea earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Clark University and a master’s in school psychology from Tufts University.

Athena graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a bachelor’s in history and a master’s in education.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

They are focusing on acting.

And Arianna moved to New York City to complete her bachelor’s degree in fashion at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Athena: “This allowed us to figure out who we are as people. I’m not a 9-to-5 person. I was teaching history in a public school and was suffocating.”

Arianna: “I could do 9 to 5, but my main goal is to work with you guys. We had our own lives and were pretty much fine with that. But we still talked to each other every day.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Arianna says starring in a TV show has been a lifelong dream for all three.

Andrea: “We are happiest when we are together.”

Their collaboration began when Arianna asked them to model clothing she was making for her portfolio.

Soon, Andrea and Athena were making the 12-hour round trip from Massachusetts to Manhattan nearly every weekend.

As their modeling careers took off, they moved to Astoria in 2017 and began doing a variety of creative endeavors.

Each of them has a part-time job – Arianna works for a fashion brand; Andrea is a portrait/pet/fashion photographer; and Athena performs in children’s shows and acts as an extra in TV shows and movies.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The trio will always be a sisters act.

Modeling, they say, is merely a way to make a name for themselves. Their long-term career plans walk far beyond the runway.

They have started their own brand and are moving into acting.

“Our goal is to have our own show,” Athena says. “It could be a reality show or a sitcom or even a drama. Or we could be TV personalities or influencers.”

Right now, Arianna is designing a new clothing collection. She and her sisters will model her creations.

“We’re thankful we can be a team,” Arianna says.

Andrea and Athena nod in agreement.

Astoria Characters Day: The 2nd Family Reunion is Sept. 23, 2018. A free, public event, it is sponsored by Bareburger and Salt and Bone.


Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at;

@nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram,,

Copyright 2018 by Nancy A. Ruhling




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Astoria Characters: The Classic-Car Dealer
by Nruhling
Jul 31, 2018 | 330 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Peter is the owner of Gullwing Motor Cars.

Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

There are 170 classic cars in Peter Kumar’s warehouse, but the one that means the most to him is the toy parked prominently on his desk.

It’s a silver Mercedes Gullwing; he bought it when he was starting out 33 years ago.

It’s been in numerous accidents, which is why it’s splattered with maroon paint and held together with Scotch tape.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Gullwing Motor Cars is at 24-30 46th St.

“I fell in love with a 1955 Mercedes Gullwing,” he says. “It was $80,000. I didn’t have that much money, but I did have the $20 for this toy, which I found the same week. I named my business, Gullwing Motor Cars, after it.”

Peter, who drives a 2010 silver Mercedes S550 sans gullwings, grew up in a carless family in New Delhi, India.

“My father had a Vespa scooter,” he says, adding that “we were little better than poor – we were not on the road and we had a house.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Peter’s toy Mercedes Gullwing.

His father also had an auto-parts store, where Peter started working part time at age 15. The business, however, didn’t do well, and it was sold.

By the time Peter was in college, he had decided that he wanted to be a millionaire.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

A detail of a classic car in Peter’s inventory.

He didn’t know how he was going to accomplish this feat, especially since he dropped out of school in 1984 after the second year of his three-year program.

“My uncle had a used-Mercedes business in London,” Peter says. “I didn’t have any money, so he paid for my plane ticket.”

After four months of cleaning cars, Peter, then 19, went to Miami, where his uncle had another used-car business.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

A Mercedes Gullwing in full flight.

“It was not doing well,” Peter says, “and he sent me to check up on it.”

Peter, who did not have a driver’s license, much less a car, executed his first sale – a 1981 Volvo – while there.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Peter confers with a client.

The business ultimately closed, in 1986, and Peter, using his apartment as his office, began selling used cars, particularly Ford Pintos. At night, he delivered pizza.

In 1988, upon the advice of his uncle, Peter moved operations to New York, settling in Great Neck, where he still lives. In 1990, he began specializing in pre-owned Mercedes, and in 1991 he transferred Gullwing Motor Cars to Astoria.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Peter’s favorite car — a 1957 Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing.

“I started with 20 cars,” he says, adding that Gullwing Motor Cars is one of the East Coast’s larger dealers of European and American classic and exotic cars.

“The biggest sale I ever did was for a silver 1962 Ferrari 250 GT short wheelbase,” he says. “It went for $9.950 million.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

A 1938 Jaguar SS 100 in the headlights.

Peter restocks the inventory, whose timeline ranges from a 1913 Hudson to a 1996 Mercedes, by traveling around the country.

He mentions recent buying trips to Connecticut, Massachusetts and Louisiana and networking visits to top shows in Paris and Germany.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Peter has 170 cars in his warehouse.

Peter, lean and spare like a racecar, thinks nothing of driving hours to meet a potential seller or of getting up at 5 or even 4 a.m. to board a plane to chase down a car.

“I don’t like my job,” he says. “I LOVE it.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Gullwing Motor Cars specializes in American and European classics and exotics like this 1961 Bentley.

This may be why he’s made it a family affair. His wife, Monica, works in the office alongside him, handling the business side of the business.

Theirs was an arranged marriage: She is the daughter of Peter’s father’s best friend.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The control panel of an Aston Martin.

Monica’s seven years younger than Peter, so they didn’t exchange vows until he was 26. They have two daughters and a son who are 23, 20 and 18.

“My son is a little interested in Gullwing Motor Cars,” Peter says. “He sometimes works here.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

A 1953 Porsche at rest.

For Peter, the allure is not only the access to cool cars but also to the stories behind them.

He pulls out his smartphone and flips through dozens of body shots.

See this 1957 silver and black Corvette with the red interior? Five years ago, he drove five hours upstate to look at it.

“The owner was 98,” he says. “He fell in love with his car all over again when I was there and decided not to sell it. But he’s 103 now and going into assisted-living, so he just sold it to me.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Ready to hit the road.

This one, it’s a 1956 Mercedes Gullwing. It belonged to a teacher. The glass window in the back broke, and she and her husband couldn’t afford to get it fixed, so they parked it in the garage for decades.

“In 2014, when I bought it from her, it was worth $600,000 —  more than her house,” he says.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

A 1951 Bentley hood ornament.

Then there was the man who was selling a 1975 Porsche and an inexpensive motorcycle.

“He kept saying he needed $35,000 for them,” Peter says. “But the highest offer he was getting was $25,000. Finally, I asked him how he came up with $35,000. It turned out that they didn’t have health insurance and that was how much his father needed for cancer surgery. I bought them for $35,000.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

A Mercedes strutting its stuff.

As Gullwing Motor Cars took off, Peter bought the building that houses it and three others surrounding it. He has 12 people on staff.

“I don’t know whether I’m successful,” he says. “In India, I was a dreamer.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

A crowd of cars in summer white.

One thing he’s still dreaming about is owning a Mercedes Gullwing.

“I don’t like the new ones,” he says. “And the classics go for about $1 million.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Peter: ‘I LOVE my job!’

He picks up the toy Gullwing on his desk and holds it up to the fluorescent light.

To him, it is worth far more than the real thing.

Astoria Characters Day: The 2nd Family Reunion is Sept. 23, 2018. It is sponsored by Bareburger and Salt & Bone.


Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at;

@nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram,,

Copyright 2018 by Nancy A. Ruhling



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Astoria Characters: The Astoria Warrior
by Nruhling
Jul 24, 2018 | 613 views | 0 0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Anthony is the founder of the Astoria Warrior brand.

Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

From shaved head to bare toes, Anthony Antoine is in full warrior mode.

There can be no doubt of this because his red hoodie, camouflage baseball cap and summer slippers all shout Astoria Warrior in your face with big, bold letters.

Although it’s a new brand, Anthony’s been prepping for it his entire life.

Anthony, whose parents and grandparents are from Trinidad, was born in Astoria 43 years ago and brought up in The Acropolis apartment building.

In the beginning, the five-member family (Anthony, along with his grandmother, mother, older brother and younger sister) occupied a single apartment. Later, they moved next door into the too-small two-bedroom rent-controlled unit Anthony has called home pretty much since then.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Anthony sells more than 100 products ranging from coffee cups to dog shirts.

“I never met my father – he lived in Trinidad,” Anthony says. “I was raised by a single mother. It was a lot of people in the apartment. Even now, when I’m by myself, I feel the walls closing in on me.”

Anthony always had a creative mind that ran in circles instead of straight lines.

As a boy, he loved and lived to paint. Although he had artistic aspirations, he never pursued them because he didn’t feel it would be a career that would make him financially secure.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Before he created Astoria Warrior, Anthony worked in a lumberyard, a hardware store and a cable company and drove a cab.

“I was a street kid,” he says. “I spent all my time there. I got into fights a couple of times, but it was nothing serious.”

After high school, Anthony became a full-time worker.

“I didn’t go to college because I was just worried about making enough money to take care of myself,” he says.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Anthony started working straight out of high school.

His first job was at a lumberyard in Corona that was owned by his stepfather. A decade later, he was working in a hardware store. After that, he drove a cab then spent several years as a field technician for a cable company.

“I liked all of those jobs, but I wasn’t passionate about them,” he says. “I just did them to make money.”

So in 2015, when his cable-TV job ended, Anthony took a six-month course in jewelry design.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

This is how thankful Anthony feels every day.

“I found it fascinating to take a plain sheet of flat metal and fashion it into a ring or a bracelet,” he says. “I also studied with someone in the Diamond District, but I quickly realized that I could not make my living doing this.”

Fashion seemed the next logical step for Anthony. Astoria Warrior, a scrawny, scrappy baby, was born in 2015. It grew up quickly to become a dope, street-wise kid.

“I took $1,000 in savings and made a T-shirt and a hat,” Anthony says. “Now, I have over 100 items, everything from flip-flops and onesies to coffee mugs and dog shirts.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

He’s ready to soar.

The name was inspired, in part, by the 1979 gang-fight film The Warriors.

“I used the same type font that was in the movie title,” he says. “I thought Astoria Warrior had a nice ring to it. It was appropriate because I see myself as a warrior. If you go hard at what you do and you’re passionate about it, you’re a warrior.”

Anthony, who sells Astoria Warrior at street fairs and through, sees the brand as a tribute to the neighborhood that made him who he is.

“The reception to the products has been amazing,” he says, adding that he’s had online orders from as far away as Australia. “I’ve had people come up to me on the street and take selfies with me when they see me wearing the clothes. That’s what keeps me going.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Anthony also designs jewelry.

Astoria Warrior’s headquarters is in Anthony’s apartment, whose every spare space has been converted to a stock storeroom.

“I work seven days a week from the time my eyes open until the time they close,” he says. “I don’t have any employees, but when I book two street fairs on the same date, I get my sister to cover one of the booths.”

He takes only one break per year: He spends a month in Trinidad, where his brother lives, for a family reunion.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Headed for the street.

Although Anthony is hoping that Astoria Warrior becomes a household name, at least in the neighborhood, he’s also realistic.

“In life, you never know what is going to happen,” he says. “Even if I only make the minimum I need to pay my bills like I’m doing now, I’ll be happy.”

Smiling, he turns his baseball cap backwards and walks into the street, the Astoria Warrior name, writ in bright red, following him like a posse.

Astoria Characters Day: The 2nd Family Reunion is Sept. 23, 2018. A free, public event, it is sponsored by Bareburger and Salt & Bone.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at; @nancyruhling, nruhling on Instagram,,

Copyright 2018 by Nancy A. Ruhling


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Astoria Characters: The Actor at the Funeral Home
by Nruhling
Jul 17, 2018 | 692 views | 0 0 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

You can meet Sean at O’Shea-Hoey Funeral Home.

Text and photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

Seventeen. That’s how many pounds Sean Church gained to play Eddie, the lead in Sam Shepard’s play Fool for Love.

“Eddie is supposed to be overbearing, but my female lead was only a half inch shorter than I, so the way I conveyed this was to put on weight,” says Sean, a toned young man who weighs in at 160.

It took a month of gorging on chicken wings and cheese omelets and lifting weights to pack on the pumped-up pounds. And nearly three months of a quinoa-broccoli-carrot diet and five to seven miles of daily bike riding to lose it.

Three. That’s how many performances he was in.

Wow, was it worth it?

Sean grins and shakes his head yes.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

O’Shea-Hoey on Ditmars Boulevard has been in business since 1927.

It sure beat losing 14 pounds to play the part of A Gentleman in Eugene O’Neill’s Thirst, whose starving characters are stranded on a lifeboat after a shipwreck.

That was a couple of years ago, so Sean can’t remember whether the play ran for three or four performances. He does recall, however, that he fasted for two weeks.

His weighty commitment to his craft is all the more amazing when you consider that he’s barely begun his career.

Sean, who is 21, will graduate from SUNY Purchase in spring 2019 with a degree in theatre performance and a minor in screenwriting.

For the last three summers, Sean has played an unusual role: He’s been acting as an assistant at O’Shea-Hoey Funeral Home on Ditmars Boulevard.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Sean is studying acting at SUNY Purchase.

“A lot of people get freaked out when I tell them what my survival gig is,” he says. “I was into zombie movies as a kid, so I’m not squeamish.”

As he says this, he’s sitting in O’Shea-Hoey’s chapel; he’s as comfortable as if he were in his own living room.

Shrouded in the sepulchral shadows, Sean looks somber and serious; his horn-rims grace him with a gravitas far beyond his years.

“Besides, death is a part of life – this is my job,” he says. “And it’s great because it has a flexible schedule so I can go to auditions.”

It also helps that Sean grew up visiting the funeral home. His mother, who is from Ecuador, raised him after she and his father divorced when Sean was 2.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

He wants to be a character actor.

The pair became friends with the owner, John Hoey, so they often stopped by to say hello.

Still, some things get to him.

“If the deceased is young or died of a drug overdose, it disturbs me,” he says.

Sean, who speaks softly and soothingly, started out as a pallbearer and functions as the office assistant, answering phones and working viewings and funerals. The staff is small; virtually all who enter encounter him.

He’s quick (and relieved) to point out that he only deals with live bodies.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

This is how Sean sees his future.

Sean, earnest and eager, says the experience is preparing him for future roles.

“Everyone is interesting to me,” he says. “I love reading body language.”

Sean’s passion for acting started when he was 6.

“I fell in love with Jurassic Park,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to be a writer, director, actor and singer. I still want to do all that. Except the singing. I can’t sing.”

He acted in school productions and films and graduated from the Academy for Careers in Television & Film high school. He dreams of becoming a character actor like Tom Hardy, Denzel Washington and Sam Rockwell.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Sean’s not interested in fame.

“Supporting actors often give the best performances,” he says. “I’d rather steal the show as a supporting actor than be the star.”

If working in a funeral home doesn’t make him uneasy, the idea of being famous sure does.

“Half of me would not push fame away,” he says. “But with social media, any lie that someone says about you can take you down in an instant.”

The fact that Sean’s odd job is so odd intrigues casting agents and makes them remember him.

So do his special talents.

He’s an ace at accents – in addition to native Queens speak, he can talk a blue streak in Cockney, British, Irish and Southern.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Sean graduates from college in spring 2019.

He’s also good at impersonations. Do you want to hear his Donald Trump, Christian Bale, Ray Romano, Christopher Walken and Jerry Seinfeld?

“I’m still working on Joe Pesci,” he concedes.

Oh, he almost forgot to add that he’s proficient in Spanish; he used to be fluent because it’s his mother’s mother tongue and she spoke it when he was growing up, but he’s out of practice.

In addition to performing, what Sean loves about acting is being a student of life and for life.

In Fool for Love, he had to be an expert with the lasso, and for another production, he picked up enough American Sign Language to say that he “kind of knows it.”

And yo-yo dieting. He’s definitely got that down.

Astoria Characters Day: The 2nd Family Reunion is Sept. 23, 2018.

Sponsored by Bareburger and Salt & Bone, it is a free, public event.


Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at;

@nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram,,

Copyright 2018 by Nancy A. Ruhling



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Astoria Characters: The Cabaret Singer
by Nruhling
Jul 10, 2018 | 738 views | 0 0 comments | 41 41 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Becca beat cancer — twice.

Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

Cancer and cabaret. Those are the two Cs that have defined Becca C. Kidwell’s life in the last year.

To allay alarm, she wants you to know that the cancer’s gone. The cabaret, she says, is here to stay.

Becca, who has cropped hair the color of caramelized carrots, zips off her charcoal-grey hoodie to reveal a low-cut, high-voltage red-hot cocktail dress. Rhinestone drop earrings studded with purple stones and black patent-leather Doc Martens that shine like stars complete her costume.

A lot of things — good and bad, memorable and forgettable — happened to Becca before 2017 changed everything.

As a child, Becca was painfully shy. That could be because her family moved around a lot.  Becca spent her first 13 years in Piscataway, New Jersey. Her high school years were divided between Winter Springs, Florida and Marietta, Georgia.

“Ever since elementary school, singing was how I expressed myself,” she says. “It was easier for me than talking.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Becca recently became a cabaret singer.

Becca’s mezzo-soprano voice filled the awkward silence of adolescence with show tunes she learned from the cast recording of productions like The Secret Garden, The Phantom of the Opera, Falsettos, The Will Rogers Follies and Into the Woods.

In between trips to the theater, she and her Barbie dolls acted out the plots.

To make her voice heard, Becca joined the school chorus and the church choir.

“For a long time, I thought I was going to be a music major,” she says. “But by my junior year in high school, I abandoned that dream because I realized that the only way I could make a living was by teaching, and I didn’t want to do that.”

That’s why she majored in liberal arts and drama at the University of Georgia, where she immersed herself in theater.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Becca’s arm tattoo is the chorus to her favorite song — Tracy Stark’s Right Where I Belong.

“By my junior year, though, I questioned my decision,” she says. “But I wanted to graduate on time, so I stuck with it.”

Graduation only made her more indecisive.

“I had no clue what I wanted to do,” she says, “so I moved in with my parents in Marietta.”

After working at a department store for a year, Becca did the unthinkable: She took an office job.

“I vowed I would never do that,” she says. “But I realized I could make more money that way.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Teaching English was one of Becca’s previous careers.

For four years, she worked as an administrative assistant at an accounting firm.

“I liked it so much that I had gone back to school to get a master’s in accounting,” she says. “But when I was six credits short of graduation, I took an entrepreneurship class and realized how much I missed being creative.”

She changed course and enrolled at Boston University to earn a degree in English education so she could teach.

She was surprised that she found teaching fulfilling. After several years of teaching, first at a public school then a private one, Becca found herself at a new crossroads.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Becca’s also studying to be a Reiki master.

“I kept telling my students to follow their dream,” she says. “But I realized that I was not following mine.”

As she started to question the direction of her career and her life, Becca met Brendan. It was 2007, and she was 31.

“I answered a Craigslist ad for a third roommate,” she says. “I was broke after I went to grad school, and $433 a month with off-street parking in Boston sounded great.”

Six months later, Becca and Brendan were having a serious discussion about dating (not each other), when he asked her out. On their first date, they saw Wicked on stage.

“He proposed to me six months after that in 2007 on the beach in Hyannis,” she says. “He’s a computer programmer and a technology geek, and he had written down all his talking points on his PDA. He pulled a Tiffany ring box out of his pocket and started reading them off.”

Before Becca said yes, she had to make sure of a few things.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Ready to embrace the world.

“I had over $30,000 in student debt, and I wanted him to know that,” she says. “He also said that he wouldn’t mind if our apartment wasn’t always clean.”

Her life change also led to a career change. When the private school that she was teaching in closed, Becca decided to pursue more creative endeavors.

“I started a regional theater blog, and that was my ticket back to theater,” she says. “I wanted to direct, but the Boston scene is small and cliquish. I knew I had to come to New York City.”

Brendan was fine with moving and telecommuting, so the couple came to Astoria in 2013 when Becca started the Swiftly Tilting Theatre Project, which produced several shows.

“I didn’t like the producing part because it took away from the creative energy,” she says. “I saw that there were a lot of opportunities to sing, so I took them.”

It was, she admits, a risky decision.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Becca was nominated for a MAC Award.

“I have a pretty voice,” she says. “But I didn’t think I have immense talent.”

That’s not what her peers thought. After only three cabaret performances, Becca was nominated for a MAC Award.

“I realized that singing is what I want to do professionally,” she says. “I also realize I’ll never make money doing it.”

As she continues talking about her stage career, she remembers that there are a couple of things she forgot to mention.

In October 2017, as she was refining her cabaret show, she was diagnosed with colon cancer. A month later, she discovered she had thyroid cancer.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

She and her patent-leather Doc Martens are ready for new adventures.

“The thyroid cancer was scary because it could have damaged my vocal cords,” she says. “I went on complete vocal rest two weeks before my surgery and went one month afterward without singing.”

The cancers made Becca more aware of healthy choices, which is why she is studying to be a Reiki master.

The combination – of singing and healing – appeals to her.

“I’ve learned that everything does happen for a reason,” she says. “I’ve had some really rough stuff in my life, and I’ve adapted. I’ve grown stronger.”

She is more than ready, she says, for this new chapter in her life.

“I’ll take as many opportunities as I can get,” she says. “And I’ll see what happens now that I’ve opened myself to the opportunities that arise around me.”


Astoria Characters Day: The 2nd Family Reunion is Sept. 23, 2018. Sponsored by Bareburger and Salt & Bone, it’s a free, public event.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at;

@nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram,,

Copyright 2018 by Nancy A. Ruhling


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Astoria Characters: The 92-Year-Old Vet Who's Fighting for His Wife
by Nruhling
Jul 03, 2018 | 809 views | 0 0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Eddie is a WWII and Korean War veteran.

Text and photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

These days, Eddie Indellicati is playing a lot of solitaire.

He sits at his computer in the living room of his apartment and silently moves the cards from one pile to another, trying to take his mind off his wife, Li Hong.

Lili, as he affectionately calls her, is trapped in Shanghai, China, which is where she is from.

It’s a long, complicated story, which he will get into, but for now, all you need to know is:

She is there.

He is here.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Eddie, 92, has lived in the same apartment for 50 years.

They don’t know when or whether they will ever be together again.

Eddie is concerned that he will break down if he talks about the situation.

“I’m deeply depressed,” he says. “My emotions get the best of me. I’m sure you don’t want to see an old vet cry.”

He presents a half-inch-thick pile of ruled notebook pages, where he has printed, in precisely penned capital letters, some of his thoughts about his life.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Lili, Eddie’s wife, is stuck in China.

Since Lili left in March, he hasn’t been able to sleep. So, to pass the time, he gets up every two hours and pours out his heart on paper.

He wonders whether his story’s worth a book.

His memories span the Great Depression (11 members of his family shared a small East Harlem apartment).

World War II (he still has nightmares about the “living skeletons” he and his army buddies liberated from Germany’s concentration camp in Neuhausen, but he fails to record the fact that he was wounded and received a Purple Heart as well as five medals and a Presidential Unit Citation).

And the Korean War (he stayed in the army because he couldn’t get a job).

There are passages about gambling (Eddie lost tens of thousands of dollars at the track and other betting venues); and there are frustrating accounts about getting health care from the Veterans Administration (the waits are hours long, the doctors don’t always listen, and the tests he needs aren’t covered).

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Eddie fills up the time without Lili by taking long walks and playing solitaire.

The point of all this paperwork is that Eddie, a short, small man whose feet and mind are nimble, has always been a survivor.

“I’m Christ-oriented, and I handle all adversity,” he says.

But this time, things are different: He’s 92.

“I may have minutes, not hours left before I have the greatest experience of my life –meeting my maker face to face,” he says. “I don’t need this problem with Lili’s immigration.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Eddie with Tony Meloni from Immigration Advocacy Services in Astoria.

And, if things had worked out the way he expected, it’s not one that he should even have.

Lili is Eddie’s third wife. His first wife, Edda, was a native of Italy. She died in 1952 shortly after they wed and right before she was due to immigrate to New York.

His second wife, Joan, the mother of his three surviving sons, departed the world in 2005.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Life without Lili, Eddie says, is ‘deeply depressing.’

They had been married for 47 years.

Although Eddie continued his job as a Wall Street broker, he was lonely, especially after he retired in 2010 when he reached the age of 84.

“I was dating seven or eight American women, but it never worked out,” says Eddie, who looks dapper in dress slacks, polo shirt and sneakers. “Some thought I was too old; others said I didn’t have enough money.”

One of his friends, who is Chinese, introduced him to Lili, then a 51-year-old, two-time divorcee living in Shanghai with two children who were on the cusp of entering college.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Eddie donates to more than 30 charities.

After six months of getting to know each other via Skype, Lili came to visit Eddie for a month in 2012.

In February 2013, Eddie and Lili got married.

“Life was good for me again,” he says, pointing out photos of their wedding that hang on the wall with scores of other family snapshots spanning nearly a century.

Lili, who cleans apartments and helps out managing several laundries in Astoria, received a two-year conditional green card, based on her marriage to Eddie, who is a U.S. citizen. This is standard procedure when an immigration officer believes it is a bona-fide union.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Eddie worked on Wall Street for more than half a century.

When that two-year period ended, the couple were interviewed by a second officer to prove that they are living together as husband and wife and had not gotten married merely to get an immigration benefit.

At this point, the officer could have approved the green card or given them a Stokes interview, an extensive separate set of questions to determine whether they really are in a marital union.

Instead, for no reason that Eddie could understand, the officer decided to put Lili in Deportation Court for removal proceedings.

The courts were backlogged. The original hearing, Aug. 17, 2017, which would have occurred near their 4-and-a-half-year wedding anniversary, was rescheduled by the courts twice — to Jan. 18, 2018 then June 19, 2018.

In the meantime, life intervened.

Lili’s father was dying, and her son was getting married. Lili needed to leave immediately.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Eddie and Lili touch base via computer every day.

In March, she went back to Shanghai. She made it just in time to see her father, who passed away three days later.

She’s been stuck there, in limbo, ever since.

Although she petitioned the U.S. Embassy in Beijing for permission to return to Eddie for the hearing, she had not received an answer by June 19.

At the June 19 hearing in U.S. court, Lili’s lawyer persuaded the judge to postpone the case until Dec. 13.

A short time after the hearing, the U.S. Embassy denied Lili’s request to return for the court case. Eddie’s lawyer plans to contact U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney for help.

If Lili does appear Dec. 13, she will be assigned a date for an individual hearing that will determine her ultimate fate. If, for whatever reason, she does not appear, she will be deported.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Eddie hopes Lili can come home soon.

In Lili’s absence, Eddie has been trying to make the best of things.

He takes long walks – Costco is only a mile and a half from his apartment. He also visits friends and spends time with his sons, who live in the metro area.

“I miss Lili,” he says.

It’s still early in the day. He has a lot of time to fill.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

At the front gate waiting for Lili.

So he starts another round of solitaire.

In the middle of it, Lili Skypes him.

Talking with her reminds him of how close they are.

And of how far away from each other they remain.

Astoria Characters Day: The 2nd Family Reunion is Sept. 23, 2018.

Sponsored by Bareburger and Salt & Bone, it is a free, public event.


Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at;

@nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram,,

Copyright 2018 by Nancy A. Ruhling




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Astoria Characters: The Colorist
by Nruhling
Jun 26, 2018 | 738 views | 0 0 comments | 36 36 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Shawna works for ARROJO Studio in SoHo.

Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

What’s for breakfast?

It’s Saturday, one of Shawna Morlock’s days off, so the answer is chocolate-chip pancakes.

The question comes from her 4-year-old daughter, Cara, her who is wearing a purple paper crown to hold down her long, little-girl blond hair.

“I don’t like to be late for breakfast,” Cara says.

Shawna’s husband, Roger, is at work, so she and Cara make them together.

When Shawna sets Cara’s plate on the living room coffee table, her daughter runs over to gobble up the goodies.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Cara wears a Band-Aid on her chin like a badge.

Once they’re gone, she sits in her playroom, talking to and with her toys, which include a rocking horse with butterfly wings hanging on its back and a brown teddy bear that is four times her size.

Shawna, sipping coffee from a ceramic mug, savors their daughter-mommy together time because there’s not enough of it: She has a full-time job as a cosmetologist at ARROJO Studio in SoHo.

Cara, whose artwork adorns the walls of the apartment, has just finished a drawing and runs up to show it to her mother.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Cara taking her ‘baby’ for a spin.

“At the moment, black is her favorite color,” Shawna says as she admires Cara’s colorful picture.  “You can tell she’s a real New Yorker.”

Although Shawna’s from the South – she was born in Waco, Texas, and lived in the state’s tiny town of McGregor until she was 12 and her parents divorced and she and her mother moved to Jacksonville, Florida – she always believed she belonged in Manhattan.

“I saw a TV commercial for Dial soap when I was 5,” she says. “Everyone piled into a cab in New York City. I wanted to be in that big, bright light-filled city.”

It would take her 21 more years to get there. Her stepfather’s job with water treatment plants kept them moving up and down Florida’s east coast (and even took them to the upper peninsula of Wisconsin for a year).

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Nobody can catch Cara!

“I became emancipated at 16,” Shawna says. “My parents were moving again, and I had already been in four high schools so I didn’t want to leave. I also was working 30 hours at a shoe store.”

Shawna got an apartment and a roommate long enough to finish school.

“I did well in high school, but I hated school,” she says. “I love to learn, but I hate to learn in a classroom.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Shawna’s first career, in the hospitality industry, was bartending.

After graduation, she got a job in a restaurant waiting on tables.

“I cried every morning when the alarm went off at 4:30,” she says. “I transferred to bartending to make more money. I worked in nightclubs then high-end restaurants, and I fell in love with the hospitality industry.”

Shawna realized early on that bartending was not a viable long-term career.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Cara can’t wait for breakfast: It’s chocolate-chip pancakes.

“You see older men doing it but never older women,” she says. “And I didn’t think that would change in my lifetime.”

She saw hairdressing, though, as an exciting option.

“My first roommate did it,” she says. “And she came home super excited every day. I wanted to have a job where I made people happy every day.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Cara goofing around.

She started saving her money and setting her sights on Manhattan.

It was Roger who delayed her arrival.

“I met him in Florida,” she says. “He was an assistant manager at the restaurant where I was bartending. He’s from Germany, but he had had an internship on Long Island and wanted to come back to New York. We got married five months after we started dating.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Cara making a cute mean face.

Two years later, in 2007, they arrived in the Big Apple.

“We didn’t have jobs lined up,” she says. “But we had contacts in the industry and got hired right away.”

By 2010, Shawna had enrolled in ARROJO Studio’s cosmetology school and was hired as a colorist upon graduation.

“Coloring hair is like constantly solving a puzzle,” says Shawna, whose curly shoulder-length locks are a fiery, fierce auburn. “It’s cerebral.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Cara and Shawna: happy together.

Her aspirations were cut short, however, when Roger was offered a job in 2014 opening a restaurant in South Beach, Florida.

“I started sobbing,” she says. “The original plan was for us to stay there seven to ten years and have Roger open a group of restaurants, but only one opened, so we came back after two years.”

When they returned, Roger became the general manager of Smith & Wollensky, and Shawna returned to ARROJO Studio. In addition to her colorist work, Shawna teaches the studio’s apprentices and the continuing-education classes.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Shawna likens coloring hair to putting together a puzzle.

“I see nine to 10 clients a day,” she says. “I work because I like to work not because I have to. Roger works at least 60 hours a week; we could squeak by on his salary.”

Sometimes,  Shawna considers the idea of opening her own salon. If she did, it would have to be small and manageable.

But honestly, she’s content right where she is. Retirement is decades away, and she wouldn’t be surprised if she never leaves ARROJO Studio.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The Cara and Shawna Show.

“I’m not driven to make a million dollars,” Shawna says. “I’m happy to be comfortable.”

Cara, who is sucking on an après-pancake Wonder Woman lollipop that turns her tongue neon blue, is eager to play on this beautiful day.

In a little while, Shawna is going to take her to Astoria Park.

Astoria Characters Day: The 2nd Family Reunion is Sept. 23, 2018. A free public event, it is sponsored by Bareburger and Salt & Bone.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at;

@nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram,,

Copyright 2018 by Nancy A. Ruhling



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Astoria Characters: The Honey Harvesters
by Nruhling
Jun 19, 2018 | 817 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Ashley and Nick are the owners of Astor Apiaries.

Text and photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

Nick Hoefly isn’t wearing gloves.

His wife, Ashley, points this out as she pulls on a pair of rubber ones the color of sunflowers.

They are getting ready to reach their hands into a hive filled with 5,000 buzzing bees, and she wants to make sure every vulnerable part of her body is protected.

She hasn’t been stung – yet – but Nick has. Eight times.

Nick, solid and self-assured, shrugs; it’s no big deal. Besides, he was a newbie when the incidents occurred.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Ashley wanted to be an art conservator.

“Bare hands allow me to be more gentle with the bees,” he reminds her. “And it makes me more comfortable when I’m handling them.”

This is important, he continues, because bees are sensitive creatures.

They can, for instance, feel people’s fear, and that’s when they are likely to make a lightning-quick stinger strike.

“They’re not like wasps,” he says, “even though they have a common ancestor. Bees are their vegetarian cousins. They will not sting unless they are threatened. The instinct to do it is hard-wired into them to be a last resort because stinging literally kills them.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Nick had eyes on being an astronaut.

Ashley, who has heard Nick’s honey-sweet sales pitch probably too many times, isn’t persuaded.

Her gloves stay on.

When they do don the sugar-white beekeeping suits that make them look like astronauts, she lets Nick take the lead.

It is he who opens the hive and pulls out the shelf-like honeycomb frames as bees buzz around his body like fighter jets.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Nick and Ashley suit up to work the hives.

Nick and Ashley, who are 32, have been keeping bees (and the bees have been keeping them busy) since 2015, when Nick placed his first 10,000-bee hive on their rooftop. A friend added a second one of the same size, and things took flight.

“It was a hobby,” he says. “I had a lot of fun with those bees, and everyone wanted to buy honey, so we got more bees.”

Nick, who is a freelance animator, never thought he would be an urban beekeeper.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Nick says the bees are curiosity captivators.

And bees certainly weren’t on Ashley’s mind.

“I wasn’t even into honey,” she says. “But the first time I tasted ours, I fell in love with it.”

Nick, a native of Bossier City, Louisiana, who moved to Ocala, Florida when he was in high school, and Ashley, who is from Belleview, Florida, met when they were in different colleges in different states.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Ashley and Nick tend the hive.

With aspirations of becoming an astronaut, Nick was studying engineering and aerospace at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He also was in the Air Force ROTC, hoping to pilot planes.

When an eye issue permanently grounded him, he switched to animation.

Ashley, meanwhile, was pursuing a degree in art conservation at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The smoker going full steam.

They met, through a mutual friend, when Ashley came back home for a visit.

“I moved back to Florida to go to UCF mostly because of Nick,” she says.

When she realizes how ridiculously romantic this sounds, she adds, “It also was because I got a scholarship that could be used at any state school in Florida.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Nick and Ashley say hello to the bees.

Ashley, who wears her hair in milk maid braids and looks as though she’s just stepped out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting, smiles reassuringly at Nick.

“It seemed like the right thing to do,” she adds, “but love had a lot to do with it.”

Once they had their diplomas and got engaged, in 2010 they moved into a studio apartment in Astoria.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Getting up close and personal.

“We didn’t have jobs, but we had enough money to cover two months if we skipped a few meals,” Nick says.

Ashley got a position as a financial coordinator at Columbia University’s graduate school of architecture, where she still works as an associate director in finance, and Nick picked up freelance animation projects, eventually setting up his own studio, Wonderbot.

“He works 24 hours a day,” Ashley says. “OK, it really is 20 hours a day. He does sleep for four.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Nick likens beekeepers to detectives.

He added beekeeping around the time Parker, their 3-year-old son, was born, and was up to his elbows in honey when their daughter, Olivia, who is 1 and a half, arrived.

Nick and Ashley divide their beekeeping duties.

“I do the grunt work,” Nick says. “Ashley does the bookkeeping and goes out with me when she can.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Ashley keeps the bees at bay with yellow gloves.

This year, their Astor Apiaries has 500,000 bees in 10 of its own hives. In addition, Nick and Ashley take care of a handful of others in Brooklyn.

Nick is looking forward not only to harvesting the late-summer honey but also to expanding his buzzing business.

And teaching his children all about the language of the bees.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Ashley helps Nick out part time.

“When Parker gets old enough, which is only one or two years away, I will bring him around the hives,” Nick says, adding that he’s already taught the boy to be gentle around the insects. “And hopefully, he’ll get stung.”

A sting for her son? Ashley is horrified.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Nick’s smile says it all.

“That doesn’t sound right,” she says.

“He needs to have the experience,” Nick says.

Ashley lets the sentence fly right over her head.

Astoria Characters Day: The 2nd Family Reunion is Sept. 23, 2018. It is sponsored by Bareburger and Salt & Bone.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at;

@nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram,,

Copyright 2018 by Nancy A. Ruhling



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Astoria Characters: The Successful Actor You've Never Heard Of
by Nruhling
Jun 12, 2018 | 923 views | 0 0 comments | 38 38 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Neal is an actor and a lawyer.

Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

You’ve probably never heard of Neal Arluck.

And it’s highly unlikely that you’d recognize his face.

There’s good reason for this.

Although Neal’s acting career has spanned more than four decades, it has, for the most part, played out on small stages in out-of-the-way states, where dinner often is served with theatre.

Don’t feel you should be upset about Neal’s lack of fame or fortune. He certainly isn’t.

In fact, he thinks it’s fantastic that he has had so much fun doing what he loves.

The amount of money he hasn’t made? It’s hilarious.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

He quickly gave up his legal career for the stage.

“I had a small speaking part in Woody Allen’s 1998 film Celebrity, and I did a few lines in the 2016 film Indignation that ended up on the cutting-room floor, but I still get residuals,” he says. “The checks literally are for a penny. The payment is about four cents, and they take out three cents for taxes.”

The “big money” comes from stage roles and on-site film-shoot pay. He tosses out some dollar amounts that start at $100 to $200 a day. They sound OK until he points out that there might only be a day’s work per week.

“It is entirely possible that you could be making more on an unemployment claim than taking a low-end acting job,” says Neal, a short, slim man, who when you squint hard enough bears a slight resemblance to Woody Allen.

The pleasure of performing, he insists, is the real reward.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

He had a short speaking role in Wood Allen’s 1998 film Celebrity.

Show business runs in Neal’s family. His uncle, Elliot Arluck, was featured in the 1945 film A Yank in London and co-wrote the Off-Broadway musical Meet Peter Grant.

The music to the song “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz was composed by Harold Arlen, who, Neal is proud to note, happened to be born Hyman Arluck.

“Elliot once ran into Arlen’s brother at the musicians’ union, but they couldn’t trace a direct relationship,” Neal says. “Many years later, I mentioned that to Harold’s son when I met him. I refuse to believe that we weren’t at least distant cousins.”

Despite the family history, Neal started out practicing law instead of lines.

Neal, who was born in Brooklyn, moved to Astoria at such a young age that he doesn’t even remember the transition.

At 6, when his parents divorced, Neal and his mother went to live in Far Rockaway, and when she remarried, they settled in a large house in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park South, where Neal’s sister and brother were born.

Neal spent his summers at camp, where he staged theatrical productions. He set that interest aside to study law.

“I worked on John Kennedy’s presidential campaign doing things like stuffing envelopes, and I wanted to go into politics,” he says. “A lot of politicians back then had law degrees, so it made sense to me.”

After he graduated from Lehigh University, Neal enrolled in New York University’s law school.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Did you notice him in the 2016 film Indignation?

“But the more I went, the more I discovered I didn’t want to do it,” he says. “I worked for a couple of months at a small corporate law firm, but I got bored out of my mind.”

While he was considering switching to legal journalism – he loved being the editor of NYU’s law school newspaper – he got a full-time job as the in-house counsel for a record and music publishing company.

Six months later, when that position was eliminated, Neal enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

“The big name in my class was Kim Cattrall who went on to star in Sex and the City,” he says.

Neal took to the audition circuit, paying his bills by doing temporary paralegal work.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

He’s lining up auditions for summer productions.

His first job – as the Woody Allen character in a stage production of Play It Again, Sam – took him to Mobile, Alabama.

That role led to a decade-long gig with a newly formed theatre company in Manhattan.

“I started out as the business manager and became managing director of the theater,” he says. “Occasionally, I got to be in the shows, and I kept doing the paralegal work.”

When the company folded, in the late 1980s, Neal took up acting again with abounding enthusiasm.

“I was forced to go back on the stage, which is where most of my experience was and still is,” he says and grins. “I started getting lots of out-of-town work.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Acting? It’s for fun, not money.

In addition to regional theatre, Neal also won roles in Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway productions. He got so busy that he dropped the legal work.

At 71, he still looks forward to every audition. He has several lined up for summer productions.

“I’m collecting a pension from Actors’ Equity and Social Security, which meet my minimal needs,” he says. “Anything else that comes in is mad money.”

When he’s off the stage, Neal devotes much of his free time to his Queensview co-op: He’s the chairman of the board and recently signed on as editor of the complex’s newsletter.

His devotion to the development is logical. Aside from short absences, he’s lived in the same two-bedroom unit for most of his life.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

He just finished shooting a film starring Alec Baldwin.

He glances around the living room. In the corner, there’s a piano his mother gave him money to buy in the mid-1970s when he took over the co-op from his father.

As a child, he took lessons from Theodore Harris, Elliot Arluck’s brother-in-law, but the instrument now serves as a pedestal for his flat-screen TV.

The walls are hung with original Al Hirschfeld caricatures, and shelves hold too many CDs to count or catalog.

Neal loves jazz, pop and classical music as well as show tunes.

Actors of Neal’s caliber are expected to come dressed for the part in contemporary scenes, so he rarely throws anything away. The goggle-eye glasses he’s wearing are from the 1970s; he still can see out of them, sort of.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Look for him in Motherless Brooklyn.

When he cleaned up the living room, he misplaced his current spectacles so he’s using these until the others turn up. He also has a pair of black horn-rims from the 1960s.

He wore them for a shoot he recently did with Alec Baldwin for the film Motherless Brooklyn, which is set in the 1950s.

He didn’t have a speaking part.

But between takes he and Alec traded stories about the Woody Allen films they have been in.

Astoria Characters Day: The 2nd Family Reunion is Sept. 23, 2018.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at;

@nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram,,

Copyright 2018 by Nancy A. Ruhling



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Astoria Characters: The Illustrator
by Nruhling
Jun 05, 2018 | 1423 views | 0 0 comments | 67 67 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Keiko is from Jakara, Indonesia.

Text and photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

“I like to collect things,” says Keiko Nabila.

She mentions this as she walks past the floor-to-ceiling shelves of shoes in the entry hall of her studio apartment/art studio.

The featured footwear is displayed in curated lines, toes provocatively pointing out. From earth-tone Uggs to blue-sparkled sneakers, they fashion themselves into a 3-D self-portrait of their owner.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Keiko is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts.

How many shoes does Keiko have? She doesn’t know offhand. She guesses 20 pair and is exceedingly surprised when she does a quick count and comes up with more than 50.

She wears most of them. The high heels, though, are mostly for show.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Keiko’s scarf patterns.

In the white-walled space that serves as her living room/bedroom/dining room and work room, there is another collection: plush Disney Tsum Tsum dolls, some still in their boxes, sit side by side to form a curated Greek chorus of critics who comment on Keiko’s creations.

One group rests beside her bed. Another sleeps in front of her, and the other frames the glass wall that overlooks the East River.

Keiko, who is an illustrator, uses them as character references for her cartoon-centric products, which range from tote bags and T-shirts, stickers and silk scarves to pop-up books, art prints and dangle earrings.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Keiko likes to walk along the East River to clear her mind.

“My art is playful,” says Keiko, who is wearing a Hello Kitty denim overall dress, a red blouse and bright white sneakers. “I want it to make people happy.”

That’s why she puts faces on fruit, draws blue boots on dancing sausages and pairs flying saucers and aliens with errant socks that sail through the air like rockets.

When she was growing up in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, Keiko was captivated by American and Japanese cartoons and imagined herself living and working in New York City.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Her patterns adorn everything from tote bags to T-shirts.

“My dad, who is Japanese, was always bringing me toys and pop-up greeting cards from his visits there,” she says, adding that she was brought up speaking English and Japanese as well as Indonesian. “And I thought, ‘I want to do the same thing.’”

Early on, Keiko, who loves Wes Anderson films and every dog she meets, decided that her art should do more than merely hang passively on the wall.

“I wanted people to see it on things,” she says. “When I say things, I mean everything.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

A Keiko art book with an animal-themed beginning, middle and end.

After studying the technical aspects of art in high school, she came to New York City to attend the School of Visual Arts, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in illustration.

“I never considered painting,” she says. “I don’t enjoy it.”

Since she graduated in spring 2017, Keiko has been working hard at establishing herself as a freelance illustrator.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Right now, her studio apartment doubles as her art studio.

In addition to an internship as a studio assistant to an illustrator one day a week, Keiko has set up her own business, KN.YAMAZAKI, to sell the products she creates. Its moniker is a creative combination of her initials and her family’s last name. Several times a year, she sells her creations at craft fairs.

Although she does get together with friends and even plays soccer once a week, work is her priority.

“I don’t rest until I finish each project, so my sleep schedule varies,” she says, glancing at her bed, which is outfitted with a colorful comforter and doubles as a sofa. “I live right by the East River, so I like to take walks when I need a break.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

One of Keiko’s felt-work pictures.

Her hard work is paying off in a big way.

She has received three awards: The Society of Illustrators presented her with a $1,000 scholarship and included her work in its Illustrators 60 exhibition and annual book, and American Illustration featured her work in its 37th annual book and exhibition.

“I was so happy because everyone who was in the annuals was very established,” she says, adding that the recognition is worth far more than money.

Although she’s not quite financially independent, she knows she eventually will be.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

She’s on her way to a full-time freelance career in illustration.

“My parents are very supportive of what I’m doing,” she says. “There is no work in Indonesia for illustrators, so they told me to stay here and make a living.”

She talks about getting a separate art studio then all but dismisses the idea – it’s more convenient to live and work in the same space. The commute from drawing board to bed is easy and enviable.

“I want to do my illustrations full time,” she says. “I’m still working toward it.”

Astoria Characters Day: The 2nd Family Reunion is Sept. 23, 2018. A free, public event, it is sponsored by Bareburger and Salt & Bone.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at; @nancyruhling, nruhling on Instagram,,

Copyright 2018 by Nancy A. Ruhling


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