Astoria Characters by Nruhling
Nancy A. Ruhling
Aug 30, 2016 | 7164 views | 0 0 comments | 48 48 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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Astoria Characters: The Private Eye
by Nruhling
Mar 13, 2018 | 200 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Cici’s a writer and a private detective.

Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

Once, Clarissa McNair had to convince a Diamond District dealer that she was a shop owner eager to buy his designer knockoffs.

Another time, she played the widow of a Tiffany-glass collector to see whether the well-known dealer, who had served time for selling stolen goods, had turned over a new leaf.

And then there was the time she pretended to be the mother of a child dying of cancer.

She had to memorize medications and complicated medical terms so the oncologist, who was suspected of selling a bogus “cure” for outrageous sums to desperate parents, wouldn’t catch on to her impersonation.

“I got so caught up in the story that I found myself crying,” she says.

The unplanned tears, she confesses, “were a good touch.”

Clarissa, who goes by Cici, is a not an actress.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

You’ll often see Cici wearing a straw hat.

She’s a private investigator; she’s worked on everything from sexual harassment, stolen art and corporate malfeasance to missing persons, death-row and blackmail cases.

She’s worn a wire and costumes. She’s gone undercover long term.

Slipping into the skins of others is all part of the job.

“I love doing it,” she says. “It’s a holiday from being me.”

Just who Cici is is hard to pin down. Although she was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, she didn’t waste time leaving the state.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Cici’s lived and worked all over the world.

After graduating from Briarcliff College in Westchester with a degree in American history, she got married and spent five years in Canada.

“The divorce took longer than the marriage,” she says. “I went to Rome and threw my wedding ring in the Tiber.”

By that time, Cici had done, by her own account, “a whole lot of jobs,” including working on a true-crime documentary and training to be a dessert chef.

“I felt out of step with the people I had been close to,” she says. “I decided to start over and moved to Italy.”

Vatican Radio hired her as a news writer, on-air newscaster and documentary producer.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Her office is in her one-bedroom Astoria apartment.

“I was the only non-Catholic there,” she says.

She left to write a nonfiction book, and when that didn’t work out, she produced her first novel, Garden of Tigers.

She moved around a lot, setting up house in Rome, then London then Geneva and several other places, before returning to the states.

After a year of working on films in Los Angeles and writing her second novel, A Flash of Diamonds, in 1994 she landed in New York, broke and living out of a suitcase in a borrowed apartment.

She got the idea to be a detective while looking through the Manhattan Yellow Pages.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

She’s written several novels and a true-crime book.

“I’d never met a detective, but suddenly I wanted to be one,” she says.

Cici landed her first job on April Fool’s Day, 1994. The irony was not lost upon her.

Cici, who is tall and willowy and likes to wear big, floppy sun hats, speaks with the seductive wisp of a Southern accent.

She’s had a lot of adventures while vanquishing the bad guys – you can read all about them in her 2009 memoir, Detectives Don’t Wear Seat Belts.

That book left her sleuthing solo in Miami then Philadelphia.

That’s not where her story ends. There was Paris. Then Rome.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

She also  hosts a radio show in Paris.

There were more novels – Dancing With Thieves and Kiss the Risk – and a true-crime book, Never Flirt With a Femme Fatale.

And lots of investigations.

In the summer 2016, Cici set up what she calls the “international offices” of Sleuth Star and McNair Writes, her memoir-writing company, in her one-bedroom, marble-floored Astoria apartment above a Laundromat on Broadway.

“I don’t like 9-to-5 jobs,” she says, adding that she has clients around the world. “I like projects because I like to see the end of things.”

Such as the rape case she just finished gathering intelligence for.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

You may see  her in a reality TV series soon.

“I’m hired in criminal cases to hear the client’s story, take photos at the crime scene and interview the people involved,” she says. “I think of my job as gathering background information for the lawyer so he’s not surprised in court.”

Each case, she says, is, in essence, a short story.

“The characters lie and cheat,” she says. “Sometimes there’s heartbreak. They have all the drama of novels.”

She capitalized upon their novelistic potential immediately.

“I started taking notes on my first detective job,” she says.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

She’s just cracked a big case.

Cici, whose crime/scandal/death show, Basic Black, is broadcast on World Radio Paris, is writing a screenplay and developing a true-crime TV series about her life as a private investigator.

She’s also seeking a publisher for an international case she recently completed.

She can’t talk about it yet, but she guarantees you’ll hear about it all over the news.

Cici just got back from a month-long trip to Paris.

The year is young. She’s looking forward to new cases and adventures.

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 Man Who Sees the Art in Life
by Nruhling
Mar 06, 2018 | 433 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Hyungjo’s from South Korea.

Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

Hyungjo Moon doesn’t have many possessions.

His fifth-floor apartment, which looks out over the Broadway subway stop, isn’t so much immaculately austere as carefully curated.

The living room/dining room/art studio of his efficient one-bedroom box contains nothing more than a futon-like sofa, a white card table for eating meals, a coffee table surgically stacked with books, a computer desk with a swiveling office chair and a small bookcase with a handful of objects, including a Victoria’s Secret shopping bag, arranged stylishly in front of it.

In his work and in his life, Hyungjo, an artist whose main medium is photography, strives to bring out the beauty of everyday objects by placing them in what he calls “strange new contexts.”

Picture a shopping cart on the sidewalk (it’s right-side-up, but the photo is, jarringly, upside down), a plastic drinking cup defined with a bead of water clinging to its side or a cardboard light-bulb box stuck on the wall like a sconce.

“I use cameras, computer screens and scanners to create a photographic space,” he says. “I look in catalogs or on the Internet to find common objects that are banal and forgotten.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

One of Hyungjo’s line drawings.

Hyungjo concedes that his images are made to make you think.

“My work might look different and be hard to understand when you first see it,” he says.

Hyungjo, a serious young man with horn-rim glasses and a smile that looms large when coaxed out, developed his style after studying traditional photography in his native South Korea.

An only child, he grew up in an apartment in Seoul, and when his parents noticed his interest in objects, they encouraged his artistry.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Hyungjo just graduated from Bard College.

By the time he was in high school, Hyungjo, equipped with a cheap film camera, was also attending a prep school to study photography.

“I went three times a week after school,” he says, adding that the class was 7 to 10 p.m. “I had to take the subway and bus, so it took three hours to get there. Coming home it was faster – I sometimes made it in one and a half hours.”

At first, he focused on journalistic photography, documenting, click by click, the world around him.

“I shot people at the bus stop and trees and protests,” he says. “I captured dramatic moments. It was clichéd; a lot of people were doing it. It wasn’t right for me, so I started studying the work of artists and photographers.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

His art studio is in his one-bedroom apartment.

Hyungjo continued to define his conceptual style while he was at Chung-Ang University in Seoul and got field experience as a photographer during his two years of mandatory service in the army.

“I read a lot of books while I was in the army,” he says. “They were about literature, languages and art.”

By the time he returned to the university, he was determined to make photography his art.

“I decided to make my own style,” he says. “And I tried to focus on conceptual stuff.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Hyungjo’s art brings  out the beauty of everyday objects.

After graduation, he opted to pursue his studies in the United States.

“In South Korea, there are limits on information,” he says. “And it’s hard to do self-study. I thought there would be more artistic opportunities in America, and I wanted to challenge myself.”

He enrolled at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson and moved to Astoria to be close to the school’s studio at the Court Square subway stop.

Internships and roommates helped deflect some of his college costs.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Hyungjo works at bookdummypress in Manhattan.

Since his graduation late last year, he’s been working full time at bookdummypress, an independent publishing company and a bookstore/project space in Manhattan that specializes in artist publications.

He creates his art when he has time.

“I’ve been archiving a lot of images,” he says. “I haven’t been printing them out because it’s too costly.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

He came to America for greater artistic opportunities.

Hyungjo wants to work full time as an artist.

“I’d like to stay in the United States a little longer,” he says, “because it brings me much more experience and opportunities as an artist.”

Hyungjo, who is 28, knows things will not be easy if he follows this career path.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Hyungjo’s looking forward to a career  in art.

He mentions getting a studio apartment to cut costs.

That, of course, would mean giving up some of his things.

It doesn’t matter.

Possessions aren’t important.

Art is.

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 Woman With a New Life
by Nruhling
Feb 27, 2018 | 516 views | 0 0 comments | 42 42 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

2017 was Tiffany’s year of change.

Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

Wow! There have been a lot of changes – boom, boom, boom! — in Tiffany Gentry’s life lately.

So caught up has Tiffany been in the whirlwind of everything new that she hasn’t really had time to process her dramatic metamorphosis.

Just when she’s about to expound upon her transformation, Achilles, her adorable 4-and-a-half-year-old beagle, tells her it’s time to take a walk.

Tiffany, a tallish woman with a lion’s mane of light brown/blond hair that cascades freely down her back, leashes him up and lets him lead her around the block.

“He’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” she says, as he runs ahead of her to smell a tree. “He’s my baby.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Achilles on the street.

Back inside, Achilles looks up at her with his big, innocent eyes, which have wandered over to the kitchen in the hopes of begging a bite to eat.

Tiffany caves and gives him a bowl of dog chow.

Like the other things that have happened in Tiffany’s life, the acquiring of Achilles was more impulsive than preplanned.

A private math tutor, Tiffany saw her students in a WeWork office. Among the perks was a members-only social network that Tiffany hardly ever looked at.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Tiffany lived in the same Astoria apartment for 20 years.

When she did finally sign on, she discovered that someone was selling a litter of beagles. The puppy she came to name Achilles was the only one left.

But that’s getting ahead of the story.

Tiffany, who was born in Mountain View, California, grew up in Washington State, which is where her mother moved her and her two older sisters shortly after her divorce. Tiffany was a baby when this happened.

They first went to the big city of Yakima. Later, they set up house in the small cities of Ellensburg and Marysville.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Achilles entered Tiffany’s life 4 and a half years ago.

Her father remained in California.

“The first time I met him, I was 6,” she says. “My sisters and I used to spend some summers with him.”

Tiffany, who had aspirations of a career on the stage, got a small scholarship to an arts school in Seattle.

“My father had a big, old house there that he was selling,” she says. “I lived in the basement, which had a kitchen and bathroom. The rest of the house was empty – I swore it was haunted. I was so scared.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Tiffany’s working on her master’s degree in education.

Fortunately, she didn’t stay there long.

“Even with the scholarship, I could only afford one semester of school,” she says. “I was so depressed. A high school friend was coming to New York City to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, so I decided to enroll there.”

She lived in Roberts House, a residential hotel for young women in Manhattan whose chief characteristic was its cheap rent.

Photo  by Nancy A. Ruhling

Tiffany and Achilles on their route.

“I had a cubicle for a room,” she says. “It contained a twin bed, a dresser, a sink and a closet. We got breakfast and dinner free. There were a lot of call girls living there. It was a safe place for them.”

When her money and her enthusiasm for the academy ran out, Tiffany started auditioning.

She got roles in student films, plays and touring theatre productions and supplemented her income with temp jobs in offices.

She followed a boyfriend to Astoria and never left.

“I kept moving to different apartments,” she says. “Then, I found a rent-stabilized place and stayed there the last 20 years.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

She teaches English in a Bronx high school.

A series of disappointments large (the renaissance fair she had a role in went out of business before her first performance) and small (she hated sitting around on film sets waiting for shooting to commence) turned Tiffany from acting.

To pay the bills, she returned to temp jobs. She worked for an art gallery and a strip club (she was the bookkeeper; the dancers, she says, were nice even though the owner wasn’t).

At the same time, she went back to school. She enrolled at The City College of New York. It was, she says, too big and too expensive.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Tiffany came to New York to study acting.

She transferred to Borough of Manhattan Community College, where she earned an associate’s degree in liberal arts, then earned a bachelor’s degree in religion from Hunter College, where she graduated first in her class with a 4.00 GPA.

“I’m interested in the ancient world, and the religion courses were the closest things I could find to that,” she says.

The last couple of years, Tiffany was an executive assistant; she tutored in her free time.

When she got laid off, she became a full-time tutor specializing in math and logic.

In the summer of 2017, she started taking classes at Lehman College, where she is working on a master’s degree in education.

Photo by  Nancy A. Ruhling

On their way home.

In September 2017, she became a full-time English teacher at a public high school in the Bronx.

In October 2017, she traded her old apartment for a bigger, nicer one.

These new ventures required a lot of readjustments for her and Achilles.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Being pulled in two directions.

She gets up at 4 so she has time to walk Achilles before dropping him off at a friend’s for the day.

She takes consolation in the fact that Achilles can play with the cats and other dogs in the house.

By 5:30 a.m., she’s on her way to the high school. Generally, she gets home at 5:30 p.m. and tries to get in bed by 9.

On Thursday nights, however, she’s in class at Lehman.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Tiffany grew up on the West Coast.

“This year has been tough,” she says, adding that she studies and tutors on the weekends.

Tiffany is striving to be an A student and an A teacher.

“No matter how much you learn about teaching, you’re never prepared,” she says. “And there’s a difference between tutoring one-on-one and teaching a class full of students. It’s a challenge to engage students every moment. As a student at Lehman, I want to be as good as I was at Hunter.”

Tiffany is glad that her life has been turned upside down.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Advancing toward her new future.

“I’m so lucky now,” she says, “because the things I did in the past didn’t work out.”

With Achilles lounging on a rug at her feet, Tiffany looks around her big, beautiful apartment.

She left behind her old furniture. Her new sofas are due to arrive any day.

Achilles is just as excited as she is.


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


Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at;

@nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram,,

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Astoria Characters: The Monster Maker
by Nruhling
Feb 20, 2018 | 709 views | 0 0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Sky Deviler on the loose.

Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

Somewhere sinister, in a secret lab, Dr. Cube, a mad scientist intent on ruling the universe, is making a malevolent monster mob that can crush cities with a single stomp.

When the bad doctor, who wears a box-like mask to hide his hideous face, unleashes his formidable force, the planet kneels before the likes of Kung Fu Chicken Noodle (a factory worker who’s a soup can) and Dusto Bunny (a hare-sage who needs a body Swiffer).

Will the earth be pulverized by these strange beasts called Kaiju?

You’ll have to ask Randy Borden, the creator of the series of live shows called Kaiju Big Battel that pits good against evil.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The fate of the universe is in his hands.

Randy, who has been producing this brand of evil entertainment for more than two decades, grew up in Abington, Massachusetts watching Kaiju, the Japanese flicks featuring beasts in big battles.

Remember the so-bad-they-were-good Godzilla movies that were replayed on TV a gazillion times?

Randy, who decided when he was in fourth grade that he wanted to be an artist, forgot all about them until he was in Boston at The School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts studying sculpture and printmaking.

The next Kaiju Big Battel is March 10 at 2 p.m. at La Boom in Long Island City.

“Somebody gave me a book from Japan with Kaiju monsters,” he says. “I was friends with a film student, and we decided that I would create the characters and make the monster costumes and we would shoot our own movie.”

Things happened, but the movie didn’t.

“We ended up doing a stage version at a Halloween fund-raiser,” he says, “and it snowballed.”

Soon, Randy was producing shows all over the country.

“Hundreds of people were coming,” he says. “We even did one show that had 4,000 people.”

College is also where Randy was introduced to Yoriko Shiraishi, a native of Tokyo, Japan.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Sky Deviler changing into human form.

Like Randy, she wanted to make art her career.

“My father taught me to draw stick figures when I was 2,” she says. “He was a car engineer, so I started drawing cars and never stopped.”

After going to a high school in Los Angeles, Yoriko decided to come back to America for college.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Kiliko with her Kaiju monster.

“I was using the printmaking room, and I was impressed by Randy because every time I was there, he was cleaning,” she says. “In Japan everything was very tidy, but in America it was messy, so this caught my attention. I didn’t realize until later that cleaning the room was part of his job running the room.”

Their love of Japanese pop culture led to their friendship.

In 2001, they married, and in 2007, their daughter, Kiliko, was born.

When the economy went south and the shows stopped, Randy and Yoriko went west.

“I was offered a job building things in New York,” Randy says. “We have lived in this apartment since we arrived in August 2009.”

As it happened, Randy’s job was a bust, but Yoriko found part-time work.

She was an office assistant at a Japanese newspaper for several years before being laid off.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Randy’s all set for the March 10 show.

Now, Randy teaches after-school sculpture classes at P.S. 17, 85 and 166, and Yoriko does freelance graphic design projects, paints and has an Etsy shop that sells postcards and prints.

Randy is ramping up Kaiju Big Battel; the next show is on March 10 at La Boom in Long Island City.

It’s a fund-raiser for Our World Neighborhood Charter School in Astoria, which Kiliko attends.

Each Kaiju Big Battel is unique.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Kiliko subduing her monster.

Randy’s the director, script writer and creature and prop designer/maker.

“Everybody in the cast – there are about 25 people from all over the country – sends me ideas, and I take the things I like,” he says. “We play off news stories. There’s a lot of political and social commentary, but it’s so subtle it goes over most people’s heads.”

From script to stage show takes about a month.

The Kaiju monsters are made of foam covered in rubber.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Kiliko also is an artist.

“Each one takes a couple of months to do,” he says. “The rubber is painted on, and it takes a long time to dry between coats. Most have seven to ten coats.”

The Kaiju Big Battel shows are family affairs.

Yoriko often helps design the posters.

“I do them from his sketches,” she says, “because I’m better at drawing.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Kiliko with No. 13. Fear the evil.

Even Kiliko has gotten into the act.

She has danced as Sky Deviler, a blue alien-glutton who has one big red eye in the center of his face and fierce fangs.

If that creature looks familiar, it’s because there’s a similar one in Disney’s 2014 film Big Hero 6.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Dr. Cube is out to rule the world.

“The three-eyed battle suit worn by Fred is based on Sky Deviler,” Randy says. “I read an article about the director where he’s quoted as saying that my character was his inspiration.”

If things go Randy’s way, Kaiju Big Battel will, indeed, conquer the world.

For good.

“I want to do this full time again,” he says. “I hope to produce at least 12 shows a year all over the country.”

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 Art-Foundry Owner
by Nruhling
Feb 13, 2018 | 909 views | 0 0 comments | 67 67 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Michael’s family owns Sculpture House Casting.

Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

What’s your title?

It’s not meant to be a funny question, but it makes Michael Perrotta of Sculpture House Casting laugh.

“We’re a family business,” he says. “We don’t have titles. I’ve done everything from sweeping the floor to doing the patina on a bronze. Nothing is above or below anyone here.”

Michael, who handles the business aspects of the foundry, is sitting at an art-scarred antique oak desk.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Sculpture House Casting is at 43-77 9th St.

It belongs to his father, Salvatore. So do the dust-shrouded grey New Balance sneakers peeking out from under it.

Michael picks up a crimson-color wax head that’s lying on the desktop.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

One of the foundry’s classics.

It’s right where Salvatore left it; he was working on it yesterday, flicking away flecks of wax from its seams so it can be cast in bronze.

You can see the bright-red dots on the floor. They look like blood.

The desk, Michael mentions, used to be used by the foundry founder, Alex Ettel.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The excellence is in the details.

He rummages in the top drawer and brings out a bunch of vintage photos.

He holds up one of Alex, then one of Alex’s father in the studio standing next to a pair of life-size equestrian statues.

Michael isn’t sure what’s in all the drawers because he’s never really gone through them carefully. They contain a hundred years of history.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Michael has made the foundry his career.

Sculpture House Casting, which has been making art molds and casts since 1918, is the oldest foundry in New York City. (More photos.)

The city’s two other foundries also are in the boroughs.

Modern Art Foundry in Astoria was set up 85 years ago, and Bedi-Makky Art Foundry in Greenpoint, Brooklyn was established in the early 1920s.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

A wing-like motif.

“We all collaborate on projects,” Michael says.

Until 2014 when it moved to Long Island City, Sculpture House Casting, which has 11 employees, made its home in Manhattan.

Salvatore and Michael’s uncle, Joseph Ruggerio, bought it in the mid-1980s after working there for decades and now all three own it.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Michael handles the business aspects of the foundry.

“My father came to New York City from Naples, Italy, in 1966 with $80 in his pocket,” Michael says. “He was a poor farmer and didn’t know anything about this business. At that time, foundries were dominated by Italians. He went door to door looking for jobs. He got a job here and worked his way up. He also got my uncle his job.”

Michael, tall and statuesque with perfectly sculpted salt-and-pepper hair, grew up in the foundry.

“As early as I can remember, I would come here on Saturdays with my father,” he says. “I found it to be a fascinating place. And I got to play with clay and plaster.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The foundry houses 100 years of history.

He continued to help out while he was earning a degree in finance from St. John’s University.

“After I graduated, I did a few other jobs for a short time, but they were so mundane and boring that I came back here and never left,” he says, adding that the transition, like the foundry’s molds, was virtually seamless.

The foundry works with a host of artists, including Kara Walker, Kiki Smith and Tom Otterness.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The foundry executes artists’ designs.

“Everything we do is handmade,” Michael says. “We’re still analog in a digital world, and we’re going to stay that way.”

It also creates high-end props for window displays for the likes of Macy’s and Tiffany & Co.

If you’ve ever been to Carnegie Hall, you’ve seen the ornamental plaster that the foundry restored in the 1980s.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Works in various stages of progress.

And if you went to the Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 2014 to snap a selfie with Kara Walker’s bittersweet sphinx A Marvelous Sugar Baby, you got to see the surrounding statues the foundry made.

Last year, perhaps you sat on a cast-concrete Louis XIV sofa or chair made by the foundry for Liz Glynn’s Open House at 59th Street and Central Park.

Or maybe you’ll visit the FDR Hope Memorial on Roosevelt Island, which will include Meredith Bergmann’s statue of the 32nd president and a little girl that were made by the foundry.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Michael joined the foundry full time after college.

“It’s interesting working here,” Michael says. “We’re producing art, and I get to meet a lot of interesting people.”

There may be an art to the foundry’s work, but Michael is the first to admit that the creativity is cast by the artists.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling


“We are more like mechanics,” he says. “We carry out artists’ instructions.”

Michael, who is 47, acknowledges that the foundry’s is a dying art.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Michael has been trained to do every job in the foundry.

“In our world, art is the first thing that is cut from budgets,” he says.

Although Michael commutes on the LIRR from Sea Cliff, the foundry’s workers, who are immigrants, live in the boroughs.

“I can’t move to the suburbs,” he says. “I have to be on a subway line, so it’s vital for the city to make space for industrial businesses like ours.”

Indeed, it was an astronomical hike in rent — from $8,000 to $40,000 per month — that forced Sculpture House Casting from Manhattan.

Successors? Michael hasn’t given much thought to the subject, even though he probably should.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The mold for a Macy’s clown.

Salvatore is 71, and Joseph is 65.

Michael’s daughter, who just turned 14, is far too young to be thinking about joining any business, even one owned by her family.

“She comes to visit occasionally,” he says.

Then again, nobody has mentioned retirement.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Michael facing the future head-on.

Michael is proud of the fact that during his tenure, which began in 1995 and included the 2009 recession, there have been no layoffs.

“We’re a family,” he says. “If things don’t work out, we’ll go out together.”

He puts the faded black-and-white snapshot of Alex Ettel back in the desk drawer and slowly closes it.

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

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at;

@nancyruhling on Twitter; nruhling on Instagram,,

Copyright 2018 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Voice of Chinamerica Radio
by Nruhling
Feb 06, 2018 | 626 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Steve’s the voice behind Chinamerica Radio and The Country Oldies Show.

Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

The first time Steve Warren stepped in front of a radio-station microphone, he was wearing a bow tie.

“I was in third grade and sang White Christmas,” says Steve, a tall man with an easy-going, ear-pleasing voice. “An organist in a suit was playing the music live. They gave me a wristwatch.”

The timepiece, which Steve wishes he had preserved as a souvenir, turned out to a prescient present.

Steve, the host of Envision Radio Network’s The Country Oldies Show, America’s longest running weekly radio program featuring the greatest country hits from the 1950s to the 1980s, has spent his entire career in radio.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Chinamerica Radio started a decade ago.

Since 1999, he’s been producing the oldies show, which made its debut in 1994, from a studio-apartment-size space on Jackson Avenue in Long Island City. The studio also is home to his Chinamerica, the only 24-hour Internet Chinese global radio station.

Radio was a logical choice for Steve because his father was in the business. That’s how he got that bow-tie holiday gig.

The family lived in New Albany, Indiana, which is right across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky and is home to WNAS, the first public high school FM station in the country.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Steve made his first radio appearance when he was in grade school.

“My dad didn’t stay in radio,” Steve says, “but he managed regional country music stars and later distributed music for Decca Records.”

Steve got to know the stars.

Some of them, African-Americans, used his bedroom as a dressing room because they were not allowed to stay in Louisville hotels under Jim Crow laws.

By the time he was a senior in high school, Steve was producing a weekly 15-minute program for WNAS, which broadcasted from Louisville. After graduation, he worked for a local rock-and-roll station.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Steve in his WNBC days.

He worked full time in radio while earning a speech and theatre degree from Indiana University.

Instead of heading to a Broadway stage, Steve opted for a broadcasting booth.

“I used radio as my theatre venue of choice,” he says. “It was just me and the microphone. It was like doing improv — nothing was scripted.”

His eye and his voice were on Manhattan, so he worked his way across the country, station by station as he zeroed in on the Big Apple.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Steve worked for several NYC stations, including WHN, the city’s first country station.

In 1971, he made it: He got a job with WPAT.

Later he worked for CBS Radio Network, WNBC Radio and WHN, the first country station in the city.

He traded DJing for program management and established his own consulting company.


hoto by Nancy A. Ruhling

Paper umbrellas and microphones.

For a couple of years, he was editor of Radio Ink Magazine.

When satellite radio was being developed, he designed and implemented the country music channels for Sirius.

Later, he helped launch the Martha Stewart Living channel on Sirius and became the news anchor for The Howard Stern Show.

Along the way, he made personal appearances and MC’d shows for stars like Johnny Cash, John Denver and Buck Owens, wrote RADIO: The Book, a best-seller on programming, appeared in episodes of The Sopranos and in several feature films, including It’s Complicated, and served as an adjunct instructor at the International Academy of Broadcasting in Montreux, Switzerland.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Chinamerica Radio opened up a whole new life for Steve.

Then, 10 years ago, when he was close to retirement age, he met someone from the Chinese Consulate in New York City.

“He introduced me to the pop music of China,” Steve says. “That’s what got Chinamerica started.”

The station, which has a listener base of nearly a million tune-ins per month, plays Chinese pop music. Announcements, ads and interviews are in English.

“I couldn’t believe that nobody else had thought of this,” he says. “The Chinese-American population alone is 3.8 million.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Each person interviewed gets a fortune cookie.

Chinamerica is essentially a one-man show. Steve has a partner in Beijing who comes to New York for a couple of weeks each year. He calls in part-timers when he needs them.

Steve mans the station from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day then attends events at night and on weekends.

“The station has grown entirely on relationships,” he says.

Steve, who just brought back a suitcase full of CDs from Taiwan, says Chinamerica is a fulfilling endeavor.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Steve hopes a mainstream station gives a voice to Chinamerica Radio.


“Learning new music, a new language and a new culture has extended my lifetime,” says Steve, who has spent 56 of his 72 years working in radio. “I’ve got something to wake up for every morning.”

Although Steve is having too much fun to retire, he’d like to create a secure future for Chinamerica.

“I would feel vindicated, if at some point, I am able to get this music and this demographic acknowledged by mainstream media,” he says.

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

Support Astoria Characters at GoFundMe

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at;

@nancyruhling on Twitter; nruhling on Instagram,,

Copyright 2018 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Street Painter
by Nruhling
Jan 30, 2018 | 913 views | 0 0 comments | 53 53 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Anthony started street painting after 9/11.

Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

Anthony Cappetto is standing on the sidewalk on 30th Avenue.

This is not how he’s generally known for making contact with concrete.

Anthony is an internationally acclaimed street painter, and when he’s working on one of his illusionary 3-D murals, he’s sitting or lying on the ground using colored chalk to find the art in the asphalt.

It’s the kind of creative endeavor where you get your hands dirty. And where your art is always wiped out.

“I accept the idea of temporality and thrive with it,” he says and grins.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Anthony working on his project for the LIC Flea & Food.

Anthony, who is from the suburbs of Chicago, started drawing as a child.

There was, he declares, nothing unusual about his pursuit.

“Every child has an interest in art,” he says, “but it is tempered by society.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

He colors in the spaces by hand with chalk.

Anthony, who has a bachelor’s degree in architecture and philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, managed not only to retain his artistic ability but also to channel it into a livelihood.

He paired a career in corporate interiors architecture in New York City with what he likes to call “after-hours painting,” which is exactly what it sounds like.

He didn’t know anything about street art until 1999, when he and his wife, Wendy Stum, went to Grazie di Curtatone, Italy, to visit the world’s oldest street painting fair.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The design includes pumpkins.

“I was completely into it,” he says.

The couple visited other fairs, and when Anthony and Wendy were downsized after 9/11, he decided to try street painting.

“I was at the bottom of the rung,” he says.

It didn’t take long for him to become one of the world’s top street painters.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The image starts taking shape.

Anthony, a tall man with salt and pepper hair that’s a riot of curls, distinguished his work by incorporating 3-D elements, a technique that at the time was novel.

Since 2001, Anthony, through his company, Art for After Hours, has completed more than 100 projects around the world for festivals, exhibitions, conferences and corporations.

He’s chalked his way through the United States as well as the United Arab Emirates, India, Switzerland, Japan, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Uruguay and Mexico.

His New York City projects include one in Central Park and one in the World Financial Center.

In October, he created a 3-D street painting – a jumbo jump-into-the-foam mug of beer with a side garnish of autumn pumpkins and a salt-encrusted soft pretzel – at the LIC Flea & Food.

“I’m grateful for all of these experiences,” he says.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Anthony has created street paintings around the world.

Anthony’s works are meant to engage. Look at one and you want to step inside his world, where what you see is not what it seems.

A 3-D bowl of spaghetti invites you to pick up the fork to take a bite; an I-beam floating in the sky makes you think you are on top of the world; and a skyscraper tricks you into believing you’re dangling dangerously close to death.

Whether Anthony’s creating a mural for a festival or corporate client, his method is the same.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Chalk is Anthony’s main medium.

He solicits ideas from each client and presents a small-scale, hand-drawn sketch in color pencil.

“I’m traditional in this respect,” he says, adding that he prefers the personal touch over the computer click.

Once the concept is approved, he creates a small-scale technical sketch.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The LIC work, partly finished.

“I mathematically calculate the 3-D proportions,” he says. “And I look at every angle people will view the art.”

On the street, he hand draws and hand colors the full design.

Although many of his works are chalk, he also works in acrylic and tempera paints.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Anthony’s is pretty much a solo act.

From design concept to last chalk mark, some projects can take months. For larger projects, he creates a team to help with the painting.

At every step along the way, he gets feedback from Wendy, who is his assistant and marketing director.

“She’s my muse,” he says. “She’s my harshest critic and my staunchest supporter.”

He thinks about this a moment.

“You might want to soften the word ‘harshest,’” he says, neglecting to suggest an alternative.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Get ready to take a photo of the mural.

Since 2011, Anthony has been working 4-D emerging technologies into some of his paintings.

“I try to do things that others do not,” he says, adding that he’s started to include animated augmented reality and virtual spaces in his streetwise works. “My work is conceptual, visionary and thoughtful in nature. I want people to walk away and think about what they have seen and experienced.”

Anthony posing with the LIC work.

Anthony looks forward to pushing the envelope – and the concrete – to the limits.

“I’m 56 and not getting any younger,” he says. “In the next eight to 10 years, probably eight, I will start training other younger artists to develop my ideas. I’m also thinking about street art – painting on walls.”

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

Support Astoria Characters at GoFundMe

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at;

@nancyruhling on Twitter; nruhling on Instagram,,

Copyright 2018 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Funnyman
by Nruhling
Jan 23, 2018 | 734 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Ben was born in  Russia.

Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

When you’ve joked around all night, it’s hard to be awake, much less funny, at 8 a.m.

Comic Ben Rosenfeld is swigging bottled water and swiping the sleep from his eyes, which he confesses aren’t quite ready to open.

Whose bright idea was it to do this interview at such an awful hour?

Busted! It was Ben who set the time.

He was joking. Well sort of. He also suggested noon, so he didn’t really think 8 would be the chosen option.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Ben just finished his third album.

“I’m not a morning person,” he says. “I used to sleep in school. When the teachers called on me, I gave the right answer then put my head back down on the desk.”

He swears he’s serious.

Jokes, he insists, don’t just spring from his brain fully formed. They have to be house trained like puppies to get their giggles and guffaws on.

“Some jokes take five different versions to work,” he says. “Some are written the day before a show. With some, it takes months before I say them on stage.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Ben does his stand-up routine at clubs every night.

Ben, who writes his routines in the spare bedroom in his apartment, does stand-up on the Manhattan circuit — Carolines, the Broadway Comedy Club, Comic Strip Live and Stand Up NY.

He’s just recorded his third album, The United States of Russia. (Hear Ben tell a joke.)

“When I find something that’s interesting, I try to think of a way to make it funny,” he says.

That usually means rummaging through his own life for material. There’s lots of it.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The laughs are so loud.

Ben, who was born in St. Petersburg, Russia when it was called Leningrad, came to America when he was 4. His family settled in Stamford, Connecticut, where his parents had friends.

He doesn’t remember much about his life there or his transition here.

“My dad says that I stopped speaking for six months then started speaking English,” he says.

He also started telling jokes.

A joke from Ben’s new album, “The United States of Russia.”

“Someone once said about me that most people make jokes to show they are funny, but Ben makes jokes to show he’s smart,” he says.

When his parents divorced, 10-year-old Ben lived with his father. He’s not quite sure why – his mother and father tell different versions of the story.

“It’s unusual that my dad got custody,” he says. “But at the time it seemed normal. And his parents lived close by, so it wasn’t like I was at home alone.”

Ben continued to find the funny side of things while studying at Rutgers University, where he ran a school parody website and earned a degree in economics and philosophy.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Ben was raised in Connecticut.

“My freshman roommate was doing stand-up,” he says. “I used to follow him and give him advice.”

When Ben graduated, he took a serious job. For three years, he was a management consultant for Accenture.

During his second year, he transferred from the Hartford to the Manhattan office and moved to Astoria.

A project required him to travel to Philadelphia, so he decided to check out stand-up shows for his ex-Rutgers roommate.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Ben goofing around on the patio.

“I thought, ‘I can write this stuff,’ so I did and told my friend that he could use some of the jokes,” Ben says. “And he said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ I thought, ‘Why not? I don’t know anybody in Philly.’”

Everybody laughed when Ben took the stage.

Thus encouraged, he continued his routines when, a year later, he attended grad school at Caltech, where he was majoring in a decidedly unfunny subject, neuroeconomics.

After four months, at the end of 2009, he quit.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Come on, give me a laugh!

“School was getting in the way of my comedy,” he says.

He moved back to Astoria and returned to the club circuit.

“I lived on my savings,” he says. “And I took a four-day-a-week job for nine months. I told them I could not do five days a week because I needed to catch up on my sleep.”

Since 2012, he’s been making his living one joke at a time.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Pretty please, come to my show!

“I’m a full-time comedian,” he says. “By that, I mean that I have about eight different ways of making money – I do stand-up, acting, video work and radio voice-over work, and I write books and direct and edit sketches. So I’m always working.”

Generally, he gets up between 9 and 10:30 a.m. OK, 9 is wishful thinking; it’s nearly always closer to 10.

His wife, Michelle Slonim, is a comedian with an at-home day job. She works at a desk in a corner of the living room.

Ben stretches, meditates, does some stream-of-consciousness writing and warms up his funny bone by writing headline jokes for

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Jokes, Ben says, are serious business.

“I can’t control when I get ideas, but when I do, I mine and squeeze them for all they’re worth,” he says. “Sometimes I get no ideas; other times, I get three or four a week.”

When Ben’s not refining his own routines, he’s punching up keynote speeches and talks for pay.

By 1 or 2 p.m., he’s scheduling his appearances.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a … new joke!

“I do stand-up every night,” he says. “I end up doing 600 to 750 spots a year. A spot generally is 10 to 20 minutes.”

If this sounds tiring, it is.

And so is Ben. Eight o’clock is far too early.

No kidding.

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

Support Astoria Characters at GoFundMe

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

Copyright 2018 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The High-Flying Acrobat
by Nruhling
Jan 16, 2018 | 664 views | 0 0 comments | 52 52 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Bobby likes to keep things up in the air.

Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

“Why walk when you can fly?”

Bobby Hedglin-Taylor answers his own question by starting to scale a giant London Plane tree in Ditmars Park.

This probably isn’t a good idea. Anything could happen. He could fall. He could reach the top.

He wonders, momentarily, whether it’s illegal to climb a park-property tree.

Bobby at home in a tree.

It’s too late to worry.

He jumps to the top of a park bench so he can grab the lower branches. He looks upward. It’s nice to say hi to the sky, but he’d rather be in motion.

Let’s go to the swings!

Bars are made for tightrope walking.

They remind him of the trapeze, his aerial apparatus of choice.

But before he gets to them, he climbs to the top of the junglegym’s tree house, hangs upside down from the rings (the metal is freezing cold on his bare hands so he doesn’t stay suspended long) and does a swift tightrope walk across a horizontal bar in his sneakers.

“I’m a conspicuous person,” he says. “I’m designed to stick out — I’m a redhead.”

Swings remind Bobby of trapezes.

He’s stating the obvious, but it’s probably a safe bet that given the series of stunts he executed in his impromptu park performance, Bobby’s hair is not what watchers will remember.

About his hair – it’s clown curly and carrot color. His close-cropped cut keeps its playfulness in check.

Bobby, a mass of muscle who describes himself as a shy person, is an aerial sequence designer, an up-in-the-air teacher/trainer and sometime performer and actor. He’s also the director of STREB’s trapeze academy.

Creative types come to him for help doing everything from making fake nooses for haunted houses and music videos to safely planning stunts like hanging a little girl upside down from her ankles while she plays the violin.

“My favorite call ever went like this: ‘Bobby, we want you to dress as Austin Powers and climb down a 60-foot rope and introduce Sheena Easton,’” he says. “People come to me with the impossible, and I make things happen.”

During the summer, he teaches dance, gymnastics and circus arts at the all-girls Convent of the Sacred Heart in Manhattan. Twelve-year-old Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta was one of his students. Now, she calls herself Lady Gaga.

Where Bobby feels at home.

You’ve seen his aerial work in Broadway’s 2012 revival of Pippin as well as in regional theatre productions. You’ve also seen his teaching at work in a variety of venues. He was, for instance, the tightrope trainer for the 2012 Broadway musical Chaplin.

As an actor, he has shared the stage with a number of stars, including Lauren Bacall, Bebe Neuwirth, Kathy Lee Gifford and Kirstie Alley.

And he was one of 17 acrobats who flew in harnesses 75 feet up to the roof of Madison Square Garden at an astounding 18 feet per second during the 2012 New Year’s Eve performance by the rock band Phish.

Bobby in a state of suspension.

“When I’m on the trapeze, my body is my paintbrush, and the air is my canvas,” he says. “It’s floating, it’s freedom, and it’s reminiscent of my childhood home, where we used to swing on tires tied to trees.”

The home he’s referring to was in Marshall’s Creek, Pennsylvania, an isolated area where Bobby and his extended family lived on the top of a hill.

“My great-grandfather bought land there,” he says. “And his 19 children and their children all lived there. I was surrounded by relatives. My grandmother lived across the street. We’re Sicilian, so we called it Macaroni Hill.”

Bobby makes it look easy.

Bobby’s mother and father worked two jobs. The family grew its own food in the yard, which was populated by ducks, chickens, goats and turkeys.

“My older brother and I used to take a salt shaker outside and eat the tomatoes off the vine after school,” he says. “We left the remains on the vine; for the longest time, my mother thought groundhogs were doing it.”

The house was filled with music, and Bobby got hooked on musical theater after he saw West Side Story on TV. He was 3, so he didn’t really understand the plot, but his baby body grooved to the moves.

By the time he got to high school, entertainment was uppermost on his mind. He learned ballroom dancing as he started studies at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.

Bobby has lived in Astoria for 14 years.

“Male dancers were needed for this ballet theater in town,” he says. “I couldn’t dance, but they taught me, and they put me in musicals.”

It was a scholarship to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy that brought Bobby to New York City.

The trapeze was not something Bobby ever considered, but when he had his first lesson – for a stage production that didn’t get off the ground – he never wanted to come down.

He’s worked on Broadway productions.

“It was like a dance in the air,” he says. “And I continued to take lessons on my own.”

In addition to his conventional stage work, Bobby performed under big and not-so-big tops for 17 years.

“When I’m teaching, I tell my students that ‘the circus is inside you, but you have forgotten it. You just have to make yourself remember,’” he says.

Should I climb a second time?

This is also something he has said, more than once, to his husband, David Taylor, a former singer/dancer/actor who now is an accountant.

“He did try the trapeze one time,” Bobby says, astounded that his partner didn’t want to continue to play in the air.

Although injuries have turned the trapeze against him, Bobby has higher goals.

“I want to create a Broadway show based on flight,” he says.

Astoria Characters Day: The Second Annual Family Reunion is Sept. 23, 2018.

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

Copyright 2018 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Guy Sitting in the Court Square Diner
by Nruhling
Jan 09, 2018 | 736 views | 0 0 comments | 46 46 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink


The Court Square Diner at 45-30 23rd St. in Long Island City.

Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

Stop by the Court Square Diner for breakfast or dinner, and you’re likely to see HughCarragher. He’s the tall, white-haired gentleman sitting at the corner counter seat closest to the subway.

Hugh has been eating at the diner twice a day ever since he moved to Long Island City at the end of 1961.

That’s, let’s see … 56 of his 81 years.

Hugh is surprised by the math; he had it in his mind that he’s been a regular customer for only 50 years.

“It’s amazing how quickly time goes,” he says. “I was never one to change. There used to be another diner close by, but this was my place.”

Hugh has been eating at the diner twice a day for 56 years.

It strikes him that if he has been coming to the Court Square Diner for 56 years, then he’s been living in the same two-bedroom apartment near the eatery for 54 years.


Speaking of dates, the Court Square Diner was established 1946. The original was nothing more than a railroad-like car where the 7, G, E and M lines converge.

Its flashy retro exterior, in shiny steel and ketchup-red, was completed in 2010 by the current owners, brothers Steve and Nick Kanellos.

The original diner opened in a railroad-like car in 1946.

Hugh’s been living in New York City since 1959. The only reason he didn’t dine at the diner sooner was because he was living in Jamaica, Queens.

Hugh, who is one of 11 children, grew up on a 50-acre farm in Cootehill, Ireland.

His family raised flax, which the market town was famous for, and potatoes, corn, cabbage and turnips as well as hens, ducks, geese, cows and pigs.

“We were very fortunate because we owned the land,” he says. “We were not poor, and we always had enough to eat. We had a good life.”

Hugh started helping out on the farm before his fifth birthday.

When he graduated from technical school, he got a good job in the post office then briefly worked as a police officer.

Hugh in his favorite seat at the end of the counter.

He followed two of his older brothers to America.

“I was close to them, and I just made up my mind that I was going,” he says. “My dad had been born in New York City and lived there until he was 5, when the family went back to Ireland, so there was that fact also.”

Hugh got a job in the produce department of the Grand Union supermarket in Manhattan and later worked for Key Food.

“At Key Food, I did work in all the departments,” he says.

Court Square Diner is busy 24 hours a day.

His last job was running the mailroom at Elizabeth Arden.

“It was a great experience,” he says. “I retired at 58 when the company was sold and I was offered a buyout.”

Fairly quickly, Hugh settled into a routine centered around three meals.

For breakfast, it’s Raisin Bran, coffee and cranberry juice at Court Square. On Saturdays and Sundays, he has been known to break routine by ordering eggs.

The diner is a couple of blocks from Hugh’s apartment.

For lunch, he generally eats in Sunnyside while visiting friends in Woodside. He’s adventurous — he doesn’t have a particular place or plate.

For dinner, he’s back at Court Square.

Hugh spends holidays with his brother in Whitestone.

Although he’s a bachelor, he has a lot of nieces and nephews who live in the area.

Hugh came to New York City from Ireland in 1959.

One of them, an architect from Connecticut who works in Manhattan, spends a couple of nights a week with him.

“It’s convenient for him because the subway is here,” Hugh says.

The current owners took over in 1991.

And he goes home to Ireland twice a year.

“I’ve made 63 trips,” he says, adding that before he retired he only had enough vacation time for one visit per year.

Hugh says that the Court Square Diner always makes him feel at home.

The retro look is from a 2010 renovation.

“These guys look after me good,” he says.

Tonight, he’ll be back for dinner. Court Square has a lot of specials.

Hugh mentions the leg of lamb and the roast beef.

Introduce yourself to Hugh when you walk in.

“The whole menu’s good,” he says.

He’ll wait until he reads it before deciding which dish to order.

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

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

Copyright 2018 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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