Astoria Characters by Nruhling
Nancy A. Ruhling
Aug 30, 2016 | 50208 views | 0 0 comments | 215 215 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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Astoria Characters: The Calmness Creator
by Nruhling
Mar 03, 2020 | 2004 views | 0 0 comments | 159 159 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Sacred Space Astoria is at 29-05 21st Ave.


Text and photos by Nancy A. Ruhling


“It’s all about the energy,” says Kim Alexandrescu as she opens the front door to Sacred Space Astoria.

Come with her into the calmness. Lose yourself in the tranquillity of the snow-white walls, the silky smooth crystals and the velvety purple phalaenopsis.

“When you come into Sacred Space, I want you to feel like you’re being held,” she says placidly as she welcomes people to the day’s first yoga class.

Sacred Space is new – it and the year 2020 commenced together – but the idea for the yoga/reiki/meditation sanctuary/studio had been peacefully floating around in Kim’s head for years.

There were, however, other things that had to be taken care of before all the energy points aligned and placed her in a prime present-moment position to do so.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Kim’s a reiki master, yoga teacher and urban zen integrative therapist.

Kim, who is a yoga teacher, a reiki master and an urban zen integrative therapist, has long been fascinated with the mind-body equation.

She grew up in three suburbs of Detroit, shifting her time between her mother and father, who were only 18 when she arrived.

“They never married,” she says. “I lived with my mother and my grandparents. My mother married when I was eight, and my father married when I was 10.”

Kim, who is cool, collected and comely, always figured she would be a teacher like her mother.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Sacred Space sells a variety of crystals.

“But I didn’t want to deal with principals,” she says. “I didn’t realize there was another kind of teaching outside of the classroom, the kind I do now.”

She filled her time with gymnastics, basketball and diving. (Although she worked out with a yoga video at 16, she didn’t try yoga classes until college.)

By the time she was in 10th grade, Kim had decided upon a very ambitious career.

“We learned about DNA,” she says. “And I said, ‘That’s what I want to study.’”

At Cedar Crest College, a small private liberal arts women’s school in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Kim studied genetic engineering then took a job in clinical genetics research at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Kim grew up in the suburbs of Detroit.

“It was the hardest year of my life because I didn’t know anyone,” she says. “I started visiting Astoria because I had college friends here.”

She had no intention of staying in New York City – “I had had a college internship here, and I cried because I was terrified of living here” – but the universe had other plans for her.

Her friends happened to introduce her to the man who became her husband.

“We met right away,” she says. “We went dancing, and we connected.”



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Sacred Space is all about positive energy.

So she married him and moved to Astoria and began working for a series of biotech companies.

“But I missed working with patients and hearing their stories,” she says.

Three years later, she landed at Columbia University, where she earned her master’s degree in biotechnology while collecting clinical data for hepatitis C research as part of her full-time job at the school’s medical center.

“I was pregnant while doing all of this,” she says. “My first child, Luka, was born three weeks after I got my master’s. While I was working on my thesis, he used to kick me when I was writing at the kitchen table.”



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Even the orchids are flourishing.

In 2012, shortly after Luka’s arrival, Kim quit her full-time job and took yoga teacher-training classes.

“Yoga gave me the same feeling and movements as diving and gymnastics without the risk of injures, including broken bones, that I suffered doing them,” she says.

Her daughter, Carina, who is now 6, entered the picture in 2013, around the time Kim started subbing as a yoga teacher and trying to help her mother-in-law, who was dying of cancer, feel more relaxed.

“I started doing what we called massages, but it really was some energy work in the small chakras of the body to ease her pain,” Kim says. “It was reiki, and I felt a calling to do it, which answered everything for me.”



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

You’ll see Kim teaching and taking classes.

In 2016, Kim became an urban zen integrative therapist, using her holistic skills to help nursing-home patients who were seriously ill or dying become comfortable.

About a year ago, she decided to concentrate on setting up Sacred Space. After searching for six months, she found a storefront on 21st Avenue at 29th Street.

“Since 1996, the owner had used it as storage,” she says, “so it was nothing more than a concrete block.”

She filled it with positive energy and second-hand furniture – the wooden pew is from a Connecticut church, the elaborate front desk is from New Jersey, the wall of windows in the front is from a  historic manion, and the plants are from a neighbor’s house.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Kim sees private clients in the reiki room.

During construction, Kim got some energy she never expected: She was pleasantly surprised to discover that she’s pregnant. Marco will make his debut in June.



“My other two children were from in vitro fertilization,” she says. “This feels totally different physically.”

She says it’s important for people in the city to have a place like Sacred Space to relax.

“The yoga we do is spiritual; it’s deep healing work, and the practice is more about the restorative than the physical,” she says. “And the teachers are empowered to create classes that are important to them.”



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Kim invites you to Sacred Space.

Sacred Space is very much a work in progress. Kim will be adding classes, including ones for seniors, and workshops for beginners.

“I get to bring in whatever it is I want to learn,” she says, adding that vocal toning was something new for her.

Although Kim teaches some of the classes and works privately with reiki clients, she says that Sacred Space isn’t about her.

“You can feel my presence, my energy,” she says. “But I’m a student, too. I’ll be taking classes.”

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

Copyright 2020 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The New Taco Chef in Town
by Nruhling
Feb 25, 2020 | 2013 views | 0 0 comments | 104 104 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Astoriana Diosa del Taco is at 22-35 31st St.


Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

“What would you like me to make?”

Sebastian Royo, the executive chef of Astoriana Diosa del Taco, is standing in the kitchen, pan in hand.

It’s early – especially if, like Sebastian, you were up working until 3 a.m. – but he can’t wait to start cooking again.

Should he fix breakfast or lunch?



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The Coliflor.

He settles on a medley of taco favorites – the Astorianos chicken, the Al Pastor, the Carne Asada and two vegetarian versions, the Flor de Jamaica and the Coliflor.

In a well choreographed routine that keeps him dancing from grill to cutting board, Sebastian, black-haired, bespectacled and buoyant, assembles the tacos and artfully arranges them on plates.   



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Sebastian is the executive chef.

“I’m just cooking what I know – legitimate tacos reminiscent of what Mexican ones taste like,” he says as he carries the dishes to the dining room, where the brick walls are painted white, the tables have wooden tops, and the gigantic triple-tier crystal chandelier is as glitzy as a Vegas showgirl.

Astoriana Diosa del Taco – “diosa” is Spanish for “goddess” — is a modern-style taqueria with a Mexican-Greek theme.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The taqueria has a Mexican/Greek theme.

It’s new to the neighborhood’s culinary scene, but Sebastian’s association with restaurants began right before he made his entrance into the world four decades ago.

(For the record, Sebastian may be 40, but he likes to add that “I’m going on 18.”)



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Sebastian has worked in several Manhattan restaurants.

Sebastian, who was born in El Paso, Texas, was raised in the rural ranch town of Casas Grandes, Mexico and later the industrial center Ciudad Juárez.

“In those days, it was easy to cross the border into the United States, and people did it all the time to go shopping,” he says, adding that he has dual Mexican-American citizenship, which also was easy to get at that time. “My parents were eating out in El Paso when my mother went into labor.”



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Tacos the Astoriana Diosa del Taco way.

Growing up, Sebastian, whose family is what he calls “middle class by Mexican standards,” learned a lot of things; cooking wasn’t one of them.

“Casas Grandes is a Mormon/Catholic town,” he says. “The street outside my house was gravel. My school was close to the American system – half of the classes were in English, half were in Spanish.”



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Slicing the limes.

He didn’t find himself in the kitchen until he enrolled at the University of Texas at El Paso.

“I worked my way through college working in restaurants,” he says.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Astoriana’s goddess.

After he earned a degree in marketing and entrepreneurship, in 2005, Sebastian moved to New York City.



“I had a friend who worked for a Mexican marketing company,” he says. “I came to get a job there, and while I was waiting for an opening to occur, I started working in restaurants.”



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Sebastian’s at home in the kitchen.

Sebastian got hooked on cooking after a chef offered to give him lessons on his days off.

Later, he worked his way through culinary school then got gigs at several Manhattan restaurants, including 11 Madison Park, Mary’s Fish Camp, Centrico, Ilili and Zarela.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Carne in the pan.

“I never did go into marketing,” he says, adding that that’s actually a good thing because he never would have met his wife had he done so. “She was a customer at Zarela and was there on closing night in 2011 when I stopped in.”

By 2014, Sebastian was the executive sous chef at La Esquina. He also was longing to open his own restaurant, so he moved to Dallas. While he was a chef at a restaurant there, he set up a summertime food truck, El Rudo, in Denton, which he still runs.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The Flor de Jamaica.

“When my wife was pregnant with our daughter, who is now three, we moved back to New York,” he says.

All of his experiences paved the way for Astoriana Diosa del Taco, which is officially opening this week.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Prepping the plate.

“We do traditional flavors with a modern spin,” Sebastian says. “Even though the tacos are tweaked, they are still legitimate tacos.”

For instance, Astoriana’s signature taco, which is stuffed into a Sonora-style tortilla made in-house, features funky greens, tzatziki, tahini, tomatoes and choice of chicken, lamb, beef or hibiscus filling.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Ready to pop into the mouth.

Sebastian is taking things one taco at a time; he doesn’t talk about opening additional restaurants or creating an Astoriana Diosa del Taco chain.

He says only that “I want Astoriana to become a staple in the neighborhood.”

As he clears the table, he adds, “I’ve done the whole fine-dining thing. But I like the simplicity of tacos.”

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

Copyright 2020 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Writer Soaring on the Wings of His Words
by Nruhling
Feb 11, 2020 | 2344 views | 0 0 comments | 106 106 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Seanie began writing in New York.


Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling



It never really occurred to Seanie Sugrueto write things down.

For many years, he was content to let word after word take up residence in his head, where they started stringing themselves into sentences that begat a series of siblings that swirled into stories striving to be released.

“I always had a very active imagination, but I didn’t know what to do with it,” he says.

This was not much of a difficulty for him when he was a working-class lad growing up in Tralee, the rural town in County Kerry, Ireland whose claim to fame is hosting the annual Rose of Tralee International Festival.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Seanie’s a working-class lad from Ireland.

“There were no artists around to inspire me,” he says. “I spent a lot of time in the fields surrounding my home by myself.”

So it was that he passed his time until it was time for college. He signed up to study, of all things, civil engineering, a subject he had less than zero interest in.

“Everyone I knew was doing that, but it wasn’t for me,” he says. “I hated being in the classroom. I stayed briefly, and by that I mean two weeks.”

His biggest dream, which of course he never put on paper, was to come to America.

 

“I always planned this,” he says, adding that an aunt of his lives in the Bronx. “I had been a bartender since I was 14, and I wanted to do that in America, but you can’t drink – or tend bar – until you’re 21, so I had to wait.”

Seanie, a tall man with an alliterative appellation, subtle blue eyes and raven black hair, did some waiting in Edinburgh, where he had friends, while working in construction and in bars. He also lived in  London and the Spanish island of Gran Canaria.

Once he hit the magic legal age of 21, he made his way to New York, where he took jobs in a trio of Irish bars in the East Village that all had the same owner.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Seanie’s productions have played at The Secret Theatre.

“I had no plan,” he says. “I was going to bartend until I figured it out.”

As it happened, writers like to drink, so Seanie ran into a lot of them.

Precisely when and where did he write his first words?



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Seanie used to bartend at Sweet Afton.

Seanie skillfully skips around the question again and again.

“I’m a writer, after all,” he says. “We do procrastinate.”

Finally, he gets back on track.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Seanie started bartending in Ireland when he was 14.

“At 23, I went to a screenwriting course,” he says. “But I only lasted one week.”

It took six more years for Seanie to start writing, and even then, he says, he really didn’t do it.

“I ran into a guy and pitched an idea I had in my head,” he says. “I watched him write it on his laptop.”



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Seanie has a set writing schedule.

The work, Catch 22: Based on the Unwritten Story by Seanie Sugrue, became his first film.

That writing/non-writing experience made Seanie realize that he wanted to pen plays.

“I went to the Strand Book Store a lot and just stood there and read,” he says, adding that Neil LaBute’s In a Dark, Dark House is what started him on his stage-writing career. “Sometimes I stayed there and read five to six hours a day; sometimes, if I liked the play, I bought it. I was there so much that I bought a jumper with the Strand name on it because it’s the ‘college’ I went to.”

 

He finished his first play, Black Me Out!, while producing his Catch 22. By 2015, he had co-founded the Astoria-based production company Locked in the Attic.

These days, the words rush out of Seanie’s brain; thus far, he’s written and directed five additional plays, most of which have played at The Secret Theatre, an Off-Off Broadway venue in Long Island City.

His latest, The 8th, revolves around two siblings who return home to mark the first anniversary of their father’s death and are drawn into a spirited political debate about the country’s recent legalization of abortion. The work was named best production at the 2020 Origin 1st Irish Theatre Festival Awards.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Seanie’s shooting his next film in Ireland.

“One of the actors is good friends with Neil LaBute,” Seanie says. “He came to see the play and told me he liked it.”

During that time, Seanie finally finished his debut novel, Cardboard Coffins.

His newest film, Misty Button, which is about two Irish guys in the Bronx who place a proxy bet on a racehorse of that name and pocket the money, has won numerous awards; it’s opening next month.

What with his series of successes, Seanie has all but given up bartending. Now, he concentrates on his writing.

Every weekday, he puts on his headphones, tunes in his custom playlist and taps out his ideas from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Each evening, he spends at least an hour editing.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Seanie is the co-founder of Locked in the Attic Productions.

“I enjoy writing,” he says, adding that he also produces and directs. “It doesn’t feel like work.”

He also works on projects for others, through Locked in the Attic Productions.

“I haven’t had much free time,” he says, adding that up until recently he had been working 12-hour days then topping them off with bartending gigs. “I read a lot – it’s like taking my brain to the gym. And I go to the movies, which I justify as research.”

This year, Seanie will be going back home to Ireland to shoot a feature film. He’s also polishing two scripts – one set in Los Angeles and one that takes place in Ireland.

“I’ll keep on writing,” he says. “I want to take things a step up and do everything on a bigger level.”

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

Copyright 2020 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Guy Who Saved the Pet Store
by Nruhling
Feb 04, 2020 | 2665 views | 0 0 comments | 96 96 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Tom opened Tom’s Pet Supply in July.


Text and photos by Nancy A. Ruhling


After Tom Odermatt flips on the fluorescent overhead lights, he heads to the aquariums, where he jokes around with the jocularly striped clownfish, who swim rapidly to the top of the tank to greet him.

He pokes his finger into the water, which, thanks to artificial lighting, is deep blue like the sea, and attracts a cleaner shrimp who goes by the name of Jacques. The crustacean clings to Tom’s appendage, stripping it of parasites.

Next, Tom heads to the back of Tom’s Pet Supply and looks in on the canaries and parakeets and rodents and reptiles.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Tom’s Pet Supply is on Broadway at 21st Street.

He scoops Artemis, the yellow and orange bearded dragon, into his hands, where the lizard lounges lazily until released back into his glass house.

Tom presents Hazelnut, the little latte-colored mouse, who climbs all over his hand at a frenetic pace, wispy whiskers quivering in excitement.

“Are you afraid of snakes?” he asks as he replaces Hazelnut with Fendi, a petite albino corn snake who coils his buttercream- and tangerine-spotted body around his arm like a tourniquet.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Artemis the bearded dragon.

Little One, the 26-year-old red-footed tortoise who is Tom’s personal pet, isn’t quite as demonstrative.

“She’s shy,” he says. “It took a long time for her to get used to me.”



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Goldfish out for a swim.

This is how Tom, who’s like a shiny new sports car roaring out of the showroom for the first time, starts every day.

God, how he loves it.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Tom fell in love with animals when he was 3.

Tom, who is 22, opened Tom’s Pet Supply in the summer of 2019 on the former premises of Petland Discounts, a regional chain that closed after more than a half century in business.

Tom was born and raised around the corner from the Broadway store, which is in the strip mall that features the Bel-Aire Diner, and worked for Petland Discounts while he was studying at Fordham University.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Hazelnut takes a walk.

Tom, who has cherub cheeks and wears his dark locks in a man bun, has a long history with pet stores.

He fell in love with animals when he was 3 and started begging for a puppy shortly thereafter.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Tom has a degree in sociology.

“I was raised by my mom and grandmother, and although they love animals, they never let me have a puppy,” he says, adding that the death of a dog long before his time left them too heartbroken to get another.

He was, however, allowed to have fish, hermit crabs, turtles, hamsters and bearded dragons.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Discus fish chilling.

“I was really terrible,” he says. “I wanted to go in every pet store I saw, and I would throw a fit if I did not get to go in.”

By the time he was in high school, Tom had become what he calls a frequent pest at Petland Discounts.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Tom loves being at the store seven days a week.

“I used to come in and bother the manager for a job,” he says. “But you have to be 18 to work with animals, and I wasn’t.”

The closing of Petland Discounts came at an opportune time for Tom: He graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in May and started revamping the store in June.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Fendi giving Tom a hug.

There was much speculation in the neighborhood about the future of the space.

“I kept up with my customers, and one of them called me and said, ‘Did you hear about the new pet store? The owner’s name is Tom, and I think I know who he is. You should apply for a job there.’”



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Tom worked for Petland Discounts through college.

Tom demurred, saying he didn’t think it was necessary for him to do so.

“I told her the new owner was indeed Tom, but not the one she was thinking of,” he says. “When she asked me how I knew, I said, ‘It’s me,’ and she burst out laughing.”



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Guppies hanging out.

Needless to say, pet owners were thrilled when Tom’s Pet Supply opened in July.

“I took all my savings, and I got some help from my family,” Tom says. “A lot of people don’t think there’s a place for a local pet store, and I don’t agree. People need to see the animals right there in front of them, and they need a place to go where people are knowledgeable to get answers you can’t get by Googling on the Internet.”

Tom and his 7-month-old rescue puppy Duck, whose bed is by the cash register, man the store seven days a week with the help of a full-time manager.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Jacques the cleaner shrimp is on the job.

“I love being here,” Tom says. “People ask me whether I’m tired, but I’m not. It’s so exciting because every day, there’s something new.”

Tom says he has no grand plans – at least not yet – for adding a store or starting a chain.

“I’ve always wanted to work with animals, and I have a degree in sociology, which deals with the interactions of people, so this is the perfect combination,” he says.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Tom’s future is more of the present.

He’s very sure about his future.

“What will I be doing five years from now? This,” he says, as he hangs the cages of parakeets near the front of the store. “What will I be doing 10 years from now? This.”

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

Copyright 2020 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Constant Creator
by Nruhling
Jan 28, 2020 | 1982 views | 0 0 comments | 106 106 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Kevin’s a member of the Astoria-centric band Begorrah.


Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling



A gentle mist is falling as Kevin Patrick Corriganleans into his guitar and starts strumming.

He’s sitting in his galley kitchen, by the window with the faded shamrock decal, as the day goes grey.

Here, by the snow-white stove and refrigerator, Kevin rehearses and records his CDs.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Kevin recording in his kitchen.

He does most of his writing in the room across the hall, whose only significant furnishing is a sofa, or in his bedroom, where he spent the last two years penning Dirty Days, a non-fiction narrative detailing his escapades as a Bleecker Street bouncer and musician in Greenwich Village during the 1980s and 1990s.

Kevin, who was born in Jersey City and raised in Old Bridge, can’t remember a time when he wasn’t writing something, anything, everything.

“I still have stuff I wrote when I was 13,” he says, flipping through a file. “I sometimes use lines or lyrics I wrote at that time.”



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Since childhood, Kevin has been writing.

Kevin, a gregarious, gentle bull, comes from a six-pack family – he has four sisters and a brother – that revels in its Irish roots.

“My mother is from Longford,” he says. “I grew up listening to Irish music. We made trips there in the summers, and I worked on my grandfather’s farm. She always reminded me that I was Irish.”



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Kevin’s new book.

Kevin, a church choirboy, didn’t take to the guitar right away; in fact, he tossed his plectrum after only a few chords.

“I was more into writing poetry,” he says, adding that although he was the frontman in a high school garage band, it wasn’t until he was 40 that he taught himself to play bass.

“I forced myself to sit in this kitchen for two years until I got it,” he says.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Kevin’s a freelance sound engineer.

Shortly after graduating from William Paterson University with a degree in communications, Kevin became a fixture in the East Village arts scene, where he was a bouncer at The Red Lion for 15 years.

It’s a funny story how he got that job. He was a wing forward in a rugby club at Seton Hall University, an institution he never attended but his then-girlfriend did.

“I played there three years and was one of the top team scorers,” he says. “One game I scored three times and was on the front page of the school’s newspaper. Nobody ever figured out I wasn’t a student. The bar owner saw my Seton rugby jacket and told me that if I wanted the job, I had to play. I was about 25 and hadn’t worked out for years, but I went to the gym and more than proved myself on the field. I think I would have said I was a player, a coach and a tenured rugby professor to get the job. I was so broke.”



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Kevin makes music in his kitchen.

Through the years, Kevin worked for other bars, as a bouncer and a bartender who loved to tell stories.

One night, a performer he was acquainted with invited him onto the stage to sing.

“It came natural to me,” he says. “I got a standing ovation, maybe because people liked the idea that I was a bartender not a band member.”



He subsequently joined that band, The 4th Floor, which played happy punk so well that it got a major record deal that led to national tours and opening for the likes of KISS, Alice Cooper and the Scorpions.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Back in the day, Kevin scored a major record deal.

When that band broke up, in 1997, Kevin joined others, including Astoria-centric Begorrah, and began making his living as a freelance sound engineer for major TV networks and news outlets.

“It’s anything but a 9-to-5 job, and I’m on the road a lot,” he says, adding that that’s what he loves about it. “I have a lot of stories to tell about it.”

 

An assignment once took him and his guitar to Hardy, Arkansas, where during a break, he put on an impromptu show in the hotel parking lot while standing on a picnic table.

“Everybody was dancing,” he says, grinning.

That reminds him of the story he covered in 1999 for Good Morning America about a Kosovo war refugee who gave birth to a son only hours after her U.S. flight to freedom.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Kevin has self-produced five CDs.

“They were having trouble getting the rolling hospital crib over the wires in the studio, and the nurse asked me to take the baby,” Kevin says. “It was the first child born to a Kosovo refugee on our soil, and the father wanted to name him America. He was so small and brittle that I was afraid I was going to crush him.”

Later that day, he found himself at SUNY-Purchase covering a Knicks game.

“I was standing by the bathroom, and Patrick Ewing cursed at me and told me to get out of his way,” Kevin says.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

For many years, Kevin was a bouncer in Greenwich Village.

Still emotionally charged by his interaction with the Kosovo baby, Kevin sprang into action.

“I was just getting ready to punch Ewing in the face when my friend rushed up and stopped me,” he says.

When letters laced with lethal levels of anthrax began arriving in the mailboxes of VIPs and news personalities shortly after 9/11, Kevin found himself the center of attention.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Kevin settled in Astoria 15 years ago.

“I just happened to have been on the scene where three of them were delivered,” he says. “All the people in the media were being screened, and I was called in and  interrogated. When it dawned on me that I was the No. 1 suspect, I said, ‘You guys think I’m the guy? I’d stab the anthrax bomber.’”

Apparently his words, and those of his corroborating colleagues, were convincing, because Kevin was released after about two hours.

Faced with death and destruction headlines on a daily basis, Kevin decided to take a break from the news cycle and returned to work in Bleecker Street bars.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Dreamy-eyed during a solo.

In 2006, he made TV work his full-time freelance gig.

“I only want to make money to make another record,” he says, adding that he’s self-produced five.

Since he finished Dirty Days, he’s been struggling to get an agent and a publisher.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Lyrics to “It’s 3 AM.”

He admits he’s discouraged but says that “I’m never gonna stop – I’m always making shit.”

Even so, he’s taken to writing songs so sad that they bring tears to the eyes.

He starts strumming It’s 3AM, a new tune that was inspired by a friend’s telling him about kids as young as 12 and 13 overdosing on heroin.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Kevin’s guitar — ready for the next song.

“It’s 3 am when the roar of the phone

Hits the air my heart races

If I don’t pick up, you will still be here with me …”

By the time Kevin reaches the end, his voice, husky and ragged from sorrow, catches.

“I don’t like singing it,” he says.

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

Copyright 2020 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Man Out To Heal the World
by Nruhling
Jan 14, 2020 | 2486 views | 0 0 comments | 252 252 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Dave is working on his master’s degree.


Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling


At the present moment, Dave Santanderis sitting on a bench outside a café sipping herbal tea.

He’s reflecting on his life.

All 30 years of it.

It’s more full than his cup of tea: He’s a college student, commuting to class in Connecticut three times a week, and he’s working a bunch of jobs to pay the rent and the tuition to fuel his ambition.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Dave grew up in Harriman, New York.

If you’ve taken a Chinese yoga class, stepped into an Uber, stopped into a neighborhood bar for an after-work cocktail or ordered fast food delivered to your apartment, chances are you’ve encountered Dave.

(When he’s a delivery boy, he calls himself “Doctor Pizza Man,” a nickname whose significance will become clear when you know more about him.)

Dave, who is studying traditional Chinese medicine so he can practice bone setting and acupuncture, was born in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, but he spent most of his childhood in Harriman, a village in Orange County, New York, whose population hovers around 2,400.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Dave’s studying traditional Chinese medicine.

“It’s suburban and rural,” he says, adding that his was a middle-class family with four boys. “It’s baseball and McDonald’s after practice.”

Dave, a bright, shiny new car, followed a rather traditional course: He joined the Boy Scouts and wrestled in high school and didn’t think too long or hard about the Significance of Life.

“When I was getting ready for college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he says. “I liked working out, music, art, nature and literature, and I was looking for something that had all of these.”

His first encounter with Asian medicine occurred around the same time. At a family barbecue, a cousin who was studying acupuncture asked Dave to be a practice patient.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Dave commutes to Connecticut three times a week for classes.

Whether it was his cousin’s lack of experience or his own lack of belief (“I thought it was bullshit,” he says), Dave was suitably unimpressed with the experience and the results.

He went on with his life, finishing a bachelor’s degree in human biology at SUNY Albany and settling in Portland, Oregon, where, for a time, he worked at an outdoors school, getting students in touch with nature.

There just happened to be a famous acupuncture center in the city, and Dave made an appointment. He was hoping simply to alleviate his physical exhaustion.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Dave will finish his doctorate at the end of the year.

“I practically had an out-of-body experience,”  he says, adding that he took the treatments for a couple of months. “It was like seeing the world for the first time. I saw bright lights, felt fresh air, and my brain was filled with ideas.”

It was one of those ideas that brought him back to the East Coast.



“I decided to go back to school,” he says. “I let all the old go, and all the new came in. I started to train in acupuncture, and my life started to change.”

He moved to Crown Heights, Brooklyn and began taking classes at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in New York City.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Dave wants to heal the world.

He transferred to the University of Bridgeport, where he will graduate in May with a master’s degree in traditional Chinese medicine and then begin work on a doctorate in the same subject that he will complete by the end of the year.

Dave can’t wait to share the medicine.

“I want to do good,” he says.

He has all kinds of ideas about how he can contribute to the well being of his fellow beings; it’s possible that he’ll open a clinic or even create a “floating” center to treat patients.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

He can’t wait to start sharing the medicine.

It will all come in due time.

“My perception of time has changed,” he says. “I used to be focused on the end result, but now there’s no beginning or end.”

He dreams of traveling the world, exchanging ideas – about medicine and culture – with everyone he meets.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Dave: ‘I’ll go where I’m needed.’

Dave, who tends bee hives on the roof of his apartment, likens it to “cross pollination.”

“It’s spiritual pollen,” he says. “Its object is to help, to learn to get better, to change my perspective.”

He’s more than ready to get started.

“There’s suffering everywhere,” he says. “I’ll go where I’m needed.”

Astoria Characters Day is Sept. 13, 2020. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

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

Copyright 2020 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Woman Living a Mindful Life
by Nruhling
Jan 07, 2020 | 2589 views | 0 0 comments | 143 143 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Manaslu is from Nepal.


Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling


As the morning sunlight streams in through the windows, Manaslu Gurung places a plump pillow in the center of the floor.

As she sits on it, crossed-legged, she positions a brass bowl in front of her. She closes her eyes.

The room – and her thoughts – disappear.

In 20 to 30 minutes, she will emerge from her reverie, calm and collected and ready to start the rest of her routine.

“Meditation sets an intention for the day,” she says. “It really makes a difference.”

Manaslu manifested meditation only five years ago. Her first session was at a Tibetan monastery in Nepal, the land of her birth.

“My husband, Chris, had always wanted to go on a meditation retreat,” she says. “I love to talk, and when I heard that it was going to be seven days of silence, I didn’t think I could survive.”

She smiles. She not only survived, but she also thrived.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Manaslu in meditation mode.

Once she learned to meditate, her life took an entirely new direction, one that she would never have chosen had she not been forced to apply mindfulness over matter.

Manaslu, who was named for the famed mountain in the Nepalese Himalayas, was born in Kathmandu, the country’s capital.

One of four children, she spent the first 17 years of her life there.

She had what she calls a “balanced” childhood. Her father had a doctorate in geography and traveled the world for work, and her mother, who didn’t finish high school, stayed home raising the family. It was she who taught Manaslu to cook, knit and garden, pastimes she still passionately pursues.

“My dad was one of the first people in the nation to get a PhD,” she says. “He believed in education for girls, which was unusual for the times, so I was sent to a fancy, all-girls Catholic convent school that was very strict.”

Manaslu knew she wanted to earn a college degree, so she went to Bangalore, India, for the last two years of high school.

“At that time, Nepalese high schools ended at grade 10,” she says. “There were no good colleges in Nepal, so everyone went to study abroad, where high schools went to 12th grade. I wanted to come to America because women have more freedom here.”



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

She came to America to go to college; she has two master’s degrees.

Manaslu followed a friend to California, enrolloing at UCLA, where she earned a degree in geography.

“I wanted to be like my father and travel the world,” she says.

Her next stop was the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she earned a master’s degree in the same subject.

After an internship at the World Wildlife Fund in Washington, D.C., Manaslu returned to Amherst, where she got a job with the international students office while earning a master’s degree in education.

“It’s hard to find work in geography, and I was on a student visa, so I had to enroll in something to stay in the country,” she says, adding that she was, indeed, interested in teaching.

As it happened, Manaslu never taught a single class while she was there; her pedagogical pursuits would come later.

She married Chris, a classmate, and when they finished their degrees, he got a job in New York City.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Manaslu started meditating five years ago.

“I was 29,” Manaslu says. “All my friends were married and had children. My parents were worried I was too old. I thought they would object to Chris because he’s not Nepali, but they didn’t.”

In 2005, they settled in the Bronx, and Manaslu commuted to a job with a nonprofit in Westchester, where she worked with international students.

“I loved it,” she says. “I got to travel all over the world and the country.”

A decade later, when new owners took over the company, Manaslu quit.

She and Chris decided to spend a year in Nepal with her family.

While they were there, they backpacked through Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.

“My mom used to joke that we were gone more than we were there,” she says.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Manaslu’s singing bowl.

During Nepal’s April 2015 earthquake, which killed nearly 9,000 and injured nearly 22,000, they were among the first to join the rescue relief crews.

She and Chris raised money for batteries (people needed them to charge cellphones so they could contact their families) as well as children’s books, games and musical instruments.

“Most of the relief organizations were focusing on necessities,” Manaslu says. “We wanted to give children something to engage them.”

Right before they left for New York City, where Chris’ original job awaited, they went on that silent retreat that Manaslu can’t stop talking about.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Manaslu’s a teacher and assistant organizer at Mindful Astoria.

They settled in Astoria, which Manaslu says “is the place I can call home.”

Manaslu is spending her time exploring different career options.

A teacher and assistant organizer at the meditation community Mindful Astoria, she studies Buddhism and recently completed her 200-hour teaching training in Kripalu yoga.

“I have such a rich life in terms of culture and community,” she says, adding that she’s made many friends through Mindful Astoria.

She wants to do meaningful work, but she’s not yet sure what that means.

“I can’t do 9-to-5 any more,” she says, adding that money is not her main motivator. “Buddhism is a deep philosophy that I find useful in my daily life. I want to invest my life in it and share it.”

Meditation, she says, will help her find a way to do this.

Astoria Characters Day is Sept. 13, 2020. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

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

Copyright 2020 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Poet Who Lets Her Work Speak for Her
by Nruhling
Dec 31, 2019 | 2621 views | 0 0 comments | 302 302 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Olena is the founder of Poets of Queens.


Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling


Poets are known for their skillful economy of words, so it’s not surprising that Olena Jenningsculls hers carefully even in casual conversation.

She is forthcoming about the basic facts of her life, but there’s a sense that there’s far more meaning behind her words than she conveys.

Olena, a tall woman with big, beautiful blue eyes, is sitting on a large, overstuffed sofa in her living room.

There’s a significantly sized flat-screen TV tucked into one corner. She says she rarely watches it – the shows don’t relax her.

The spare space also contains a computer desk cramped by bookshelves, which are topped by an assortment of framed photos of her nieces.

Right by the door, there’s a white Brother sewing machine.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Olena’s dress is a study in the written word.

When she’s not penning or translating poems, Olena unwinds by making her own outfits, a pursuit that she started only two years ago when she knew nothing of needles and thread.

Today, she’s wearing a dress of her own creation. The fabric, which she bought on Etsy, is printed with definitions from the dictionary. The black and white newspaper-style columns run up and down her torso like toy trains.

 

Olena formed an affection for words early in life, probably because in her house they flew like flocks of little birds into her ears.

Hers was an extended family all under one roof. Her mother’s parents, who were from the Ukraine, settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during World War II.

Olena’s mother, who was 2 or 3 years old when the family arrived, was born in a displaced persons’ camp in Germany.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Olena writes and translates poetry.

“I don’t know too many details,” Olena says, adding that they were forced to stay there for a couple of years. “My grandparents never talked about this experience.”

They did, however, talk about a lot of other things — in their own language, which Olena picked up like seashells on a beach.

“We went to the Ukrainian church every Sunday,” she says. “It was more social than religious. It gave me an opportunity to speak Ukrainian.”

Given her experiences, Olean fell in love with languages and initially wanted to write fiction.

“I didn’t have many friends,” she says, “so writing was an outlet for expression. I wrote a novel in high school. I joined a writer’s group that was filled with adults. Surprisingly, they accepted me.”



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

One of Olena’s translation projects.

In case you’re wondering, Olena’s novel was about perfume. Some of the chapters were told from the scent’s point of view.

At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Olena earned a bachelor’s degree in French and Russian, the other two languages she speaks.

During that time, she studied abroad in Russia and had an internship in Ukraine. She also attended the Harvard Ukrainian Summer Institute, a seven-week immersion course.

“While I was at the institute, I felt I could express myself better in Ukrainian than in English,” she says. “That’s why I’ve continued doing translations — it gives me a great feeling of comfort.”

After earning a master’s degree in Ukrainian literature at the University of Alberta in Canada, she came to New York City in 2004.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Olena’s grandparents were from the Ukraine.

It was her studies that brought her here: She earned a master’s degree in fiction from Columbia University, where she works full time as an administrative assistant to a trio of professors.

“I don’t write much fiction now,” she says. “I concentrate on poetry, which still allows me to tell a story but in a way that’s more pleasurable to me. Poetry is filled with images and metaphors. I like the idea of making connections between two disparate things. I love it when they come together.”

Although Olena sometimes writes on the subway or on her lunch break, most of her work is done at night at her living room workstation.

In this cozy spot, she also translates the work of other poets into English, an exercise that she says “allows her to express the voices of many writers.”

She plucks a volume from the bookshelf.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Olena has a master’s degree from Columbia University.

“Pray to the Empty Wells” is the work she and Iryna Shuvalova, the poet who wrote the verses, translated into English together.

“Songs from an Apartment,” another book from her shelves, contains Olena’s own poems.

Olena, the founder of Poets of Queens, an organization that promotes local writers, also does public readings. In 2020, she’ll be publishing a book of the members’ works.

In the meantime, she’s writing a collection of poems that were inspired by her translation work.

Between rhymes, she’s learning embroidery. She’ll employ is to embellish her wardrobe, not her words.

Astoria Characters Day is Sept. 13, 2020.

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

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

Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Mobile-Meditation Maven
by Nruhling
Dec 24, 2019 | 2512 views | 0 0 comments | 156 156 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Kristin is the founder of Calm City.
Text and Photos by Nancy A. Ruhling

Kristin Westbrook is sipping a cup of coffee and smiling, letting the morning light run its warm fingers through her long, blond hair.

Pinky, her pit bull, has just returned from a romp in Astoria Park and, exhausted, is lounging in a pillow-piled bed by her side.

All is calm and peaceful, as if Kristin and Pinky have not a care in the world.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Kristin’s career is in graphic design.

Kristin, who is being treated for metastatic breast cancer, has worked long and hard to make it seem so.

Pinky rouses herself only to take a treat that Kristin offers.

The dog, who is 14 and looks like a big snowball, is a rescue. Kristin found Pinky one New Year’s Eve; she was tied to a fence, sick and starving.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

She rescued Pinky 14 years ago.

“She was about six months old,” Kristin says. “Nobody thought she would live.”

Kristin, who got her initial diagnosis a decade ago when she was 42, undergoes targeted chemotherapy every three weeks. By 2012, the cancer had spread to her abdomen, lungs and liver. By 2017, it was confined to her liver, which, all things considered, is positive progress of a sort.

“I was really young when I got cancer,” she says. “In chemo, I met a lot of people going through the same thing.”



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Calm City rolled out in 2017.

She doesn’t know when – or whether — the medical regimen will end.

“The chemo has changed me a lot,” she says, “especially going through it the second time. I got ‘chemo brain,’ which affected my cognitive thought processes. I could barely speak because I was afraid I would drop words or even sentences.”

What she does know, and which she is now able to articulate flawlessly, is that meditation, a practice she began nearly 20 years ago, helps her get through the bad times.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

The mobile studio has space for nine.

That’s why she founded Calm City, New York’s first mobile meditation station.

“I started meditating to cure a chronic broken heart,” she says, adding that it wasn’t any one guy she was trying to get over. “It was all the guys and the whole dating thing.”

She must have done something right because shortly after she got her mind in order, she met her husband, Jeff, on Match.com.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

How Kristin feels after meditating.

The year before they married, Pinky became part of their family.

At different points in her life, Kristin, who is from Califon, New Jersey, was an aspiring artist and actress. She made a career for herself in graphic design for a variety of publications and companies, most recently DirecTV, where she was a creative director.

Once her cancer treatment started, she used meditation to, as she says, “connect with my superpower and the center of who I am. It helps me stay in the moment and keep myself anchored.”



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Pinky, rescued as a puppy, is 14.

She added that while she’s sitting in the oncologist’s office, “waiting for the other shoe to drop, meditation has been an incredible tool to help me keep myself anchored in the present moment.”

Kristin, who is a certified meditation teacher trained in transcendental technique and in mental health first aid, came up with the concept for Calm City in 2016, shortly before she left DirecTV.

“I wanted to create a place where people could go to meditate during the work day,” she says. “I wanted it to be as convenient as a food truck, where you could go for 10 or 15 minutes. My original idea was to create a series of kiosks so there would be a Superman’s phone booth on every corner.”



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

She sees Calm City as Superman’s phone booth.

She dipped into her savings and bought a 1976 GMC Motorhome RV for $5,000, transforming it into a meditation mobile that hit the streets in 2017.

At first, she parked the RV in public spaces, inviting people from off the street to stop in for 15- or 30-minute live or audio-guided sessions.

Now, corporations, schools and institutions hire her to bring peace of mind to staff members.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Meditation has helped Kristin deal with cancer.

Kristin, who has no training in business development, admits that getting Calm City off the ground has been anything but calming.

“Starting this business has been very stressful,” she says, adding that she tries to make time to meditate every morning. “The first year I thought I was failing constantly. There have been many times I’ve wanted to bail out on the business.”



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Sessions are 15 or 30 minutes.

It is, of course, meditation and her desire to help others learn the life-changing technique that have kept her focused.

“I see the difference in people who use Calm City,” she says. “Meditation creates happier, healthier people – that’s my mission.”



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Kristin wants you to be as happy as she is.

Kristin provides the financing for Calm City, which has one employee – a driver. Someday, she’d like a corporate sponsor or a large-scale city contract so she can put more mobile units on the streets.

While she’s looking for like-minded investors, Kristin and Calm City are moving forward.

“We’re both doing pretty well,” she says.

Astoria Characters Day is Sept. 13, 2020. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

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

Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Bard of Baseball
by Nruhling
Dec 17, 2019 | 2580 views | 0 0 comments | 293 293 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Porky is a lifelong baseball fan.


Text and photos by Nancy A. Ruhling


Porky McDonald has told the story of the disposing of Roy Riegel’s ashes dozens of times.

They were die-hard Mets fans, you see, and when Roy died – on, of all days, the season opener on April 8, 2008 – Porky wanted to do something special to honor their friendship, which had commenced when they were boys going to battle with ball and bat.

“His death hit me hard,” he says.

So, he added, did the fact that the Mets lost to the Phillies that day by 5 to 2.

Porky, a friendly fellow with untamed snow-white hair and a grey goatee who likes to talk about baseball and everything else, got it into his head that the best way to commemorate Roy would be to scatter his ashes in ballparks around the country.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Porky’s studio apartment is a shrine to the game.

So he got the family to give him some of Roy’s remains – enough to fill a Planters peanuts can – and carried a portion to each game in a plastic Advil bottle.

After the first couple of scatterings, though, Porky realized that the legality and logistics of his plan were too cumbersome to continue.

He was sitting in a bar having an after-game drink when nature called and he hit upon what he calls his humorous home-run idea.

Roy was a plumber (“he was damn good – he fixed the sink in the bar in my apartment three times,” Porky says) – so why not flush his remains down ballpark toilets between innings?



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Ask Porky to tell you the story of Roy’s ashes.

“The Mets play in Citi Field in Flushing Meadows – everybody got the joke,” Porky chuckles, adding that in 2017, after ballpark No. 15, he ran out of Roy’s remains.

He says he did the flushing with the utmost respect.

“I always went into a stall because it was more private,” he says. “I wouldn’t think of doing it in a urinal where everyone could watch. And if I had to use the toilet, I flushed between Roy and me. I would never pee on my friend.”

Baseball has always been an important part of Porky’s life.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Porky has a collection of baseballs.

If you didn’t know this, you would guess it as soon as you walk into his studio apartment, which, with its player posters, baseballs, bats and books of autographs, has been an eccentric mini-Cooperstown for the 39 years he has lived in it.

But Porky is far more than a collector of memorabilia.

He’s a writer, who, to date, has produced 24 books, including two New York City guidebooks (A Walk in the City and On the Tour) and 10 volumes of poetry.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

A lifelong Mets fan, Porky writes baseball poetry.

For the most part, they are about – what else? — baseball.

Porky, whose father took him to his first game, at Shea Stadium, when he was 6, grew up in the building.

The family lived in the apartment across the hall. When his parents divorced and his mother married the studio’s occupant several years later, Porky moved in and turned it into a shrine to the all-American game.

In the beginning, he had a twin bed, but at some point switched to a fold-out sofa, which he insists is exceedingly comfortable, and that, when opened, fits into the space with scarcely an inch to spare.



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Porky’s shrine to his father, an avid fan.

Aside from bookcases, a flat-screen TV and a computer, the only other furnishings are a pair of mezzanine stadium seats, Nos. 20 and 21, that Porky bought when Shea was torn down.

Porky’s Place, the sign over the kitchen sink that Roy kept fixing, is left over from the time Porky had a bar there.

Porky, who was christened Thomas, got his nickname from the neighborhood kids.

“I was a little fat and had a pug nose,” he says. “I looked like the cartoon character Porky Pig. The name stuck — it doesn’t seem right if you call me anything else.”



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

A poster-size card Porky got for his 50th birthday.

When Porky was 15, he got his first job. It was at the deli around the corner.

Although he tried college – “I attended Hunter for three weeks” – Porky was happier working, and in 1985 he got a job with the New York Transit Authority.

In 1989, when he was compiling statistics on the last outs of World Series games, Porky began writing poetry.

“The poems just happened,” he says, adding that he’s penned 3,067. “I can’t explain it. I have a lot of dreams, and the poems come straight from them. I write them in longhand then type them into my computer. I also carry around a planner so I can write down ideas during the day.”



Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Porky’s latest book, “Poet in the Parks,” will be published next year.

Since his retirement in 2016, Porky, whose favorite authors are Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe and whose TV taste is revealed in bookshelves filled with DVDs that range from Seinfeld to NCIS, has devoted his non-baseball time to his baseball-themed writing.

His latest collection, Poet in the Parks: 2011-2020, will be published next year.

Porky, who typically attends 25 to 30 Mets games at Citi Field and eight to 12 away games each season, is a left-fielder. He regrets that he hasn’t played baseball since he was in his 30s.

But his old glove is on top of a bookcase, right by The Autobiography of Mark Twain and The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, inviting him to put it on and get back in the game.

Astoria Characters Day is Sept. 13, 2020. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.

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

Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling

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