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Nancy Ruhling
Nancy A. Ruhling is a freelance journalist who has had bylines in more than 50 online and print publications, including The New York Times. Her latest postings are on She has lived in Astoria long enough to be an “Astoria Character.” She may be reached at, nruhling on Instagram.

Entries by Nancy Ruhling

Astoria Characters: The Servant of Syncopation

(0) Comments | Posted July 17, 2016 | 9:14 AM

The first thing you see in Mark A. Thomas' apartment is the Roland digital piano.

It's big and black, and you have to dance around it, as Dick Van Dyke did with that pesky ottoman, to get into the living room without tripping over it.

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Astoria Characters: The Composer Who Came Out of a Coma

(0) Comments | Posted July 3, 2016 | 10:01 AM

It happened a little more than two years ago, but Allen Schulz says it seems more like a lifetime.

In March 2014, he was in Pittsburgh to see a performance of his latest composition, 3 Phantasies, a 15-minute work for cello and piano.

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Astoria Characters: The Falafel King

(0) Comments | Posted June 26, 2016 | 12:50 PM

YEAHHHHH BABY! Finally, The King of Falafel & Shawarma is in his castle.

Fares "Freddy" Zeideia -- OK, you know you can't help yourself so just call him The King -- is a big guy so his YEAHHHHH BABY! is a lion's roar.

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Astoria Characters: The Devoted Daughter

(0) Comments | Posted June 26, 2016 | 8:56 AM

What Antri Papanikolaou remembers most about her 16th birthday is that it was the last one she ever got to spend with her mother.


They drove to Philadelphia, where Maria was going for cancer treatments, and stayed the night in a Ronald McDonald House.

Maria, who had been diagnosed...

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Astoria Characters: The Guy Who Played With the Monkees

(0) Comments | Posted June 20, 2016 | 8:12 AM

Laughter. That's the first thing you hear in Gregory Briggler's second-floor walkup.

The giggles and guffaws are coming from his three boisterous boys, 12-year-old Harry, 9-year-old Simon and 6-year-old Adam.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Gregory's the principal trombonist for the...

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Astoria Characters: God's Handyman

(0) Comments | Posted June 13, 2016 | 8:16 PM

As Henry Kimpel climbs the stone steps of Trinity Lutheran Church, an act he has done some 12,000 times since he joined the congregation nearly seven decades ago, he apologizes.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Henry has devoted his...

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Astoria Characters: The Artist With Vast Bodies of Work

(0) Comments | Posted June 7, 2016 | 5:05 AM

As soon as Gene Coffey rolls up the ink-black metal gate at his tony tattoo parlor, he starts talking about his art studio.

It's right upstairs, so when he has free time between clients, he goes there to paint.


Photo by Nancy...

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Astoria Characters: The Man Hard-Wired to History

(0) Comments | Posted May 30, 2016 | 8:17 AM

It's a funny thing, but Cliff Straus doesn't remember exactly when he started working for Straus Paint & Hardware Co. He just knows that he's never wanted to quit.

Cliff, a benevolent bulldog with a buzz cut, walks through the door to the back office and pauses. There, scrawled in...

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Astoria Characters: The Violinist

(0) Comments | Posted May 23, 2016 | 7:52 AM

Why the violin?

Marina Fragoulis isn't quite sure why she chose it. She was 10, and all she knew was that, for no particular reason, she didn't want to play the saxophone.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Marina's from Crete.

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Astoria Characters: The Woman Who Illustrates Life

(0) Comments | Posted May 16, 2016 | 7:44 AM

As cats are wont to do at the approach of strangers, Mimosa has fled under the bed.

It's a shame because Mimosa, a 4-year-old, nine-lived tabby, is the meow muse for Widad Franco's art-illustration company.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Got-Game(s) Players

(0) Comments | Posted May 9, 2016 | 7:43 AM

From the top shelf of The Geekery HQ's lending library, Syrus Gabales brings forth an orange box.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
The Geekery HQ is on Broadway at 42nd Street.

Syrus, who prefers card games,...

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Astoria Characters: The Gentle Giant

(0) Comments | Posted May 2, 2016 | 7:51 AM

At the front door of Gussy's, there's a big dude with a ponytail and tatts.

And a super-size-me grin.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Ozzie's the show producer at Gussy's.

The band's about to play, and Ozzie...

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Astoria Characters: The Champion of Comic Books

(0) Comments | Posted April 26, 2016 | 5:51 AM

At the last stop on the N and Q lines, at the end of a short tunnel, there's a circular dime-shiny sign that -- Bam! Pow! Zap! -- punches right through the grey gloom of the subway station.

Look at it, up at the ceiling. It's not a bird. It's...

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Astoria Characters: The Hollywood Star

(0) Comments | Posted April 19, 2016 | 5:06 AM

Someone slipped a sheet of paper into my mailbox. It looked like junk, and, in my haste, I almost threw it out.

In the spring of 2008, Tony Scott was filming The Taking of Pelham 123, a remake of the 1974 classic, and he was looking for a house, it...

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Astoria Characters: The Clown Juggling a Double-Fun Life

(1) Comments | Posted April 12, 2016 | 5:00 AM

David Ellis can't stop the clowning around.

His 4-year-old daughter, the so-called Lady S, is looking down on him, longingly, from the second-floor bedroom window.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
David, serious for a second.

She's dying to...

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Astoria Characters: The Hypnotist

(0) Comments | Posted April 5, 2016 | 5:03 AM

Look into my eyes.

Craig Mackay, a hypnotist, has brilliant, beautiful blue ones, but you'll never hear him utter this command.

Instead, he asks you to sit on the striped sofa in his blue-walled office for a gentle conversation about your goals.

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Astoria Characters: The Painter Who's Coloring In Her Life Lines

(0) Comments | Posted March 29, 2016 | 5:04 AM

Sometimes it takes a long time to figure out who you are and who you want to be.

2016-03-27-1459082573-9361460-Juniper1a.jpg Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling Juniper started drawing as a child.

For Juniper Foster, this is a very welcome work in progress.

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Astoria Characters: The Actor Who's Wooing the World

(0) Comments | Posted March 22, 2016 | 5:00 AM

Actors make their living manufacturing emotions at a moment's notice.

Happy. Sad. Surprised.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Toney started acting in elementary school.

Toney Brown does them all flawlessly, but there's one he doesn't have to fake: wide-eyed...

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Astoria Characters: The Life of the Party

(0) Comments | Posted March 15, 2016 | 5:05 AM

There has been much to celebrate in Elizabet Flores' life, but she has marked only four occasions with formal parties.

The largest, an event for 300, was for her wedding a decade ago.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
La Bomboniera...

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Astoria Characters: The Gal of Grand Gestures

(0) Comments | Posted March 8, 2016 | 4:09 AM

It's too hard to sit still, and there's no point to it. Life equals kinetic energy, which is why Verunka Vlkova-Fierro plugs in the 6-foot-long sign as soon as she makes her entrance into the living room.

Dozens of dazzling light bulbs, Broadway brilliant, spell out LASSO THE MOON.

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