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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

Entries by Nancy Ruhling

Astoria Characters: The Stand-Up Man

(0) Comments | Posted September 16, 2014 | 8:31 AM

This is no joke. The pancakes are damn good.

Tom Daddario had wondered whether he should make them. As a stand-up comic, he's obsessed with getting the last laugh.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
People always told Tom...

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Astoria Characters: The Pharmacist

(0) Comments | Posted September 8, 2014 | 7:16 AM

The central aisle of Norwood Rexall Drugs is long and narrow like a train tunnel. It leads straight to Syed Naqvi. The pharmacy counter is tall. Syed is not.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Syed came from Pakistan in 1972.

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Astoria Characters: The Artist in Residence

(1) Comments | Posted September 2, 2014 | 5:48 AM

It's the starving part of artist that Daniel Francis finds hard to stomach. His hang-dog jeans, cuffed at the ankles to take up the slack, were made for a much weightier man, the one he used to be.


Photo by Nancy...

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Astoria Characters: The Lovebirds

(0) Comments | Posted August 19, 2014 | 8:31 AM

It takes a while for Violeta M. Mileo to answer the front door. She has to walk down two flights of stairs, and she's being extra careful. A couple of months ago, she fell and gouged her shoulder.

She ended up in the emergency room.

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Astoria Characters: The Tamale Lady

(0) Comments | Posted August 12, 2014 | 6:29 AM

The Tamale Lady. That's what everyone calls the weary young-old woman who pushes her shopping cart to the middle of the block and sets up on the sidewalk, selling breakfast for $1 and $2.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
The Tamale...

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Astoria Characters: The Guys With the Great Garden

(1) Comments | Posted July 22, 2014 | 7:42 AM

People stop and stare and hold their babbling babies up to the wrought-iron railing. It's not every day you see a koi pond on Ditmars Boulevard. Or a garden that looks as though it outgrew Architectural Digest.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Cookie Crooner

(2) Comments | Posted July 15, 2014 | 9:07 AM

Jack Chiello is a low-key guy. He's also a man of few words. Getting him to talk about himself is like trying to pry a pearl from an oyster with a plastic toothpick.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Jack's the owner...

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Astoria Characters: The Ice Cream Maven

(0) Comments | Posted July 12, 2014 | 2:56 PM

At the mention of ice cream, a smile beams like a rising sun on Dolma Yangchen's solidly serious face.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Dolma came to New York from Tibet seven years ago.

In Tibet, where she...

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Astoria Characters: The Lawyer and the Singer

(0) Comments | Posted July 8, 2014 | 8:48 AM

There's music playing when Marc Gross opens the door. Cara Samantha, his wife, is sitting on the sofa. She's not singing, merely speaking softly, but her sultry voice relegates the famous one on the CD to deep background.


Photo by Nancy A....

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Astoria Characters: The Laundry on the Line

(0) Comments | Posted July 1, 2014 | 8:36 AM

There was a pole and a pulley at the end of my driveway when I moved in. This cave-man apparatus was tethered to the back of the house by an ancient umbilical cord.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Letting it all...

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Astoria Characters: The Death Racers

(0) Comments | Posted June 24, 2014 | 9:00 AM

At the door that separates the formal living room and dining room, there's a basic-black chin-up bar. Erin and Eldar Spahic are having their morning coffee; he's gulping his out of a super-size-me beer stein, and she is sipping hers from a round mug that doubles as a soup bowl.

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Astoria Characters: The Baker's Son

(0) Comments | Posted June 17, 2014 | 8:34 AM

When the outdoor table is empty, Vincenzo Vaccaro takes a break and a seat. He lights a cigarette and in between smoke rings pours black coffee down his throat.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Vincenzo's the owner of Vaccaro's Italian...

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Astoria Characters: The Robbery Victims

(0) Comments | Posted June 10, 2014 | 8:36 AM

It is what the masked men did to her before they took the money that keeps Sajida Gulamrasool up at night.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
The robbers put a gun to Susan's head.

They pressed a gun to...

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Astoria Characters: The Old Kid on the Block

(0) Comments | Posted June 3, 2014 | 8:43 AM

It's going on six decades. Even Jimmy Bejanis is astounded when he does the math. That's a long time -- his entire life -- to stay in one place and in one house.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Jimmy and Margo...

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Astoria Characters: The Soul Worker

(0) Comments | Posted May 27, 2014 | 6:28 AM

Eleni Petraki used to be a dancer. There's not a bit of regret in her voice when she talks about bowing out of the profession.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Eleni's a former dancer.

For it was the physicality...

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Astoria Characters: The Cigar Aficionado

(0) Comments | Posted May 20, 2014 | 10:02 AM

Every time Tomas Hinojal lights a cigar, he thinks of his father. He's puffing on a Davidoff, savoring the smoke as it covers his face like a ski mask.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Tomas gets ready to light a Davidoff.

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Astoria Characters: The Caterer to the Stars

(0) Comments | Posted May 13, 2014 | 10:33 AM

The snow-white truck is shiny new so Jonathan Forgash has to show it off. The star of his three-vehicle catering fleet, it has a double set of windows, industrial ovens, a slew of work stations and a built-in grill. He runs his hand along the kitchen's stainless steel counter and...

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Astoria Characters: The Guy With Smoke in His Eyes

(0) Comments | Posted May 11, 2014 | 8:13 AM

It is while peering through the smoke that Ibrahim Amer sees things clearly. His cigar, resting in an ashtray like a sunbather in a lounge chair, is smoldering when he picks it up for a puff.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

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Astoria Characters: The Forgotten Hero

(0) Comments | Posted May 6, 2014 | 8:33 AM

When Nick Pavlou shakes hands, he offers his right one. But he can't let it let go of his cane, so the most he can manage is a feeble three-finger touch. For nearly two decades, his left arm has hung, useless, at his side.

If you don't recognize his...

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Astoria Characters: The Charity Stager

(0) Comments | Posted May 4, 2014 | 8:24 AM

The door opens and Roscoe, a kitten who looks like a black and white cookie, sticks his head out and watches Tiffany Schleigh pad down the hallway.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Roscoe's a rescue.

Curiosity overcomes caution, and...

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