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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 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 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 Woman With a Third Eye

(0) Comments | Posted April 29, 2014 | 12:21 PM

She followed her heart. Manuela Rana never had dreams of the American dream, but when she found the man of her dreams, she didn't hesitate to cross the Atlantic to be with him.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Love led Manuela...

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Astoria Characters: The President of the Galician Club

(0) Comments | Posted April 22, 2014 | 8:04 AM

It's a windy day, and the four flags of Casa Galicia are flapping like a flock of geese flying south for the winter. The stately wedding-cake white building on 31st Avenue, wedged between a burger joint and a supermarket crowned by barbed wire, looks like a foreign embassy.

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Astoria Characters: The Guy Who Seized the Wheel

(0) Comments | Posted April 15, 2014 | 9:42 AM

Not everybody who gets a second chance wants it or takes it. Paco Soto was pretty much set in his ways when the opportunity was thrust upon him, but he didn't hesitate to move into the driver's seat and speed into the fast lane.

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Astoria Characters: The Man Who Holds the Universe in His Hands

(2) Comments | Posted April 8, 2014 | 6:35 AM

Rain. That's what pelted Marco Pereira's boyhood brain, drop by drop by drop time after time, until it finally sank in.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Marco's theory turns everything upside down.

"It was pouring so hard that...

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Astoria Characters: The Guy Who Mans Two Counters

(0) Comments | Posted April 1, 2014 | 9:42 AM

Nine a.m. comes mighty early when you didn't go to bed until 3 in the morning. That's why Pedro Gonzalez is hiding behind the brim of his black fedora.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
You'll see Pedro at The Furniture Market...

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Astoria Characters: The Artist Who Draws In Nature

(0) Comments | Posted March 25, 2014 | 9:39 AM

She paints. She writes. She welds. She wears men's Tony Lama cowboy boots and dangly turquoise earrings that fly through her long black hair when the wind blows. Lisa Zilker loves math, science, literature and getting her sturdy hands dirty down to her short, unpolished nails.

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Astoria Characters: The Martial-Arts Mentor

(1) Comments | Posted March 18, 2014 | 7:43 AM

Dino Orfanos starts out sitting in the big leather swivel chair behind the desk. He's not there even three seconds when he asks whether it would be OK if he moves to the other side of the desk, the one where his students sign up for classes.

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