Astoria Characters: Nick The Balloonatic

Once you’ve learned how to make a balloon dog, you can make everything else your hands and your eyes can imagine. Allow the great Nick The Balloonatic Rotondo to demonstrate. Check out Nick’s balloon earrings. From his black pack, he plucks a straw-thin canary-yellow balloon and puts the end of it on what he calls “the Cadillac” of all pumps. Before you can blink an eye, he’s twisting and turning the long yellow tube, forming the body, head and wagging tail of the pooch. Now,…

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Astoria Characters: The Present on the Porch

On my front porch, smack in the center of the top step, there appeared a mysterious package. I had spent the morning masked in Manhattan, and it was the first thing I saw when I opened the gate upon my return. This is what I saw on my porch. I have received more than my fair share of misdelivered parcels – I could tell you about the Pampers that arrived during the pandemic, the license plates that were for a neighbor around the corner or the time I chased the UPS driver down Ditmars…

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Astoria Characters: The Woman Leading Hour Children

The fastest Alethea Taylor has ever driven is 125 miles per hour, and it was only for a second or so. Alethea is the new executive director of Hour Children. “When I got close to 100 and the car started bucking, it was really scary but exhilarating,” she says. “I stayed at 90, where I felt comfortable.” She’s as new at racecar driving as she is at leading Hour Children, the 35-year-old organization founded by Sister Tesa Fitzgerald that takes incarcerated and formerly incarcerated…

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Astoria Characters: The Chef Who Learned French Cooking in England

Vincent Caro didn’t learn to cook the culinary classics of his native Brittany at home. For that, he had to go abroad. To England. Vincent’s the owner of Chez Olivia and Chez Eloise. Vincent, the owner of the newly opened French bistro Chez Olivia, says it’s not as strange as it sounds. He was, after all, in the employ of a French restaurant when he learned the ins and outs of braising the boeuf bourguignon and anointing the coq au vin with Burgundy. Ah, that does make sense.…

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Astoria Characters: The Proprietor by the Park

Anna Budinger pulls up on her bicycle, breathless. It’s only a 15-minute ride, but it’s so suffocatingly sultry that she feels as though she has been pedaling through rolling ocean waves. Anna’s the owner of Babs. She opens the door, pulls up the shade, switches on the lights, and Babs springs to life like a puppet on a stage. Babs, which is a half block from Astoria Park on Ditmars Boulevard, has only been open since mid-May, so Anna is still getting used to the routine – and…

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