Astoria Characters: The Woman With a New Life

Wow! There have been a lot of changes – boom, boom, boom! — in Tiffany Gentry’s life lately.
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling 2017 was Tiffany’s year of change.
So caught up has Tiffany been in the whirlwind of everything new that she hasn’t really had time to process her dramatic metamorphosis. Just when she’s about to expound upon her transformation, Achilles, her adorable 4-and-a-half-year-old beagle, tells her it’s time to take a walk. Tiffany, a tallish woman with a lion’s mane of light brown/blond hair that cascades freely down her back, leashes him up and lets him lead her around the block. “He’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” she says, as he runs ahead of her to smell a tree. “He’s my baby.”
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling Achilles on the street.
Back inside, Achilles looks up at her with his big, innocent eyes, which have wandered over to the kitchen in the hopes of begging a bite to eat. Tiffany caves and gives him a bowl of dog chow. Like the other things that have happened in Tiffany’s life, the acquiring of Achilles was more impulsive than preplanned. A private math tutor, Tiffany saw her students in a WeWork office. Among the perks was a members-only social network that Tiffany hardly ever looked at.
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling Tiffany lived in the same Astoria apartment for 20 years.
When she did finally sign on, she discovered that someone was selling a litter of beagles. The puppy she came to name Achilles was the only one left. But that’s getting ahead of the story. Tiffany, who was born in Mountain View, California, grew up in Washington State, which is where her mother moved her and her two older sisters shortly after her divorce. Tiffany was a baby when this happened. They first went to the big city of Yakima. Later, they set up house in the small cities of Ellensburg and Marysville.
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling Achilles entered Tiffany’s life 4 and a half years ago.
Her father remained in California. “The first time I met him, I was 6,” she says. “My sisters and I used to spend some summers with him.” Tiffany, who had aspirations of a career on the stage, got a small scholarship to an arts school in Seattle. “My father had a big, old house there that he was selling,” she says. “I lived in the basement, which had a kitchen and bathroom. The rest of the house was empty – I swore it was haunted. I was so scared.”
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling Tiffany’s working on her master’s degree in education.
Fortunately, she didn’t stay there long. “Even with the scholarship, I could only afford one semester of school,” she says. “I was so depressed. A high school friend was coming to New York City to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, so I decided to enroll there.” She lived in Roberts House, a residential hotel for young women in Manhattan whose chief characteristic was its cheap rent.
Photo  by Nancy A. Ruhling Tiffany and Achilles on their route.
“I had a cubicle for a room,” she says. “It contained a twin bed, a dresser, a sink and a closet. We got breakfast and dinner free. There were a lot of call girls living there. It was a safe place for them.” When her money and her enthusiasm for the academy ran out, Tiffany started auditioning. She got roles in student films, plays and touring theatre productions and supplemented her income with temp jobs in offices. She followed a boyfriend to Astoria and never left. “I kept moving to different apartments,” she says. “Then, I found a rent-stabilized place and stayed there the last 20 years.”
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling She teaches English in a Bronx high school.
A series of disappointments large (the renaissance fair she had a role in went out of business before her first performance) and small (she hated sitting around on film sets waiting for shooting to commence) turned Tiffany from acting. To pay the bills, she returned to temp jobs. She worked for an art gallery and a strip club (she was the bookkeeper; the dancers, she says, were nice even though the owner wasn’t). At the same time, she went back to school. She enrolled at The City College of New York. It was, she says, too big and too expensive.
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling Tiffany came to New York to study acting.
She transferred to Borough of Manhattan Community College, where she earned an associate’s degree in liberal arts, then earned a bachelor’s degree in religion from Hunter College, where she graduated first in her class with a 4.00 GPA. “I’m interested in the ancient world, and the religion courses were the closest things I could find to that,” she says. The last couple of years, Tiffany was an executive assistant; she tutored in her free time. When she got laid off, she became a full-time tutor specializing in math and logic. In the summer of 2017, she started taking classes at Lehman College, where she is working on a master’s degree in education.
Photo by  Nancy A. Ruhling On their way home.
In September 2017, she became a full-time English teacher at a public high school in the Bronx. In October 2017, she traded her old apartment for a bigger, nicer one. These new ventures required a lot of readjustments for her and Achilles.
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling Being pulled in two directions.
She gets up at 4 so she has time to walk Achilles before dropping him off at a friend’s for the day. She takes consolation in the fact that Achilles can play with the cats and other dogs in the house. By 5:30 a.m., she’s on her way to the high school. Generally, she gets home at 5:30 p.m. and tries to get in bed by 9. On Thursday nights, however, she’s in class at Lehman.
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling Tiffany grew up on the West Coast.
“This year has been tough,” she says, adding that she studies and tutors on the weekends. Tiffany is striving to be an A+ student and an A+ teacher. “No matter how much you learn about teaching, you’re never prepared,” she says. “And there’s a difference between tutoring one-on-one and teaching a class full of students. It’s a challenge to engage students every moment. As a student at Lehman, I want to be as good as I was at Hunter.” Tiffany is glad that her life has been turned upside down.
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling Advancing toward her new future.
“I’m so lucky now,” she says, “because the things I did in the past didn’t work out.” With Achilles lounging on a rug at her feet, Tiffany looks around her big, beautiful apartment. She left behind her old furniture. Her new sofas are due to arrive any day. Achilles is just as excited as she is.   Astoria Characters Day: The 2nd Family Reunion is Sept. 23, 2018. Support Astoria Characters at GoFundMe Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at; @nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram,, Copyright 2018 by Nancy A. Ruhling