Astoria Characters: The History Guy on the Soccer Team

There are two questions that everyone always asks Chris Minty: Why is a Scotsman devoting his career to studying Early American history? Why is such a serious academic so keen on spending his spare time playing football, or soccer as we call it in the States? Chris is a historian and an avid soccer player. For the answers, we have to do what Chris, a documentary editor historian who literally gets to hold history in his hands, does on a daily basis: search and annotate the past to put…

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Astoria Characters: The Confectioner With the Sweet Heart

Crystal Gonzalez sets the small white box on the table and carefully opens it to reveal a half dozen elaborately iced cupcakes. She created Crystal’s Confections during the pandemic. There’s one with a couple of cherries on top, one adorned with a gigantic strawberry, one defined by an upright Oreo and two decorated with edible parchment butterflies that look as though they are going to flutteroff into the spring air. She brought the home-baked goods, she says, to sweeten the day. Crystal,…

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Astoria Characters: The Family That Sticks Together

It’s the start of yet another day at Astoria Family Pizza. Family is the operative word. Jose stepped up after his brother died. Jose Guaman is making the pizzas, gently kneading the dough for what he calls “three baby pies” to complement a large one that will be sold slice by slice, each with a different topping. As he slides the silver pans into the oven, his wife, Maria, his 22-year-old son Jose and his daughter-in-law Carolina – the “family” referenced in the establishment’s…

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Astoria Characters: The Bold-Strokes Artist

When Alice Lipping arrives at her studio, she immediately rolls up her sleeves, revealing a tattoo on her lower left arm. Alice became a full-time artist during the pandemic. “Keep Working,” it reminds her in subtle script. She’s more than ready to do just that. Alice, you see, has always loved art and has been painting and selling her work for two decades, but it’s only since the pandemic that she’s allowed herself to indulge her passion full time. It wasn’t so much a…

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Astoria Characters: The Plastic Bag on the Roof

It’s not the first time that someone has thrown something on my roof. A while ago, a shiny silver ladder fell from the sky like a hammer and landed, splat, on the shingles. Jimmy doesn’t have perfect pitch. This time, it’s a black plastic shopping bag. My friend Jimmy Ruchalski hurled it there. This throwing of things, it seems to be a tradition in Astoria, one that I was initiated into on Day One of my residency. Seventeen years ago, when I moved into my house, a stranger…

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