Monthly Archives: August 2010

ANGELICA ULLOA


Angelica in front of La Marjolaine, the little French bakery on Skillman Avenue

“If you are busy, you don’t feel it.”

Angelica Ulloa’s palate is considered an authority by the eight bakers in the back kitchen. If she tastes the dough and doesn’t find it sweet enough, they fix it. Angelica sells baked goods at La Marjolaine, the little French bakery on Skillman Avenue and 50th Street, and she wants her Woodside and Sunnyside customers to be happy. La Marjolaine could not get a better advertisement than Angelica herself. “I can’t miss it,” she recently raved about her favorite pastry as she took a quick break to talk. “Every day I have my chocolate croissant. And Sundays I take two.”

Angelica found out about the job through an employment agency on Queens Boulevard six years ago. She used to work as a babysitter and never imagined working at a bakery, but the job suited her surprisingly well. It allowed her to study English part time and to make new friends. She got to know many of her customers by name and has even gone out to dinner with some. When a regular doesn’t appear, she worries about his or her wellbeing. “We are friendly with them,” she says. “Some of them are lonely, you know.”

As her English improved, Angelica took on more hours to make ends meet in New York and to support her family back in Ecuador. She now works six days a week, up to ten hours a day. “If you are busy, you don’t feel it,” she says. Laughing, she adds that running and walking around to explore the neighborhood is one of her hobbies.

In the podcast Angelica talks about her first winter in New York eight years ago.

Listen to the interview

GREG CHAVEZ


Greg used to manage The Shirelles

“You are the boy that danced with me in Astoria.”

“I was educated in a different way,” says Greg Chavez, who was born and raised in Astoria. He dropped out of high school to travel around the world with The Shirelles, the first major American girl band, which landed their biggest hit, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” in the early sixties. After a rapturous life in show biz, Greg returned to Sunnyside three years ago to care for his 86-year-old father.

At a concert in Astoria in the early seventies, Greg, then 16, sprang into action when Addie “Micki” Harris asked if anyone in the audience could dance “The Bump.” Greg’s bump made such an impression on Micki that she recognized him a few months later at a concert in Florida. “You are the boy who danced with me in Astoria,” Micki said, according to Greg. From then on the two were inseparable. For a decade, Greg worked as a road manager for The Shirelles, carrying their luggage, making sure no one entered the dressing room and buying pantyhose and super glue when the need arose. In return he was slipped $50 bills in his pocket during their many flights.

“I was a gopher,” he says laughing, as we recently sat talking at “The Haab” on 48th Avenue. “You know, not the animal, but ‘go-for-this’, ‘go-for-that’.” Eventually Greg was promoted from “gopher” to “manager,” booking shows for the band, but his new position didn’t last too long. In 1982 the band broke up after Micki died of a heart attack on stage in Atlanta.

Greg says he was treated “very bad” after that. He followed Shirley, who had begun a solo career in the mid-seventies, and later worked as a freelance booking agent for South Florida clubs and for individual artists, among them Mary Wilson of The Supremes, Bonnie Pointer from the Pointer Sisters and Grace Jones.

As the music scene changed and as he felt the tug of family, Greg decided to return to the apartment in Sunnyside he had bought 30 years ago, where he now lives with his brother and father. Until recently he worked as a barkeeper at Daizies Restaurant, but the job didn’t allow him enough flexibility to continue his career in the music business.

“I had the time of my life,” Greg says about his previous career, “but I could have done a little bit more of mine. I always put myself out for somebody else.” Currently Greg works with the 10-year-old granddaughter of Mary Davis, who once toured with The Shirelles and with whom Greg has stayed very close over the years. “As a tribute to the girls” he shows the child old video footage and teaches her the songs and moves of Billy Holiday and Dinah Washington. His dream is to get a young R&B group together and act as their manager. “What they call R&B today is not R&B,” Greg says. “I don’t want to see a girl grabbing her crotch on stage. It’s not classy, it’s trashy. I call it bootie-shake music. I want to bring the respect back to girls.”

Listen to Greg’s interview

MICHELE RIGANESE


Singer/songwriter Michele on a very hot day at the playground on Greenpoint Avenue


This little hipster lured Michele to Sunnyside… (courtesy Michele Riganese)

“I always focus on my [own] feelings, but I find the stuff that’s really simple and raw is what people really connect with.”

If it wasn’t for Chili, her little Pomeranian, singer-songwriter Michele Riganese may have never moved to Sunnyside. Chili came with a certificate for three free visits to a vet in Sunnyside, and while Michele first thought, “Where the heck is this place?” she quickly fell in love with it. She moved from Gramercy Park to a “gorgeous apartment” in Sunnyside eight years ago. Here she found the sense of community her old neighborhood lacked. “You can rely on your neighbors for this cup of sugar,” she says. Besides the new apartment came with “a fantastic hallway, really bouncy with sound that feeds inspiration for me.”

Michele’s music is inspired by current events, her own relationships and those of others. A performer since she was seven, she likes to create heartfelt, melancholy songs infused with hope. “I always focus on my [own] feelings,” she says, “but I find the stuff that’s really simple and raw is what people really connect with. I don’t worry too much about being global or universal.”

Michele’s career as a child actress took her to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. It wasn’t until college that she found her real passion and decided to dedicate herself exclusively to music. To her, making money is secondary. She volunteers with Musicians on Call, a nonprofit who sends musicians to care facilities, and intends to donate half of the money she makes through her crowd-funding project at Rockethub to BARC, an animal shelter in Williamsburg. Michele supports her career as a singer/songwriter by doing voice-overs and writing songs for weddings; she doesn’t want a nine-to-five job. “Unless it is something that feeds my soul, it’s tearing me away from music, which is my gift and the very reason why I am here,” she says.

Michele has live performances scheduled at the LIC Bar on August 30, 2010 and at the Sidewalk Café in Manhattan on September 5, 2010.

In the podcast Michele talks about what is involved in being a singer/songwriter.

Listen to Michele’s interview

RAJA SHAH

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Raja Shaw with Truth, a Mastiff who refused to look into the camera

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Raja runs a special shelter for special dogs at the old 43rd Street Cinema.

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Twiggy Toothpick stole my heart. Twiggy was found tied to the fence of a schoolyard. Weak and emaciated, she couldn’t stand up by herself.

“There is a big problem in New York City right now. There is a little doggie holocaust going on.”

Back in college, Raja Shah wanted to develop a theory that would change society. “In my senior year I realized that this wasn’t realistic,” says Raja, who a few years ago returned to Sunnyside, where he was born. Over the years he has worked with the homeless, at literacy centers for children, with kids in gangs and with ex-cons. But it was as a volunteer at an animal shelter that he realized he could follow his calling and still make a living. His behavioral training of dogs that were deemed unadoptable yielded good results, and shelters as well as individuals began to hire him. The Dog Guru was born.

In the past Raja had to travel to shelters and foster homes to train dogs rescued by BarcStray from the Heart and actress-cum-animal-rescuer Bernadette Peters. But on July 20, 2010 he signed the lease for the old 43rd Street Cinema at Greenpoint Avenue, where he now provides housing and training for 20 of these rescue groups’ most challenging dogs. Once the dogs are socialized they will be put up for adoption.

“There is a big problem in New York City right now.” Raja says. “There is a little doggie holocaust going on. If you have 35 dogs being put to sleep 365 days a year, that’s a serious issue.” While he of course loves dogs, his motivation has always been to try to make society a better place. “Until we create a bigger solution,” he says about New York’s large euthanasia numbers, “I’m going to do my best trying to ease that number.”

How does he do it? One dog at a time. The day I happened to run into him on the street, he was teaching George, a gigantic German Shepherd, some basic dog commands. He calmly walked around him, whispering commands and stepping over his tail in an attempt to take away George’s fear of being approached from behind.

“Aggression is not always the worst problem,” says Raja, whose canine clients are primarily pitbulls. Take, for example, Penny, a three-year-old, 40-pound pitbull. Indoors, Penny just sat head down and moaned, while outside she was terrified. Raja was the last in a line of multiple trainers who had tried their hand on Penny.

Penny would stiffen her front legs like a cartoon animal, making Raja drag her down the street. Raja tried to put a strap around her belly and bounce her on her front legs; he tried food motivators—dog treats, hotdogs and hamburgers—but nothing seemed to work. So Raja decided to train “the doggie,” as he lovingly calls his rescues, strong disciplinary skills indoors. Slowly he worked up her confidence and gained her trust. Eventually Penny became so focused on Raja’s commands that she forgot her fear when out on the street. Raja became her main focus.

“I had a party that night,” Raja says about this turning point in Penny’s life. But he quickly admits that there have been dogs he had to give up on. While he contributes some behavioral issues in dogs to mental disabilities, he is also humble. “It’s not that they are not savable,” he says in his characteristic soft and low voice. “It’s just that I myself don’t know how to save certain dogs.”

To find out about upcoming adoption events at the Dog Guru’s shelter, connect with him via Facebook.

Listen to Raja’s interview