Monthly Archives: July 2010


Rick and his dog Matilda, who likes to dissect plush squirrels

Thanks to SUDS, the Sunnyside United Dog Society, the basketball court at Lou Lodati Park on Skillman Avenue will be moved back to make space for a 45×90-foot dog run.

“They are loyal—as long as there’s food involved.”

Rick Duro’s mom was allergic to dogs, and while she allowed him to keep snapping turtles, pythons and piranhas, a canine was out of the question. When Rick moved to Sunnyside in 2003, he quickly compensated for those dog-less years by adopting Matilda, an adorable German Shepherd-Corgy-Chow mixture who, according to Rick, knows the words “car,” “Poconos” and her best friend’s name, “Pinto.”

Crazy about Matilda and anything dog-related, Rick became a member of the Sunnyside United Dog Society (or SUDS) and eventually its president. Dedicated to the well-being of dogs, SUDS began quietly in Lou Lodati Park after September 11th, as dog owners yearned for a heightened sense of community and comfort. For the past nine years, SUDS, which encompasses plumbers, teachers, orchestra conductors, architects and cab drivers—“a really nice snapshot of the city, people of all creeds and colors,” says Rick—has gathered each night at a designated area at the park to let its dogs off the leash. (SUDS’s core group of 20 was instrumental in making the Off-leash Hours policy, which has allowed people to let their dogs run freely in public parks before 9 AM and after 9 PM, an official NYC Parks Department regulation in 2007.)

Rick thinks that his group has long earned its exclusive area within the park on Skillman Avenue. Over the years SUDS has tried to clean up and keep the park safe at night.

“The 108th precinct and the parks department appreciate that we are here,” Rick says. “You are not going to do anything in a park where there’s 20 adults and their dogs running around.”

To the delight of SUDS, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer announced in a recent press release that he has secured funding for an official dog run inside Lou Lodati Park.

SUDS’s activities extend far beyond the park’s borders. Once or twice a year the group organizes “Pick-up the Poop Day,” and its members have raised funds for sick dogs and taught children who stop by the park how to properly take care of the animals. “Sometimes the park becomes an impromptu classroom,” says Rick, who hopes to soon offer classes on dog behavior and training for kids.

Perhaps most importantly, SUDS—and Matilda, of course—have helped Rick to make friends and relax after spending his day teaching global history to antsy high school students. “It’s a nice way to wind down your day,” he says. Dogs are soothing and comforting, and it’s fun to watch them interact. They are loyal—as long as there’s food involved.”

Listen to Rick’s interview


Ata in his grocery store on Skillman Avenue

“When you want to come to America, don’t buy a discount ticket or you’ll end up on Skillman Avenue.”

28 years ago, two days after getting his American drivers license, Ata Sheikh almost made a wrong turn from 48th Street onto Skillman Avenue. When he noticed that Skillman Avenue was a one-way street, he turned around. Before turning, though, he spotted an empty store.

The next day he happened to see the very same store advertised in the paper and decided to buy it. While his wrong turn had quickly turned into a right, the process of becoming a businessman happened step by step.

“I knew nothing about business,” says Sheikh, who lives with his wife and five children in Woodside. “But I automatically started to learn. The customers are the main source to teach business people how to run a business.”

Sheikh feels comfortable around his frequent customers, many of whom return several times a week for a cup of coffee, to discuss politics (Sheikh is an avid fan of Hillary Clinton), or simply gossip. He has faced only a few problems as a storeowner. He was robbed twice in the eighties and nineties and occasionally he encounters a “grab and run thief.”

“This is a very good area,” Sheikh says with confidence. “For me this is my home.”

Originally from Kashmir in Pakistan, Sheikh used to work for an import-export firm in Saudi Arabia. During his month-long vacations he traveled around to see other countries. He has always been the adventurer in his family and is the only one who left Pakistan.

Sheikh now rarely visits his home country. “They think I’m the crazy one, who likes to stay alone,” he says about his seven brothers and sisters. “But that’s the way I like it.”

While Sheikh and I talk, the lottery machine rings incessantly. 40% of the store’s income derives from lottery tickets and scratch-offs, the rest from soda, beer, snacks and toiletries. Asked to tell a funny story having to do with his store, Sheikh returns to the reason why he ended up on Skillman Avenue. In the podcast he tells this story as his favorite joke.

Listen to Ata’s interview


…and her cat Betty

“We had films from Russia, England, Japan, Romania, Colombia… and Sunnyside”

Sherry Gamlin, who has organized the Sunnyside Shorts Film Festival since 2007, lives with her cat Betty on 44th Street in Sunnyside. While she jokes “Betty is my longest relationship,” Sherry isn’t a quite what you would consider a wallflower. Energetic and endowed with a twisted sense of humor, Sherry enjoys mobilizing large crowds and getting attention far beyond her neighborhood borders. In the past the short film festival has drawn an audience of over 200 people and submissions from all over the world. The fourth edition will take place on September 25th, 2010 at Sunnyside Community Services.

“We had films from Russia, England, Japan, Romania, Colombia… and Sunnyside,” Sherry said, adding that contributions included comedies, animations and documentaries of up to 25 minutes. “We are open to all cultures,” she said. “We try to stay away from violence and anything we don’t agree with [politically].”

Last year Sherry and her friend Teresa Ward organized a fundraiser at Claret Wine Bar on Skillman Avenue. People played games and celebrated while helping to pay for the space rental fee, the technician who sets up the screen and projector, the photographer who documents the event, as well as flyers, programs and advertising.

Among the special guests and volunteers at the film festival is Sherry’s family, who fly in from Florida for the occasion. While her sister and her niece sell candy, her mother serves as the “chief critic.”

At the end of our interview, Betty reappeared from the linen closet to listen to Sherry talk about the three short films she made before the Sunnyside Shorts Film Festival started taking up all of her spare time. While I was briefly distracted by Betty’s large black spot on her otherwise white behind—“I found her in an inkwell in Sunnyside Gardens,” Sherry joked—I decided to feature this excerpt from our conversation for its humor and originality.

Listen to Sherry’s interview


“When you have it you don’t want it, when you don’t have it, you want it.”

I was introduced to Paul Maringelli one recent morning at the Aubergine Café on Skillman Avenue by his friend, John Millus, a.k.a The Mayor of Skillman Avenue. A graphic artist, Paul used to work as an art director for Penthouse magazine and as a cartoonist for Harvey Comics, but over the last years his career has slowed down. He now designs and lays out the pages of the Ridgewood Times.“I have a four-day weekend, instead of a two-day weekend,” the 59-year-old says about his part-time job. “When you have it you don’t want it, when you don’t have it, you want it.”

In his spare time, Paul visits friends, hangs out with “the usual suspects” on the block, paints, plays the drums and listens to Jazz.

When the jazz enthusiast heard that jazz legend Leon “Bix” Beiderbecke lived and died in Sunnyside, he began to research Beiderbecke’s last address. To Paul’s surprise it happened to be right across the street from his home.

“Beiderbecke moved into Sunnyside and died,” Paul says, laughing. Despite Bix’s short Sunnyside stint, Paul encouraged community leaders to put up a commemoration plaque. In 2000, he started organizing the Bix Beiderbecke Jazz Concert. Last year the concert counted 14 jazz musicians, some of them quite renowned. It will have its tenth anniversary on August 7th 2010, and, for the second time, take place under the Sunnyside Arch.

Dressed in a shiny black leather coat and a leopard scarf, Paul walked me to Bix’s plaque on 46th Street. On the way he showed me the advertisement column on Skillman Avenue and 47th Street, which he painted after the events of 9/11.

In the podcast Paul talks about his search for Bix’s last address and Sunnyside’s jazz-infused past.

Listen to Paul’s interview


Tara and Dan Glasser of Stray

“A Cadillac of a baby carriage.”

“You don’t have to spend a lot of money to do something creative and make it look nice,” says Dan Glasser, co-owner of Stray, a Vintage and gift store on Skillman Avenue. When he and his wife Tara decided to open Stray three years ago, they painted diamonds on the floor, gave the store a new paint coat and focused on the originality of the items they were going to sell. Right now the couple adores vintage barware and modern Danish furniture but their taste as well as the store’s selection changes frequently. Next to clothes, jewelry, furniture, needlepoint art and vinyl, Stray sells self-made glass and mirror objects and T-shirts praising Sunnyside. (“The best neighborhood in world. Period,” Dan says.)While Stray has been received very well, the traffic on Skillman Avenue during the week leaves a lot to be desired. Dan attributes this challenge to a hesitance of investors and a negligence of storeowners who fail to put love into their business. On the weekends, however, people come from all over New York to hunt for vintage goods at the store, which has been reviewed in the New York Times, the Queens Chronicle and am New York.“You are buying something that has been owned. It has a history,” Dan says about his love for original vintage items. “That’s kind of nice.” In the podcast he talks about the couple’s “best days on the road,” their addiction to the hunt and one of their most remarkable finds: a 1958 pram in exquisite condition, “a Cadillac of a baby carriage.”

Listen to Dan’s interview