Monthly Archives: July 2010


Mary Ann Gudonis (left) with her friend Diane Kennedy

“When I go home I sit down on the radiator and hopefully thaw—well done or medium rare.”

Mary Ann Gudonis is a school crossing guard who, between duties, can be found hanging out with her friends Diane Kennedy and crossing guard Dorothy Basilico in the little wooden pavilion in front of P.S. 150 on 43rd Avenue. The day we spoke it was freezing cold and Mary Ann was wrapped in several layers.“When I go home I sit down on the radiator and hopefully thaw—well done or medium rare,” the 71-year-old jokes.Mary Ann has lived in a large three-bedroom apartment on 45th Street since the day she was born. She, her children and grandchildren all went to P.S. 150. As a young woman she used to work at the FBI, and after her children grew up she worked as a bookkeeper on the Upper West Side. Since her son’s divorce she became a school crossing guard, which allowed her to take care of her son’s children. She still works more than 22 hours a week.In the podcast Mary Ann talks about her “professional apartment” and the Sunnyside of her childhood.

Listen to Mary Ann’s interview


“When they are feral. They are too used to being outside. They can be very vicious.”

Linda Bryant is the president of Linda’s Feral Cat Assistance, an organization that traps and neuters stray cats in Queens and then returns them to their colonies in the wild. Linda, who is originally from England, founded her group ten years ago when she noticed that feral cat colonies were a significant problem in Sunnyside and Woodside. She was instrumental in establishing and spreading the word about TNR—short for Trap, Neuter and Return—in the New York area. TNR helps to control the feral cat population and has drastically reduced the euthanasia rates of city shelters.

Linda’s group traps between 300 and 500 feral cats in Queens a year. The ASPCA’s mobile clinic neuters and vaccinates the cats, and Linda’s Feral Cat Assistance holds them for a couple of days to recover from surgery. Volunteers then put them back out into the wild, providing food and shelter in a designated area. Only few of the cats are tame enough to be adopted. Most feral cats are too wild to live among humans, and TNR is the only alternative to euthanasia.“When they are feral,” Linda says, “they are too used to being outside. They can be very vicious. They are completely reverted back to their natural stage.”

Linda’s Feral Cat Assistance has several volunteers in Queens who help trap and take care of the cats after surgery. But Linda explains there are several ways of contributing to the effort.

“We can always use cat food and gas money,” she says. Those who would like to get more involved can take a class to become TNR certified. She says the group’s biggest problem is finding garages and basements to hold the cats in the winter while they are recovering from surgery. In the podcast Linda talks about the TNR process, feral cat colonies in Sunnyside and the various ways of getting involved in the effort.

Listen to Linda’s interview


Eric Alcantara, a tattoo artist at the Sunnyside Tattoo Studio

Eric, reinterpreting a child’s drawing to be turned into a tattoo

Two of Eric’s Sunnyside tattoos (courtesy Eric Alcantara)

“It’s one of those things where you can draw all day and not get in trouble for it.”

Born in the Philippines, Eric Alcantara loved to draw since he was a small child. In his 20s he tried out graphic design and advertisement but wasn’t fully satisfied with what the profession had to offer.

“It is more gratifying to do something that’s meaningful to [an individual] than to advertise a product,” the 30-year-old says. Eric has been the tattoo industry, which he describes as “intimate and family-oriented,” for the past five years.

After a stint in Hoboken, he began adorning the bodies of Sunnyside residents at the Sunnyside Tattoo Studio on Queens Boulevard and 39th Street three months ago. He much prefers Sunnyside to Hoboken where his clients were mainly “eccentric college kids.” Many of his Sunnyside clients are “down-to-earth,” working-class Hispanics who gravitate toward religious emblems and images that celebrate their home country.

One of Eric’s “craziest” tattoos in Sunnyside was a string of rosary beads around someone’s neck meant to cover up a previous tattoo. “It is not necessarily about the design, but the placement can be crazy,” he says. “At one point I thought I’m going to make him cry.” The neck is a particularly painful area because of the skin’s proximity to the collarbone.

While Eric tries to price his work based on a time estimate—one hour is priced up to $150—he acknowledges that many of clients don’t have much money. His artwork is negotiable and its quality far more important than his income.

“Where do you see yourself in 20 years?” I ask Eric.

“I think I found my calling in life,” he says without hesitation. “I can’t imagine myself retiring from the industry. It’s one of those things where you can draw all day and not get in trouble for it.”

In the podcast Eric talks about the long road to becoming a tattoo artist, his very first tattoo job and his Sunnyside clientele.

Listen to Eric’s interview


A dog’s eye view: Charlie only let me photograph his T-shirt.

Hoover, my neighbor and one of Charlie’s best friends (courtesy Pamela Eng)

“We become friends and it just grows and grows.”

When Hoover sees Charlie he gets so excited that he pulls his owner across Skillman Avenue. Hoover would never forgive himself if he missed his daily bone-shaped biscuit—and his friend Charlie, of course, whose pockets are brimming with dog treats.

“Hoover, he’s number one,” Charlie says. “Are you kidding?” (This, by the way, I can confirm; Hoover and I are neighbors.)

Charlie has been handing out dog biscuits in Sunnyside for the past 30 years. In the early morning hours he walks his nine-year-old Cocker Spaniel Buddy around the block. Since Buddy gets irritable when Charlie shares biscuits with other dogs, Charlie drops him off at his apartment. After a breakfast at Skillman’s Famous Pizza and Coffee Shop, an unassuming diner that was briefly closed down for health code violations, Charlie takes his seat in front of the laundromat and begins his daily routine.

“That’s how I make a lot of friends: petting their dogs,” Charlie says. “We become friends and it just grows and grows.”

Some dogs are on a diet and not allowed to fill up on treats, and Charlie respects that. When he meets a new dog, he always asks his owner first whether it is okay to pet the new canine friend. But the next question is about the cookie.

If your dog needs a treat and a pat on the head, Charlie’s summer hours are from 7 AM to 8 AM.

Listen to Charlie’s interview