Phil Cappadora was on his bicycle making a Postmates food delivery at noon on July 25 on 27th Street and Hoyt Avenue when he heard about an injured cat lying on the sidewalk nearby.
When Phil arrived at the scene, people were standing around and staring at the unfortunate feline, discussing whether it had been thrown from the roof of the four-story building that was under renovation or whether it had killed off a number of its nine lives by doing a daredevil dive from it.
Phil, mustached and muscled, grabbed a box from a nearby pharmacy, scooped the orange ball of fur into his arms and pedaled to the nearest veterinarian.
The cat wasn’t the only one in trouble. Phil, who has two part-time jobs, is trying to make his living as an actor.
The vet said the cat, which Phil named Avalanche because she came tumbling down from the sky, had a concussion and needed lots of tender loving care that could cost a couple thousand dollars.
Phil didn’t have the money, so he posted about his plight on social media, begging the community to come to his and Ava’s rescue.
Within hours of sharing the photo of the bloodied beast, he had collected $2,800, more than enough to give Avalanche, or Ava as he calls her for short, a start at a new life.
“I still get emotional talking about what happened,” Phil says.
Ava, who is recuperating from spay surgery, is sitting on the sofa with a clear cone around her neck, looking lovingly up at Phil, the big, brave guy who rescued her.
Lilly, Phil’s other cat, is prancing around the apartment. The felines are still getting used to each other. Sometimes, they get into cat spats.
While much has been made of the two-year-old Ava, her pre-Phil life remains a mystery.
Ava’s owners, it there are any, have not come forward to claim her, and since she’s not chipped, Phil has adopted her.
Being in the right place at the right time – that happens a lot in Phil’s life.
Phil, who was born in hard-working Canarsie, was raised in the tiny upstate pastoral village of Goshen, where his parents moved when he was six.
“I found stray cats and dogs when I was a kid and brought them home,” he says, hugging Ava.
More recently, a kitten, meowing its fluffy little head off, appeared on his front doorstep; Phil, of course, took it in. A friend adopted it.
After Phil graduated from high school, he became an ironworker; his first project was The New York Times building. He was all set to go to college – he had hopes to get on the football team — when an accident sidelined him.
“I was playing basketball and slipped on some water on the court,” he says. “Among other things, I broke my ankle and hurt my shoulder. My right side was so banged up it took me a year and a half to recover fully.”
After his last surgery, in 2008, Phil enrolled in Orange County Community College in Middletown, New York, working 45 hours per weekend as a bartender and a pizza deliverer to earn enough to cover his weekly bills.
“I slept on the bus on the way to school,” he says.
He had thought about going into business, so he signed up for a theatre course to improve his public-speaking skills.
“I know this sounds dramatic, but it was a turning point in my life,” he says. “It was different from anything I had ever done, and it felt so easy.”
He continued his acting education in New York City, first at The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts then at The Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre.
For four years, he had steady acting work, mostly in theatrical roles in productions that were being staged upstate.
“I didn’t really have a permanent place,” he says, adding that the was going back and forth between Goshen and New York City. “I was couch surfing.”
Five years ago, another unexpected event occurred in Phil’s life. He met his wife, Claudia, on Tinder. It wasn’t as simple as it sounds.
Claudia, a native of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, had come to New York City on vacation. Time constraints prevented them from going on a date, but they got to know each other via video chats.
They married in 2016, and in 2017 they moved to Astoria.
“The closest thing to my big break came the week following my honeymoon in Brazil,” Phil says. “I got to arrest Robert Pattinson in the feature film Good Time. It was the 15th time in my career that I had played a cop.”
Phil has continued to act – he has a really long resume, which included a steady gig as a standardized patient at the Middletown campus of Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, a role that required him to act out symptoms of diseases to help train medical students.
These days, Phil’s doing the deliveries that led him to Ava and working part time in the produce department at Costco.
“Five years ago, I thought I was going to make it as an actor,” he says and shrugs, adding that yes, sometimes he does get a little depressed about his prospects.
But he figures that he’s only 32, he still has time to make his mark as an actor, producer and director. In fact, he’s just finished a screenplay, which is under consideration.
What’s his goal? Instead of instantly answering, Phil walks into the other room and comes out confidently holding two faux Oscars in front of him.
“I want the gold,” he says and smiles.
“Astoria Characters Day” is September 15. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.
Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyruhling and visit astoriacharacters.com.