Monday, December 29, 2008

Monday Morning in Mesa: First Rush Hour Ride on Valley Metro Light Rail

We missed the grand opening of Valley Metro's long-awaited light rail service on Saturday, but we weren't sorry because of that day's swarm of newbie mass transit riders.

(Photo of Saturday's crowd courtesy of 57 Channels' "My first PHX light-rail ride")

Tens of thousands of people crowded the stations from northwest Phoenix through Mesa, and there were speeches and performances, balloons and other fun, but mostly we heard people had trouble getting on the light rail, learning the thrill those of us who take the L train in Williamsburg on weekday mornings experience: standing on the platform watching two or three trains stop until we're finally able to cram into one jam-packed one. (Luckily, two days a week, we simply squeeze in at Lorimer Street and are popped out when the doors open on First Avenue for our workplace destination.)

One of our oldest and dearest friends from Brooklyn, Satnam, reported that she and her young daughter waited until 2 p.m. on Saturday to get to the light rail. But:
It was so crowded we couldn't get on the eastbound tram so we took the westbound one to Christown Mall. Then when we wanted to return we had to take the express bus back as there were so many people waiting to get on the tram going back. So, we just took the express bus back to our stop right across from the Heard Museum.

We had to get back to Apache Junction by mid-morning today, but we were determined to try out the light rail during an actual rush hour - besides, for the first few days, the fare is quite reasonable for us, as it's free. So before dawn we set out from the boonies of Pinal County in the Chevy Cavalier we brought over from Fort Lauderdale when we moved here in 2005 to test-ride Phoenix's new mass transit system, which some expect to transform the Valley as nothing has since Fedders invented air conditioning.

The closest station to us in the far East Valley is the Sycamore/Main Street eastern terminus. Eventually - perhaps by 2015 - the light rail will extend east to the Superstition Springs Mall on Power Road, seven miles from us on our Ironwood Road exit on U.S. 60/the Superstition Freeway.

The Sycamore/Main Street station to us is really Dobson Road, which is ten miles further west than Power Road. We know this because during the 2000-01 academic year our address was 1651 S. Dobson Road, just south of the freeway. We have a bad habit of bringing cars with us every time we move from Florida to Arizona, and in June 2000, before we went to spend the summer in New York like a sensible person, we mistakenly took a powder blue 1993 Mercury Montego cross-country with us.

This car had its own bad habit: it would just stop, for no reason. Imagine getting stuck on a then-deserted stretch of freeway in 112-degree August heat with no cell phone and you will know what fun we faced. Less uncomfortably, but more inconveniently, the car would just refuse to start some mornings when we taught 7:40 a.m. classes at Arizona State University.

Ordinarily we drove to Tempe and parked at a far distant outdoor lot for the exorbitant fee ASU charged its "faculty associates" (adjuncts). This would be a 15-minute ride, so when faced with an automobile playing dead, we never had enough time on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings to take the two buses to the school. (On Tuesdays and Thursdays, when we taught English at 7:30 a.m. at Mesa Community College and the car wouldn't start, we'd simply walk on the Dobson Road freeway overpass and up maybe half a mile to our classroom.)

Anyway, we decided to see if we could replicate our old commute, so we got off the Superstition Fwy at Dobson and parked in the Starbucks/Good Egg lot next to old rental development, Quail Creek (now Waterstone). We fortified ourselves with the New York Times and a venti iced tea at our old stomping-grounds Starbucks, where our cashier was the estimable Cindy Rogers, who was the recipient, along with First Lady Laura Bush, of the 2006 Hands On! Award for her promotion of Braille literacy.

But ultimately we decided not to wait for the bus in front of Starbucks and took our car to the park-and-ride at the station, which is on the spot where we used to shop at the old Tri-City Mall.

We weren't exactly sure where to park. We saw a "lot full" sign when we entered, but it seemed as if there were spaces. As we cruised the unmarked spaces, we were confused. Luckily a nice civil servant on a Segway told us we could park in any empty space between two other cars, and when we were further confused as to where to go - at first we approached what turned out to be the express shuttle to Superstition Springs - our helpful Segway-riding friend walked (rolled?) us to the crossing on Main at Sycamore. Duh, the light rail is in the middle of Main Street.

By the way, downtown Mesa is actually east of the last/first stop, but we're sure there's a good reason it didn't go as far as the business district of the 37th largest city in the U.S. (about the population of Staten Island).

A train (tram? light rail vehicle?) had just pulled in, so we started to run, but the Segway-riding Metro lady told us there was no need. Trains run every ten minutes but they linger at the last stop and "give a warning," she said, before they pull out.

One day we will ride into central Phoenix, or even to the last stop at Montebello/19th Avenue, where our Arizona internist has an office nearby, or to Chase Field or the Heard Museum or Camelback or Sky Harbor or wherever, but with limited time, we were just trying it out today and planned to go just a few stops into Tempe.

(Photo of Monday morning commuters courtesy The Arizona Republic)

We did something similar when Metrorail started in Miami in the mid-80s (people were so new at mass transit that first time that everyone who entered the train at each stop said hello to those already on board) or the L.A. subway in the late 90s (we write about a ride to Hollywood in "Victory Boulevard" in And to Think That He Kissed Him on Lorimer Street).

There were only a few souls on the train when we got on the first car. There are some raised seats in pairs, facing front (or back, depending upon the direction), and then there are seats like most NYC subways, along the sides, but only three together. They can be raised, the three seats, to accommodate bikes and wheelchairs.

Everything is new and shiny and sleek and clean except one of the first things we saw, sadly, was virgin window scratchiti, also familiar to us from our train rides in Brooklyn.

Anyway, this is definitely light rail, not a real train like New York City's vast subway system or Chicago's L or D.C.'s Metro with its glorious-in-summer air-conditioned stations. It's not the Staten Island Railway or the L.A. Blue line to Long Beach. We didn't get forty feet before we were stopped at the traffic light at Dobson Road.

As we rode along the middle of Main Street, cars were passing us.

Two ladies in the rows ahead of us, strangers, were in conversation. The elegant-looking middle-aged black woman said she was "trying it out," to see if it would be useful on her commutes to Phoenix. The heavyset, clunky-jewelried, cheerful white woman behind her kept saying how great light rail was: "It's time for some new stuff in Valley that will give it a whole new atmosphere, a different flavor."

We couldn't agree more. (Cinammon is what we're hoping for.)

(Photo of Tempe light rail courtesy The Arizona Republic)

There was a clear sign like the ones on the L train but it didn't have the time. Also on the L train, there was a definite division of voice-over labor between the genders as a female voice announced the stops and explained that we should let people get off before we ourselves boarded and a male voice giving the often ominous warnings: "Soliciting is prohibited" and other admonitions to behave well or else Sheriff Joe's deputies would deport us to Sonora quick.

When we were stopped over the Price-101 Freeway, we noticed traffic was moving pretty well in both directions, but anyone who commutes to Scottsdale as we once did knows the bottlenecks start further north.

The trouble with light rail - with most Sun Belt "rapid" transit systems we've experienced from the San Jose light rail when we lived in Silicon Valley for a while or the South Florida Tri-Rail and bus links that we took (once) from Fort Lauderdale to Boca - is that it's not dense enough yet to make sense for most people. As this guy at the end of today's Rene Gutel KJZZ/NPR "All Things Considered" report on Valley Light Rail says, it's useful in going east/west but not north/south (except the long Phoenix stretch down Central Avenue from Camelback to downtown, admittedly the most dense, "urban" stretch of the route).

The most people got on at McClintock/Apache Boulevard, and they were, for the Valley, a diverse lot. That's about the time we realized that there were no ads. No Dr. Zizmor. No "Aprende ingles" for Zona or Zoni or maybe Zuni. None of those witty Manhattan Mini-Storage ads. Um, well, we guess they wouldn't go over too well in mostly rightwing Maricopa County, though maybe light rail riders skew liberal. . .

We started to really enjoy the ride and we wished we could have ridden over the more scenic parts of the route, like over Tempe Lake, into Phoenix itself. But we had to get ourselves back to A.J. to take our mom with Alzheimer's to an undisclosed location, so when we saw a train pulling into the Veterans Way/College Avenue station going back to Mesa, we hopped off and on (to a train that was truly, truly empty).

But we will return to the light rail. We needed it and are grateful that it's finally come to the Valley. And the stations have some cool art and design work, too! This will never have the romance of the St. Charles streetcar we got to love from our 1980s times guest-teaching at the old Perrier Street New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, but then Phoenix is one place a category five hurricane could only improve. Just kidding!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Facing Declining Sales and Possible Bankruptcy, Dumbo Books of Brooklyn Announces "Buy One, Shoplift One Free" Policy

At a time of economic crisis and sputtering holiday sales, today's New York Times has a front-page story detailing how the only rising retail trend is shoplifting ("As Economy Dips, Arrests for Shoplifting Soar").

According to a nationwide nonprofit association, more than $35 million in merchandise is stolen each day nationwide, and about one in 11 people in America have shoplifted.

Authors, publishers and bookstores are urging people to buy, buy, buy books to keep the industry afloat -- to little avail, it seems, as Borders teeters on bankruptcy and New York publishers announce massive layoffs. As our very smart friend Jason Boog writes today in Salon:

On Dec. 3, now known as "Black Wednesday," several major American publishers were dramatically downsized, leaving many celebrated editors and their colleagues jobless. The bad news stretches from the unemployment line to bookstores to literature itself.

As Tom Engelhardt writes in The Atlantic:
Traffic at many bookstores nationwide has evidently slowed to a trickle. Book orders have reportedly fallen off a cliff. It's now being said that, in this Christmas season, no popular book is selling so well as to be unavailable. In other words, if you want it, it's going to be at your local Barnes & Noble. For publishing, that's like an obituary.

As at most retail outfits, the only action in bookstores these days is shoplifters surreptitiously stuffing volumes under their coats. Melville House has announced the publication of Tao Lin's how-to guide Shoplifting from American Apparel in 2009.

Dumbo Books is facing the same problems as General Motors. People are not buying our quality American-made products. So, in order to stave off bankruptcy and financial ruin and disgrace, etc., we are announcing this new policy:


That's right. Dumbo Books has made arrangements with the retail outlets that carry our books that any shopper buying one Dumbo Books book will be allowed to shoplift a second Dumbo Books book of equal, greater or lesser literary value absolutely FREE -- free of any chance of criminal prosecution.

So you too can experience the thrill of shoplifting without putting yourself in legal jeopardy if you buy a Dumbo Books book today!

(Illustration stolen from the very talented artist James Yamasaki.)


Happy holidays!

* * *

(This offer not valid for any other publisher's books. Limited by availability. Contact Richard Grayson, Esq. for any legal advice.)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Friday Night in Tempe: The Stray Cat Theatre's "A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant"

Warmly ensconced in our Apache Junction, Arizona, winter home this week, we are glad to be missing the snow back in Brooklyn. Although we are natives of the borough, having spent 26 winters in Florida, we're somewhat worse for wear in cold weather. And we are the ones who usually has to shovel our stoop at Dumbo Books HQ in Williamsburg.

But here in Arizona, we are resting our sacroiliac and enjoying the big sky and the view of Superstition Mountain from our backyard, the mild Sonoran Desert weather, and the pleasant sights around our neighborhood: majestic saguaro cacti and palm trees, jackrabbits and quail, the lanolin-like smell in the early morning, the many foreclosure signs on our block, the mostly vacant strip shopping centers with empty big boxes that once housed a Circuit City, a Mervyn's, or a Linen 'n' Things. Yes, we love Brooklyn, but there's nothing like the vast empty spaces of the West!

We also love the many cool, ironic, hipsterish things we do in Williamsburg and Greenpoint and Bushwick and the Lower East Side, but at our advanced age, it does become wearing sometimes and we are glad that we also live in rural Apache Junction (in Bad Santa, a little boy asks the Phoenix mall Santa Claus played by Billy Bob Thornton what the North Pole is like, and he tells the kid it's a lot like Apache Junction -- we were the only person at our showing of the film in a Plantation, Florida, megaplex to laugh at that line), where entertainment is middlebrow, mainstream, all-American, and, frankly, pretty corny.

So we were relieved to spend some of our Chanukah gelt on tickets for a wholesome holiday pageant put on by 8- to 12-year-olds. We recall with fondness our memory of a free classical music performance for Christmas we attended exactly a decade ago at the Chandler Performing Arts Center. Although most of the crowd was probably pink-faced elderly people, we were pleased to see two well-scrubbed, clean-cut, Mormon-looking teenage boys in the seats immediately in front of us.

What a pleasure to see youth interested in classical music! They were so moved by the strains of Handel, in fact, that as soon as the house lights went down, these boys' very first movement was to nuzzle each other, discreetly, until by the time the orchestra got around to Beethoven, they were making out pretty heavily. As intermission began, they were busily straightening their ties and clearing their throats.

Last night we similarly got to enjoy wholesome entertainment at the Tempe Performing Arts Center, where we saw "A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant" put on by the Stray Cat Theatre.

It was heartwarming to see kids so innocent in their beliefs, acting and singing and dancing their brains out so earnestly. Sometimes sincerity beats irony, and the young cast performed beautifully, bringing at least one tear to our eye (Bell's palsy was responsible for the rest).

Since we're not professional drama critics like our old friend Peter Filichia of the Newark Star-Ledger or "the ultimate critic," our friend the late Stewart Klein, beloved from channel 5 when it was still WNEW-TV (he let us hold his Emmy) - there's no point in us trying to give reasoned criticism of this show other than to tell you we haven't enjoyed any recent theater performance in New York as much as we did "A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant" and to say that we think the very young actor Maxx Carlisle-King is God. And we will from now on only spell Brittney with two T's. . .

Okay, we're sentimentalists sometimes. Now back to Brooklyn irony. Here's a roundup of what some of the local yokels who saw the show had to say. Por ejemplo, let's start with the reviewer for Phoenix New Times and on KJZZ-FM, Robrt L. Pela (no, I spelled his name right, as you can see on the cover of his excellent book on the life and work of John Waters):

Robrt L. Pela:
About three minutes into Stray Cat Theatre's newest production, I found myself thinking: This can't be really happening. When you go to see it — and you must, if you do nothing else this holiday season, go see this astonishing stage production — you will almost certainly experience the same sense of delighted confusion.

I was aware that A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant was performed entirely by children, who would be telling the story of how the late religious leader L. Ron Hubbard created Scientology, the controversial science fiction-based religion most prominently associated with movie stars John Travolta and Tom Cruise. But I found myself wondering how director Gary Minyard, who deserves high and endless praise for pulling off this improbable entertainment, explained irony and camp to people who only recently stopped believing in Santa Claus.

It helps that Scientology Pageant's two leads are so talented. Tiny Brittney Peters, dressed in a snow-white gown and a tinfoil halo as a narrator named Angelic Girl, sings with the sort of big, clear voice rarely found in performers even twice her age. She reads wink-and-nudge comic lines without so much as a smirk, another rare talent in any child performer.

I typically don't review the performances of children, but Maxx Carlisle-King is no child. He is a peculiar force of nature — one with perfect pitch and the ability to sell comic lines like a pro — trapped in a kid's body. There wasn't a single precocious moment in the boy's performance, and I became convinced, watching him, that if he were 20 years older, I'd still have been awed by his stage skills

The supporting cast is perfect, too, in part because they are essentially playing themselves: Kids playing kids in an oddball holiday show, sometimes muttering their lines while having to haul cheesy set pieces on and off stage. It's a keen trick of playwright Kyle Jarrow's to include mediocrity as an element in his play, but what's more impressive about the playwright's material is that it presents both Hubbard and Scientology rather earnestly, and rarely riffs on them. . .

Ken Lippard on The Lippard Blog:
The play was a special treat for those of us who already know something about Scientology and the life of L. Ron Hubbard.

The production tells the story of L. Ron Hubbard's life ("writer, explorer, nuclear physicist ...") and how he came to develop Dianetics and Scientology, in the form of a children's holiday pageant. Cheesy props and frequent costume changes are used to portray rapid changes of location, from Hawaii to New York to China. Much of what is presented is accurate--Hubbard's birthplace, some of his claims about his life, and especially the content of Dianetics and Scientology. A few liberties are taken in the story of his life, though fewer than Hubbard himself and contemporary Scientologists take in describing his achievements. While there are countless amusing and disturbing events of Hubbard's actual life that could have been used for comic relief but were omitted, we were surprised at how much they managed to pack into a short show.

Some person on "ShowUp: Greater Phoenix's Guide to Arts & Entertainment," who gives it five stars:
This holiday season join Stray Cat as a jubilant cast of children celebrate the controversial Church of Scientology in uplifting pageantry and song. The actual teachings of Scientology are explained and dissected against the candy-colored backdrop of a traditional nativity play. An ensemble cast of grade school children portraying Tom Cruise, Kirstie Alley, John Travolta, and other less starry Scientologists, tells the story of L. Ron Hubbard's meteoric rise from struggling science fiction writer to supreme leader of a highly-profitable New Age religious empire. Avant-garde performance art and children's theatre meet in one of the funniest and most bewildering holiday shows you will ever see.

And for the last local yokel, we'd like to thank the link from our friend the brilliant, talented and very cute Charles Jensen, whom we know from ASU but who's now the director of The Writer's Center in Bethesda, probably the finest place of its kind in the whole country. (Instead of Dianetics, you'd be better off reading Charles Jensen's haunting The Strange Case of Maribel Dixon and his forthcoming The First Risk.)

Anyway, Charlie's blog Kinemapoetics pointed us to this review by Chris Curcio at Curtain Up Phoenix:
Huge praise goes to director Gary Minyard who crafts miracles with these young but amazingly polished troupers.

Minyard asks a lot of his cast. They must learn Jarrow’s tricky satiric puns and off-center comic barbs and deliver them with non-stop but slyly skewed humor kids this age rarely understand. The audience laughed uproariously at the performance I attended. Minyard also expects them to learn cuttingly savage songs that further question the religion, some tricky but cute choreography, clever but intricate staging, handle myriad costume changes, shift scenery, and use endless props. That the cast brings this challenge off with nary a misstep is quite an achievement.

Jarrow picks and pokes at Hubbard, his teachings, and how Hubbard’s religious thinking has turned him into a wealthy man. The script asks all the questions you have ever had about Scientology. That this young cast can deliver this tongue-in-cheek commentary with such delicious abandon is quite a credit. That this young ensemble probably doesn’t fully understand the heady satire makes this exemplary production even more amazing.

Maxx Carlisle-King is poised and always in control as L. Ron. This young actor’s theatrical spark and comic flair suggests a long and successful stage career. No less sharp is Brittney Peters’ Angelic Girl. This character functions as the show’s narrator as she guides the ensemble through its questioning and probing of this unusual religion that inspires its followers by removing their emotions and relying on their analytical ability that uses weird and twisted logic. Everyone in the cast, though, has at least one standout moment.

“A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant” isn’t for those who want a traditional holiday show but if pointed but thoughtful comic probing delivered by talented troupers is your thing, this show will delight. “A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant” continues through December 20 at the old Tempe Performing Arts Center in downtown Tempe. For tickets, call the Stray Cat Theatre box office at 480-820-8022 or go online at

December 20 is tonight, so days are getting are short!

(Many thanks for some of these pics to John (iaincaradoc on Flickr), a very talented photographer, whose whole wonderful set of 39 photos from the show can be seen at his Flickr stream.)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sunday Afternoon in Bushwick: Vigil for José Sucuzhañay and Rally Against Hate

This afternoon we were among hundreds of New Yorkers who participated in a Bushwick rally and vigil for José Sucuzhañay. By now, most people know the story of his tragic murder in a hate crime, but this is from the AP wire story:
José Sucuzhañay, a 31-year-old real estate broker, was accosted on a Brooklyn street by men who yelled anti-Hispanic and anti-gay slurs at him and his brother, Rommel, early Dec. 7, according to police. The two were walking arm in arm after attending a church party and then stopping at a bar.

Rommel Sucuzhañay was able to get away and call police, but José Sucuzhañay was attacked by three men who smashed a beer bottle over his head, hit him in the head with an aluminum baseball bat and kicked him, police said.

The New York Police Department's hate crime task force is seeking suspects. A police spokesman said Sunday he had no updates.

We took the L train from Williamsburg to Myrtle/Wyckoff and saw several people walking under the M train el along Myrtle with Anti-Violence Project placards. Following them, we ended up at a triangular community park and playground by Grove Street. There were a couple of hundred people already there, many with signs:








Many of the signs were from Make the Road New York, a great organization that promoted today's events.

We went to the back of the crowd, near some Korean young people from YKASEC who were holding placards that said STOP ANTI-IMMIGRANT ATTACK, standing near some of the playground apparatus.

We saw people with caps from the NAACP, Jewish War Veterans and other organizations. Many in the crowd were Latino, and nearly all of the speakers, save politicians like Council Speaker Christine Quinn, DA Charles Hynes, Rep. Anthony Weiner and Borough President Marty Markowitz, addressed us in Spanish as well as English.

There was outrage. Every once in a while, someone would shout, "¿De queremos?" and we'd shout back, "¡Justicia!" and they'd ask "¿Cuando?" and we'd shout "¡Ahora!"

Other cries were the old standby "No justice, no peace!" in both languages.

(Photo courtesy of Taylor Siluwe; please go to Taylor's Flickr page for many more pics of the event)

IT COULD HAVE BEEN *ANY* OF US, one sign said.

The mainstream media will, we're sure, cover the speakers, some of whom - like Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes, are well-known. We were most moved and impressed with what was said by Alfredo Lopez, our councilmember Diana Reyna, and the representatives from our Ecuadorean and gay communities. There are some wonderful photos of the event at Boy in Bushwick.

It was heartening to see so many stand up against hate and ignorance. It was pretty cold, so we left after about an hour and a half. Coincidentally, as we slowly made our way out of the playground park, we found ourselves standing next to Marty Markowitz, who was telling another politician we recognized only by sight but not by name, "We shouldn't have to be here."

Well, that wasn't quite true. What happened to José Sucuzhañay shouldn't have happened. But since it did, we had to be there today.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Saturday Night at the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center: Brooklyn Watercolor Society Show, Brooklyn Playwrights' Collective Play Festival

We spent the afternoon watching our beloved Gators convincingly beat the Crimson Tide for the SEC championship. Our six years at the University of Florida as a law student and research faculty member (our academic title was Visiting Assistant in Law, though we were actually a staff attorney in social policy at the College of Law's wonderful Center for Governmental Responsibility), back in the halcyon days of coach Steve Spurrier.

We'd lost interest in football after that night in Steve Kahn's Futurama house when we were 12 and watched the bottom half of our front two teeth fly out of our mouth after we were tackled during a stupid game of helmet-less basement football on cement. We'd had surgery in fourth grade to get those teeth to come out, and we suffered a lot after that night.

Except for the little white football Y.A. Tittle autographed for us at a Menswear Show at the New Yorker Hotel one year, we studiously avoided football fandom until we were forty and a first-year law student in Gainesville.

But even when we were trying hard to read cases on Saturday afternoons during that first boot-camp-ish semester the fall of 1991, we could follow games from our apartment in the Student Ghetto by hearing the tumultuous cheers from The Swamp, as we lived only blocks away from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, and soon we turned on the TV, Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. being no match for the Gators v. anybody.

We discovered football wasn't entirely worthless; it was part of being a member of a community.

So we had about two minutes from the time the game ended and we watched Tim Tebow thank his team and his Savior, Jesus Christ ("Goeth Gators" is in the Gospels, right?), to run downstairs, outside and to the bus stop at the corner of Metropolitan Avenue and Lorimer Street to catch the B24 bus at 7:30 p.m. on its half-hourly way to the end of the line at the Williamsburg Bridge Plaza bus terminal.

We were on our way to the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center, the Beaux-Arts bank turned arts center at the corner of Broadway and Bedford to catch the end of the opening reception of the Brooklyn Watercolor Society's "A World of Watercolor," an exhibition with lovely paintings by one dozen of its members and to check out the Brooklyn Playwrights Collective's fourth annual festival of new plays. After doing programs of one-acts inspired by two other classic playwrights,"After Artaud" and "Beyond Brecht" the last two years, it was the alphabetical turn of "Confronting Chekhov" this season.

The Williamsburg Art & Historical Center is a theatrical work of art in itself. Built as a bank in 1868 and designated a landmark in 1966, back when the amazing Japanese artist Yuko Nii was a graduate student at Pratt.

Nii bought the old Kings County Savings Bank building thirty years later in 1996, when it was already seriously deteriorated. She and WAH's executive director Terrance Lindall have saved this Brooklyn treasure and remade it for the arts and the community.

The Brooklyn Watercolor Society exhibit was on the second floor, with about 100 people, a mostly older crowd, at the reception. Soft jazzy music played and we strolled around the gallery, admiring the work of many of the dozen artists represented.

Since we tend to like New York scenes, we were particularly taken with Janice Pullicino's "Brooklyn Summer Rooftops" (priced at $2200); Arlene Cornell's pictures of two waterfronts we love, Broad Channel and Oyster Bay; John Dillon's "Late Afternoon, Brooklyn," a serene car-less and people-less view from the pillars of Grand Army Plaza across Flatbush Avenue to the main library; and Michael Connolly's "Morning, Clinton Street" and "Mermaid."

Other standouts for us were Miriam Paul's "Breezy Point, Summer" Loretta Poole's "Neighborhood Watch" featuring three female figures in headscarfs or babushkas craning their necks from a park bench; Ellen Hoyt's Manhattan and Brooklyn rooftop scenes; and Olive Reich's autumnal "Shore Road Park."

We then went upstairs to the third-floor space, where the audience for the Brooklyn Playwrights Collective festival "Confronting Chekhov" was presenting Schedule A - "If Chekhov Were in America..." - of its series of one-act plays. (Schedule B will be presented at the WAH Center on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., and the plays will also be at the Brecht Forum on Dec. 11-14 and at Park Slope's Under Minerva on Dec. 20-21.)

The Brooklyn Playwrights Collective is a collaborate project of local playwrights who work together through workshops, proposals, and readings to help each other in the playwrighting process from writing, to editing and production.

The entire WAH Center was really chilly, so we kept on our parka and wool hat throughout the performance. (Of course, we may have been born and bred in Brooklyn, but 26 winters in Florida left our blood thin. Any day it doesn't reach 70 degrees is cold to us.)

Set up more like a gallery, the third floor space was nevertheless imaginatively transformed into a performing space, even if the sightlines from the chairs was less than ideal for watching theater. (As soon as the action started, our seatmate got up and went to stand against the wall so her view of the play wasn't blocked.)

A pianist played for the fifteen to twenty minutes it took for last-minute things to be set up and for the overflow audience to sit on the chairs hastily brought up for them. (We noticed about ten people standing by choice.) Finally, the pianist stopped playing - he was quite good - and introduced the evening.

The first play, a two-hander titled The Bear 2.0 by Philip Kaplan, was a clever updating of Chekhov's triumphantly bizarre comic play (we first saw a production at Midwood High School over 40 years ago), set in a coffee bar where Lena (Rachel Fine), a wacky technophobic widow gets assistance from a needy geek (a comically twitchy Sean Conroy). Under Julia Goldstein's fast-paced direction, the farce moves to its satisfying and inevitable conclusion.

Les Hunter's Biggest Break, directed by Dan Winerman, contained some classic Chekhovian themes of familial disputes over property, generational conflict and alternating manic energy and enervated lassitude (here facilitated by dope-smoking). Set in a Tucson home where the father of Ben (Johnny Pruitt) and husband of Beth (Kerry Fitzgibbons) is being mourned in a perfunctory manner, the play benefits from strongly etched supporting performances by David Storck and Nic Grelli.

(Portrait of Anton Chekhov at 23 by his brother Nicholas)

The third play was another two-hander about a Brooklyn couple dividing the contents of their home following the end of a 26-year marriage. Directed by Malinda Sorci, Philodendron by Allan Lefcowitz, whose work we've admired in the past, manages to evoke more of the spirit of the Russian master in anguished yet comic dialogue. Betsy Sanders is believable as the conflicted bipolar wife and David Lloyd Walters made the frustrated husband another poignant figure. True to Chekhov, in this one-act, good and loving people do not always live happily ever after and neither do their plants.

At intermission we had to leave, done in by exhaustion -- we had taught our Borough of Manhattan Community College class in creative writing on the Brooklyn College campus late on Friday night and had been at BC teaching Joyce's "The Dead" to our short story literature class all Saturday morning -- and alarmed by the first snow of the season, but we're sure the rest of the evening's plays and the others in the festival are worth seeing as well.

Did we mention that we hate winter and we hate snow? We will be in our Phoenix home in ten days, but as we tried not to slip on the weirdly paved old sidewalk in front of the old Williamsburgh Savings Bank building, we knew why Chekhov opened his aptly-named story "Misery" like this:
The twilight of evening. Big flakes of wet snow are whirling lazily about the street lamps, which have just been lighted, and lying in a thin soft layer on roofs, horses' backs, shoulders, caps.

Unfortunately, there wasn't a bus in sight at the Williamsburg Bridge bus terminal that would take us where we needed to go -- now we realize we shouldn't have been so sanguine about local bus service when we participated in a breakout session on transportation in Williamsburg at Thursday evening's meeting of Neighbors Allied for Good Growth at the Holy Ghost Ukrainian Church -- and we had to trudge blocks across a bleak Broadway under the el to Union Street and the Broadway station of the G train to get us to the warmth of home.

We were sometimes in this area late at night in the 1970s, when the streets were more dangerous and muggings were frequent, but we tried to think of pleasanter times that decade, like seeing James Earl Jones in The Cherry Orchard at the Public Theatre, waiting for Margaret Tyzack at the BAM stage door after a performance of Gorky's Summerfolk, and being enthralled by an all-star Circle in the Square production of Uncle Vanya with George C. Scott, Julie Christie, Nicol Williamson, Cathleen Nesbitt, Barnard Hughes, Conrad Bain, Elizabeth Wilson and Lillian Gish.

AccuWeather was right: snow was general all over Brooklyn, falling over every part of the dark borough. As it fell on us, we made sure our soul did not swoon or anything.