Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter

January 22, 2010

By Marcia E. Gawecki

How do you prepare teenagers for a play about the ravages of war when no one has ever served in one, let alone met anyone in the military?

“Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter,” Idyllwild Arts Academy’s recent play, will be presented this weekend, January 22-24. It’s about a young woman Marine who returns home from the war in Iraq–disfigured, disillusioned and unable to reconnect with her family. Yet, she finds comfort with the misfits of Slab City, and eventually finds her way home.

The small cast, six in all, are teenagers who play older military characters. Howard Shangraw, head of the theater department at Idyllwild Arts, prepared them in the best way he knew how–he took them to Slab City.

Slab City is a makeshift RV campsite built on a former WWII Marine base in Southern California. The name comes from the concrete slabs where the RVs park. But, like the stark name implies, there is no electricity, running water or comforts of home. Most visitors come to Slab City temporarily during the wintertime, while about 150 veterans live there permanently. Those were the ones that Howard’s students went to meet.

Riley Lynch, who plays a handicapped preacher, said that meeting his character in real life was awe-inspiring. “He told me to keep everything real simple,” Riley said. “But that didn’t mean he wasn’t a complex individual.” After their hour-long meeting, Riley said that he was able to mimmick the preacher’s mannerisms, ticks and labored walk.

Amenta Abioto, who plays the lead, a 30ish African American mother with an amputated leg, wasn’t as lucky. She couldn’t meet her real-life character at Slab City because she was deceased. So Amenta had to rely on You Tube videos and documentaries to develop her character.

Howard showed her and the rest of the cast a PBS documentary about a Marine who had returned home from Iraq with the same challenges as Jenny Sutter. Yet, this Marine ended up committing suicide, Howard said somberly.

Since Amenta’s character’s leg was amputated, Howard tried to set up a meeting with a wounded Marine to hear a firsthand account. It didn’t matter if the soldier was male or female, he said.  Yet, after several phone calls and e-mails to a Marine representative, there was still some resistance.

“He (the representative) had read our promotion piece and was concerned that the play criticized the Marines’ lack of support for their soldiers as they re-entered civilian life,” Howard said. He told him about the excellent veteran programs that cover their needs–physically, financially and emotionally.

“No doubt that the Marines take care of their own,” Howard added. “Our play, however, is not a criticism of any branch of the U.S. military. It’s one individual’s story. If there’s any message here, it’s this: ‘War is Hell.'”

Howard had also invited the playwright, Julie Marie Myatt, to the Idyllwild Arts campus to meet the crew before the show, but ran out of time. “We’ll just have to talk to her over the phone,” he said.

Actually, “Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter,” is not a true account of a wounded Marine. It was created from a compilation of stories that the playwright heard growing up from her father, a Vietnam veteran, Howard said.

“Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter,” begs to be told in our country now, as growing numbers of men and women are returning home from Iraq,” the play promotion adds.

The play opens this weekend with 7:30 p.m. showings on Friday and Saturday, and a 2 p.m. showing on Sunday. All shows are free and held at the Bowman Theater on the school campus located at 52500 Temecula Road (at the end of Tollgate Road) in Idyllwild. For more information, call (951) 659-2171, extension 2200, or visit

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Haunting Idyllwild Homes

January 22, 2010
By Marcia E. Gawecki
My neighbor confided in me the other day. “There’s a ghost living in my house,” she said, then paused for a long minute. “Aren’t you going to say that I’m crazy?”

As it turns out, the ghost has occupied her Idyllwild home for about six months now. She’s never seen this ghost, but has smelled him on occasion. She knows it must’ve been a man before because the noises are accompanied by a strong men’s cologne and cigarette smoke.

“He’s really an angry spirit,” she said, obviously distraught. “It’s like he pours hate down on me every day. Sometimes, I just have to leave the house.”

But she hasn’t moved out–yet. She’s not trying to get out of any lease, either. She pays her rent month to month, and is current. However, she has never mentioned the ghost to her landlord, in fear of being labeled “crazy.”

“That woman should just confront the ghost, and demand that it leave the premises,” suggested one source familiar with Idyllwild homes. (The source didn’t want to be identified either.) Years ago, the source had heard of a shaman that was brought to Idyllwild by a homeowner to inspect a house that he wanted to purchase.

“There were cracks along the foundation of the house, and he wanted to make sure there were no evil spirits living there,” the source said. “Apparently, the former owners had run lines there, and had forgotten to seal up the cracks.”

“Anyway, the shaman inspected the place, and found no spirits,” the source said. “And the homeowner has been living there ever since.”

My neighbor considered contacting a shaman to get rid of her ghost too, but wasn’t sure where to begin. “They’re not listed in the Yellow Pages, you know,” she said in exasperation. “And how do I know they’re legitimate or just want to take my money? I have to get a good referral, but it’s a ‘Catch 22’ because I don’t want to tell anyone about the ghost.”

The realtor source didn’t know how to contact a shaman either.

My neighbor said that her ghost flicks the lights on and off and moves objects around on tabletops. “He just wants my attention, but I try my best to ignore him,” she said.

Ghosts don’t necessarily have to die in the house they’re haunting, our source added. “They just have to have an attachment to it. Sometimes they’re stuck in the wrong dimension, and need to get free, and go towards the light. Your neighbor should tell it to go away, and leave her in peace.”

My neighbor said that she’s broken down in tears and confronted her ghost several times before, but to no avail.

“It just goes away for a couple of days, then returns,” she said. “The depression and loneliness that I feel is tied to this house. If I get out and go to L.A., San Diego or Hemet, I’m fine. It’s not me; it’s the house.”

So our ghost story continues … If anyone knows of a reputable shaman, or surefire way of getting rid of ghosts in Idyllwild houses, please post a message below. Also, if you want to tell us about your own Idyllwild ghost story, please post a message or contact me at

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Favorite Idyllwild Columnist’s New Book

January 22, 2010


Author Ben Killingsworth at home in Idyllwild with a Pop Art portrait of him

By Marcia E. Gawecki

A cross between Garrison Keillor and Erma Bombeck, award-winning local columnist Ben Killingsworth presents some of his humorous “Off the Cuff” columns (that ran in the Idyllwild Town Crier newspaper from Feb. 2003 to Nov. 2005) in a 102-story collection entitled, “I’m Waiting for My Wife.”

Most of the stories are uniquely Idyllwild, such as the Jazz Fest, the Home Tour, Casino Night, poetry readings, trips to the post office, and hikes in the woods–all told from a local’s perspective. At the time they appeared, this retired CHP Chief, was also president of the Idyllwild Chamber of Commerce and a Rotary volunteer. All of those experiences served as fodder for his weekly columns. One unusual one entitled, “Doggone Right,” reveals how Ben “converses” with a dog at a local meeting, reading the dog’s responses and wholeheartedly agreeing with him–which nearly gets him thrown out of the meeting!

Some feature locals by name, including bookstore owner Steve Moulton and realtor Dora Dillman, while others remain anonymous. But none are mentioned more often than Ben’s wife, Nanci, a local artist and volunteer, who is always the “voice of reason.” For example, in “Hammer Down,” Ben wants them to become a semi-truck driving team, while Nanci reminds him of their two dogs, three cats, and all the litter boxes and leashes that need to come along. “You be sure and write,” Nanci quips.

“Ben’s an observer,” Nanci adds. “I’ll be talking to him out on the deck, and his attention will wander to a spider making a web. It’s all about the animals, birds, insects and people in our world, and he does a good job of writing about it.”

Waiting for My Wife is now available at local shops in Idyllwild, including the pharmacy

Years after the columns ceased to appear in the paper, locals would often tell Ben that they missed reading them. “They’d say that my column was the first thing they’d read in the paper, and sometimes the only thing,” Ben said. So, after getting permission from the former Town Crier publisher, Ben decided to self publish his book of columns. It’s in the final editing stages, and will likely be sold in early spring for $13.95. For more information, contact


January 22, 2010

By Marcia E. Gawecki

It’s not just the snow on the ground in wintertime that causes wildlife to reach out to us. Maybe it’s the cold.

I was visiting my Mom who lives near Menifee and had to get my car fixed. We were up early. She was making coffee, while I sat at the table trying to wake up when I noticed there was a hummingbird hovering just outside her kitchen window.

It flew above the wire on her potted tomato plant, and then darted back and forth. It seemed like it vying for attention. I always love watching the hummingbirds at my Mom’s place because they stick around all year. Hummingbirds leave Idyllwild when the winter comes, but return in the spring. There’s one local woman who heads a group that catches, bands and records our hummingbirds. (More on her in a later blog.)

When I opened my Mom’s back door to discard some recycling, the hummingbird fluttered over the doorway. You can always hear them coming, they sound like small helicopters.

“Look! It’s the same hummingbird!” I shouted to my Mom, and then realized this was more than just a friendly hello. “Mom, where is your hummingbird feeder?”

“It’s still down, next to the sink,” she said. “I haven’t had a chance to fill it yet.”

I calculated that it had been down for several days before Christmas. Since my Mom is short (and shrinking, she says), I take down the feeder from the hook.

I immediately grabbed a small pan and filled it with one cup of sugar and water, and put it on the stove to dissolve.

“Why are you doing that now?” Mom asked. “You’ll be late for your car appointment.”

“It will only take a second,” I reasoned. My mother didn’t understand that you couldn’t ignore those hummingbird signs. Those poor babies were HUNGRY.

Yet, how did they know that I would feed them? Could they tell by my clothes that I lived in Idyllwild and fed my own hummingbirds? Perhaps they’ve been calling to and fluttering around my Mom for days, and she didn’t see the signs. I made a mental note to follow up on the hummingbird feeder whenever I took it down for her.

So birds, squirrels, and other small wildlife need our help in the wintertime when food is scarce and they’re relying on us to fill in the gaps. It can be in Idyllwild, Menifee or Poughkeepsie.

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Piano Fest

January 22, 2010

By Marcia E. Gawecki

“Piano Fest is the coolest name of all of our music concerts so far,” said an Idyllwild Arts student in anticipation of the event. “It sounds like a big, fun event, like Woodstock.”

In fact, Piano Fest got a standing ovation. Sixteen promising young piano students from Idyllwild Arts music department, ranging in ages from 14 to 18, presented an hour-long program on a stormy Monday night, January 18, that will not soon be forgotten.

Most of them played duets on the two shiny black, back-to-back grand pianos that dwarfed the stage. The selection of songs ranged from classical to ragtime.

The show opened with Zixiao Wang, Jia Ying Dong, Yifan Yin and Lin Wei Ruan, simultaneously playing Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major.” The thunderous and intense number would suddenly turn soft with crystal high notes that hushed the eager crowd.

Next came two sets of duets by four seniors. Le-Seul Yoen and Daphne Honma gave an impressive performance of Bolcom’s “The Eternal Feminine,” while Georgina Bertheau and Jonathon Naquin gave their Yamaha’s a workout with “The Serpent’s Kiss.”

Like serpents after prey, Georgina and Jonathon “pounded” the lower registers with their fists, and then suddenly, slipped off their keyboards and “rapped” their fingers along the top, bottom and edges of the piano. (Jonathon even “rapped” his fingers on Daphne, who was only turning pages for him). The daring and unconventional manner (like they were sometimes playing with boxing gloves or mallets), appealed to the teens in the audience.

Although it’s nearly impossible to get more than two grown pianists on a bench, three managed to take turns playing the tender “Valse and Romance,” by Rachmaninoff. Freshman Benny Kleinerman held his own along with seniors Tian-Peng “Timmy” Yu and Linda Edsinga.

However, when he was supposed to be resting, Timmy (last year’s Spotlight award winner) stood up and gave an impromptu ballroom dance across the stage that surprised and delighted the crowd. There was also a bit of well-choreographed “pushing and shoving” on their bench, until Timmy and Linda managed to knock Benny off with the final note.

“Fantasy on Porgy and Bess,” with selections from Gershwin and Grainger, capped off the evening. Anni Cao, Bohan Lin, Meiling Lin and Xue “Maxine” Gong took turns playing then flipping pages during this popular ensemble. Their rendition of “Summertime” warmed the crowd on the rainy evening.

The 100-over capacity crowd, made up of mostly students, faculty and hearty townsfolk, gave the 16 students who made up Piano Fest, a standing ovation.

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.


January 22, 2010

By Marcia E. Gawecki

It all started when my neighbor left Idyllwild over the holidays. She always gives peanuts to the squirrels.

“They don’t need any extra food,” I said, pointing to the acorns and pinecones on the ground. “They have everything right here.”

“Yes, but they’re so happy when I give them the peanuts,” she said. “They even wait for me on the porch.” She didn’t have pets, so I forgave her and their mess. The shells always ended up in my yard.

One morning, a squirrel ran down a tree just outside my window and awakened my cats. They always bolt upright whenever there’s any activity outside. All three sat and watched it disappear to the ground below.

Then a funny thing happened. The squirrel came back up the tree and stood right in font me.

“Tit-tit-tit-tit-tit!” he scolded at me loudly.

“What the hell?” I thought. Squirrels only scold me when my cats are outside. They like to chase them and the squirrels don’t like it one bit.

“Tit-tit-tit-tit!” the noise went on for what seemed like an eternity.

“What are you mad at?” I asked, looking at him square in the eyes. “My cats are inside.”

Then it occurred to me that this was not about the cats, but about breakfast. My neighbor was gone, and so was her peanut supply.

“I don’t have any peanuts,” I laughed, and rolled away from the window.

“Tit-tit-tit-tit-tit!” The noise got even louder.

“OK, OK,” I moaned, as I got out of bed. I didn’t have any peanuts, but I spread some peanut butter thinly on crusty bread, cut it into chunks, and put it out on the outside rail. The chatter stopped.

There was a wildlife lesson here somewhere. I once read an article that warned that you should never to quit feeding birds or animals in the wintertime. The snow covers the ground, including their food supply, and they’re relying on you to fill in the gaps. Even big game like coyotes search for food in the snow.

Two years ago, when I was shoveling my driveway, I came face-to-face with a coyote. My head was down, and I was toiling away, then I looked up and saw him. Initially, I thought it was a wolf because his head looked so big! But I know wolves don’t live in Idyllwild.

My heart was racing as I looked around for my cat. She was sitting on the front porch, and luckily, the front door was still open. The coyote followed my gaze, then looked back at me. I knew what he was thinking: “Can I get to the cat before the chick with the shovel gets to me?”

I managed to shout, “Get out of here!” and the coyote just sauntered down the road. It was 11 a.m.

Besides squirrels, birds in Idyllwild will let you know when they’re hungry. I forgot to feed the blue jays one morning, and was typing away at the kitchen table. I heard them squawking, but thought they were just annoyed at my cats. Blue jays don’t like them either.

Then one large male (you can tell by his crown) flew over to the window and hung on the broken screen. “Aaack, aaack, aaack!” he screeched at me.

“Oh, what is it?” I asked. “Do you want breakfast?”

I laughed at his gall for interrupting me, and for my new role as servant girl to nature.

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.