A Jaye Jordan Before Vermont Story
Everybody wants to kill the editor, but nobody actually does it. Except that things are different in a blizzard.
These days, New York City only gets one every few years, so it’s a big event, and the good folks at Edison Broadcasting are kind enough to put pretty much the entire staff up at the Columbus Hotel, right across Sixth Avenue from our studios, the same place that all four Edison stations have been for the last 45 years.
It’s not just kindness. If we’re there, they own us, and many of us end up working extra – and different – shifts.
Which is how I, normally the happy, friendly midday DJ at your favorite light music station, ended up in the newsroom that afternoon…right in the middle of a murder.
It’s really David’s fault. My teacher husband didn’t like being left in Westchester to hold the fort with our medium-sized daughter Ryan, and I couldn’t blame him, though he was a lot less cool about these this little disruption than I’d been about all of his big bad medical stuff in the last year. So we had one of those terrible soft hissing fights on the phone when I got off the air, and I decided to see if my pal Ruby Winston was still in the newsroom downstairs.
For an old-school radio girl like me, the Edison newsroom is a lot like an historic church: it looks almost exactly as it did when the station went all-news more than four decades ago, with the same formica desks, bullpen in the middle for the editor, and generations of bad caption contests on the bulletin board. Sure, there are computers instead of typewriters, but the place feels ancient. Smells it, too. Not incense and wax, but stale coffee, old newsprint, and a trace of decayed pizza.
Everybody’s happy place is different.
Ruby was there, but not in the wonderful little office she had earned as assistant news director of the City’s proudest all-news operation. From her spot at a small terminal just outside the editor’s bullpen, she looked up, her bright black eyes sweeping over me with cool appraisal.
“Jaye! Is your Guild card still good?”
I’d written news occasionally years ago, and kept my union membership mainly to get free movies and vote on awards. “Sure is.”
“Good. I’m editing and I need a writer. We’ll figure out how to pay you later.”
“Fine by me. I’ve got nowhere to go.”
She heard it – and held my gaze for a moment. Tell me it can wait.
As I nodded, there was a crash from the editor’s desk.
“Paul!” Ruby snapped. “I told you to stay away from there – the police have to clear it.”
A mumbled “Sorry” was all she got from the assistant, Paul Todd, a puffy dishwater-blond guy who was somebody’s kid and about as competent as an amoeba.
“Police?” I asked, only now noticing that there was construction tape around the editor’s command post, which was a spectacular mess of crumpled newspapers, spilled coffee, news copy and other stuff I couldn’t identify.
“Ralph Loris collapsed.” She shook her head. “Until the cops give their blessing, his desk is a presumed crime scene.”
A thud as Paul dropped what looked like a sodden sports section on the floor.
“Paul.” Ruby gave him the look. The one that made her tween son stop cold.
“Sorry.” Paul slunk back to the assistant’s bay.
“It’s horrible.” Ruby turned to me. “Apparently some kind of attack…something bad for sure. Beltran – you know, the old Army guy from Engineering? – he did CPR, but Loris was gone.”
Her eyes were a little damp, and so were mine. Loris had trained us both back in the day because he was the toughest and meanest editor, and if you could survive him, you could survive anything. He wasn’t really Attila the Hun, he just played him on the desk.
“Awful about Loris.”
Ruby and I looked up to see Joe Cuevas sticking his head out of one of the edit studios. Joe, the star reporter since Edison’s living treasure Bernard Zelig retired, had one of Those Voices, and – very unusually for radio – the looks to match. Tall, dark and handsome, but with unexpected light amber eyes, he could have had his pick of the ladies of the Tri-State, if he hadn’t been very married with a couple of kiddies.
“He was always horrible to me, but I knew he was just trying to get good work.” Joe shook his head.
Paul Todd coughed. He looked worse than anyone else. No surprise; he couldn’t be twenty-five, and Loris had done his best to ignore him. The worst insult of all, because it meant he wasn’t worth any effort.
“Who do they call?” Joe asked. “I think his wife died years ago and there weren’t any kids.”
“Not sure.” Ruby shook her head.
“No kids.” I shook my head too. Once upon a time, I’d been unable to imagine why anyone cared about children. Now my world revolved around Ryan.
“Not sure why.” Joe shrugged. “I was afraid to ask.”
One of those heavy awful silences associated with the death of someone you realize you should have known better.
“Anyway,” Ruby took a long breath and turned to me. “Can you stay and write till we get Greg on the air?”
“Great.” She nodded to the table back by the mailboxes. “There’s all kinds of food if you’re hungry. Soda and stuff too.”
“And I got donuts from the schmancy place over by Carnegie Hall,” Joe added with that sparkly smile of his. “S’mores and tropical twist and triple truffle and heaven knows what.”
My stomach lurched. “Not hungry – but a diet soda would be nice.”
Joe shrugged and turned back to his work, but Ruby’s eyes narrowed.
“Plenty of good food back there, and you should eat something, Stretch.”
I laughed. So did she. I’m six feet tall, and I don’t eat when I’m stressed, which I’ve been a lot lately. Ruby was almost my height most days, when she wore the stylish high heels that went with her wonderful jewel-toned suits. Today, though, she had on sensible boots and skinny black pants with an emerald-green blazer. She still glowed, the color perfect for her ebony skin…but she’d lost about four inches in height.
Stylish wasn’t the word for me on any day. My black hair never behaved, and my wardrobe of dark suit separates and bright tops only barely worked when I was twenty pounds heavier. Now, even my favorite red cashmere v-neck sweater – a comfort choice for the storm – only emphasized my bony blue-white face and under-eye circles. Never mind being in Ruby’s league, they wouldn’t even let me in the same sport.
Really, though, we’re a classic New York odd couple: me the scruffy Western PA country girl made good, and she the fiendishly elegant daughter of a Harlem community leader. We both grew up as overachievers in cultures that emphasized good manners, and that was the start of a real, true bond.
“I’ll take a look at the buffet,” I said. “Maybe there’s something healthy.”
It really was a buffet. Folks at small radio stations are grateful if the boss sends a pizza when they have to work a storm, but Edison calls in the caterer. In New York, that means either deli or Italian, depending on who the sales manager is trying to charm at the moment.
This was an Italian blizzard, and the newsroom locusts had already been through, leaving half-full pans of ziti with pink vodka sauce, pesto tortellini, chicken parm, garlic bread, and a huge, and absolutely pristine, romaine salad. The fruit compote sitting by a handful of forlorn leftover cannolis was almost as untouched; only a couple of kiwifruit slices were missing from the garnish on top.
Joe’s donuts were mostly gone too, except for a few that were probably the tropical twist, guessing from the candied pineapple and kiwi sticking out of the top.
Most of the regular soda had disappeared as well.
Radio people are not known for being health conscious.
I chuckled and took a diet cola.
“Get some garlic bread with that.”
My chuckle turned into a full-out laugh. The Voice of G-d was ordering me to eat.
Greg Olson, retired network anchor, Edison part-timer, cancer survivor, and not incidentally, one of the most talented people I know, was standing behind me with an impish little grin.
“Hey.” I held up the cola. “All I want right now. My stomach’s a little fluky.”
“Loris? Or David?” Greg did news headlines for the FM’s sometimes, and he’d worked with me during the worst of my husband’s treatment. So he knew.
“Yeah. Not happy at being stuck home with Ryan while I’m playing in the storm.”
“Playing.” Rough bark of a chuckle. “He doing okay?”
I nodded. “Just got the all-clear at the three-month checkup. Don’t have to go back for six more.”
“Time to start thinking about what normal looks like.” Greg took a chunk of garlic bread.
“Maybe.” I popped open the soda. “When does it start feeling okay again?”
“It’s never Before. But eventually it’s good.”
“Okay.” I took a sip. Tried to settle my stomach. “Were you ever mean?”
“Did you know it and try to stop?”
“Yeah.” His brown eyes, wise and protective, lingered on my face. “How mean is mean?”
“Not abusive.” I sighed. “Just – sharp. And I always think he’s going to snap at me, even when he doesn’t.”
“Might need a little help.” Greg shrugged. “No shame in it.”
“His mom’s a social worker. We know.”
“Okay.” He took a bite of the garlic bread. Watched me. Chewed very slowly, as if he were thinking about whether to say something. Finally: “Sometimes people don’t make it, honey.”
“You and Mark did.”
“We’re older than dirt and no one else would have us.”
The intercom, which had probably been there on Edison Broadcasting’s first day, let out a squawk, and a scratchy voice announced: “Jackknifed T-T on the GWB!”
Just the traffic folks reminding us that we were in the middle of a blizzard. And now, apparently, a second disaster. It would be a long night for anyone near that overturned tractor-trailer on the George Washington Bridge.
Greg and I scuttled right over to the terminals and got to work, but we hadn’t been writing for more than ten minutes before somebody buzzed the cops in. Neither the snow nor the traffic would have been a problem for them.
“Who’s in charge here?” The woman closed the big glass door even though she didn’t have to. “I’m Detective Alla Wollensky and this is my partner, Detective Marcus Price.”
She was white, and probably in her late fifties, her partner Black and significantly younger. While they were a little heavier, and a little less good-looking, than TV cops would have been, they were perfectly cast, especially with Wollensky’s unmistakable Brooklyn accent.
“I’m the assistant news director, Ruby Winston.” While Ruby shook hands, the rest of us stayed in place, because we had work to do. Greg and I had mastered the art of watching without attracting notice, but Paul Todd was staring openly.
“Do you know what happened to Mr. – Loris?” Wollensky asked, watching the room as Price pulled out a notebook.
“He just collapsed. I think Paul saw it, and so did Joe.” Ruby motioned to the edit studio, where Joe must have been watching.
Joe walked out and shook hands with the cops, with the practiced ease of a reporter used to a scene.
“The E-M-T’s say it looked like anaphylactic shock,” Wollensky said. “Did he have any allergies that you know of?”
“He had a couple, actually.” Joe nodded. “I know peanuts…and some kind of fruit.”
“Kiwi,” Ruby offered. “It was kiwi because there were pieces on the fancy drinks at the 40th anniversary party and he said they were trying to kill him.”
Joe’s eyes widened. “There was something weird on those tropical twist donuts…”
Wollensky’s cool blue eyes rested on Joe with very uncomfortable intensity. “Did you give him one of the donuts?”
“Not one of those, for sure.” Joe’s face was gray. “I think he had one of the chocolate ones…”
Paul Todd gave Joe a hateful glare. “He didn’t look, you know, he just grabbed one out of the box.”
“Kiwis are everywhere again this year,” Greg said, looking up from his screen. “They go in and out, and whenever they’re in, people with allergies have to be very careful.”
“I wouldn’t…” Joe started.
“We’re not suggesting anything, Mr. Cuevas.” Wollensky’s tone, though, said exactly the opposite.
I glanced back at the buffet. Kiwis are everywhere.
The fruit salad.
“Somebody took a couple of slices off the fruit bowl.” I stood. “Look here.”
I led, and the cops, Ruby, and Joe followed me and gazed down at the broken ring of green slices. “No one just takes a piece or two of anything in a newsroom.”
“Not in a precinct house either.” Price, whose full face and trace of tummy suggested he’d enjoyed his share of treats, gave a small, wry smile.
“There’s no evidence that the slices were used on Mr. Loris.” Wollensky wasn’t buying.
“The coffee.” Ruby turned back to the ruin of the editor’s desk then. “Paul! What did you knock over?”
Paul wasn’t visible.
Detective Price moved faster than I would have thought possible for him, and got over to the desk, where he reached underneath and came up holding Paul in one hand, and Loris’s “You Can’t Fix Stupid” mug in the other.
“So?” Wollensky asked.
“I just wanted him to notice me. Just see that I’m here and worth something.” His puffy face went red and he looked like he might cry.
“What did you do?” The lead detective’s voice was steely.
“I dropped the kiwi slices in his coffee when he wasn’t looking. I thought I’d save him and…” Paul broke off, like he was out of words.
He probably was.
“That worked out well.” Wollensky nodded to Price, who pulled a pair of cuffs off his belt.
Price busied himself hooking up Paul, who would not have to worry about a lack of attention for a while.
What a waste. Loris’s mug was right.
“Well, we’ll let the DA sort it out from here,” Wollensky told Ruby. “Thanks for your help…and sorry for your loss.”
Ruby took the formal condolence with grace. “Thank you. Please let us know when there are charges.”
“Would you like some coffee, or perhaps something to eat?” Ruby offered, just as I would have done. We never allow anyone to leave our houses hungry.
“No way, Ms. Winston.” Wollensky allowed herself a tiny smile. “I’m sticking to plain donuts from here on…that nutritious stuff will kill you.”
No one could argue with that.
We watched them walk out the big double glass doors etched with the Edison Victrola. Not your usual day at the office.
“All right people, we still have a show to do.” Ruby sat down at her computer again. “And a lot of folks waiting out there in the dark with battery-powered radios.”
“Does that mean I can skip the web mention?” I asked.
Ruby glared at me. “Don’t annoy the desk jockeys, huh?”
A couple of hours later, Greg was on the air, the T-T was off the GWB, and the snow was starting to slow. Not that any of us were going anywhere but the Columbus Hotel tonight.
Ruby punched my arm. “Good day’s work. I’ll make sure they pay you OT.”
“Thanks. Nice to do a little news once in a while.”
We shared a weary smile. The reason we do this work is because we get to do it with people like us…who love it as much as we do.
“Go get some sleep. The Columbus is pretty cushy.”
“I’ll take that, for sure. See you at breakfast?” I asked.
“Complimentary buffet, baby. You’d better eat something.”
“Oh, I will.” I almost believed myself right then.
“Walk you over?” Joe asked, appearing behind me as I picked up my go bag.
The smile again. Probably just a reflex.
We were silent outside the building, even across the nearly deserted street, as I skidded a little in the snow and he put out a hand to catch me but didn’t actually make contact.
The City always feels weird during a storm. Slow and almost silent. Out of bounds.
Kind of like being alone with an attractive man other than my husband.
I missed Ryan. Maybe David too.
“Why’d you stay late and pitch in?” Joe asked just before we reached the door.
“Why wouldn’t I? That’s what pros do.”
“Always thought you were some kind of fluffball DJ because of the voice and you being part-time for the kid.”
I shook my head. I was way too tired to give him a lecture on feminist theory and life choices. “Guess not.”
He opened the door with a wicked little grin. Hey, now. “You’re all right for a mommy.”
I laughed, only slightly nervously, and walked through it.
Inside the Columbus’s brass and glass lobby, it was warm, the air full of some faint but deliberate ambient herbal scent. Very quiet too, though not eerie like the street had been. I pulled my card key out of my pocket and punched the elevator button.
“What floor are you on?” Joe asked.
“Eleven. I can take this one too.”
He watched me, and I watched him, as the elevator slowly grumbled into gear and started moving. We both knew what was there…what we didn’t know was what we would do about it.
The car stopped on Eleven.
The doors opened.
All of the possibilities hung between us, glittering like the snow in the streetlights. Joe smiled at me the way David used to, before cancer turned him into the Mean Guy and our marriage into an armed camp.
Then, in unison: “Nah.”
A shared chuckle. Always better to break on a laugh.
I didn't even watch him step off. I hit the button for my floor and let out a long breath.
No regrets. This wasn't about David, or marriage...or even Ryan. It was about me.
And I keep my promises.
If you like Jaye, keep reading below for another of her misadventures, in her new life in Simpson, Vermont.
A Jaye Jordan story
Even in frigid Vermont, we don’t usually welcome the holiday season by torching the tree. But because it was the Christmas of the Year from H-E-double-hockey sticks, I wasn’t entirely surprised when Oliver Gurney, the chair of the selectboard, threw the switch and the whole thing went up.
Flames running right up the trunk, shooting down the branches and bursting out the top. The star popped off and landed a few feet away from my porch, the firelight sparkling off the apparently indestructible gold plastic.
Burn, baby, burn.
“Holy-” my on-air partner and I started in shocked unison, avoiding the next word just in time to prevent the radio station from losing its license.
I cleared my throat. “Well, then. We appear to have had a small mishap. Let’s return to holiday music…I’m Jaye Jordan in the Simpson Plaza with Rob Archer, live here on WSV.”
As Burl Ives exhorted us to have a “Holly Jolly,” Rob’s husband Tim grabbed their son Xavier and my daughter Ryan and dragged them up to the radio station porch, their squeaks of outraged tween dignity barely audible over the music and the whoosh of the fire extinguishers. Fire Chief Frank Saint Bernard handed his eggnog to Town Clerk Sadie Blacklaw, who happens to be Rob’s aunt, and joined his men on the line.
Rob cued up the next record, though I’m not sure why, unless it was the old-school jock’s show-offy pride in the skill – or the vinyl. He looked over to me, his pale-blue eyes gleaming in the dying fire.
“Happy freaking holidays.” Rob did say freaking.
“Well, obviously, Little Brother, I checked the wiring on the lights before we put them up.” Oliver Gurney snapped at his twin, born three crucial minutes later and saddled with the humiliating title for life.
“Just making sure,” Orville, prominent local attorney and school board member, told his brother the hardware store owner with only a minimal smirk. “You know the police chief will ask.”
“And I’ll answer him.”
And it was on. The two were quickly bickering, rehashing three score worth of old grievances.
No surprise. Now that we were all safely inside WSV, and the fire was mostly out, it was back to default settings. Even if we had to figure out what on earth just happened. I picked up my Listen to Your Jewish Mother coffee mug and wished I were anywhere but here. Not a new feeling for me.
A year ago, my husband David had just finished chemo, my job as a midday DJ at New York’s top light music station was secure, and our daughter was thriving in her Westchester school. Then cancer did to our marriage what it hadn’t done to David, and the radio station wanted newer, edgier (read cheaper) young talent.
So I took the payoff, bought what was left of WSV, the place where I’d had my first on-air job, and Ryan and I moved in over the studios. David landed in Charlestown, right across the river, running the English Department at the community college and living with his parents there. Close enough for Ryan but far apart enough for us.
Rob had given up on radio, despite being the best morning man I’d ever known, and was running the restaurant next to the station when I came back. He was willing to voice-track a morning show and do the occasional remote for the pittance I could offer. I did news updates in the morning, and all-request love songs at night. It wasn’t always pretty, but it worked.
Most of the time.
Which did not include this Thursday evening in December, when the first night of Hanukkah had just been celebrated with the burning of the town Christmas tree. With the newly revived local radio station broadcasting live.
Suddenly my blue t-shirt with a silver menorah and “LIGHT IT UP” didn’t seem quite so witty.
I pushed back the platinum-streaked piece of black hair that had come loose from my clip. The streak, my wardrobe of jeans, snarky tees and moto jacket – and the bony frame that came from being too stressed to eat – were all new in the last couple of years. The aftermath doesn’t just feel different than Before…it looks it, too.
Police Chief George Orr strode into the old reception area, where I’d set everyone up with good coffee from the schmancy club a friend had sent as a house (radio station?) warming gift. Accepting his cup, he led with a friendly smile, carefully calibrated to make everyone as comfortable as they could be with a six-foot-three Black man in a leather trenchcoat in a tiny town in the whitest state in the union. He’s a former NYPD lieutenant, recruited by the town fathers and mothers to bring some professionalism, and not incidentally some diversity, to the P.D. His wife, Alicia, is a vice president at the bank, and a new friend of mine.
The chief still has the NYPD hard look, and after a sip, he used it, just to make sure that we all knew who was in charge.
“All right, any reason to think this is anything but an accident?”
“Well,” Oliver began, with an apologetic glance to me. “There are those who aren’t too happy with the new radio station…”
“A-yuh.” Orville agreed.
This was classic Old New England understatement. When I replaced low-rent satellite talk with live local programming, mostly all-request music, I got heated complaints from a few committed fans. I probably hadn’t helped my case by starting the new format with “Despacito” – in Spanish – cutting off Edwin Anger’s rant about “those dirty aliens,” but you might as well know who you’re dealing with from the drop.
The pushback, though, had been limited to nasty messages and phone calls, and one lawmaker from the next town over calling for a state investigation. That died ugly when Governor Will Ten Broeck started laughing on the House floor when she asked him if it was legal to play records for “those degenerates.” By which she meant same-sex couples.
Ten Broeck, whose son is out and proud as well as his pride and joy, suggested the state rep find something else to do and kept walking.
So had I. Until tonight.
Chief George looked over to me. “Nothing over the line?”
I shook my head. When the first wave of letters and emails came, he’d carefully explained to me the bright line between mean and actively dangerous. I hope G-d gets you is scary, but not actionable unless it becomes: I’m going to kill you.
He nodded and took another sip of coffee. “Anybody else?”
That was for Rob, and absolutely beyond imagining. Rob grew up here; he was the morning man during my first hitch, and right up until the last owner turned WSV into a drone. If people don’t love him for that, he owns the local restaurant and serves up magnificent home cooking. Chief George probably meant the gay thing, but literally nobody notices or cares – when it’s Rob. His husband, Tim, is a combat veteran and an ADA, and the only guy who’s more standup than Rob. Vermont (except for the occasional fossil like that lawmaker) is pretty open-minded anyhow, but Rob and Tim are a special class.
“I really doubt it had anything to do with the station,” Oliver said, his slow pace and pronounced accent emphasizing his seriousness.
“But we need to make sure Jaye is safe.” Orville added.
“Well, of course, Little Brother. I never suggested…”
And, right back to the bickering. Orville and Oliver are my ex-husband’s uncles, and they consider themselves Ryan’s and my designated protectors. Especially since, as far as they’re concerned, David let us all down by celebrating his survival by chasing blondes. Most days, they minded a lot more than I did. He didn’t actually catch any blondes until after we were separated, and anyway, romance, or whatever you’d like to call it, was the last thing on my mind after six months of seeing him through chemo.
“Hey, fellas…” Chief George tried.
The rest of us exchanged uncomfortable glances.
But then I realized what was playing on the automated music service…and braced for it. Yep. The cat was already tensing. Most of the holiday music the service sprinkles in with the soppy power ballads and poppy Motown we play during off hours is wallpaper, inoffensive and unremarkable. Unless you’re Neptune.
And unless it’s “Happy Xmas, War is Over.”
For some reason, Yoko Ono’s voice absolutely freaks him out. Every time. Almost twenty pounds of anguished gray fur flew at me. As usual, I made the catch, and he draped himself over my shoulder and howled in my ear. Neptune is more Ryan’s cat; she picked him out at the shelter and named him for the eighth planet because he is part Russian blue.
But when you’re really scared, you want the mama. I patted his back and whispered something soothing, trying very hard not to giggle.
I’d like to say it was Neptune’s reaction, but no. It’s even worse. I grew up in the Western Pennsylvania back country, where neither British accents nor peace protests were common. So until I got to college, I thought Yoko and friends were singing: “It wouldn’t be Christmas without any beer.”
“Want a beer?” Rob whispered. Of course he knows.
“Not while I’m on duty, thanks.”
“Might need one to kill the nerves before you talk to the Gov tonight…”
“Oh, shut up.” I was going to tape a quick interview with Will Ten Broeck about the statewide food drive in about an hour. Boilerplate. No drama.
“You know he’s been divorced a couple years, right?”
“What part of shut up don’t you understand?” Yes, I had a crush on the very blond, very old-school Knickerbocker and very, very hot Will Ten Broeck when I was a pudgy kid and he was governor the first time. And no, I had not done one thing about it because he was married. Full stop.
“Please?” Chief George asked, with a faint metallic tone that suggested a final warning.
Neptune stopped howling for a moment and made a strange gurgling noise. I froze as the next song, thankfully just a harmless Chicago ballad, began. Then the cat let out a magisterial belch and jumped down.
I was grateful it was only a burp. The WSV transmitter is out on Quarry Hill, guarded by a gigantic bull moose. The good news is, Charlemagne will eat maple candy from my hand. The bad news is, he has a flatulence problem.
Emissions notwithstanding, all of us, with the exception of Orville and Oliver, were now paying attention to the Chief. Rob’s aunt Sadie, the Town Clerk and therefore the most familiar with the ways of the twins, shot me a small grin.
The Chief could stop a street in the Bronx.
“Oh, sorry, Chief,” Oliver said quickly. “No disrespect intended. You know how it is when-”
Chief George did indeed know how it was, which is why he didn’t arrest anyone.
The twins hung their heads like the bad little boys they’d been several decades ago, still looking almost exactly alike…and in similar outfits of plaid shirts, work pants and parkas – green for Oliver and blue for Orville.
“You know, Chief,” Sadie began, pouring a little oil on the troubled waters, “the permit was exactly the same as every year. Chamber of Commerce.”
“And,” Tim continued, his handsome features sharpening as he thought about it, “the tree came from Sevier’s Farm like always, too.”
Rob nodded. “That’s true.”
“And you checked the lights, right, Mr. Gurney?” asked Chief George.
If Orville shot his brother a triumphant glance, it was in everyone’s best interest to ignore it.
“I did indeed.” Oliver nodded decidedly. “And they were exactly right, as every year.”
Suddenly, I noticed a little movement from the corner where Ryan and Xavier had been sitting, trying to ignore the BO-ring grownups. As I started to fit some very unpleasant pieces together in my mind, I fixed them both with the Look of Death.
So did Rob.
The little angels – they will say medium-sized kids, being ten -- had run of the radio station, plus their own Snap Circuits electronics toys and more. They probably knew more about wiring than Oliver did. Certainly more than we did.
“RyansMom,” Xavier began, his brown eyes widening a little. It’s one of the most comforting things about his friendship with Ryan – he calls me the exact same thing her New York pals did.
“Did you try to brighten things up, kids?” Chief George’s tone was surprisingly gentle.
“What?” Ryan pulled herself up to her full height, her light-green eyes, exactly like her father’s, glowing with tween indignation. “No way.”
“Absolutely no way, Chief!” Xavier agreed.
“But,” my girl continued. “If you want to know what happened, you need to look at what’s different this year.”
“What’s different is us, Ryan,” I said quietly.
“Really, Jaye, I don’t see it.” Rob’s tone was reassuring – and intended for me, as those icy blue eyes of his beamed right into his son’s soul.
“C’mon, Dad,” Xavi said. “You and Papa taught me better than that.”
Tim couldn’t keep down a trace of a smile. “Well, we hope so.”
“Look, Ma,” Ryan cut in, pulling us back to the topic. “Did you ever do a live remote from the porch back in the day?”
I looked to Rob, and he to me. When I’d been here the first time, the tree-lighting was much more elaborate, involving a torchlight procession through town. We’d broadcast from the bank parking lot, a couple hundred yards away, plugged into their main circuit box.
“Um, I don’t think so,” I said.
“And, XavisDad, you plugged the remote kit into the power box outside, same as the lights, right?”
Oh, holy hotwire.
Rob and I looked at each other, and then the kids.
Chief George stared at us all.
“Looks like we torched the tree.” I motioned to my shirt. “I didn’t mean this literally, but…”
The Chief laughed, Lord love him. “How?”
“Pretty much the same way people burn down their houses with power strips every once in a while,” Rob started.
“We didn’t want to overload the station or the restaurant with the remote kit. So we plugged in out there…and overloaded itinstead,” I continued. “And…”
“Boom.” Xavier and Ryan said in unison.
“Boom?” the chief asked.
“Ayup.” Oliver shook his head. “Overload will kill you every time.”
Because G-d, karma or the music service has a very sick sense of humor, the song “Electric Avenue,” of all impossible things, was playing on the automation when Ryan and I went downstairs to light the menorah about twenty minutes later.
My girl and I smiled together. Once the mystery was solved, everyone had quickly left for their own busy evenings. Since Oliver was taking part of the blame for not checking where we planned to plug in the remote kit, and Sevier’s was willing to replace the tree because there’s really no way a properly fresh one should have gone up like that, all was well that ended well.
Easy for Shakespeare to say. Unlike Rob and me, the Bard didn’t have to re-decorate the new tree.
But still, it was the first night of our little family’s first Hanukkah in our new home and new life, and it had to be special. It was. I set up the menorah, a small metal one I’d ordered online, in the kitchenette outside the studio so it would be safe for the blue beeswax candles to burn all the way.
I gave Neptune a handful of treats. When in doubt, resort to bribery.
Then Ryan took up the matches and candles, and we began. I could manage it, because I converted when I married David, but my Hebrew is awful. Besides, it’s wonderful to see my girl bringing in light and hope and G-d the way Jews have been doing for more than five thousand years.
Even before I converted, I loved the story of Hanukkah. One day’s oil in the re-consecrated temple burns for eight. Freedom, light…and the knowledge that if you do your part, G-d will pull you across the finish line.
A great miracle happened here. Or at least a little one for us.
I gave Ryan the book she’d been asking for, a beautiful glossy coffee-table volume on the planets. She surprised me with an elastic bracelet of little blue glass Stars of David.
I managed to not cry until I sent her upstairs to read her new book.
Maybe half an hour later, the news line rang. I taped the interview with Governor Will Ten Broeck, exactly as expected, talking about big drive for the state food bank.
“Glad no one was hurt tonight.”
“We’re fine.” Of course he knew. It’s a very small state. “It looked pretty weird, but really. It’s Vermont. How weird can it be?”
Ten Broeck chuckled, almost nervously. “You were in New York a long time, so no insult intended, okay?”
“Pretty weird, Ms. Jordan. But you’re up to it.” `
There was a note in his voice that suggested – something – different than I’d heard from the Governor of New York when I’d done a fluff interview in the City. “Um, thanks.”
Of course, I hadn’t had a huge, stupid crush on the Governor of New York back in the day, either. He didn’t have deep blue eyes and a smile that could melt steel. And Rob hadn’t just gleefully reminded me that the honorable executive of the Empire State was single.
“Just so you know, I’m glad you’re back,” said Will Ten Broeck.
My mind said SQUEE!
But I managed to keep my tone within a degree or two of my usual cool range: “Actually, I think I am too.”
Jaye Jordan is the main character in my so-far unpublished series set at WSV in Simpson, Vermont, starting with LIVE, LOCAL, & DEAD. If you're interested in seeing more, please let me know.