Cutting Room Floor: Paul ski lift scene

Paul would not leave my side. We shuffled forward to the red plastic line in the snow and turned to watch the four-person chair on the White Pine lift as it scooped us up. A middle-aged woman and a little girl in a puffy lavender ski suit scurried to my right to claim the last two seats. I smiled as the woman hefted her daughter onto the chair while balancing herself and her poles at that precise moment when the chair swung around and kicked our heavy feet out from under us.

The four of us sat in silence on the chair, our boots and skis dangling as the white-blanketed ground passed below. My eyes followed the skiers bouncing off the moguls below the rising chair. I readjusted my goggles and began counting the trees—anything so that I wouldn’t have to talk to Paul. We were already in different worlds, even if he didn’t know it. About 100 yards short of the hop-off point, Paul yanked the metal bar over our heads and swung his poles in front of his lap, never taking his eyes off the chair exit point far ahead. The woman gasped and threw her arm across the little girl’s chest like a brace.

“What are you doing?” I shrieked, raising my gloved hand to pull the bar back down to our waists. “You’re not the only person on this chair!” My freezing cheeks burned hot with anger against the cold mountain air. The woman shot Paul the stink eye. Paul rolled his eyes. He didn’t lift a finger. It was the first time I’d seen him so cold and selfish around a child. Paul huffed deeply, which was much more familiar. I’d earned über-exasperated Paul huffs not only for my work and gardening routines, but also for not cleaning out my SUV before our trip to Home Depot and for buying a suede jacket (on clearance for $33 at TJ Maxx) without his advance approval.
My head kept shaking. Paul kept huffing. Then, it hit me like an avalanche. His actions on that ski lift were the same I’d seen for years: Paul lived by his rules. His way. No compromise. That man would catch a cold from ice in his soul, Christina Perri. The embarrassment and resentment filled my pounding chest. Our intimacy issues were driving me away, but his insensitivity around a helpless child was a final straw. I ignored Paul’s incessant growls for me to “hurry up” as I zigzagged to the bottom of the powdery slope. The entire afternoon, I skied alone, carving my memories of our last skip trip into a blanket of white powder with the California sun warming my face.

Cutting Room Floor: Fernando trespassing scene

 

I sat down at my desk, picturing the moment I’d seen his face again. My fingers gripped the keyboard tray. The morning after our kiss, I’d worked a Sunday brunch shift at the Cheesecake bar, anchored behind the “well from hell” as we called it. I’d spun around to pull a peach puree carton from one of the coolers. My body had frozen. Fernando was standing at the other end of the bar, watching me work. My pulse went into orbit. A big smile spread across his face as soon as our eyes met. He pushed his glasses up his nose and winked. My heart drummed in my chest. Play it cool. My inner voice had kept telling me. My cheeks fought to push my teethy smile back to a demure grin. I took two deep breaths and walked calmly toward him. My legs felt shaky.
“Hi,” he’d said in a cute, boyish tone, grinning bashfully. He had leaned over the granite-top bar.
“You hear for lunch?” I’d asked coolly, straightening my blue-checkered tie.
“I just had to see you,” he’d gushed, resting his elbows on the bar. Fernando’s hands had moved across the sparkling granite and grabbed mine. The lightening rods of energy had begun shooting through my fingers. We’d stood there separated by the bar, smiling in silence. No one else had existed once again. He’d neglected to ask for my number at Sloppy Joe’s—and I’d never offered it. Look where practicing restraint had landed me.
“What time do you get off work?” Fernando had asked, twirling his thumbs around mine. My body felt weightless. All morning, I’d blabbed to any co-worker, girl, guy—gay or straight—about that life-changing minute the night before. “Speechless. Electric. Surreal.” My arms had flown methodically from glassware to ice to bottles to blenders, as I’d searched for the precise adjectives. I’d looked like Edward Scissorhands sculpting a bush, leaving a trail of smiles, smoothies and bellinis in my wake. Not even a Gin Fizz would have squashed my mood. I’d recommended Santa Margherita to every person who’d sat at the bar.
My fingers began typing affirmations on my computer screen at home:
He is the one pursuing you. He likes you for who you are. He already introduced you to his best friend. He will call you.

“You okay with trespassing?” Fernando had asked, turning to face me. We were standing on the sidewalk outside the Barnacle’s main gate, a few blocks from The Cheesecake Factory. I’d spent the morning tending bar, recommending Santa Margherita to anyone and everyone—then I’d spotted Fernando, sitting at the other end of the bar, watching me work. He’d neglected to ask for my number at Sloppy Joe’s—and I’d never offered it. Look where practicing restraint had landed me. Fernando had invited me to watch the Dolphins game at a bar after work … with his best friend.
“As long as we don’t get caught,” I’d smirked. The thrill of us breaking the law collided with my euphoria. We were rebels in life and in love. He’d wrapped his arms around my waist and hugged me tightly—even though I was wearing my stinking white oxford and black jeans splattered with strawberry puree and simple syrup. His lips had then flown to mine, and the fireworks exploded again.
We’d climbed the behemoth wooden gate like two cadets at boot camp. His hand had gripped mine tightly, as we disappeared into a tunnel under Areca palm fronds. Moonlight lit the dark pathway. Scientific names of the trees around us had flashed through my head, helping to calm my nerves.
“Breaking the law like this feels way better than the time Raul almost got me arrested in CocoWalk,” I’d whispered, as Fernando pulled me into a moonlit lawn that ran from the old Barnacle House homestead to the edge of Biscayne Bay. We’d stood side by side, looking at the dark, cloudless sky melting into calm ocean while I’d recounted what happened inside the CocoWalk parking garage.
“I always wondered what you were doing with him,” Fernando had said softly, squeezing my hand.
“I didn’t realize you were paying attention to us,” I’d replied, turning to him. His comment had stunned me. “Raul never talked about you guys.”
“They’ve been neighbors since they were kids,” Fernando had laughed. “Their moms act like sisters. I overheard Ally talking with them a couple times about you and school.” His fingers continued rubbing mine. “You two weren’t a good match. Just like Ally and me.” He’d proceeded to describe how Alejandra didn’t care about the kind of things that were important to him—fishing, hunting, even walking through a park—just enjoying the simple pleasures of life. “It’s all about appearances with her.” I could feel the heat of his breath on my shoulder. Alejandra was quickly climbing the ranks at WSVN 7 as a meteorologist, and even back in college, I’d never seen her without make-up on or her hair done.
We’d sat down near the grassy edge and lay on our backs. The late-night dew cooled our arms. I’d listened to the peaceful sound of his breath, heart galloping. Neither of us said a word. We didn’t need to.
“I found the Big Dipper,” I’d said, lifting my arm to the sky.
His arm had lifted to mine. He’d turned his body and pulled me closer. Our lips had touched again. My entire body had felt exposed, turned inside and out. He knew almost nothing about me, yet he knew everything when his lips touched mine. I could not wait to learn more about the man behind the kiss—his hopes and dreams, what he ate for breakfast. We were bordering on fairytale romance, and I kept telling myself, “I can’t believe this is finally happening. Do not screw it up, Harley.”
I walked into my living room and slipped a Dave Matthews Band CD into my stereo. I needed to relive every minute of that evening with as many senses as possible.

We’d left the oceanfront meadow and walked back to his truck, arms locked around each other’s waists.

Cutting Room Floor: Raul getting my car towed

Here comes another swing. Wait for it …

I decided it was time to buy a new car. My Pontiac sounded like it had a black lung disease, and living in South Florida had opened my eyes to the world of wheels beyond General Motors and Ford. As an early Christmas present to myself, I picked out a white, 1994 Honda Civic sedan. It was a personal reward for managing my finances like a responsible adult—banking a few thousand dollars in tips while working and going to school full-time. Did Raul help me negotiate the purchase? Nope. Big Gay Mark who doinked Robert did.

“Let’s break this puppy in!” Raul laughed, then begged me to let him drive. I sighed and shook my head until he ripped the keys from my palm. Raul always drove my car. We headed to Society Hill—our usual spot—wearing our South Beach clubbing clothes. “Are you sure my car will be okay here?” I said, looking up at a beaten metal “no parking” sign on Euclid Street. “It’ll be fine. I’ve been parking here for years,” he replied.

When we returned from our usual barstools, my jaw dropped. There was only pavement and a curb left in my spot. No car. Not only did I have to cough up the $225 to get the car released from the impound yard, I also had to pay the $50 cab ride to get us back to my apartment to get additional paperwork to prove the car was mine because it only had temporary plates. “I wish I could make it up to you, baby, but I don’t know how,” he said, while we stood in line at 3 a.m. with a dozen other mad people whose Saturday nights had been ruined by a tow truck. The fine line between carefree and careless had been crossed again. I didn’t speak to him for a week, but he finally smooth-talked his way back into my apartment. Raul was always good at apologies, partly because they always involved him nibbling on my neck.

Cutting Room Floor: Fernando Titanic scene

Right before New Year’s Eve, the movie Titanic premiered, so we rushed to CocoWalk’s AMC Theatre for a Sunday matinee before my night bartending shift. Through the entire three hours of emotional highs and lows and laughs and tears, surreal thoughts were bouncing around in my head like a barista on an espresso binge. Jack and Rose’s relationship was a social taboo. They came from different upbringings. Love didn’t know such boundaries. The giddy kisses they shared in the beginning of the movie reminded me of the day Fernando had showed up at the Cheesecake bar. The moment on the bow of the boat where Jack helped Rose fly took me back to the Barnacle where we’d counted stars. They were just like Fernando and me. Fernando wasn’t rich, but our cultural differences were an obstacle we’d have to overcome someday. Our fingers were locked together throughout the movie.

Then the boat sank—yeah, I knew that was coming—but I didn’t expect Jack to die and Rose to be left alone, clinging to a piece of wood in the dark, frigid ocean. The air kept escaping from my lungs. I couldn’t breathe fast enough. Tears poured down my cheeks. I wiped them away subtly with my wrist. The credits rolled and Céline Dion cooed about being near, far and the heart going on. Lines of people filed toward the exits. Fernando turned to me in his seat. We looked at each other, our eyes filled with sorrow. I pressed my lips against his until my chest hurt. We sat there in silence with foreheads touching until every chair was empty. When we left the theatre, neither of us said a word. My mind was back to over-analyzing his every move, worrying if our love boat was going to sink.

This started my decade-plus obsession with Cartman.

I bought Fernando a T-shirt that said, “Oh My God! You Killed Kenny!”, and he told me I was awesome.

Cutting Room Floor: About the Book pitch for queries and book proposal

Back when the book was a memoir, I wrote this About the Book overview for my book proposal. Lots of positive responses from agents, but it didn’t hook a big fish as I’d hoped. Some of this copy made it into the A Note from the Author introduction within the book, but not all of it. Why do you think?

 

My life has always been filled with booze and heartache. I grew up in backwoods Kansas around shotgun-toting beer guzzlers believing that Pabst Blue Ribbon was a luxury product. Before I’d turned 18, my parents had broken up and reunited more times than Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown. It should come as no surprise that I’ve amassed 50 ex-boyfriends—and learned how to do a keg stand before I could legally drive.

Based on two decades of struggling to find passion at home and at work, The Exes in My iPod: A Playlist of the Men Who Rocked Me to Wine Country tracks my transformation from redneck waitress to refined wine maven—a bewildering journey from lust to love and beer to wine told through a playlist of ex-boyfriend songs. The irony that I come from a line of drinkers and have spent 15 years marketing some of the world’s most prestigious wines is still hard to swallow today.

When I got my first iPod®, I had the unexplainable urge to create the kind of playlist every girl wants to keep on solitary lockdown … at least from my man and my family. It’s called “The Exes”—a compilation of songs that instantly teleported me to memories of a motley crew of ex-boyfriends. And when I listened, I didn’t feel compelled to crush my iPod® with a sledgehammer.

My Exes playlist helped me free a labyrinth of skeletons locked deep in the closet of my psyche—a pot-smoking scuba diver, a bisexual cocaine addict, a military man with a top-secret wife, three Latin lovers, a divorced restaurant manager and a winemaker just for starters. Using lucky 13 songs, The Exes in My iPod: A Playlist of the Men who Rocked Me to Wine Countrywill inspire readers to relive their relationship failures through their own Exes playlists and discover the hidden beauty of all that baggage—our relationship failures make us who we are. They pave our paths in life. They are assets, not liabilities. It was my destiny to figure out the key to real love through mind-numbing trial and error—and for my not-so-straight or narrow road to Mr. Right to stretch from the cornfields of Kansas to Florida’s beaches to California wine country.

Undiagnosed with some rare form of optimism, I found the bright side in my naiveté with men by listening to music. You can too. At the heart of this journey is my hard-won struggle to learn the power of self-respect and the reward of real love—where sex comes second. The Exes in My iPod: A Playlist of the Men who Rocked Me to Wine Country is a reassuring and real reminder of the powerful bond between music, emotions, and memories that continues to transcend time and technology.

Are you ready to play?

 

Blog

Welcome to my blog–the home of ex-boyfriend stories that didn’t make the book–all served with a slice of humble pie and a glass of Champagne. “Cutting Room Floor” posts are raw text (not necessarily proofread or cleaned up) from scenes that were cut from the book. I also blog about book news, events, wine and self-publishing advice.