Maggie and I met last year, just after the debut of her deliciously gossipy novel, Hollywood Girls Club, so I was honored when she asked me to do a guest blog for the debut of my novel, Fifteen Minutes of Shame – a story about what happens when America’s favorite TV relationships guru finds out her husband is cheating – live on national television.
Maggie is a former Hollywood agent writing about Hollywood and agents. I am a current TV dating expert, writing about, well the not-so-picture-perfect lives of TV love experts.
Most of it is fiction. We’re just not going to tell you which parts.
Here’s an excerpt from my new book, Fifteen Minutes of Shame
Hope you enjoy!
“I’m utterly humiliated.”
I hiss this to my best friend Jules, as I squat behind the smelly dumpster of a Gas-N-Go, trying to sneak a glimpse of my husband without getting caught.
He glances in the general direction of the dumpster and I panic. I nearly fall over backwards and accidentally drop my cell phone into a murky puddle. It hasn’t rained in weeks, and I fear toxic waste, or worse, old convenience store hot-dog water as I fish out my phone and wipe it off on my sweatpants. It leaves a sort of greenish smear, and I don’t even want to imagine what it could be.
Last week I was on national television, wearing a cute little non-mommy outfit and my favorite pair of Christian Louboutins, talking about how every woman deserves a fabulous life, and how they too can snag the man of their dreams. This week I’m crouching in filth, looking a lot like a homeless person because I forgot it was my turn to drive carpool this morning and I rushed out of the house wearing dirty sweatpants, the “Who’s Your Daddy?” t-shirt I slept in and a pair of sparkly pink flip-flops. I can’t remember brushing my hair. Or my teeth.
“Are you there?” I whisper to Jules, “sorry, I dropped the phone.”
“What on this earth are you doin’?” she asks, in that honey-dipped drawl all men melt for. Jules is a flesh and blood, eighth-generation Southern belle. She hasn’t left the house without earrings since puberty. Any two-hour car ride with her includes a picnic basket fully stocked with ham biscuits. She’s always polite, and she’s always enviable. Jules would never be caught squatting behind a dumpster spying on her husband in her pajamas.
The truth is, I have no idea what I’m doing.
“He’s supposed to be in Atlanta.” I can feel myself rambling, “I packed his suitcase myself.”
“Are you absolutely sure it’s him?” Jules responds gently, “maybe it’s just someone who looks a lot like him.”
“You mean like an evil twin?” I crack, “no, I saw him straight on. It’s Will.”
Something is definitely up. Will exits the store carrying a small paper bag. He looks both ways before stepping off the curb and then opens the door of his silver SUV and slides into the driver’s seat. What’s in the bag? I wonder. Condoms? A microwave burrito?
“Maybe he’s taking a later flight,” Jules offered.
“Maybe.” I don’t think so. We live in Sarasota, a small city with a small airport. Usually the first flight is the last flight. Plus, Will does this Atlanta trip at least once a week for a liquor client based in Georgia. His flight leaves at eight-thirty-seven in the morning and he usually makes it home the next morning around the same time.
“Damn.” I can’t decide if I should hop back in my car and follow him to see where he’s going, or throw myself in front of his car so he knows he’s been busted. I panic and the moment passes. He drives off, and I stand, frozen in my puddle of muck until his car passes the intersection. My big opportunity to catch him the act of whatever’s keeping him from Atlanta has vanished. I feel like a jerk, but I don’t know if I could stomach whatever I might learn.
Normally, Will is not the kind of husband you worry about. He’s a blue-suit-wearing/sex-on-Friday/baseball-on-Saturday kind of guy. But my imagination starts churning and I envision all sorts of sinister possibilities: He’s having an affair. He’s an undercover agent for the CIA. He’s lost his biggest client and he’s too chicken-shit to tell me. I feel the early tinglings of panic.
“Or,” says Jules, “maybe his trip just got cancelled.” Leave it to Jules to be rational. “Why don’t you call him?”
Why don’t I call him? Genius! Jules is a genius! I’ll just call him and he’ll explain everything and we’ll laugh about the whole thing. I hang up with Jules and speed-dial Will. No answer. Crap.
His phone clicks over to voicemail immediately, which means the damned thing isn’t even turned on.
I get back into my car, which is parked high-speed-chase-style behind the dumpster. (Okay, so I wasn’t exactly focused on my parallel parking skills this morning when I swerved into the Gas-N-Go.) I was driving home after dropping off our carpool kids at school and almost drove over the median when I saw Will’s car pull into the parking lot.
As I head home, I try to clear my mind and think rationally. I take a deep breath and try to figure out how I’ve gone from “happily ever after” to panicking that my husband is an international terrorist/philanderer/pathological liar within the space of a few minutes.
It’s probably nothing. Crap, it’s definitely something.
I pull into our gated community, slowing down so that the scanner can read the barcode on the side of my gas-guzzling mommymobile. I inch forward until the nose of my car is just inches from the flimsy stick otherwise known as the “gate” designed to keep all manner of undesirables out of my neighborhood. What’s funny is that where I live in Florida, nearly all of the communities are gated communities. I’m not sure that we even have “undesirables.” If we do, knowing my neighbors, they’re special ordered from Barney’s. If you travel down any semi-main road here you’ll see guard shacks and electric gates every few miles. The parking lots at Whole Foods, Nuovo, and Siesta Beach are all populated with cars bearing the telltale barcode sticker on the rear window.
Sometimes, I can hardly believe I live here. Overnight, I went from a single-girl shoebox of an apartment, (apropos, I think, since my most prized possessions were primarily shoes) where I felt like I’d hit the jackpot if I was lucky enough to get an up-close parking space, or an open lounge chair at the pool, straight to suburbia (Do Not Pass Go) where my wedding ring and barcode sticker grant me an all-access pass to the gated kingdom of Botox moms.
And although I never had trouble fitting in, even after three years, I still kind of feel like I really don’t really belong here.
I hit redial on my phone. Will’s voicemail clicks on. Again. The gate is stuck. Again. The guard is busy with the line of cars in the visitor’s lane and doesn’t look up from his clipboard. He waves three cars through, barely glancing up. Apparently, all you need is a pizza or a lawnmower to gain entrance to this gated haven in suburbia. The front of my car is now practically touching the gate. It’s not moving. I roll down the window and wait patiently because I don’t want to be one of “those” women – who wave their manicured nails out the window for the backhanded salute, while they lean on the horn with their elbows, demanding priority service.
I try to catch the guard’s eye, hoping a little smile and a wave will do the trick.
“That lane is for residents only”, he shouts to me over the sound of a muffler-deficient station wagon filled with mops and Brazilian housekeepers.
“I am a resident.” I shout back, smiling purposefully. “The gate is not working today.” He rolls his eyes at me. Will and I have lived here for the entire three years we’ve been married. I go through this gate about six times a day. I call the guard shack about twice a day to add our friends, the bug man, the pool guy to “the list.” The man with the clipboard is Frank. He has two kids, and works the day shift at the North gate. He looks at me as though he has never seen me before.
“You need a sticker,” he says authoritatively.
“I have a sticker. Can you please just raise the gate? I’m really in a hurry,” I plead. All of a sudden, I’m flashing back to the scene from that old movie Trading Places where Dan Ackroyd has just gotten out of jail, and when he gets to his house, not only will his key not work in the lock, but his butler pretends he’s never seen him before. OhMyGod, I’m going to have to move in with a hooker.
“You need a sticker,” he says again, pressing the magic button inside the guard shack.
Access at last. I peel through the gate, squealing the tires as I turn onto my street, popping my car into the garage like a pinball going down the chute for the last time. A wave of dread and denial washes over me like sewage.
Crap. Crap. Crap. Get it together. Get it together. Get it together.
Let’s review, okay? What did I really see?
Generally, I try not to be the overreacting type. I am in fact, a quite rational, thirty-one year old author and stepmother of two kids, Lilly and Aidan. Obviously, the Prince Charming I’d envisioned from the time I was eight years old was not exactly a divorced guy with two kids. But the kids I once thought would be a burden have turned out to be the center of my life.
Will is thirty-six, was formerly married to a formerly sane beauty queen (Miss Arkansas, if you must know) and we, the two of us, have custody of his kids, children I consider to be the most amazing six and eight-year-old on the planet. (Of course, I’m crazy about them, so I may be a little biased.)
Will and I have been married three years. We met when I was on tour for my first book, Secrets to Make the Guys Go Gaga and he was the PR guy who landed me a spot on Soap Talk. (Don’t laugh, it’s a real show.) After years of writing toothpaste jingles, and doling out dating advice to my girlfriends over margaritas, I figured a dating book was a good start to the dream I’d always had about becoming a “real” writer, not just someone who made a living spinning canned meat and golf spikes to the American public.
So, by sole virtue of my ability to turn a phrase and peg a loser at 500 feet, I’ve now become a dating guru.
To be honest, I’ve spent my whole life trying to make sense of men. Both my parents died in an accident when I was just a baby, and I was raised by my Grandma Vernie and her four sisters in an estrogen bubble. They were a wild, strong, loving, tight knot of Southern women; all of them had been married at one time to men they adored. Unfortunately, they were all widowed long before I hit kindergarten -–husbands had a habit of croaking at a very early age in our family. Great Uncle Joe was a legend, he’d lived to the ripe old age of 43. Until junior high, my only personal experience with how the male sex was supposed to operate came from secondhand stories the Aunties told me under the influence of bundt cake during our seven-hour Yahtzee marathons, late night reruns of Gene Kelly movies, and old clippings they’d saved from 1950s issues of Good Housekeeping on how to keep your husband happy. The first of my beloved Aunties, Ila Mae, passed away when I entered high school. My grandmother died the next year. By the time I was 19, they were all gone. And I found myself orphaned for the second time.
I thought that once I wrote the book, Oprah would call, and I’d be instantly catapulted to fame and riches. (Which, I’ve since learned, is a common fantasy among clueless first-time authors.) Instead, it brought me to Will, who told me, “Unless you’re a celebrity or a celebrity’s personal trainer, nobody cares whether you wrote a book or not.” When he booked me on Soap Talk, he told me, “I had to beg, borrow and steal to get you this one.”
I was grateful and horribly disappointed at the same time. Like finding out you’ve won a 5.7 million dollar lottery, and then learning you’ll be getting a nickel a week for 324 years.
Eventually, after a few years of dismal sales, the book took off and became a bestseller, surprising everyone including me. I was catapulted to the dating expert hall of fame. Producers and agents started calling, and suddenly I had a weekly guest spot on a big national TV show, my own radio call-in program, and even my own perfume. Two years after my book hit the shelves, I was recognizable to every woman in America under the age of sixty. Darby Vaughn: The Dr. Phil of Dating.
I dial Will’s phone again, and this time he picks up on the first ring.
“Hey!” I say quickly, attempting to sound like my perky, usual self, rather than the dumpster-diving maniac I’ve become in the last 17 minutes or so.
“Hi sweetheart,” he answers offhandedly, “I can only talk for a second, my flight was delayed and I’m already late for the meeting.”
“What do you mean? You’re still here?” God, I’m an idiot. Talk about freaking out over nothing. A sensation of reprieve rushes over me, and I feel the sickly-sweet relief of someone who’s just stepped off the human centrifuge ride at the carnival.
“Did you miss your Starbucks this morning or something?” he teases, “I’m in Atlanta, remember?”
My heart drops. “Wait, you mean right now?”
“Jesus, Darby. I’ve only been making this same exact trip for two years. What’s up with you today?”
“N-nothing,” I choke out, and my brain starts spinning again. My mind goes from zero to divorce court in 3.6 seconds.
“Um, when will you be back in town?” I ask cautiously.
“Tomorrow morning, same as always,” he snaps, and then softens. “Sorry, Darby, I don’t mean to be so cranky. I had a bad flight and it’s just sort of put a damper on my morning.”
“It’s okay…” I say numbly, unable to think of anything else at the moment.
“Hey babe, I’ve gotta run. Love you, love the kids.” His phone snaps off before I have a chance to respond. Instead, I throw up.
I scramble to aim for my open car window. Bad aim or bad luck, I miss the mark and vomit oozes down the inside of my door, and down the window crack.
I am not going to have a breakdown in my three-car garage.
FIFTEEN MINUTES OF SHAME is in bookstores March 25, 2008. For more info visit www.lisadaily.com