The Facebook

Image representing Mark Zuckerberg as depicted...

Photo of Mark Zuckerberg, via CrunchBase

I finally got around to seeing “The Social Network,” and after two hours of being captivated by the film, all I can say is: That Mark Zuckerberg, he sure could have used a timeout from his parents. Or maybe just had his computer privileges taken away.

Or, at the very least, mom and dad could have given their son some sage advice. Like if you only have one friend in the world, and this friend lends you $19,000, don’t screw him over. Of course, someone should have told said friend, Eduardo, lending large amounts of money to your BFF, especially one as self-absorbed as Mark, has turned many a genuine friendship sour.

Now I know there’s some fictionalizing in this film in order to tell a better story. The movie was based on a book called The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, and I’m going to assume it was written from the perspective of Eduardo, who comes off in the movie looking like a victim and a saint. But for the sake of my blog, I’m going to process it as 100% real, as in, this is what really happened. To me, this movie is gospel and I’m sure every conversation happened exactly as it was written in the script, down to the very smart and insightful associate lawyer, played by Rashida Jones.

In the film, Rashida represents us, the audience, who like us, listens during the depositions to the fascinating story of the making of Facebook as it unfolds through a series of flashbacks. At the end of the film, Rashida speaks for us, when she says what we’ve been thinking all along: Mark Zuckerberg is not a nice guy. I am paraphrasing, so don’t take my words as gospel.

The lesson here is, if you’re a college student, especially one from Harvard, and you want to start up something new but you need financial backing from a friend, make sure you put it in writing. Detail what the expectations are from each partner. I’m talking a contract, not a gentlemen’s agreement. When it comes to making money, there are no gentlemen, only ruthless capitalists. Didn’t these boys see Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street?” Greed isn’t so good when it’s at the expense of your friends or, in this case, a friend who also happens to be a saint.

As for the twins, I don’t have much sympathy for them, handsome and athletic as they are. In my estimation, which I base on the movie as my sole source, they didn’t give Mark the idea of Facebook, or The Facebook, as it’s originally called. They only met with Mark once and exchanged a few emails. Plus, there idea wasn’t as grandiose. They were thinking small, so if you ask me, they were lucky to settle out of court and make millions in the process. Frankly, I think they were just jealous of Mark, the boy wonder.

So if Mark’s parents had intervened, they could have disciplined their son several times, like when he trashed the rental in California. His dad also could have advised Mark not to befriend a guy like Sean, the founder of Napster. Sean was trouble from day one and Saint Eduardo knew it. Plus, Mark’s mom could have made her son write a nice thank you note to his friend, for believing in him and for loaning him all that start-up money. While she was at it, she could have made her son clean up all those broken beer bottles on the kitchen floor. That was disgusting.

To think, if it weren’t for Mark’s girlfriend dumping him (and you have to give her some credit for dating him in the first place), Facebook might not be what it is today. Maybe it wouldn’t even exist. Powerful stuff and certainly, food for thought. True love for Zuckerberg was out of reach and I attribute this to one thing and one thing only: Mark lacked empathy—compassion for his fellow man or in this case, his girlfriend and his BFF.

Poor, rich billionaire lad. If you ask me, the only thing missing in this film, was for “Citizen Zuckerberg,” alone in his Facebook world, to utter the words, “Rosebud.” Cameras would then pan to his childhood sled. That would’ve been perfect.

Call Me Thankful

In keeping with the season, it’s fitting to take a moment to express gratitude. Of course, what I’m grateful for runs the gamut, from A to Z.

Alice, my grade-school chum, who was challenged and different from my other classmates. I’d button her coat for her each school day because she couldn’t do it for herself. In return, she taught me how to share when she’d break off for me, half of her Drake’s Devil Dog snack, at recess. I’ll never forget my sweet, childhood friend.

Blogging. I’m finally getting the hang of it and I love it!

Chargers. The San Diego Chargers, that is. This football team has given me a chance to bond with my son and spend fun times together. Thanks to Josh, I’m a diehard fan!

When I'm tap dancing, I'm channeling Fred Astaire!

Daughter and Son. My kids are alright (Somebody, knock on wood!), having given me little trouble over the years. Best of all, they think I’m a good mother. As Sally Field once said, “They like me! They really like me!” All the guilt I poured on clearly paid off!

Empathy. It made me happy when my son’s daycare teacher told me, Josh had empathy at the tender age of 3. Having it means you care and can understand the plight of others. Indeed, we could all use a little empathy.

Family in San Diego at last! For the first time, I have family living nearby (not counting my kids who don’t live here anymore, anyway). I so adore my cousins, Roxanna, Daniel and David. I just love having them in my neck of the woods! And to all my family—and friends—I offer my heartfelt thank you.

Giving: Giving, no matter the size of the gift, is genuinely a wonderful thing. No doubt our desire to give to charities and help those in need is closely tied to our capacity for feeling empathy.

Harvest moons on a cool evening, when I’m out walking Henry. Ah, perfection!

Indigo, one of my favorite hues, somewhere between blue and purple.

Joy. That’s what I get when I think about the little things in life, like a text message from Sarah, or the embrace of an old friend. Pure joy.

Kathleen, my petite, blonde friend and colleague. A lifeline in times of stress. The woman could crack me up with just one look. She’s still in my address book, and I can’t let go or hit the delete button. Thank you for being in my life, Kathleen, if only for a little while. I will remember you. Always.

LOL. The laughs started years ago when I saw my first Abbott and Costello film and haven’t stopped yet. Some call it the best medicine. I call it the key to life.

Music and Musicals, the soundtrack of my life. I love many genres of music and I’m a big fan of Broadway. To paraphrase Tom Cruise, “Music, you complete me.”

Nordies, aka, Nordstrom’s, my favorite place to shop. An oasis among the retail clutter, especially since I met Patrice, my own personal stylist. Patrice really has a flair for style. Thank you, Nordies, for bringing her into my life!

Old-Time Hollywood StarsCary Grant, James Cagney, Bette Davis and so on. They represented the best of Hollywood’s Golden Years.

Pets. As in dogs. As in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. As in Henry, my pampered pet.

Queens. My first stomping grounds. The best place to grow up, if you ask me.

Rafael, my brother, who willingly took on the role of parent to his siblings. He’s also a good husband and father, not to mention an amazing uncle to my kids. He’s always there for all of us.

Sleep. I seem to have a love/hate relationship with sleep. I often end up putting it off, simply because I have too much to do and not enough time in the day. But when I finally fall asleep, ah….that’s heaven.

Tap Dancing. I’ve always said that you can’t be sad when you’re tap dancing. Trust me, whether I’m doing a ball change or a shuffle, I’m channeling Fred Astaire!

Universe and Everything. So much to see, so much still to discover!

Venezuela. At least, the Venezuela of my youth. It’s different now, but back then it was my second home, and it is and always will be, my heritage.

Wonder. Little can compare to a child’s sense of wonder. Try to keep a little of it always and you’ll be the better for it.

Xylophone, when played in jazz, it’s awesome.

You. Without you, my blog is nothing. Like a tree falling in the forest and no one to hear it. So, thank you, and thank you for your insightful comments.

Zone, as in The Twilight Zone. This is one of my favorite, all-time, (not for kids) childhood shows. I loved how it terrified me and am grateful that I got to meet its host and creator, Rod Serling, in Central Park, way back when.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers. I’m taking the rest of the week off and I’ll be back next week with more stories, more tangled webs to weave. In the meantime, feel free to add your own list of what you’re thankful for this year. Toodles!

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Growing up, whenever we traveled to Venezuela, the relatives we visited most were on my mother’s side. She had five sisters and a brother, and collectively she and her siblings had six spouses and 23 kids, which made for robust family get-together’s, lots of dancing, and plenty of tasty, Venezuelan dishes.

My uncle, far right, sometime in 1953.

Yet of all my uncles, the one who was most dear to me was on my father’s side and we didn’t have to fly to Caracas to see him. Like us, Tio Emilio lived in New York, just a train ride away. And yet we didn’t see him much and we never visited his home. Tio Emilio had a wandering soul and wherever he went, he seemed to have one foot out the door. Which is probably why he joined the United States Navy and why he now worked for a cruise line. To see the world. But when he returned, it was always a big deal.

I wasn’t sure what his job on the ship was, but I imagined he was a world-class chef, preparing culinary delights for the passengers. Later, I learned that he was more of a cook’s aid, washing dishes and peeling carrots. It didn’t matter. In our home, he was our very own master chef, whipping up sumptuous meals for all of us.  Hands down, his was the best Venezuelan paella I’d ever tasted.

A visit from Tio Emilio generated much excitement. My mother would put on her best dress and bring out the fine china. She’d then follow my uncle around the kitchen as he chopped, basted and stirred. Like a shadow, she’d be ready to provide him with his every need. Olive oil? Check. Garlic? Check. Green pepper? Raisins? Check, check.

Looking suave in Manhattan, 1960.

Scooping up the chopped onions and garlic, he’d toss them into the simmering pan. He’d wait for the onions to turn translucent before adding the peppers, tomatoes and saffron. All the while, Tio Emilio would sip wine and smile serenely as the aromas from the pan signaled his masterpiece would soon be ready.

While my uncle worked his magic, my mother would regale him with the family stories he had missed while away. How I loved to see them together! They were as one in the kitchen—laughing, chatting and drinking, truly enjoying each other’s company. Which is why I hated the long spells of not seeing my uncle.

He appeared and disappeared months at a time.  When is he coming back?  My parents wouldn’t say. Years later, I learned the reason for the long absences. My uncle was living a double life: the one we saw and the one we weren’t allowed to see. Turns out, my uncle was gay.  Don’t ask, don’t tell.

I wondered what it must have been like for him to have to hide this part of his life from us and, I assume, from the world at large. In a way, I was jealous of those in his inner circle, the ones that knew him in a way I could not. At the same time, my heart went out to him, for not being able to live openly, freely. I wanted to let him know it didn’t matter to me.  But I never said a word. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was our motto long before the words took meaning.  Eventually, I moved away from New York and saw my uncle even less.

Then one day, my father called to tell me my uncle had died. Cause of death was kept as hidden from us as his homosexuality once had been. I heard he died from alcoholism. I later heard it was complications as a result of being HIV positive. It didn’t matter. Silently, in the darkness of my Seattle home, I mourned for my uncle and for all that could have been.

A few days later I received a package in the mail with a note written by my father:

“Hija, your uncle wanted you to have this.”

Peeling away the layers of brown wrapping and tissue paper, I discovered a photo album simply labeled, “Fotos de Emilio.” It was filled with black and white pictures depicting his life as a gay man, intermingled with a few photos of his nieces and nephews. Here, at last, both worlds came together as one.  Pictures of his world travels and of time spent with friends and with family.  My uncle. How handsome, how debonair.  A kind and tolerant man, who lived his life with civility and solitary dignity. Here was the life he never spoke of, but in the end he wanted me to know. In his own way, my uncle was telling me, this is what mattered most. This was his legacy to me.

My Life in Soaps

Llanview, Pennsylvania

Image from Wikipedia

I already know where I’m going to live when I retire.  I’m going to sell my home, most of the furniture too, and hightail it to Llanview, USA.  I’m not exactly sure where it is, since it’s not on any map.  But I’ll find it because that is the place to be.  Yep, I’ve decided I’m going to live in a soap opera, and not just any soap. I’m heading to “One Life to Live.”

I know what you’re thinking. Soaps are a dying breed.  But I refuse to believe it. Soaps have so much to offer and I should know. I’ve been watching them for decades, starting in high school when everyone was watching the original vampire soap,  “Dark Shadows.” Soaps are campy and good fun. An indulgence that is calorie free!

Soaps can bring complete strangers together. One summer during college I was a mother’s helper for a woman with whom I had nothing in common. Zippo.  Until, that is, we discovered we watched the same soap, “All My Children,” and that opened the floodgates of conversation. We  deliberated over the machinations of Erica Kane, and wondered if her mother, Mona would ever find true happiness with Charles Tyler, assuming, of course, he’d divorce Phoebe.  Fascinating stuff like this has led to many a bond between women.

I’ve been watching “One Life to Live,” for well over a decade.  So when I move there, I already have an advantage. I know all the townspeople and I’ve always wanted to live in a town where everybody knows each other.  Sure they have their problems. Infidelities, kidnappings, people returning from the dead, and people lying to each other about you name it. Alternate personalities and blackmail run rampant in Llanview. Indeed, the list of indiscretions is infinitely long.

But look on the bright side. At least I know where I’d stand. Llanview residents could lie to my face but I’d see right through them. I could even weave a tangled web of my own and introduce myself as a woman with a dark secret and nebulous past. I’d check into The Palace Hotel, the only decent hotel in the entire town. I’d also be sure to stop for a swim at the country club and a round of pool at a place called Rodi’s.

The only problem I see is that these characters don’t watch any TV themselves, unless it’s to forward the plot line, which happens only once in blue moon.  Everyone knows how much I love my TV shows so I know that’s going to be a problem.  And there are no movie theaters in Llanview either, which could be a deal breaker.

I’ve never seen any of the Llanview residents go shopping, so I’m assuming there’s no mall and worse, no Nordstrom’s. Bummer.  No grocery stores either from what I can tell, so I’m really going to have to depend on Amazon.com for all my needs.  There is a place to get your hair done and I’m definitely going to make an appoint when I get there, even though the woman who runs the salon has her hair all teased out and frankly, I’m not sure I want her to touch mine.

I’ll introduce myself to the chief of police and his wife, the district attorney, and make sure to stop by to meet Llanview’s mayor, a conniving woman who’s been married a gazillion times. Her last wedding ended up a wash though, when the groom was kidnapped by the bride’s ex-lover and hustled off to a prison in a faraway land.  All in the name of revenge.

Oh yes, I’m going to like it in Llanview.  The folks there are going to keep me hopping and I’ll do my best to keep them guessing as to my own identity.   It’s another world, if you ask me.

Father Knew Best, Sometimes

My world in Queens, circa 1960, revolved around my mother. To me, she was the end all. The bee’s knees. The most beautiful mother who was always there for me. My father, on the other hand, was of a different ilk. He wasn’t around much and didn’t go with us on family outings to the city. But that’s probably because he was spending his time downtown, getting an education.

My father, Enrique

It seems that when he came to the United States, my father decided that if he was going to make a decent life for himself and for his family, he first needed to get a degree.  He enrolled at New York University and he must have been there day and night, attending classes and studying late in the library, because his presence in our lives was minuscule at best.

And when he was around, he would yell and throw fits about anything and everything which absolutely terrified me.  He also enjoyed a good scare.  Like when he crept up on me when I was by myself in the basement, sent there to fetch the laundry basket for my mother.  Pouncing, he began to make strangling motions around my neck.  I cried in horror, which made him keel over with crazed laughter. I was only five.

Yet, despite this, my father had his “Father Knows Best” moments. At least when he wasn’t in his hyper Latin machismo mode. Like when I was 18 and about to go on an interview for a summer job. I had applied to be a live-in nanny for the Pellicane family’s four children (three boys and a girl).  My father insisted that he come along for the interview so that he could meet the family with whom I might be spending the summer.  He poured on his Latin charm for Mrs. Pellicane, taking her hand gently in his, admiring her well appointed Manhasset home. A regular Desi Arnaz meets Ricardo Montalban. During the interview, he asked questions and offered anecdotal information about his daughter (“She’s shy,” “A picky eater,” “Very impatient.”). I sat meekly beside him, silently mortified, and willed myself to disappear into the furnishings of the Pellicane home. I wanted to forget this interview ever happened. But the next day, when Mrs. Pellicane offered me the job, she cited as the key reason the fact that my father cared enough about me to take part in the interview.

Over the years, my first inclination would be to seek out my mother when I needed advice. Not my father. I considered him bull-headed and demanding. Yet, he was always there in the background, trying to be as invaluable to me as my mother.  I resisted. That is, until my marriage began to fall apart.

My mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Confiding in her was out of the question. I needed to talk, to get her insight, but since that wasn’t going to happen, I found myself turning to my father. He was 81 years old now and didn’t seem so macho anymore. During this time, my parents had moved to Florida and my father was receiving regular kidney dialysis. His legs were swollen, his body drained and he was just plumb tired of living. But his mind was intact.

The first time I called to tell him the news about my marriage, as a reflex, I braced myself for a scolding. I expected angry outbursts. I expected accusations that it was my fault, that I could have done more.  I anticipated unequivocal fury.  In its place, I got empathy and love. He listened as I cried and poured out my story. He quietly listened and when I could cry no more, he told me what I needed to hear. That he loved me with all his heart and that I would be ok.

Suddenly, with my mother in her own world, my father was there for me in a way I’d never seen before. It was as if my mother’s pre-Alzheimer’s spirit had taken over his body and, in a surprising twist of fate, it was now my father listening to me and sharing his wisdom.  I knew he was in pain from the dialysis, but during our conversations, he never let on.  It was the closest we’d ever been.  My mother now in la-la land and my father a beacon of hope and compassion.  The world was upside down and the impossible had come true.

Within the year, we buried my mother.  A few months after that, my father.  Hot headed and super macho, my father transcended all that he was, in order to give me what was there all along: his love. And maybe he didn’t always know best, but in the moments I needed him, he came through.