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Sunday, April 17, 2022

The Transcendent Chaos of ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’

Be forewarned: There is no way to adequately craft a proper review of Everything Everywhere All at Once without an inordinate number of adjectives and other qualifiers. In fact, it would likely be easier to create an extensive list of adjectives—with adverbial modifiers to drive the point home—to critique this extraordinary achievement in American filmmaking.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is the bombastic brainchild of the directing duo collectively known as Daniels—Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. The filmmakers previously helmed the 2016 surrealist comedy-drama Swiss Army Man, which saw Daniel Radcliffe playing a corpse with propulsive flatulence and an erection that doubles as a compass. Daniels bring that unique brand of off-kilter kookiness to their latest effort and then turn the sensory overload dial way up past the point of no return. Daniels effectively throw everything and the kitchen sink at the wall and—remarkably and improbably—everything sticks, everywhere, and (yes) all at once.

The incredible Michelle Yeoh toplines as Evelyn Wang, a Chinese-American immigrant and laundromat owner who, while being audited by the IRS, discovers that she must connect with different versions of herself from parallel universes in order to prevent the destruction of them all by an evil entity known as Jobu Tupaki. That’s a dramatic oversimplification of the plot, which also has Evelyn grappling with her daughter’s sexual orientation, learning of her husband’s petition for divorce, and stressing over the arrival of her judgmental father (the legendary James Hong) from China. Looming over all of it is frumpy, humorless IRS inspector Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis), who warns of foreclosure and repossession due to Evelyn’s woeful mismanagement of the business’ taxes.

Through a variant version of her husband, Waymond (The Goonies Ke Huy Quan all grown up), Evelyn learns that every choice made creates a new universe; these innumerable parallel universes make up the multiverse. In order for Evelyn to defeat Jobu Tupaki—a version of her daughter, Joy (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Stephanie Hsu) who’s capable of experiencing all universes at once and manipulating matter at will—she must repeatedly “verse-jump” and connect with the different versions of herself to access the skillsets and memories of her parallel universe counterparts. But there is inherent danger in verse-jumping with such abandon; Evelyn risks splintering her mind, which is what drove a once benign version of her daughter to become the self-hating Jobu.

In her many verse jumps, Evelyn sees how her life would have turned out having made a single different choice. In one, she’s a glamorous martial arts movie star who encounters a sophisticated version of a Waymond she left and never married—one who now rejects her. In another, she’s a lesbian married to Dierdre, in a bizarre world where humans have hot dogs for fingers and play the piano with their toes. In yet another, she and Joy are merely two rocks with googly eyes living on the edge of a cliff. Daniels excel at creating madcap, boundary-pushing dreamscapes within these multiple realities existing at once within the known realm of time and space.

Within their evocative and cacophonous labyrinth of storytelling, the directors employ an anything-goes audacity—a swirling cyclone of fertile ideas and heady concepts—and straddle the worlds of science fiction, comedy, drama, action, and martial arts. The nearly two-and-a-half-hour film moves at a frenetic pace, with nonstop martial-arts action and in-your-face slapstick that allow for no bathroom breaks. (Word to the wise: Only buy the small soda and sip judiciously). Despite the complexity of their convoluted plot, Daniels admirably keep things surprisingly coherent—even the technobabble makes sense.

Yet, despite its massive interdimensional scope, Everything Everywhere All at Once is surprisingly intimate in scale. Even as the film slingshots between realities, somewhere between super-powered pinky fingers and weaponized butt-plugs, its absurdity is matched only by its heart. While you’re strapped in and relinquishing yourself to the cathartic rush-release of Daniels’ delightfully gonzo rollercoaster ride of psychedelic visuals and bold tonal shifts, you don’t expect the film’s emotional core to sucker punch you so hard by the end. With its larger, overarching message about kindness being the strongest weapon, it’s a story of human connection explored here in the conflict and reconciliation between an Asian mother and daughter who learn to cherish each other again.

Anchoring that emotional core is Yeoh’s Herculean performance. The film reads like a love letter from Daniels to the 59-year-old actress, who’s given what’s easily the best role of her career. Yeoh adeptly juggles the myriad nuances of Evelyn’s multiverse counterparts with aplomb, never losing track of who she’s supposed to be at any given moment. That she’s able to play so many versions of, essentially, the same character is no small creative feat. She effortlessly switches from comedic to dramatic, from martial arts maestro to overwrought mother, without missing a single beat anywhere in the film. Yeoh’s Evelyn shows us that even when you feel like you are the worst possible version of yourself, there is hope.

Likewise, the film’s supporting cast is a treat. Arguably, Quan does as much heavy lifting as Yeoh, especially in being tasked with having to explain the more technical aspects of Daniels’ plot. Hsu is a pure joy (pun intended) as both disaffected twenty-something daughter and as the colorful, villainous embodiment of all that disaffection. (Fun fact: Hsu got the role after Awkwafina dropped out due to scheduling conflicts.) Hong, a legend in his own right, lends gravitas to his role as Evelyn’s father and it’s a hoot to see him deployed in the multiverse. Tallie Medel as Becky, Joy's girlfriend, also makes the most of what could have been a pedestrian role. Curtis, who’s become so comfortable in her own skin as an actor as she’s matured, is a real scene-stealer here. In the hands of a lesser actor, her crotchety Dierdre could have been played as a one-note comic relief character, but Curtis imbues her with so many subtle humanities, that she elevates Dierdre beyond the periphery. There’s a scene between Evelyn and Dierdre outside the laundromat toward the end of the film that is utterly pitch-perfect and shows why these two women are Hollywood royalty.

My only beef with Everything Everywhere All at Once has nothing to do with the film itself and more to do with its distributor, A24. Arguably one of the most ambitious and prestigious film outfits out there today, I’m baffled why they chose to release this virtuoso cinematic triumph so early in the year. My fear is that the film will be overlooked come awards season later this year—and that will be nothing short of criminal. The film, its directors, its screenplay, its score by Son Lux, Larkin Seiple’s cinematography, its countless technical achievements, and at least three of its actors—Yeoh and Quan in lead acting categories, Curtis in supporting—should all receive nominations from multiple awards bodies. I hope the members of these various awards institutions will remember this masterpiece film a few months from now amid the noise of the year-end slate of “prestige” films that take over the narrative leading up to nominations.

Somewhere between death and taxes are beautiful moments—and these brief snippets of time are what make life worth living. This is the essence of Everything Everywhere All at Once and Daniels—aided immeasurably by Yeoh and their ensemble—employ an unmatched artistic aptitude in bringing their vision to whimsical, technicolor life. It’s a masterclass in filmmaking that will enthrall you with its exquisitely choreographed martial arts sequences before bringing tears to your eyes with the weight of its profound questions and truths about life. Unlike anything you’ve seen before, Everything Everywhere All at Once is destined to be a classic, an amalgamation of genre anarchy that defies classification, subverts expectations, and explores existential matters with empathy and insight. This marvelously unhinged slice of cinematic maximalism is nothing short of a work of art—and not to be missed.

Just let go—and let Yeoh. 

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Buckets of Blood and Gerontological Madmen in 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre'

Horror fandom is a curious thing indeed. This week’s bemusement has been watching the horror faithful on social media extolling the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—the story of young people from out-of-town trespassing on other people's property and getting butchered by a chainsaw-wielding maniac named Leatherface—as a virtuous classic while in the same breath decrying the new TCM—a  story about young people from out-of-town trespassing on other people's property and getting butchered by a chainsaw-wielding maniac named Leatherface—as the stupidest thing they've ever seen. It's literally the same plot, just updated. It’s hard not to laugh out loud at the computer screen some days. I’m reminded of the tagline from Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left: “To avoid fainting, keep repeating, ‘It’s only a movie…’”

So, let’s unclutch those pearls and talk about the latest installment in the franchise that began with Tobe Hooper’s gritty 1974 slasher. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the ’22 film drops the “the” from its title) is directed by David Blue Garcia, with a screenplay by Chris Thomas Devlin, from an original story co-written by Fede Álvarez (also a producer on the film) and Rodo Sayagues. Originally, the production began with brothers Ryan and Andy Tohill (who directed 2018’s The Dig) at the helm, but the directors were replaced with Garcia after studio displeasure with the footage they shot. That’s never a good sign.

Ripping a page from the playbook David Gordon Green used for his 2018 relaunch of the Halloween franchise, the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre serves as a direct sequel to the original film—however it doesn’t necessarily retcon the sequels the way Green’s film trilogy does, with Álvarez stating in interviews that it's up to audiences “to decide when and how the events of the other movies happen.” Fair enough—and who cares, anyway, right? To tackle direct sequel problem #1—the 2014 death of Marilyn Burns, who played TTCM Final Girl Sally Hardesty—the filmmakers cast Irish actress Olwen Fouéré, an especially accomplished stage actor with about a dozen movie and TV credits each to her name. It’s excellent casting and Fouéré does the best with what she’s given; unfortunately, she’s not given anything other than a watered-down version of 2018’s Laurie Strode. To tackle direct sequel problem #2—the 2015 death of Gunnar Hansen, TTCM’s original Leatherface—Mark Burnham was cast in the role of the iconic horror villain. Burnham does a most respectable job given the big shoes he has to fill, but of course his character’s agility and stamina at (at least) age 70 requires a huge suspension of disbelief. Suffice to say that 2022 Leatherface is one fast, strong-ass motherfucker.

The new film opens as San Francisco speculators Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and Dante (Jacob Latimore)—with Melody's sister Lila (Elsie Fisher) and Dante's girlfriend Ruth (Nell Hudson) along for the ride—travel to the remote, long-abandoned Texas town of Harlow. Melody and Dante plan to auction off the town’s properties to create a trendy, heavily gentrified area for hipsters of every persuasion. Why, you ask, would said trendy hipsters with ample cash to burn pick an out-of-the-way, hot-as-Satan’s-ass locale like bumfuck Texas as an investment opportunity? No one really knows—and Lila even questions it aloud at one point in the film.

Upon the foursome’s arrival, they discover that one of the buildings—the town’s orphanage—is still occupied by the elderly Mrs. Mc (a welcome cameo by the wonderful Alice Krige) and a silent, towering older man. While enjoying some sweet tea provided by the congenial Mrs. Mc, a kerfuffle over who holds the rightful deed to the orphanage breaks out—and ends with Mrs. Mc suffering a heart attack. Fearful of the bad publicity, Ruth offers to accompany the sheriff and his deputy as they transport Mrs. Mc—and the not-so-mysterious hulking man—to the hospital. En route to the hospital, things go awry—so much so that hulking mute guy goes ballistic, kills almost everyone in the emergency rig, and peels the face off one of them. Leatherface is back—and he’s pissed. Cinematographer Ricardo Diaz shines in this gorgeously shot scene that has Leatherface standing in a field of dead sunflowers, holding up the skin of his new face. Ruth, who’s injured but alive, witnesses the rebirth of Leatherface and manages to get a radio transmission off before she’s (literally) gutted by him.

As Leatherface makes his way back to Harlow, a charter bus full of potential investors arrives and the property auction ensues. As word of Mrs. Mc’s death makes it back to Melody via Ruth’s last text before Leatherface’s ambulance ambush, local contractor Richter (Moe Dunford) hears her and Lila talking about it and takes Melody and Dante to task for causing Mrs. Mc’s heart attack and subsequent death. He confiscates the keys to the bus and their sports car, demanding proof that they had the right to evict Mrs. Mc before he’ll give them back. Discovering they don't have the deed showing they own the orphanage after all (oops!), Melody and Dante return to the creaky home for wayward boys to find it. Elsewhere, Sally Hardesty—her long grey hair and tank top giving us immediate Laurie Strode vibes—takes a call from the local gas station clerk who received Ruth’s last radio transmission, and he informs her that Leatherface is back. She arms up and heads out, adding an awesome cowboy hat to her survivor ensemble to perfect effect.

It's not giving too much away to say that Leatherface makes his way back to Harlow in what seems like record time and resumes his titular massacre once again. There are some over-the-top set pieces here—one of them pushed to the point of pure camp—and gorehounds will delight in the plethora of practical special make-up effects. The film is lean (at one hour and twenty-three minutes) and meaner than a rabid dog in the midday Texas sun getting poked repeatedly with a big stick. It’s all a heck of a lot of fun, even if the creative forces miss the boat almost entirely with the Sally Hardesty character. What could have been an awesome final chapter for survivor Sally is reduced to a mere sidenote, largely wasting Fouéré’s considerable talent. If anything, Texas Chainsaw Massacre reminds us how very important—crucial even—writers are to what we see and experience onscreen.

No, none of the characters are particularly memorable nor do we care when it’s their turn to meet the end of Leatherface’s chainsaw. No, making this film’s Final Girl a school shooting survivor adds nothing of note to her character or the plot. No, Leatherface’s speed and agility don’t make a lick of sense in the context of his chronological age. But 2022’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a lot of fun despite its myriad flaws—in that kind of mindless Saturday matinee, popcorn movie kind of way.

How best to enjoy this latest entry in the venerable horror franchise? Let go and let Garcia. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

2021: The Year in Television

With COVID-19 and its many increasingly sci-fi-sounding variants again curtailing group activities, trips to the theater were few and far between in 2021. (Read: I went once and was so paranoid and uncomfortable the entire time that I haven’t gone since.) Fortunately, between same-day streaming releases of theatrical films and the insanely high caliber of original television programming pouring out of our Smart TVs, we were at no loss for quality home viewing experiences in 2021.

Those of us old enough to remember when choices were limited to the big three (ABC/NBC/CBS) on network television thought that the addition of premium cable outlets like HBO and Showtime and Cinemax was monumental in and of itself. Then, basic cable expanded into original programming, and previously surfed-right-by filler channels like AMC and FX became destination viewing. Now, with the proliferation of streaming services (Netflix and Amazon Prime and Hulu and Paramount+ and HBO Max and Disney+ and Peacock and Apple+) our choices are myriad. Even the most diehard, dedicated TV aficionado has trouble keeping track and keeping up. We are truly living in another golden age of television.

The creative opportunities these streaming services have opened up for content creators have been unparalleled and have brought an exceptional diversity and quality of shows into our living rooms. Instead of three networks having to choose between hundreds of hopeful pilots for a limited number of primetime slots, television’s expansion into premium cable, basic cable, and (now) streamers has created an insatiable demand for new content that will attract new subscriber-viewers. That competition for must-see content has attracted high-end writers, directors, and actors to the medium. That’s especially great news for pandemic-weary audiences who desperately need the escapism right now.

2021 brought another exceptional slate of offerings into our homes. There were revivals of old favorites and murder mysteries and a historical drama chronicling the AIDS crisis. From notable literary adaptations to originals that explored weighty themes like ageism, racism, the cyclical nature of life and poverty in small towns, the concepts of agnosticism and atheism in religious faith, and man’s eternal, tail-chasing quest to discover happiness, television gave us much to enjoy and chew on this year. It was a year that brought career resurgence to comedic veterans Steve Martin and Martin Short, newfound respect for the versatility of perennial scene-stealer Jennifer Coolidge, and well-deserved accolades for the inestimable Jean Smart, who played the hell out of not one, but two, career-best roles in 2021. It was a year that saw adaptations of books by Ann Cleeves, Emily St. John Mandel, Philipp Meyer, and Liane Moriarty. It was a year that gave us two unforgettable limited series written and directed by guys named Mike that had everyone taking: The White Lotus from Mike White and Midnight Mass from Mike Flanagan.

Without further comment, these are my ten top television picks of 2021:

#10 Dexter: New Blood

#9 Station Eleven

#8 Only Murders in the Building

#7 It’s A Sin

#6 The Long Call

#5 Yellowjackets

#4 The White Lotus

#3 Mare of Easttown

#2 Hacks

#1 Midnight Mass

 

A few honorable mentions, in no particular order:

The Chair (the first season)

Halston

YOU (the third season)

American Rust

Nine Perfect Strangers

WandaVision

Yellowstone (the fourth season)

And Just Like That

Chucky (the first season)

Pose (the third and final season)

Them

Sunday, January 2, 2022

2021: The Year in Music

With the global pandemic that defined 2020 continuing on largely unabated in 2021 with surges and variants throwing monkey wrenches into the entertainment industry once again despite the availability of vaccines, music artists resumed a steadier release schedule than the year prior. Even as some artists resumed playing live dates while others postponed shows yet again over fears of rising infection rates, most resigned themselves to releasing their new music even if supporting it with a tour wasn’t a guaranteed source of income in 2021.

This was welcome news for music fans who lamented over slimmer pickings in 2020. Heck, 2021 even saw the long-awaited return of vocal juggernaut Adele with her first album of new material in six years. In last year’s recap, I noted that escapism was the prevailing theme—understandable considering the unprecedented circumstances we found ourselves in with lockdowns and mass casualties numbering in the hundreds of thousands. This year, artists found themselves more reflective—even those who surrounded themselves in uptempo beats—with songwriting taking center stage. Some musical veterans went back in time on their 2021 releases—from Shirley Manson and her Garbage bandmates who returned to the rebellious rage of earlier releases to Duran Duran who took a stroll down memory lane on their 15th album while managing to sound fresh and relevant. Some focused on the emotionality of stepping out of darkness and into the light, like Yebba on her exquisite debut and Adele on her cathartic fourth album. Yola and Valerie June each delivered gorgeous collections of folky Memphis soul songs about love and loss and the acceptance of bygones. Surprisingly, Billie Eilish found some bliss on her sophomore set, while—less surprisingly—Lana Del Rey picked up right where she left off on last year’s Norman Fucking Rockwell! and continued to musically chronicle the death of the American dream on her piercingly perceptive 7th studio album. Even when artists like Saint Motel and Laura Mvula expanded their music into gloriously bombastic walls of sound, it’s the lyrics that stood out over the beats.

In any event, this year’s annual Top 10 list again held steadfast to past trends and personal penchants: Heavily female artist skewed (7 out of 10, plus a female-fronted band) and at least one new discovery (Yebba). Less Brits than previous years, although I still managed to include four—Adele, Laura Mvula, Duran Duran, and Yola. Three bands make the list; no male solo singers managed the same this year.

All that said, down to the countdown. My favorite albums of 2021:

#10 THE ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK / Saint Motel

#9 DAWN / Yebba

#8 THE MOON AND STARS: PRESCRIPTIONS FOR DREAMERS / Valerie June

#7 HAPPIER THAN EVER / Billie Eilish

#6 CHEMTRAILS OVER THE COUNTRY CLUB / Lana Del Rey

#5 STAND FOR MYSELF / Yola

#4 FUTURE PAST / Duran Duran

#3 30 / Adele

#2 PINK NOISE / Laura Mvula

#1 NO GODS NO MASTERS / Garbage


Honorable Mentions: No formal ranking, but worthy of a listen or two.

·         Not Your Muse / Celeste

·         COLLAPSED IN SUNBEAMS / Arlo Parks

·         CALIFORNIAN SOIL / London Grammar

·         JOURNEY TO YOU / The Blow Monkeys

·         ONE WAY OUT / Melissa Etheridge

·         YOUNG HEART / Birdy

·         HI / Texas

·         WELCOME TO THE MADHOUSE / Tones and I

·         PRESSURE MACHINE / The Killers

·         THE BODY REMEMBERS / Debbie Gibson

·         BLUE BANISTERS / Lana Del Rey

·         HUNTER AND THE DOG STAR / Edie Brickell & New Bohemians

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Eulogy: Vincent Liaguno (1938-2021)

*Originally delivered as a live eulogy on December 8th, 2021 to those gathered to remember Vincent Liaguno at his funeral Mass at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Thank you all for being here today to remember and celebrate the life of my Dad, Vincent Liaguno—or “Vinnie” as most of you knew him or, if you really go back, “Tiny” which was his nickname back in his Arts High School days in the 1950s.

My Dad was the consummate gentleman, never without a smile or kind word for anyone he encountered. Describing my Dad as “outgoing” is an understatement. He was a natural-born storyteller who loved to socialize in any setting—and he was never without a joke. We fell into the habit many years ago of speaking every Sunday after he’d gotten home from Mass and his breakfasts out with his fellow ushers here at St. Leo’s. After he’d recount his lab values for the week—which was usually capped off by telling me that the dietician at dialysis had put a sticker on his lab report for a job well done—he would tell me which usher’s turn it was to pay, what he’d ordered for breakfast, and then he’d end with whatever joke he’d told the priest who had said Mass that week. More Sunday’s than not, the call usually concluded with me exclaiming, “Dad! You did NOT tell that joke to your priest!” and we’d laugh.

I have so many wonderful memories of my Dad growing up—and I could speak for days about what an amazing father he was, especially remarkable since his own Dad, my grandfather Anastacio, passed away when he was very young, and he and his sister, Gloria, were raised largely alone by my hard-working grandmother, Angelina, with some wonderful support from my great-uncle Sammy, who was—in many ways—a surrogate Dad to them. My favorite memories of my Dad are of our “buddy days” on Saturdays when he’d take me to a matinee movie and then to this little hole-in-the-wall roadside burger joint in Fords, New Jersey, called Frank’s Fireplace where we’d enjoy a cheeseburger and a frosted mug of root beer together. There were the countless summer weekends when he’d take me down the shore to swim at Sandy Hook beach. Or the night we watched the movie Airplane on HBO at home and he was on the floor, on all fours, laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe. Later, as I got older, my Dad faithfully played the role of chauffeur and chaperone, taking me and my best high school friends Martin, Mark, and Greg to the movies. My poor Dad sat through so many gory horror movies; he deserves sainthood for that alone. And he never complained once because that’s just the kind of Dad he was.

My Dad always provided for me—from all the food / shelter / clothing basics to making sure I had a first-rate parochial school education. He worked hard to afford our home and that Catholic School tuition, and one of the greatest gifts he gave me was my work ethic. Those who knew my Dad also know how generous he was. Nothing gave him greater pleasure than to pick up a dinner tab—and he never forgot any of his family or friends at Christmas time or on birthdays. Beginning to get my Dad’s affairs in order this past week and going through his bank records and checkbooks, the depth of his generosity and charitable giving was apparent. And that kindness extended to virtual strangers—no one would be surprised to learn that once we convinced Dad that it was safer for him to use the valet parking at dialysis that he would prepare little baggies each with a dollar bill and a peppermint patty as a tip for the valet attendants.

As I got older and stepped into adulthood, my Dad and I had a few bumps along the way—as any two strong-willed Italian men are wont to do. But my Dad and I found our way to a wonderful, close relationship marked by mutual respect, admiration, and—most of all—love. My Dad was my biggest cheerleader—sometimes embarrassingly so—and never missed an opportunity to tell me that he was proud of the man I’d become. In his later years, he loved nothing more than to visit Brian and I in New York for Christmas or during the summer, although we secretly suspect that he really came to spend time with our Miniature Schnauzer, Coco, who he loved dearly and who left us in August—now, we know, to prepare for the arrival of his favorite “old man friend” as we used to jokingly refer to my Dad. During those visits, my Dad loved spending time and holiday gatherings with our dearest circle of friends, who just adored my Dad as evidenced by some of them driving several hundred miles this morning out from the eastern end of Long Island to be here today to honor him.

My Dad taught me many things over the course of my life—from the importance of good manners and firm handshakes to working hard for what you want in life and the magnitude of having a loyal circle of friends. But those who knew my Dad also know that he taught us all a great lesson in resiliency. No matter what challenges life lobbed at him, he’d figure out a way to rise above it; and if he couldn’t, he quickly adjusted and learned to live with it. How many people do you know who lived with the inconveniences and limitations of dialysis three times a week for more than 25 years—rarely, if ever, complaining and just working life around it? Whether it was the heartbreak of the dissolution of a relationship or a health setback, Dad took a deep breath, found strength in his abundant faith, and recalibrated.

As an only child, I was given both the heavy emotional burden and great blessing last week of being with my Dad when he transitioned from this earthly life to what he faithfully believed came next. It was an intimate and profound experience between the two of us that I haven’t quite been able to fully process yet, but I realized in the days after that I’ve come to realize that Dad gave me one final gift—an understanding of grace. Sure, as a dutiful Catholic school student I memorized the definition many years ago, likely in preparation to receive one of the sacraments. But this week, in the days leading up to and following his death, I understand it in tangible terms. From the night nurse who sensed my fatigue and instinctively brought me a cup of ice water and a can of ginger ale the night I arrived at the hospital after a long, eight-hour drive in from Michigan to my Dad’s longtime nephrologist, Dr. Ciampaglia, who came to his room a few hours before his passing and just sat with me for a good 30 minutes, recounting how she’d first met my Dad during her residency at Temple more than 25 years ago. In the immediate moments following his passing, the nurse’s aide who quietly slipped into the room behind me as I sobbed over my beautiful Dad and gently rubbed my back. Or the following morning, after little sleep, as I pulled up to the Starbucks drive-in, desperate for a latte and instead getting a cheery disembodied voice to take my order and then ask if I’d like to participate in the holiday question of the day. I choked out that my father had just died, and that disembodied voice grew immediately conciliatory and apologized, ushering me forward. At the drive-up window, the young lady had tears in her eyes and recounted how she’d lost her Dad around the holidays several years before and that she understood and that she was sorry. Then she handed me my latte and told me it was on her. I understood that these simple moments—these amalgamations of empathy and kindness from the purest part of the human heart—are grace personified.

My Dad—a man who loved Sinatra and the Yankees, a man who loved to dance, a man who was always the sharpest-dressed one in the room, a man who was never without a joke to tell—was also a man of tremendous grace.

Rest easy in eternal peace, Dad. You’ve more than earned your angel’s wings.

Vincent Liaguno
12/30/1938 - 12/03/2021