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Jacqueline Mary Nargi (1972 - 2023) Life Story
By Liam Otero
It does not suffice to describe my mom Jacqueline Otero’s life in a one or two para... Read More
Jacqueline Mary Nargi (1972 - 2023) Life Story
By Liam Otero
It does not suffice to describe my mom Jacqueline Otero’s life in a one or two paragraph summation. She was a multidimensional, larger-than-life figure who left such an indelible mark that will forever be remembered by countless individuals who hail from all corners of the world. No, this is not hyperbole. She really knew people from all over - the British Isles, France, Canada, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Australia, Spain, Brazil, Israel, Jordan, Sweden, Italy, Peru, Morocco, Turkey, the United States (from coast-to-coast), and countless other countries.
Mom’s five-decade existence was one that perfectly epitomized the ethos of Iggy Pop’s classic “Lust for Life” (1977). She was by no means a passenger who was along for the ride, for she was the driver who navigated the roads of life.
Determination, fortitude, and independence were among her greatest gifts that she mastered with aplomb.
Instead of breaking down mom’s life in a chronological fashion, I believe it is more apt to describe her life along a thematic trajectory that gets at the heart of her multilayered persona. Most would agree that even this lengthy biographical profile does not capture the entirety of Jacqueline Otero’s essence - a multivolume text along the lines of William Manchester’s three-volume biography The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill would have been more appropriate.
Mom’s multicultural background provided an excellent framework for her eclectic interests and exuberant disposition: Northern Italian (particularly Venetian and Neapolitan), German, Dutch, Czech, Slovak, and possibly Swedish ancestry.
Just to draw from a couple examples out of far too many to mention, her Italian forebears were largely tailors which likely informed mom’s obsession with fashion as an art (as an aside, one of her relatives emigrated to the United States from Italy and embarked on a successful career as a costume designer in Hollywood until his passing). In recent years, mom successfully tracked her Germanic roots as far back as the Middle Ages and learned that her family has strong Berlin roots due to several descendents holding prestigious positions as Burgermeisters (city mayors). This arguably contributed to her emerging flair for political discourse during the heyday of the late-1980s Culture Wars and the consensus politics of the 1990s Clinton years.
Mom was a cradle-to-grave Catholic as she was raised in a Catholic household and spent most of her K-12 education (with the exception of Grades 7 & 8) in the Catholic private school systems of St. Mary’s in Rutherford and Immaculate Conception High School in Lodi. Although she experienced inner struggles with her faith over a period of decades, mom never fell entirely away from her Catholic roots owing primarily to a lifelong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Moreover, she cites her Guardian Angel as another potent force that kept her protected from physical and spiritual threats throughout young adulthood.
In 2021, she experienced a profound spiritual awakening that amounted to a vigorous faith renewal upon her “accidental” discovery of the all-loving life force that emanates from Jesus Christ’s teachings on His Divine Mercy as communicated through Saint Faustina Kowalska’s Diary.Although many have known me to identify as religious in the past, I came to the realization that I was very mistaken about this self-labeling as I had never really lived a life of faith for I knew little and held many erroneous views. In reality, I was an agnostic for the first 23 years of my life without ever knowing it. Thanks to mom’s spiritual leadership, she guided both me and my dad back to the Catholic faith (like mom, my dad is a cradle-to-grave Catholic). Had she never accomplished this, I very likely would have gone down one of two paths: a full-on agnostic or a lukewarm Catholic who seldom practiced any semblance of true faith.
In addition to her steadfast admiration for Catholicism as a whole and her reverence for the Virgin Mary and the Divine Mercy message, mom expressed fervent admiration for a number of Saints, Blesseds, and Venerables in the Church, including: St. Jude Thaddeus, St. Bernadette, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Catherine Laboure, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. John Vianney, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Padre Pio, St. Anthony of Padua, St. John Paul II, St. Teresa of Avila, Bl. Bartolo Longo, Bl. Carlo Acutis, Ven. Fulton J. Sheen, Father Paul of Moll and Mother Angelica (the latter two she insists are on the road to sainthood), among numerous others.
Devoted wife and mother is a 100% accurate description of Jacqui. She first met my dad on Christmas Day of 1994, and they began dating in 1995. After a somewhat heady start to their relationship that resulted in three breakups, they did wind up falling in true love with one another by 1996 and dad proposed to her soon after. The thought of going through a traditional wedding ceremony and enduring the stresses of months-long planning was too much for mom, so the two of them eloped at New York City Hall on January 17, 1997. In the hours that followed, they went back to their Ditmars, Queens apartment to eat Burger King and watch Star Wars.
On March 23, 1998, mom gave birth to me at Beth Israel Hospital in Lower Manhattan. After going through 39 hours of labor, she welcomed me into the world at around 8pm EST, which just so happened to be the exact time the 70th Academy Awards Ceremony took place all the way on the opposite side of the country in Los Angeles.
Dad and I were blessed with such a phenomenal woman who served as a remarkable moral compass in our lives. Mom laid the groundwork of understanding right from wrong, both spiritually and secularly. Loyalty was a god-given gift that she embodied, which made her our Number One supporter.
As a wife, she was so invested in my father, from being on top of his physical health to openly expressing an interest in his personal & family histories. Although they may not have been married in a church, mom maintained over the years that she felt that she was making a vow before God to dedicate her life to marriage. Over the last few years, mom and dad wanted to renew their wedding vows, but COVID and other external factors interrupted these plans. Soon after mom entered hospice, she elected to renew her wedding vows by saying to the priest “Let’s do it!”. It was an impromptu ceremony that just so happened to coincide with Halloween, and it was replete with balloons, votive candles, and even makeshift wedding rings. All of this was orchestrated by the fantastic staff at The Villa Marie Claire Hospice Center in Saddle River, New Jersey. Next to her wedding day in 1997 and my birth, this was one of mom’s happiest memories of all time.
As her son, mom continually encouraged me to embrace my individuality through my interests, pursuits, and aspirations, no matter how strange or far-fetched they may seem to others. One of her missions in life was to introduce me to great music, film, literature, and art from an early age. These will be briefly discussed in later categories, but I can resolutely affirm that my personal, professional, and academic interests and passions were strongly inspired by my relationship with mom. Long car rides with hours-worth of music in the background, art-making sessions together, viewing classic & international cinema, and attending alternative music concerts were just a few of the myriad ways in which we bonded. The open-expression of love and encouragement of discussing feelings & emotions in our household was a recipe for the closeness of our relationship. She was my closest confidante with whom we exchanged our thoughts, opinions, anxieties, and dreams. Because of how close we were, I actually referred to mom as “Jack” and would often preface a heart-to-heart conversation with “Hey Jack, can I bare my soul to you?” and she, too, would open with this statement. We even had our own secret handshake!
It goes without saying that mom excelled at the culinary arts. Although she often kept a tight lip on select family recipes, mom was always open about the types of meals she enjoyed cooking for me, my dad, and others.
When we used to live in North Carolina, authentic Italian cuisine was like finding a needle in a haystack. In the 2000s, there were hardly any businesses that catered to true Italian cuisine (in our family, we turned up our noses to Olive Garden as fake Italian food). Yet, mom’s creativity inspired her to bake traditional Italian recipes that were mostly absent in the American South. For my dad’s Christmas parties at Barnes & Noble, she regularly baked biscotti in multiple flavors that won the hearts and stomachs of many who still yearn for the sweetness of her homemade Italian desserts.
In my Senior year of high school, I was a member of the Academic Decathlon team and we collectively decided to hold a Christmas Party in which all of the food would be based on our respective ethnic backgrounds. Although much of my heritage is Italian, mom was up for a challenge as she decided to contribute a more Northern European food to the event: Bavarian beer rolls. This German culinary delight was dense with the strong flavor of Hofbrau beer.
As for our regular day-to-day meals, mom never settled for the baseline foods as she always incorporated her own originality. The standard chicken-rice/potato-vegetable meal was always treated with a delectable excitement in her choice of dishes and how she customized them. A few dishes worth citing: rolled chicken with wild rice and breaded eggplant, zesty lime chicken with Spanish rice and roasted potatoes topped with herbs, shrimp scampi interspersed with Mediterranean vegetables, etc. Thanksgiving and Christmas was always a time for mom to show off her exceptional mastery of oven-cooked meals: chicken, turkey, meatloaf, Cornish hen, ham, and stew.
For almost the entirety of her life, mom held an ardent admiration for all aspects of life in the British Isles - history, culture, politics, literature, cuisine, music, film & television, fashion, art, etc. This personal affinity for both the British and Irish ways of life likely stemmed from an early exposure to classic literature by way of her mother and Aunt Andrea (See Literature category for specific examples).
Access to British programming on American television (particularly PBS) exposed her to the likes of Keeping Up Appearances, Are You Being Served?, Miss Marple (the 1980s series starring Joan Hickson; she was very specific about which actress played Miss Marple), The Young Ones, Vicar of Dibley, Monarch of the Glen, Father Ted, Rumpole of the Bailey, Absolutely Fabulous, Midsomer Murders, Blackadder, The Avengers (absolutely zero relation to the Marvel superhero franchise), Fawlty Towers, The Prisoner, Last of the Summer Wine, Eastenders, Miranda, Rosemary and Thyme, French and Saunders, every Alan Partridge program, Prime Suspect, The Thick of It, Spaced, The IT Crowd, Thorne, Waking the Dead, and innumerable others.
Mom was an astute follower of British football for over 35 years, of which Manchester United and Port Vale were prime favorites. However, her close watching of various levels of football matches put her in close contact with members of the hooligan culture who wound up bonding with mom over the sport (even if they came from opposing teams) and music. Other aspects of her love of British culture overlap with several of the other categories below.
Mom wielded such an impressive command over humor, it truly was an innate gift. The totality of her humor can best be described as acerbic. Her caustic remarks and on-the-fly responses were enough to evoke the most hearty laughs from even the most stoic people (which she proved time and again). Mom was not the type of person to make jokes as this is a different brand of humor. Rather, she was an observational commentator whose responses are characterized in the following ways: exaggerated descriptions of a situation, over-the-top emphasis on certain words or phrases, incorporation of an over-inflated number, references to historical/literary/cultural events, self-deprecation, and much more.
A few examples of mom’s quotes to elucidate the style of her humor:
- Since the dawn of time, my father has talked about how much he loves ranch-style houses.
- I’m too dark and profane for the Hallmark Channel.
- I’ve been social distancing for over 40 years just like the Medieval Catholic ascetics who used to live up in caves and have their food brought to them by villagers which they’d have hoisted to them on some kind of antiquated pulley system. That’s the kind of life I want.
- Why does Stella [our cat] keep flinging her excrement out of the litter box?
Is she Pele?
- Stop bending my detention slip from high school! You can’t just get those, you have to earn it.
- My son Liam couldn’t catch a frisbee if I handed it to him.
- My husband’s Google Maps is stuck in the 17th Century.
- Mike Pence looks like an animated monument for a stool softener or Metamucil.
- Mom, I know how you feel about Pope Francis. No, I don’t think he’s going to be personally taking your confession at St. Mark’s Catholic Church all the way down in Charlotte, North Carolina.
- You think Pope Francis is on his hands and knees using a soft-scrub and Lysol to clean the bathtub of coronavirus? No, I’m sure he’s not shamwowing his shower or hanging damp rids. The Pope is not there worrying about getting the OxyClean Odor Blaster.
It would be criminal to write about mom’s life and completely neglect to mention how music shaped her experiences. Music formed such an integral facet of her existence from childhood up to her final moments. Her musical tastes were incredibly versatile due to early exposure to a multitude of artists. During her formative years in the 1970s, she already developed an appreciation for an impressive range of artists and genres, including: 1960s girl groups like The Supremes, The Ronettes, and The Chiffons; the lively jazz of Bobby Darin, Dizzy Gillespie, Henry Mancini, and Dave Brubeck; 1960s Counterculture groups like Janis Joplin’s Big Brother and the Holding Company, Sly & the Family Stone, The Who, and The Rolling Stones; and classic country rock like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers.
By the 1980s, the expansion of her musical tastes went into hyperdrive, partially due to the advent of MTV in 1981. However, this growth in musical appreciation was mostly derived from her own independent searches through second-hand record stores, magazines, and music programs (Yo! MTV Raps was a favorite). It feels almost insulting to narrow this down to bands & artists according to genres, which is why it is better to cite a litany of favorites irrespective of categorization that she encountered during or around this decade: Debbie Harry, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Human League, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Grandmaster Flash, INXS, The Cure, LL Cool J, Prince, The Smiths, The Pogues, Joy Division, R.E.M., The Go-Gos, The Police, Thomas Dolby, Bad Brains, Fugazi, Madness, The Misfits (the Glenn Danzig years), The B-52s, The Damned, The Jam, Tears for Fears, Elvis Costello, Social Distortion, Motorhead, N.W.A., The Buzzcocks, The Stranglers, The Fall, The Psychedelic Furs, Public Image Ltd., The Specials, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Public Enemy, Crowded House, Sisters of Mercy, Talking Heads, Thompson Twins, Devo, The Bolshoi, Culture Club, Oingo Boingo, Gary Numan, Adam Ant, The Dead Milkmen, Eurythmics, A Flock of Seagulls, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The Godfathers, Naked Raygun, X-Ray Spex, Ramones, Run DMC, Yaz, Sinead O’Connor, Stone Roses, Style Council, Spandau Ballet.
The 1990s was a unique chapter in mom’s life that is deserving of an entire book in itself. Routine late night trips away from the hum-drum domesticity of the New Jersey suburbs to the frenetic, fast-paced atmosphere of New York acclimated her to the subcultures that frequented the city’s underground club scenes. Batcave, The Bank, Limelight, and Absolution are just a few of the many clubs with which she was affiliated. During this era, she channeled her musical obsession into a unique profession that employed few women: DJ. Adopting the name “Jacqui O.”, mom drew from her vast knowledge of music to spin a variety of songs in seamless transitions that comported with a genre-specific theme. In other instances, she swiftly started off with one genre of music before effectively segueing into a completely different category. Between the 1990s and the early-2020s, mom’s music tastes naturally expanded at an even more considerable rate. However, her work in the New York City club scene made her readily attuned to bands and musicians who were indie or alternative, associated with more niche genres, or completely defied the label of “commercial” music. Similar to her discoveries in the 1980s, mom embarked on extensive independent research to find the next generation of musical greats.
Again, it is much more productive to list the variety of artists she enjoyed listening to during this momentous period, Amy Winehouse, House of Pain, The Snuts, Primal Scream, Pulp, Rosetta Stone, New Candys, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Fugees, Girls Under Glass, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Dirty Vegas, Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy, Happy Mondays, Henry Rollins, The Jesus and Mary Chain, M.I.A., The Verve, The Strokes, UNKLE, Radiohead, Weezer, The White Stripes, Primus, The XX.s she enjoyed listening to during this momentous period: Oasis/Beady Eye/Liam Gallagher (her son’s namesake), No Doubt, Dead Can Dance, Kasabian, Mos Def, Amy Winehouse, House of Pain, The Snuts, Primal Scream, Pulp, Rosetta Stone, New Candys, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Fugees, Girls Under Glass, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Dirty Vegas, Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy, Happy Mondays, Henry Rollins, The Jesus and Mary Chain, M.I.A., The Verve, The Strokes, UNKLE, Radiohead, Weezer, The White Stripes, Primus, The XX.
Mom was a voracious reader who devoured Classic & Modern literature, and everything in between. She had such an extraordinary gift of memorization that she could recite lengthy poems and literary passages off the top of her head with no difficulty at all (the same could be said for quite possibly thousands of individual song lyrics - again, this is not hyperbole). Some of her favorite poems that she often recited and reflected upon include John Greenleaf Whittier’s “Barbara Frietchie”, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Children’s Hour”, Rudyard Kipling’s “If”, and Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” (mom would want me to put it on the record that she was forever frustrated by society’s continual misinterpretation of the poem’s meaning, for many claim that the line “I took the road less traveled by, And that has made all the difference” implies a happy ending when, according to her more sage analysis, it is purposefully open to interpretation for any number of possibilities that are not necessarily a happy ending).
Her favorite playwrights include Moliere, William Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, and Albert Camus. Most are familiar with “Shakespeare in the Park”, but mom was quite an enthusiastic patron of “Moliere in the Park” back in the 1990s and early-2000s!
It would take too much space to list each and every literary work she loved, which is why it is better to chronicle her favorite authors: Ruth Rendell, J.D. Salinger, S.E. Hinton, F. Scott Fitzgerald (This Side of Paradise was her preference over The Great Gatsby), Neil Gaiman, Agatha Christie, George Orwell, Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, Brett Easton Ellis (only the early works), Stephen King (only the early works), E.E. Cummings, John Keats, Norton Juster, Voltaire, Geoffrey Chaucer, Alexandre Dumas, John Milton, John Steinbeck, Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson, Truman Capote, Kurt Vonnegut, Roald Dahl, Aldous Huxley, William Wordsworth.
Mom’s lifelong infatuation with fashion as a form of artistic expression likely originated with her regular viewings of Style with Elsa Klensch. She had a natural eye for aesthetic harmony in just about every aspect of visual culture, to which fashion was an important component. Haute-couture was, perhaps, the primary mode of fashion that she most revered, particularly as embodied in the works of the following designers: Alexander McQueen, Thierry Mugler, Anna Sui, Vivienne Westwood, Issey Miyaki, Hubert de Givenchy, Coco Chanel, Anna Wintour, Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint-Laurent, Giovanni Versace, Betsey Johnson, Stella McCartney, Norma Kamali, etc.
As briefly mentioned earlier, much of the television mom watched throughout her life hailed from the British Isles. However, this was by no means the only kind of programming she viewed. She was a true cinephile who possessed a tremendous affinity for film as an art based on the eclectic directors whose works she followed over the decades, including: the Coen Brothers, Robert Altman, Alfred Hitchcock, John Singleton, Michelangelo Antonioni, Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Sidney Lumet, John Woo, Martin Scorsese (his films before Gangs of New York), Satyajit Ray, Francois Truffaut, Brian de Palma, Jean Renoir, Wes Anderson, Bernardo Bertolucci, Jean-Luc Godard, Ingmar Bergman, Stanley Kubrick, David Fincher, Spike Lee, Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, John Huston, David Lynch, Wim Wenders.
Much credit must be given to mom for exposing me to the works of the above directors. However, a particular memory that is worth mentioning is when she introduced me to the Turner Classic Movies Channel in 2008 when I was 10 years old. I will never forget that Summer when she and I watched dozens upon dozens of classic films that forged my own appreciation for cinema, including: Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960), The African Queen (1951), The Long, Long Trailer (1954), Daddy Long Legs (1955), Some Like It Hot (1959), The Trouble with Angels (1966), Gypsy (1962), Auntie Mame (1958), The Egg and I (1947), The Lady Vanishes (1938), The Three Faces of Eve (1957), The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), etc.
As a patron of the arts, this list would not be complete without discussing mom’s work as an artist and her personal admiration for specific movements, styles, artists, and mediums.
Mom was a self-taught multidisciplinary artist who worked in the following mediums: collage, pen & ink drawing, mixed media, sculpture, and graphic design. Collage was her favorite medium as she found it gave her carte-blanche to create richly layered compositions full of images culled from a multitude of sources, including out-of-print magazines, old books, local newspapers, and other textual paraphernalia (National Geographic offered a plenitude of figurative subjects). This strategic selection of images yielded highly detailed, surrealistic arrangements that often served as autobiographical portraits - both in the literal and metaphorical sense. On a technical level, mom’s naturally steady hand made it conducive for her to cut out the most intricate shapes and forms. Additionally, her stellar organizational skills led her to store cut outs into boxes and drawers based on visual and thematic attributes, including: Picture Frames, Eyes, Butterflies, Leaves, Planets, Statues, Backgrounds, etc.
While working as a DJ in the New York club scene of the 1990s, mom was also employed as a graphic designer who created original fliers for themed music nights that included 80s New Wave, German Darkwave, Goth, and Apocalyptic Folk. However, this was achieved at a time before Photoshop and other advanced graphic design software became commonplace. Astoundingly, she relied upon a rudimentary photo editing tool to conceptualize visually complex fliers that reveal her exceptional understanding of the interrelationships between color, typography, spacing, symmetry/asymmetry, and image placement/combination.
Having worked with figurative subjects for most of her life, mom came to embrace abstract art (specifically Geometric Abstraction) in the last few years. She produced aesthetically dynamic fields of colorful circles of varying sizes that frame one another in symphonic sequences. Concurrently, she fused figuration and abstraction by tracing the silhouettes of heads turned at a three-quarter angle. Instead of inserting physiognomic traits, she filled in the heads with an asymmetrical arrangement of polygonal shapes that overlap with one another in elaborate layouts.
Mom’s artistic influences include the following artists: Richard Hamilton, Mark Ryden, Elizabeth McGrath, Tomi Ungerer, Fernando Botero, Jan van Eyck, Jean Fouquet, Master of the Playing Cards, Max Ernst, Henri Matisse, Antoni Gaudi, Salvador Dali (very select pieces like Santiago el Grande), Jackson Pollock, Yayoi Kusama, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, etc.
Jacqueline's Family will recieve her friends Tuesday November 14th from 3:00 to 7:00pm at the Calhoun-Mania Funeral Home, 19 Lincoln Ave., Rutherford, NJ. Her Funeral will take place on Wednesday November 15th, gathering 8:30am at the funeral home for a 9:30am Celebration of Life Mass of Christian Liturgy at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, East Rutherford. Interment Calverton National Cemetery, Calverton, NY.
In lieu of flowers donations may be made to St. Jude's Children Research Hospital, 262 Danny Thomas Place, Memphis, TN 38105.
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