Baton Rouge

You either loved Ed or hated him, there was no in between.

Douglas Wesley Partin, retired and deceased Teamster leader, and Big Daddy’s little brother, in his self-published 2016 autobiography: “From My Brother’s Shadow: Teamster leader Doug Partin tells his side of the story”

I wasn’t surprised about the bacon. The day before, on the plane ride to Havana, I read in The Lonely Planet that pork in a Cuban family’s home is a treat, a celebration among generation who had gone without, like America after the great depression or much of Europe after both world wars. After the Berlin Wall fell and Cuba lost its Soviet benefactor, famine on the small island lasted almost a decade. Everyone ate all the pigs, chickens, and varmits from the marshes, and the average person lost 22 pounds (more than I ever lost in a wrestling season, which sucks for them; but, as a kid from Louisiana, hunting marsh varmits sounded fun). I’ve been through a few military schools centered around food and sleep deprivation, and I learned enough to know I don’t want to experience hunger again. Being woken up to the smell of bacon crackling on a stove and people making breakfast for you is a gift few people appreciate deeply.

I’m mostly vegetarian, or at least try to be every now and then, but I indulge in seafood when I travel to islands and am not adverse to eating anything someone puts in front of me. Even The Buddha’s last meal had been pork, because he was begging with his bowl and a villager gave it to him, and I’m not so spoiled that I’d decline bacon made by a host family. I’d be an asshole to decline it and ask for an acai bowl or fresh avocado toast, especially if I followed by complaining about the less than ideal shower in their master bedroom. Instead, I looked forward to my first bacon in years. Bacon makes me drool, and I found myself salivating like Pavlov’s dogs.

I wolfed down my first helping of bacon and eggs with two glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice and bitter Cuban coffee tamed with milk and sugar. I chatted with the hosts, and asked if they’d adopt me; they debated, but decided they had enough on their plate. They were spry elders with children at work and grandkids in school, all of whom lived at their casa particular. The grandkids shared a room, and they rented their old room to help support their family now that they couldn’t work. Cuba paid for what was necessary, but they wanted a few luxuries and hoped to take their grandkids traveling one day. I mentioned what The Buddha taught, the nuance between earning your living vs earning your livelihood, and they said they couldn’t agree more, that every day was a gift. I agreed. When they asked about my family, I said I wanted to see if my mom had called, and they were pretty sure the Plaza de San Francisco de Asi was the best place for a gringo to get public WiFi. I thanked them, said “hasta luego,” brushed my teeth, left their casa, and meandered towards the plaza with a full belly and a sense that, if I were hit by a bus or have a heart attack on the way, I would die without regrets.

I had a spring in my step as I walked along residential back streets. I used a map from my Lonely Planet to force me to read street signs, and, when I inevitably got off the path, to chat with people and get directions to the plaza. I shopped a bit along the makeshift route, careful to mind the only awkward visa requirement of not exchanging currency with government owned businesses. I sought out private vendors, and bought another WiFi card and a pocket knife and a small pair of needle nosed pliers and tucked them into my daypack. I walked along downtown Havana backstreets, looking at shop windows and seeing what I knew and learning what I didn’t. I returned to the same spot in the Plaza de San Francisco de Assi, and learned that Cristi had been unable to reach Wendy. I tried to call again, but got her voice mail again. I left another message; two would be enough to let her know I wanted to listen.

I sat cross-legged, but not noticably so, in the plaza to wait an hour or two for Wendy to call back, in case she checked her messages and called back. To pass time, I organized my daypack.

Almost everything I carried had ulterior motives that I’d only discuss if an opportunity presented itself. The daypack was an ultralight waterproof packable bag from Sea-To-Summit, founded by an Australian entrepreneur whose name I never remember. The Lonely Planet listed the names of the husband and wife who founded it in 1973, and I knew they had recently sold their business to BBC for a 51 million Euros or so. I had ordered the book and bag from Jeff Bezos’s Amazon, using my Steve Jobs iPhone, and with voice commands spoken through my earbuds or iBuds or whatever they’re called. My phone had a translation app downloaded, and if I had decent WiFi it could even translate in almost real-time, like a Babble Fish from The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Though not obvious, I had paid for my plane tickets using PayPal, the company that earned a young engineer named Elon Musk $121 Million after PayPal went public. I could point to more tangible examples in store windows, like the ubiquitous Spanx founded by the world’s first self made female entrepreneur, a former Disney World employee and stand up comedian named Sara Blakely. She had bombed the Florida State law school entrance exam, but iterated her prototypes and learned to patent and eventually got the last laugh.

In Havana, I also carried a Lonely Planet guidebook, a deck of cards, four Kennedy half dollars post-1969 (Kennedy halves used to be pure silver, and silver is soft and dents when I inevitably drop one onto concrete), and a handful of miscellaneous personal items like a pack of gum and hand wipes, and a spoon. (I like yogurt and ice cream, but dislike throwing away plastic spoons). A few years before, I began adding reading glasses and a telescoping hiking pole to my daypack, though I had forgotten the pole on this trip. I used to forget my glasses, too, before I acquiesced to the inevitable. Most of us get sick or loose senses at some point, but it’s hard to accept gracefully. I’m not Coach, who scooted his reading glasses up along his nose to read a few lines from The Daily Bread to us after every practice, or Uncle Bob, who accepted his situation and let me bathe his body and wipe his ass for the final two months of his life, when he was paralyzed from spinal cancer and to weak to roll over. Or Granny, who smoked between radiation treatments and said she’d die like Uncle Bob, without regrets. All were consistently happier than most people I’ve ever known have been on their best days. I’m sure I’ll know why one day; until then, I tweak my daypack packing list gradually, resisting my aging body, and clinging to what used to be the best packing list to carry.

For decades, my daypack included a homemade first aid kit. The Havana version included Band-Aides (an off brand aide, but I call them Band-Aids, just like I use a Klenex and a Q-Tip, and used to Zerox paperwork) and small packets of antibacterial healing cream; dimen-hydramine pills for rashes and bug bites and, in a pinch, motion sickness prevention (motion sickness pills are dyphen-hydromine); an atropine injector, like the ones used in the first Gulf war in case of chemical attack, and, more practically, for people who have severe allergies to bee stings or shellfish; I don’t have either, and I wasn’t expecting a serin attack, but I’ve stumbled upon people whose throats were too swollen for CPR and had wished I had an atropine pen.

Since the war, I’ve carried a large container of horse-pill sized ibuprofen tablets, the prescription strength ones buddies dissolved in our canteens and called “Airborne candy,” and pro footballers I know called “Football candy,” presumably dissolving them in sponsored sports drinks and paid much more than my old buddies. The VA prescribes ibuprofen in 800 mg tablets, which is easier to palate than four off-the-shelf pills, and the chalky residue acts like a placebo for me. I tried to not use them habitually, because several studies showed professional football players who took ibuprofen daily were at higher risks of tendon tears, and a university rat study showed drastically reduced tendon tensile strength after being fed a varmit’s lifetime of SSRI’s. Conveniently, ibuprofen is a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibiter, which means it has mild anti-depressant side effects. If I felt sad, I could wash one down with a Hemmingway dacquiri, raise a toast to the rats, and hope they were informed about the anti-depressant side affects and had died cheerfully before the tensile-testing machine stretched their tendons to failure, which occurred at something like 30% less force than the non-SSRI rodents who died without the benefit of anti-depressants.

I’ve carried a knife since I was four or five years old, like my dad and his father before him, but hadn’t been able to carry one on an airplane since 9/11. Soon after the world trade center collapse and just before the Patriot Act, a pimple faced boy in a TSA uniform stood between me and my flight and took my original, sheet-metal formed, military-issue Leatherman tool. Tim Leatherman invented the original multitool in the 1980’s, after graduating with a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Oregon and, not wanting a desk job, bumming around Europe with a Swiss army knife and pair of pliers in a beat up VW van. Five years and hundreds of prototypes later, starting with cardboard and working up to sheet metal, he made the world’s first combination knife and pliers. In the 1980’s, hd scored his first contract for a large order with Delta Force, America’s anti-terrorism unit, before anyone knew what a multitool was and when Delta Force was so unknown it was just the name of a Chuck Norris movie. Leatherman’s patents for a folding plier/knife combination expired seventeen years later (U.S. patent law now sets the limit at 20 years from date of filing) and other brands have made his invention ubiquitous, cheaper, and more competitive; just like Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin envisioned when they added patents to our constitution. The unmistakable shape of a multitool opening into pliers is still copywrited by Leatherman, like the shape of Mickey Mouse’s ears and Nike’s swish are copywrited for eternity. At USD, I used Tim as a case study in engineering and entrepreneurship classes, and new student teams consistently vote to forgo books on entrepreneurship and tests on memorization in lieu of prototype materials and time to iterate, like Tim.

To this day, I always forget to remove my Victorianox keychain knife, and have probably supplied the entire TSA fleet with keychains over the years. I tell that to my students, enforcing that knowing a lot of history doesn’t mean you’re not absent minded and make mistakes. I’m notorious for leaving tools and water bottles around, but I don’t tell them about the original Leatherman I lost, the one I found and a friend’s dad engraved it “Magik” and “Airborne.” I had found it after a bad parachute crash through the tree line, embeded in the mud after having fallen out of someone’s pocket. It had a broken blade tip, and was replaced with a new one from Delta Force’s armory by my platoon leader’s father, Sgt. Major Walter Shumate, the oldest person ever to go through Delta Force training, and the first to do a HALO jump from a civilian jet liner into Laos. He was man so revered he practiced extractions with Desert Strom commander General Stormin’ Normin Scwartzcoff, and his out-of-regulations handlebar moustache is mentioned in dozens of memoirs from Vietnam. He’s immortalized by the Walter Shumate memorial bridge in Virginia, but that original Leatherman is probably in a TSA employee’s toolbox or was tossed in a trash can. I still haven’t recovered from the trauma of that TSA day, and though I don’t talk about where I got that Leatherman tool often, most of my friends know my thoughts on the TSA and 9/11, and students probably notice that I group entrepreneurs and their families into history lessons: Victorianox was named after the founder’s mother, Victoria. Everything around us has a backstory, and so does every action, mindless or otherwise.

When I check bags, I carry a modern Leatherman multi-tool, one with expensive steel that never rusts and rarely needs sharpening, and a hand-selected kit of tool bits and accessories that could fix almost any problem in any country on Earth. Now, when I use a carryon, the first thing I buy are tools banned by the TSA. I’ve learned to say knife and pliers in about 20 languages, along with please and thank you; it’s amazing how many people all over the world are willing to help a stranger who looks lost and seems polite, even if they’re neither. (Terrorists often get directions and intel from kind but uninformed strangers.) A pair of needle nose pliers is useful for tightening nuts and bolts of many sizes on boats and dive tanks, and the long tapered end can slip into a knot and loosen it without impulsive Gordian efforts that damage the protective kenmantle and weaken your lifeline. My tiny daypack was bulging and almost as big as my carry on, just without the shoes and fins and toiletries and a few changes of clothes, but it was worth having a few personal items while I walked around. I was making due with a few common tools, but the concept is the same: I’m good at first aide and can fix things, and can earn a livelihood almost anywhere that has people. In a pinch, if nothing needed fixing, I could do coin tricks in a public square and earn beer money, or spend the $2 on a phone call to have someone bail me out of jail. For me, entrepreneurship happens when there’s a safety net, but every person has a different story.

If I spoke with Wendy, I thought, I’d tell her about the cards and coins in my backpack. It would probably make her laugh, because she had always enjoyed my childhood hobby and encouraged me to perform as a kid, driving me to magic club meetings and a few rare paid performances around town. I’d also tell her about the Force Fins, because she used to complain about how much she spent on shoes every time I hit a growth spurt, and she said I still hadn’t grown into them. I’m 5’11, but I wear 14W shoes. I travel with fins and climbing shoes because guides and rental shops rarely have my size. More than once, on unplanned diving trips, a rental shop employee has joked that they didn’t have my size, but with 14 Wide feet I probably didn’t need fins. Jerks. Wendy had said the same thing the one time we went diving together in Mexico, but she had smiled and her eyes had crinkled and we had laughed together about it. I splurged on a pair of Force Fins soon after; they’re stubby enough to fit into carryon space.

Standing there with my phone in my hand, thinking of Wendy and her puns and gentle sarcasm, led to another surge of dread. It was less than the day before, but still much more than I had ever experienced. I reacted again and considered flying to New Orleans, but paused, sighed, righted my posture, and tried to relax. If my mind was itching with what Wendy said, I’d scratch it and see what bled out. I pulled out my phone and opened the folder called JipBook – I’m Jason Ian Partin – and read what Judge JJ Lottingger of the East Baton Rouge Parish 19th Judicial Court had to say about Wendy and the Partin family on 26 September 1976.

This is a suit by Edward Partin, Jr., plaintiff, seeking a divorce from his wife, Wendy Rothdram Partin, defendant, after having lived separate and apart for more than one year following a judgment of separation from bed and board. Plaintiff also seeks custody of the minor child, Jason Ian Partin, and the defendant reconvened asking that she be granted the permanent care, custody and control of the minor child.

The Trial Court had previously, by ex parte order, awarded the temporary care, custody and control of the minor to Mr. and Mrs. James Ed White. Following trial on the merits, plaintiff was awarded a divorce as well as the permanent care, custody and control of the minor child, with the temporary physical custody of the minor child to remain with Mr. and Mrs. James Ed White. The defendant has appealed this judgment as it regards the custody of the child.

This couple was married when plaintiff was 17 and the defendant was 16 years of age. Nine months following the marriage, they gave birth to young Jason. While we are not concerned with the facts surrounding the separation and divorce, it was apparently one of incompatibility as defendant testified that at the age of 17 she found herself married to a man who did not love her and so she left. Her testimony was as follows:

“As I say I was emotionally upset. I was receiving little support from Edward. I was scared, very confused. I didn’t know exactly which way to turn. I felt I had no one to listen and help with the situation at hand.”

Several weeks later she returned and lived with her husband again. She found that the situation hadn’t changed, and felt she had to get away again. She heard of a man who wanted someone to share expenses on a trip to California, so she quit her job and with her last wages left with him. She testified that she had no sexual relations with this man, and plaintiff does not accuse her of such. Following this trip she returned to Baton Rouge still emotionally upset. Her husband was suing her for separation and told her he was going to take custody of Jason. She went to live with her aunt and uncle, got a full time job with Kelly Girls paying $512.00 per month.

In February, 1975, the defendant’s mother was injured in an accident and she moved in with her to care for her. In September, 1975, following the recuperation of the mother she returned to live with her aunt and uncle.

During these above periods of time, the minor child lived with Mr. and Mrs. White. The Whites came to regard Jason as their own and, although the separation judgment awarded custody to the plaintiff with reasonable visitation privileges to the defendant, the Whites decided the defendant-mother could only see the child two days a month and that she could never keep the child over night. The reason the defendant did not contest custody at the separation trial was because at the time she felt unable emotionally and financially to care for her son.

[Judge Lottinger wrote a paragraph of legal jargon here, citing the “double burden” placed on Wendy by the deceased Judge Pugh to go above and beyond what was typically necessary to regain custody.]

We note that the petition for separation was grounded on habitual intemperance, as well as abandonment of the husband and the minor child. There are no other grounds listed for the separation nor for custody. The petition for the separation and custody of the minor child was not contested by the defendant, and a default judgment was granted. Defendant testified in the instant proceedings that the reason she did not contest custody in the separation proceeding was that she was not financially or emotionally capable of caring for the minor, and that knowing the Whites were going to be caring for him, she knew he would be in good hands.

Though the petition for separation had as one of its allegations “habitual intemperance”, the plaintiff in the instant proceeding testified that he had never accused his wife of drinking, nor had he ever seen her drink.

[Judge Lottinger goes on to cite a few precent cases, verdicts from previous judges in higher courts used to justify his opinions, a detail that’s less important in Louisiana’s version of the Napoleonic code, but still useful to show one’s logic and suggest unbiased decisions.]

The welfare of the child is the main issue that the Court is concerned with. This issue is more important than any wishes or wants the parents may have. Fulco v. Fulco, 259 La. 1122, 254 So.2d 603 (1971), rehearing denied (1971). As a general rule, and in particular where children of young age are involved, preference is given to the mother in custody cases. This preference is very simply explained, the mother is normally better able to care for the child and look after the education, rearing, and training necessary. Estes v. Estes, 261 La. 20, 258 So.2d 857 (1972), rehearing denied (1972).

No argument is made that the mother is not now morally or emotionally fit to care for the child, or that the house in which she lives is not a proper place to rear a child. In fact, the Trial Judge admitted that it was a fine home.

The Trial Judge has not favored us with written reasons for judgment, however, we must conclude from various statements by the Trial Judge that appear in the record that he could find no fault with the defendant, nor was there anything wrong with the house in which she lived. It thus becomes apparent to this Court that the Trial Judge applied the “double burden” rule to the defendant. We have already ruled that the “double burden” rule does not apply in this situation, and thus, under the established jurisprudential rules, we can see no reason why the defendant-mother should not be granted the permanent care, custody and control of the minor child with reasonable visitation privileges granted to the father.

In consideration of our above opinion, there is no need to discuss the specification of error as to the ex parte granting of custody to the Whites.

Therefore, for the above and foregoing reasons, the judgment of the Trial Court is reversed, and IT IS ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that the defendant-appellant, Wendy Rothdram Partin, be and she is hereby granted the permanent care, custody and control of the minor, Jason Ian Partin, and IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that this matter be and it is hereby remanded to the Trial Court for the purpose of fixing specific visitation privileges on behalf of plaintiff-appellee Edward Partin, Jr. All costs of the appeal are to be paid by plaintiff-appellee.

Not everything in the report is accurate, like the part about Wendy’s first home being fine: it was shithole infested with ants and cockroaches, a tiny two bedroom one bath ground floor unit with a narrow galley kitchen lined with peeling grease-stained wallpaper that once burst into flames when her skillet of bacon grease caught ignited. We had no air conditioning in Baton Rouge’s sweltering summers, but she resisted opening windows because we could smell rot wafting from the dumpster behind the cheap Chinese restaurant on Florida Boulevard. It swarmed with flies that would find a way inside our screen-less windows. The only upside I remembered was an endless supply of fortune cookies. I assume Judge Pugh, the trial judge, was being kind in his assessment, and I’d be surprised to learn he had actually committed suicide; I’ve always suspected Big Daddy had something to do with his 1975 death, and that Lottingger knew what he was doing when he stepped in and took over my case.

Lottingger was a respected judge with a 30 year tenure in the Louisiana legislature, working under three governors trying to rid the state of Big Daddy. Governor McKeithen, in particular, focused on Big Daddy like Bobby had focused on Hoffa, being quoted almost weekly in state newspapers saying things like, “I won’t let Edward Partin and his gangster, hoodlum Teamsters run this state!” Lottingger led the charge. McKeithen didn’t get Big Daddy’s endorsement on behalf of the Teamsters, and wasn’t reelected. I don’t know what prompted Lottingger to assume my case, but I can’t imagine him not reading the newspapers and realizing that my dad, Edward Partin Jr., was Big Daddy’s son. I don’t know why he didn’t mention it in my report; maybe he was being cautious.

By the time I was emancipated in 1989, Lottingger had retired, and the coincidentally named Judge Robert “Bob” Browning didn’t know what had happened to Pugh, so I doubt I’ll ever learn. But, I doubt the timing of Lottingger removing me from Partin custody forever wasn’t a coincidence, and was related to Hoffa’s disappearance. Like with all records from that time, I was re-reading with a fresh perspective, looking for clues no one else would consider, like “the trial judge” being Pugh. For the first time in 46 years, I noticed his comment that though Wendy was being sued for intemperance, a word commonly used in legal jargon to say “unable to act with moderation or restraint, especially with regards to alcohol,” my dad said she never drank. I had always noticed the words “habitual intemperance,” and I knew her well; but, she hadn’t drank most of my life, at least not more than a beer or two, and I had never seen her drunk until she was in her late 40’s. I realized – or remembered – that she had started drinking only fifteen years ago, and for some reason that upset me, made me feel angry that I was worried about someone else’s choices. I know she had a hard life – so had I – but we shared the same family and words of advice, that everything’s a choice and to die without regrets. Wendy had gone through another small nervous breakdown after Uncle Bob died, and the day after I gave his eulogy I petitioned the courts for emancipation. And, though I joke about it, I grew to resent my emancipation with every 800 mg pill I had swallowed over 30 years. I didn’t regret my choice at 16 – I did what I felt I had to do – but I wasn’t happy about the consequences.

In 1989, the coincidentally named Judge Bob knew my case well, and was a fan of wrestling and magic and said he kept up with me in the Baton Rouge Advocate. (I was a decent wrestler and co-captain of the Belaire Bengals, Coach’s team, and had spent a couple of months performing for kids in the children’s wing of Uncle Bob’s hospital, similar to David Copperfield’s “Project Magic,” and in the summer of 1989, the advocate featured me in a multi-page, color Sunday special as a home grown hero, kindly omitting my family history.) The court spent two months trying to find my father, who was hoboing around the country after being freed from prison, and when Bob interviewed Wendy and she wouldn’t stop staring at her feet and mumbling that I was “just like his dad,” without explaining more. (True: I had stolen a few things in my youth and cursed when rushed for time or told what to do, but that was before leaning into Coach as a father figure and guide on my hero’s journey: he was my Mr. Miagi, a Yoda-like man I looked up to, and I told the judge that more than once.) Bob granted my emancipation despite my struggles with morals. The next day, I used my freedom and his signature across the seal of Louisiana to join the army’s delayed entry program, choosing the 82nd Airborne and deferring $100 per month for 12 months to eventually receive a $36,000 GI Bill three and a half years later. Six months later, on March 11th, 1990, two weeks after the city finals, Big Daddy died and I attended his funeral, along with half the Baton Rouge police, the mayor, hundreds of Teamsters, LSU football players (Heismann Trophy winner Bill Cannon was once Big Daddy’s bodyguard), FBI agents, and, of course, my family, including my father. A couple of months later, I was told I was the youngest soldier out of 560,000 allied soldiers squaring off against the world’s largest fleet of tanks. Thirty years later, I limped a lot and swallowed a lot of horse pills, and being #1 out of 560,000 doesn’t mean as much; though I’m still proud of that color feture in the Advocate.

Sitting cross legged in the Plaza de San Francisco de Asi, with a growing headache and sore back, I saw anger building inside me, anger at Wendy. Even after a blissful breakfast with bacon, I was growing irritated waiting for her to call back. I knew my mind was trying to justify turning off my phone for a month. She had a rough life, I reminded myself. I was in Cuba, I said, complaining about tepid showers and bacon for breakfast, pondering if I would fly to New Orleans or turn off my phone, listen to Cuban music, and spend a month climbing and diving and in paradise. I could be facilitating entrepreneurship, which, though I still didn’t know what it means, was just as fun for me as diving. Instead, I was worrying about Wendy. My mind’s childishness blamed her for interfering with my fun. I popped an ibuprofen, washed it down with water from my canteen, got up, and walked across the plaza to the same bar with open double doors.

The band wasn’t playing, but was setting up. The trumpet player recognized me and nodded with a smile. I smiled and nodded back. The bartender walked over and said something I didn’t understand, despite rotating my head back and forth while listening. I smiled a mischievous smile, and in my best Spanish I asked for a mojito with whatever rum the bartender would pour for God, if God showed up and asked for a mojito. He laughed, tapped the counter, and went to work. I opened my phone and read a few more old reports and news articles, looking for patterns I may have missed years before, pecking for a clue to investigate while in Cuba, waiting for the mojito to work its magic.

The mojito was delicious and the mint was fresh, and even before the alcohol hit my brain the band sounded as good as I remembered. My second night in Havana was looking good. Ceviche was the special. It was good, and I ordered another with a side of mojo sauce and tortilla chips. The band was playing by the time I started my second mojito, and I smiled and danced and didn’t give a Pugh about anything other than the groove.

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