You get what you give in Varanasi India

7 minute read if you skip the bad stuff.

The Lonely Planet guide to India, the gold-standard of travel guides, a bible for budget backpackers, and usually a kind voice encouraging you to travel without judgement, said this about Varanasi India:

Brace yourself. You’re about to enter one of the most blindingly colorful, unrelentingly chaotic and unapologetically indiscreet places on earth. Varanasi takes no prisoners.

Varanasi tested my patience, humor, and immune system more than anywhere in the world, yet remains one of my favorite memories of a trip across Nepal and India.

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Van Halen, Brown M&Ms, and Quality Assurance

6 minute read.

In the 1980’s, the rock-band Van Halen caused $85,000 damage to their dressing room after finding brown M&M’s in their bowl of “munchies” before a concert. The facts behind that story can help medical-device companies become more efficient and pass any FDA or ISO Quality-System audit. This article shows you how, with the lead singer of Van Halen, David Lee Roth, as your guide.

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Wendy and Havana in 2019

But then came the killing shot that was to nail me to the cross.

Edward Grady Partin.

And Life magazine once again was Robert Kenedy’s tool. He figured that, at long last, he was going to dust my ass and he wanted to set the public up to see what a great man he was in getting Hoffa.

Life quoted Walter Sheridan, head of the Get-Hoffa Squad, that Partin was virtually the all-American boy even though he had been in jail “because of a minor domestic problem.”

Jimmy Hoffa in “Hoffa: The Real Story,” 1975
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Havana 2019

But then came the killing shot that was to nail me to the cross.

Edward Grady Partin.

And Life magazine once again was Robert Kenedy’s tool. He figured that, at long last, he was going to dust my ass and he wanted to set the public up to see what a great man he was in getting Hoffa.

Life quoted Walter Sheridan, head of the Get-Hoffa Squad, that Partin was virtually the all-American boy even though he had been in jail “because of a minor domestic problem.”

Jimmy Hoffa in “Hoffa: The Real Story,” 1975
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But then came the killing shot that was to nail me to the cross.

Edward Grady Partin.

And Life magazine once again was Robert Kenedy’s tool. He figured that, at long last, he was going to dust my ass and he wanted to set the public up to see what a great man he was in getting Hoffa.

Life quoted Walter Sheridan, head of the Get-Hoffa Squad, that Partin was virtually the all-American boy even though he had been in jail “because of a minor domestic problem.”

Jimmy Hoffa in “Hoffa: The Real Story,” 1975
Read more


Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Matthew 16:24

I woke up on a Saturday in the summer of 1976 to the sound of PawPaw’s voice.

“Hey, d’er, Lil’ Buddy,” he said. “‘ Bout time you woke up.”

I sat up from my bed on the couch, stretched my arms above my head, and smiled back at PawPaw. He had already shaved, and his black hair was slicked back. He smelled of aftershave, coffee, and fresh cigarette smoke. The bright white kitchen light was on, but the living room was lit by the yellow-orange rising sun. I hopped off the couch, hugged PawPaw, and scrambled to the bathroom for my turn, before everyone else woke up.

I was right, PawPaw had smoked on the toilet again, and the bathroom reeked of Camels and pooh with a healthy splash of Old Spice that, cruelly, tempted me to take deep breaths as I peed; I wouldn’t have to pooh until after breakfast, and I was too little to drink coffee and “lubricate the pipes,” which I think helped you pooh earlier. By the time I flushed, washed my hands, and put on the clothes PawPaw had set aside, MawMaw was already in line outside the door. She was waiting for me as soon as I stepped out.

“Gimme some shugga!” she said, looking down at me.

I giggled and hid my face. She squatted down to eye level and peeked through my defenses.

“I’m gonna get me some shugga!” she said, ramping up the pace of her words.

I shielded my face, but I was no match for MawMaw’s shugga. She said she was gonna get some shugga, and her face darted between my elbows like a Kingfisher swooping in between branches to snatch a minnow from PawPaw’s fishing pond. She planted a few smooches on my cheeks and I screeched and giggled and wiggled my arms into convoluted and ineffective defensive positions.

“Shhh…” she said. “You’ll wake the baby. Now go on and help PawPaw with breakfast.”

I dried my face with At least she didn’t have lipstick on yet; that shugga was hard to wipe off. I scooted into the kitchen while MawMaw took her turn in the bathroom, and helped PawPaw mix milk into instant pancake batter. By the time MawMaw emerged, the bathroom que included Craig and Linda; the baby was still asleep. Craig looked stoned; Linda looked exhausted; MawMaw looked like MawMaw: thick maroon lipstick, and mostly grey hair twirled into a two-foot tall beehive held in place by prodigious amounts of aresol hairspray. When she woke me up, she smelled like hairspray and the K&B drugstore makeup carousel. Craig and Linda never woke me up, and had only recently moved back home with the baby. They slept in my old bedroom, across from the bathroom and adjacent to a hallway mirror that was taller than I was.

PawPaw and MawMaw lived in a two bedroom, one bath house with uneven floors and torn screens on the windows. The kitchen door opened onto a carport where MawMaw parked her car and PawPaw kept his cricket cage; you could hear them chirping all day and night. Out front, through the living room door, the gravel driveway was sprinkled with a few old trucks and cars. Out back, through the screen-less kitchen window, was the big gate with handhold sized metal bars between us and the pasture with PawPaw’s fishing pond. The kitchen doubled as a dining room, but the table was piled so high with old tools, economy size boxes of diapers, and my train set that we usually ate standing up around the kitchen counters, which were remarkably Spartan so that it was easy to mix pancakes and clean up for the next wave of breakfast eaters and MawMaw’s World Famous chocolate chip cookies for afternoon snacks after a long day of working on the farm and fishing.

MawMaw threatened to give me some red lipstick shugga, and I screeched again; in earnest that time, because the lipstick was hard to scrub off and the bathroom would be occupied for a long time.

“You ready to see Wendy today?” MawMaw asked. I was unsure what she was talking about.

Sensing my confusion, PawPaw said, “Wendy and Debbie gonna pick you up after breakfast, Lil’ Buddy. Y’all gonna deliver the Yellow Pages today.”

At that, I remembered: Wendy and Debbie were the ones who drove me around town while they dropped off books. I got to ride on top of a stack of them, sitting taller than everyone. If memory served me, we also stopped at the 7-11 and got Slushies, and played in the park down the blacktop road from PawPaw’s, the one with the Merry Go Round, and either Debbie or Wendy had a Frisbee to toss around. I perked up and said I was ready to go to work!

PawPaw had a lot of side-gigs. I was able to work at all of them except the one at Glen Oaks High School, where Linda and Craig used to go every day. Wendy and Debbie, too. In fact, most of PawPaw’s employees seemed to have worked at Glen Oaks before. Delivering Yellow Pages happened every spring (I’d later learn it was through Kelly’s Girls, and that PawPaw paid the entire $512/month to Wendy and Debbie) and cutting down trees happened every summer (PawPaw ran a program to train ex-cons to be landscapers and tree surgeons). PawPaw let me carry my own saw, and taught me to climb trees like he did, and showed me where people like Craig worked; he had recently left Glen Oaks to be the landscaper and resident artist of Houmas Plantation, but they didn’t make much money, and after Linda had the baby they moved back in with us.

MawMaw was Dorris Lamar Shackleton, of the Baton Rouge Lamar family. They were rich, relatively speaking, and everyone in town knew the Lamars. They owned 80% of all the roadside signs in America; they’d eventually become a publicly traded company based in Baton Rouge, Lamar Advertising. If you ever drive down an interstate and see a billboard with the small green rectangular Lamar logo on the bottom, that’s a sign that you’re connected to MawMaw and this story.

We ate standing up, the baby woke up and cried loud enough to drown out the crickets, and MawMaw cleaned up our plates while PawPaw and I went for a walk to the convenience store. It was only a half mile down the blacktop, away from the park, and we walked through grass and navigated between a few trees to get to the sprawling stately oak across from the store. I ran ahead, knowing exactly where I wanted to go: one of the long, undulating branches had a perfect swing seat curved into the branch, and about five feet distal of the trunk was a spot low enough for me to reach and kick a leg over. I hopped on, and then froze, paralyzed by how much higher the swing seat seemed now that I was looking down at the ground.

PawPaw walked up beside me, smiling and looking me in the eyes. He was only 5’2″, but that was high for me. The swing was at least a foot higher up, and five feet away. It seemed impossible to reach.

“You good, Lil’ Buddy. Just move a bit at a time. Just a bit, then relax and do it again.”

I scooted forward an inch, sat up, and scooted forward again. I had to get out of the low spot and onto the thicker branch, and PawPaw was next to me, between the tree and the convenience store, smiling and calm. I focused. I had never done this part without his help; today would be the day I did it on my own. I took a deep breath and exhaled, like PawPaw had shown me. I placed my hands solidly on the bark and took another breath, and heaved myself over the small yet formidable ridge that had stymied my climb too many times before. It worked! I was taller than PawPaw!

“D’at’s right! You did it all by yer’self!”

I glanced down at PawPaw, who still had his hands raised to my waist. Ha! I no longer needed that help, and I scooted along the tree to my swing and slipped down inside of it. But, instead of celebrating, I realized I was facing the tree trunk and couldn’t see anything but the bark. Turning around on a branch was harder than climbing it (I’d learn how to do that another day) and I froze again. I wasn’t scared; something about the extra two feet of high made the ground irrelevant, as if my mind couldn’t see it because my hands couldn’t reach the swing when I was on the ground, whereas the lower nook was within reach and therefore within my imagination and memories of other falls. I froze because I didn’t know what to do to turn around, especially locked in with at least three things touching the tree – two feet and a hand or two hands and a foot – the basics of climbing PawPaw had taught me since I was knee-high to a cricket. I tried to lift one leg, but couldn’t get a foot high enough to stand and almost tilted out of the swing.

PawPaw’s hands were instantly around my waist, and he heaved a bit – PawPaw was wiry but not very strong – and he told me to swing my foot around again. I did, and with the extra height PawPaw gave me I was soon facing away, able to see the wide open meadow, traffic light, and convenience store. I giggled with delight and reached up and snatched a bunch of Spanish moss speckled grey like MawMaw’s hair. I put it to my chin and laughed. PawPaw grabbed a bit and did the same, and we laughed together, two old men with grey beards and nothing to do but laugh about it.

He put away his beard and heaved me to the ground. I kept my moss and held his hand as we walked closer to the traffic light. We waited for it to turn green, and skidoodled across quickly, in case a driver turned left without looking for walkers. In the parking lot, I let go of PawPaw’s hand and pushed open the door for him with one hand, and held my beard to my face with the other.

At the sound of the door bell, the old black man behind the counter looked up.

“G’mornin’, Mr. White.” he said with a broad smile. “Who you got here with you today?” he said, looking down at me.

“It’s me!” I exclaimed, whipping off my disguise.

“What? I didn’t recognize you, Mr. Pa’tan. You gettin’ good at d’ose disguises. Did you climb the tree today?”

I told him I did it by myself that day. PawPaw went to get cookie dough, and I stayed and talked to the man about climbing, as if I were already a tree surgeon. PawPaw returned with a tube of the chocolate chip dough with a giggling cookie man on the packaging, a quart of Blue Bell milk, and a six pack of Miller Lite pony bottles; without being asked, the man reached up and pulled down a carton of unfiltered Camels. PawPaw asked for lighter fluid, and the man reached behind him and put a rectangular can of Zippo fuel beside the Camels. We said our goodbyes, and parted ways. We never climbed after the store – the milk and beers would get warm – but I eyed it as we walled by. It seemed smaller; I didn’t see the lower nook, I just saw the swing seat now, as if the tree were condensing in on it and the lower, distal branches didn’t register in my mind.

Back home, the baby was sitting in her high chair and Linda was laughing with her between sips of her coffee. Craig still looked stoned; he would seem that way 45 years later, when he retired from Houmas and the Baton Rouge Advocate highlighted his art work, which is still on display with a photo of him looking stoned, his bushy white-man afro and beard turned the exact shade of grey as Spanish moss in wintertime. He was Craig Black, and though I don’t recall him telling me his favorite joke that morning, I’m sure he said it at some point that day, especially if we turned on the old black and white television to watch Saturday morning cartoons: We lived in a Black and White household. PawPaw looked a lot like PopEye (someone I don’t recall once called Linda Olive oil and me Sweet Pea), and Craig could have passed for the PBS painter Bob Ross, who also looked stoned all the time.

We wouldn’t watch cartoons that Saturday. MawMaw made sure I took advantage of the empty bathroom, and I pooped and brushed my teeth and was back in the kitchen just in time to hear gravel crunching loudly, telling us someone was driving up the driveway. MawMaw said that was Wendy, and by the tone of her voice alone I was happy. PawPaw opened the kitchen door and I followed him past the crickets, MawMaw’s fancy four-door car, and a mountain of Yellow Pages. Debbie and Wendy were just getting out of PawPaw’s old Datsun hatchback; it had been in our front yard forever, not running, but PawPaw could fix anything.

I rushed up to Debbie’s side of the car, and she squatted down so I could throw my hands around her neck; my forgetting her name was forgotten as soon as I saw her. Of course I knew Debbie! She did magic tricks. She hugged me back, we parted, and she reached towards my face and ripped off my nose.

“Got your nose!” she said, holding my nose clenched between the first two fingers of her fist. I giggled as if she were trying to give me shugga,’ but of course I knew it was her thumb; she had taught me how to do it last month, but I had forgotten to practice.

“Hey, Jason,” Wendy said, squatting down on the driver’s corner of the car.

I rushed over and ripped off her nose.

“Wow! How’d you do that?” she said. Wendy wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed; I showed her what I did, and she tried but couldn’t do it right. I showed her again. After a few more tries, she could snatch a nose almost as good as Debbie. I’ve never had to practice that trick since, and I’m sure we both learned something that morning.

PawPaw said we should get busy, so we got busy loading Yellow Pages into the Datsun. By the time we finished, the Datsun’s aging shocks sagged a few inches lower, and my spot on the stack behind Debbie’s seat barely had enough room for me to squeeze atop. After ensuring I’d fit, PawPaw and the girls stood back, smoked cigarettes, and admired our handiwork. As soon as they put out their butts, PawPaw reminded them they should get going. MawMaw came out with my backpack, and Linda stood in the doorway with the baby and waved to Wendy with her free hand. PawPaw squished my backpack atop the books, and I wiggled up beside it. The girls hopped in front, and Wendy, who never quite got the hang of a manual transmission, lurched forward across the gravel, stopped at the blacktop, and sent gravel flying up as she turned right onto the blacktop, towards the park and Baker neighborhoods in desperate need of Yellow Pages.

Almost immediately, Debbie whipped out her little hand-sewn decorative bag full of toys and dropped a bit of herb into the Frisbee on her lap. She used her rolling papers to scrape up the herb and let the seeds roll down with a sound not unlike gravel trickling down a shovel blade, and then she rolled a thin but perfectly shaped joint. She put the herb back in her bag and used a store-bought lighter to light the joint. It all happened in less time than it took to pass the park.

She cracked her window and handed the joint to Wendy, who was driving in 5th gear by then and didn’t need her hand on the stickshift. Wendy took a drag, coughed, exhaled into the windshield, and handed the joint back to Debbie, who looked up to the crack in her window and exhaled out. She took another drag and passed back to Wendy, and somehow talked with me without exhaling, albeit with a funny voice and look on her face.

“You can get someone’s nose,” she said, smiling slyly, “but everyone ‘knows’ it’s your thumb.” Wendy guffawed at that and coughed for a while with the joint clasped in a hand as she held the steering wheel. Debbie exhaled out the window and turned back to face me. She held up the back of her hand, reached over, and yanked off her own thumb. There it was, clearly in her other hand. I looked back and forth between her thumb and the stub on her hand, laughing in surprise; or, I was getting second-hand high and simply laughing. Regardless, Debbie and I focused on me getting my thump at the right angle to do the trick and Wendy focused on driving us to work safely as she and Debbie passed the joint back and forth.

A mouse was inside the Datsun’s dashboard, Debbie said, explaining the squeaking that emanated from just above the broken radio. Wendy was distracted, tapping the dashboard and trying to make the mouse stop. It seemed to get louder the faster we drove, and her taps became slaps. Debbie laughed and said she was scaring the mouse, but Wendy wasn’t laughing. She was slapping harder and harder, and her face tightened and she slammed a fist down onto the dashboard.

“Uggh!” she shouted intensely enough for me to jerk back in my perch atop the Yellow Pages.

“Here, Wendy,” Debbie said, handing her the joint. “Slow down. Mr. White’s car can’t move that fast with all these books.”

Wendy took the joint and heeded Debbie’s advice, and Debbie looked up at me and said, “It’s okay, Jason. There’s no mouse. It’s just an old car that squeaks when we drive too fast. Wendy’ll slow down, and we’ll help with the phone books so we don’t have to drive fast again.”

That made sense, and by the end of the joint we reached the first neighborhood in Baker that needed Yellow Pages. We worked hard all morning, Debbie and me taking turns carrying a book up to a doorstep, and Wendy lurching from house to house until the Datsun was empty.

Our last stop was the house Craig and Linda used to live in with their friends, the one with all the murals of elves and swamp trees covered with moss painted outside. My friend, Brian the one handed drug dealer, lived there, too. I hadn’t realized he knew Wendy and Debbie – I knew him from Linda and Craig – but he and Wendy were such good friends that when he hugged her with his one arm he picked her up and squeezed her and she laughed and kissed him on the cheek. He hugged Debbie just as snugly, but she didn’t kiss him. I realized it made sense that Brian would know her: he could do magic, too.

“Hey, Jason,” he said, squatting down and holding up his hand for me to high-five. “You wanna see how the motorcycle is coming along?”

Of course I did. He walked me over while Wendy and Debbie smoked with the friends from Glen Oaks who spent all day at the house, smoking and painting.

Brian had lost his arm a few years before, when a drunk driver hit him on his motorcycle. He kept the bike and fixed it, but couldn’t ride with only one arm, so he was trying to invent a series of wires and pulleys that would let him ride again.

“You gotta have something to look forward to.” he told me once. “I work on it whenever I want to imagine the future.”

Brian locked an arm around me and tilted his hip to heave me onto the seat, and tried to explain all the contraptions. The hardest was the brakes, he said. He had re-routed the clutch, but didn’t want to have both brakes on one cable; he explained why, but I don’t recall his words; I wouldn’t understand until ten years later, when I almost flipped over my handlebars after slamming both brakes at the same time.

I wasn’t really listening to Brian. I was high, atop a motorcycle, and making “mmm-mmm… ppptt-ppptt” sounds like the book Linda or Debbie or Wendy had read me, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, about a kid and a talking mouse who could make the toy motorcycle move by making motor sounds. I was obviously disappointed that it wasn’t working, and Brian stopped talking and said he had something for me.

He pulled a 1972 Kennedy half dollar out of his blue jeans pocket, rolled it across his knuckles, and tossed it into the air, where it vanished. (It didn’t really vanish in mid air; he finger palmed it instead of tossing it, but followed the motion with his eyes and so did I, and I remember his surprise and belief that it vanished more than I recall seeing it vanish, which was a bigger lesson I’d learn later.) He reached down by his leg and said the coin was behind his trick knee. He pulled it out, and I was too young to be impressed by that; if it can vanish, of course it can appear anywhere. He showed me the date and said that’s the same year I was born, so it was a special coin. Like with the vanish, he believed it was a magic coincidence, and that sentiment is what I remember most of all: my birth was so important that it’s forever on a coin bigger than any of the small ones people at convenience stores used.

Brian pointed out the square hole above Kennedy’s profile.

“How’d that get there?” he asked.

I said a drill. He said more than asked if I had ever seen a square drill? I said I hadn’t, and then I realized that I had never seen a square hole.

“That’s the magic,” he said. “Keep it and let me know when you figure out how to make a square hole in a coin.”

I stared at the hole and pondered how I’d do it. Brian wrapped an arm around me and tilted his hip to whip me off the bike and back onto the ground.

“Here,” he said, reaching into his pocket again. He pulled out a beaded necklace that I’d later recognize as an army dog tag chain, and held out his hand. I wasn’t sure what to do.

“You can wear it as a necklace.”

I was still unsure what to do.

“Show me the hole,” he said. I did, and he tried to thread the chain through the hole, but fumbled. He tried a few more times and showed a hint of frustration; subtle, but noticeable in hindsight, if only because it was less than his usual cheerful self. I held the half tightly, and he finally aligned a bead of the chain with the hole, and pushed with his thumb while his two fingers held the back. The chain slid through, and he told me to push the bead into the other end. I struggled like he had, but eventually figured out how to clasp it. He draped the necklace over my neck, and we high-fived and walked back to the group.

Debbie was too stoned to toss Frisbee, so I listened to everyone chat and practiced taking the half on and off my necklace; rolling it across my fingers was impossible, and as many times as I tried tossing it in the air, it never vanished. But, I got really good at the necklace clasp, and I stared at the square hole long enough to realize it was actually two holes, a square on the eagle side, and a diamond on Kennedy’s side; they met in the middle and formed a star of David. I’m sure that was just a coincidence, an artifact of Brian not aligning the square head of a big nail perfectly, or not keeping it still with his big toes when he used his hand to hit the nail with a hammer; he never told me how he did it, but to this day that’s what I think happened, and I don’t think Brian was jewish.

Someone opened a 16 ounce bag of Raisenettes and a plastic bag of chocolate chip cookies wrapped around a rigid plastic tray – those cookies were dry and crumbly, not like MawMaw’s, but I dove into them with the rest of the people, who seemed to moan with pleasure despite the cookies not being fresh from the oven. The Raisinettes were as good as always, and I devoured a few extra handfuls when no one was looking.

“Oh, shit!” Wendy exclaimed, looking at her watch.

“Jason, we have to go,” she said, standing up suddenly.

She turned to the group and said she had to get me back to Mr. White’s. Debbie said she’d stay and get a ride with someone else so we could get back in time, and a few minutes later Wendy and I were lurching down the road and then up the onramp onto I-110 South, back towards the airport and a faster way to reach PawPaw’s. She said something about we’d get Slushies and toss Frisbee at the park next time, but I wasn’t listening. I felt full and sleepy, and I was comfortable in the spacious front seat; I dozed off to the memory of playing with Wendy and Debbie on the Merry Go Round and spilling my Slushie and everyone laughing as if nothing mattered.

I woke to the feeling of being shaken and the sound of Wendy’s voice. We weren’t moving, and a massive face was peering in her window.

“My brother’s sick,” she told the face. “I’m trying to get home as fast as I can.”

She shook my shoulder again, and I leaned forward and looked at the face. He seemed nice; I can’t tell you why I felt that, especially because I didn’t know what a policeman was yet, but he had a polite smile and kind eyes and I liked him. He was probably 30 to 35 years old; Wendy would have been around 20. He was holding her driver’s license.

“Hey, there, son,” he said. He paused, and I had time to adjust to a new voice and look him in the eyes.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Jason Pa’tan, s’uh,” I said.

He looked down at Wendy’s license and back up at me.

“Thank you, Mr. Pa’tan. I hope you feel better.”

He handed Wendy her license and said, “Here you go, Miss Pa’tan. Get home safely.”

He stood upright, tapped the doorsill twice, smiled, and walked back to his car. I watched him walk away, impressed that he had a chest with a bright badge and lots of nifty looking gadgets on his belt, like Adam West’s Batman utility belt on Saturday afternoon TV. I wanted those gadgets, and a car with lights on top like his.

We drove away slowly, barely lurching at all. Wendy’s hands were shaking, even after she reached fifth and clutched the steering wheel tightly with both hands. She breathed deeply and lit a cigarette; the window was still open. She was making a sound like laughing quietly, but not in a fun way.

When she finished her smoke, she tossed out the cigarette, rolled up the window, smiled at me, and said, “Don’t tell Mr. White what happened, okay?”

I said okay, though I wasn’t sure not to tell him.

We got off I-110 at the airport exit, near the convenience store and tree swing, and were home a minute later. The wheels crunched gravel as we pulled behind MawMaw’s fancy car, and I hopped out as soon as we were stopped, before Wendy turned off the engine. Both feet landed with a satisfying crunch, and I MawMaw opened the carport door. She smiled and stood with her hands on her hips, and I could hear my own footsteps as I ran towards her.

When I could hear the crickets, she squatted down to my level. I threw my hands around her neck and squeezed, and she said, “Gimme some shugga!” I pulled away and threw up my defenses; she won, and after the bloody battle my face was covered in red lipstick. I could feel the smears as I tried to wipe them off, and knew what I’d see in the bathroom mirror when I went to wash my hands. I waved goodbye to Wendy, who was holding my backpack. I ran to her and she kneeled down, waiting for me. I grabbed the pack, and hugged her goodbye.

I was in a hurry, I said. I had smelled freshly baked chocolate chip cookies waiting for me, and I knew we had milk to go with them. I just had to clean off all the shugga first. Wendy must have still been nervous from the ride, because her usual cheerful smile was saddened by the tear falling from the corner of one eye.

Back inside, I devoured some cookies and chatted with Linda and Craig, telling them I had seen Brian and showing them my necklace; I forgot what to not tell them, but I also forgot about the policeman when I started talking about Brian’s motorcycle and the 1972 half dollar, and noone seemed upset about anything that happened. PawPaw came in from working in the pasture, smelling like chainsaw oil and smoke from burning piles of tree branches, and he promised we’d go fishing after dinner. Unfortunately, I was so tired from a day of work, second hand smoke, and sugar crashes that I missed fishing that day and fell asleep on PawPaw’s lap while we all watched Saturday evening black and white TV.

I awoke the next day to the sound of PawPaw’s voice.

“Hey, d’er, Lil’ Buddy. ‘Bout time you woke up.”

The routine that Sunday wasn’t much different than the previous Saturday, but I don’t recall what we had for breakfast. By the time the baby was up, Keith had shown up and he, PawPaw, and I were burning branches in the pasture.

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Mama Jean

“We can report that Edward G. Partin has been under investigation by the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office in connection with the Kennedy Assassination investigation… based on an exclusive interview with an Assistant District Attorney in Jim Garrison’s office. We can report that Partin’s activities have been under scrutiny. In his words: “We know that Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald were here in New Orleans several times… there was a third man driving them and we are checking the possibility it was Partin.

WJBO radio, New Orleans, June 23rd, 1964; quoted from Walter Sheridan, “The Fall and Rise of Jimmy Hoffa,” 1972
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But then came the killing shot that was to nail me to the cross.

Edward Grady Partin.

And Life magazine once again was Robert Kenedy’s tool. He figured that, at long last, he was going to dust my ass and he wanted to set the public up to see what a great man he was in getting Hoffa.

Life quoted Walter Sheridan, head of the Get-Hoffa Squad, that Partin was virtually the all-American boy even though he had been in jail “because of a minor domestic problem.”

Jimmy Hoffa in “Hoffa: The Real Story,” 1975

I had just landed in Cuba on a 30 day entrepreneurship visa and was pondering my grandfather’s role in President Kennedy’s assassination, when I suddenly felt Wendy was planning to commit suicide; she wouldn’t, and I had no reason to suspect she would, but that was my first reaction when I listened to her voice mail while standing in the small Plaza de San Francisco de Asi, which I was told was one of only two places a gringo could catch public WiFi, even in 2019.

I was wearing an old but serviceable travel shirt, one with antimicrobial silver particles woven intto a polymer that dried quickly, but modified as a prototype that never progressed; NITINOL threads had been woven into the sleeves, heat-treated to transform around 90 degrees F, then electropolished to be pliable at body temperature; the NITINOL dulled the silver threads and made the old olive green shirt seem grey. I had just rolled them up after arriving in a mild springtime Havana afternoon, around 80 degrees and humid enough to warrant deodorant. On my back, I wore a sun faded black backpack, with unsubtle short black scuba fins strapped to the outside. I was listening to voice mail on an iPhone 8 – already outdated – pressed against my left ear. My right forefinger was poked into my right ear. My head hurt, my back ached, and I was wound up from sitting in confined spaces next to chatty people. I was only half-heartedly listening to messages, and I was stretching my hamstrings. In my mind, I was debating whether or not to take another ibuprofen; I had recently read a meta-analysis on ligament tears and ibuprofen; in short: long-term daily use of ibuprofen was shown to correlate with ACL tears in professional football players and a few elite military units, and that corresponded with rat studies where rats who took prodigious amounts of ibuprofen had post-mortem ACL tear-strength 40% less than the other rats. (Interestingly, ibuprofen is an SSRI, which means it also acts as an anti-depressant, so the rats with weak ACLs may have died happier.) It was the first day of what I planned to be a three month sabbatical, a month in Cuba thanks to President Obama’s new visa to promote entrepreneurship (whatever that means), and two months of hopping around Caribbean islands, diving and following any leads about my grandfather’s and father’s time there in 1962 and 1973, respectively. (My grandfather was Edward Grady Partin Senior, famous for sending Jimmy Hoffa to prison and a possible suspect in President Kennedy’s 1963 assassination.) But, after a subtle pause in Wendy’s voice mail, I slowly stood upright and stared at the phone in my hand. I almost called her right then.

Gut instincts can be wrong, so I put in my earbuds – or iBuds or whatever they’re called – and listened to her message again, looking for nuances that few, if any, other people would have noticed or understood.

“Hey Jason, it’s Wendy,” she began, followed by a pause.

“I know you’re going to Cuba, but I was hoping to speak with you about my will.”

Another pause.

“It’s not a big deal,” she said quickly and continued at a similar pace, clumping words so they almost sounded as one: “I’d just like to add Cindi as executor because you travel so much.”

She had called about her will several times over the past ten or fifteen years. Every time she mentioned her will, she used the same brisk cadence. And, no matter where I was on Earth, she always called an hour or so before happy hour in San Diego; she lived near St. Francisville, Louisiana, a remote community about an hour upriver of Baton Rouge, and her 6pm was my usual 4pm.

Wendy was my mother, Wendy Anne Rothdram Partin. She met my dad, Edward Grady Partin Junior, the drug dealer of Glen Oaks High School, in the winter of 1971 and lost her virginity to him on New Years Eve. Two weeks later, she realized she was pregnant. She couldn’t afford a $150 abortion, so she accepted my dad’s proposal; they dropped out of school and eloped to Woodville, Mississippi, where my dad had family and a couch to crash on, and where state laws didn’t require parental consent for teenagers to marry. They returned to Baton Rouge as Mr. and Mrs. Edward Grady Partin; I was born ten months later, on 05 October 1972. (Gestation takes ten months, not nine; the myth comes from births nine months after wedding nights.) Wendy and my dad moved into one of grandfather’s houses, and she soon had a series of small nervous breakdowns abandoned me twice. She returned less than a week later the first time. The second time she left was a few weeks later, and she brought me to a now-defunct, private daycare center near Glen Oaks and drove to California with a young man she had met that morning. He had just scribbled a note saying he was leaving for California, and had space for someone with gas money. She saw it as a sign. My dad was away again, buying drugs wholesale somewhere in the Carribbean. She did the best she could, gave the daycare her best friend’s phone number, and left Louisiana.

The daycare center was closing, and they called Wendy’s emergency contact; James “Ed” White, the father of Wendy’s best friend, Linda White, responded. The next week, the Judge Pugh of the East Baton Rouge Parish 19th Judicial District removed me from Wendy and my dad’s custody, and placed me under the guardianship of Mr. White. Wendy returned on her own, but by then Pugh had made me a warden of the state and set criteria for Wendy to meet before she could regain the right to see me. For the next seven years, she saw me once a month while fighting my dad – and then my guardians – for my custody. She eventually won, but in those monthly visits she was ashamed to be a single, uneducated teenager with an infant; so she taught me to call her by her first name, so people would assume I was her brother.

Old habits are hard to break, and I still called my mother Wendy.

Wendy’s nervous breakdowns had complex reasons, but in the early 1970’s they centered around my dad and our Partin family. Wendy’s new father in law, Edward Grady Partin Senior, was known as an all-American hero, a working class man who saved Bobby Kennedy’s life by risking his own to send Jimmy Hoffa to prison; at least, that was what national media taught America in the 1960’s and 70’s. He was adored by people who saw him in Look!, Life, or on the news because, as Jimmy Hoffa wrote in his autobiography, “Edward Grady Partin was a big, rugged man who could charm a snake off a rock.” Most people who knew him called him Big Daddy, and Big Daddy remarkably big and handsome, with strawberry blonde hair, sky blue eyes, a perpetual smile, and a southern drawl that invited trust.

Big Daddy was born in Woodville, and in his early 20’s he united Mississippi’s sawmill and trucking unions. He married my grandmother and they quickly amassed five children. In the 1950’s, they moved to Baton Rouge, where he took over Local #5 of The International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Jimmy Hoffa had only recently ascended into power, and, according to FBI records, Big Daddy “forcibly” helped install Hoffa’s man in New Orleans in the late 1950’s, and then led negotiations for bringing chemical and petroleum industries to Baton Rouge from nearby Houston, enticing them with shipping deals with his Teamsters.

The Louisiana Teamsters controlled of all shipping to and from America’s second largest port, New Orleans. It was, and is, the primary trading channel between Latin America and the United States. After WWII, President Eisenhower’s interstate program – modeled after Germany’s autobahn and its ability to qeuickly move troops and tanks – built Interstate 10 and connected New Orleans to California, paving the way for transporting all types of goods to and from New Orleans, the burgeoning city of Las Vegas, and Hollywood. Before President Kennedy’ Cuban embargo, Fidel Castro shipped goods to and from New Orleans; those goods were loaded on and off trucks ran by Hoffa’s man in New Orleans, and the trucks followed I-10 an hour away to Baton Rouge, where Big Daddy influenced what went on and off of them.

Big Daddy grew wealthy and powerful, and owned or controlled houses all over the south, and most had walls stuffed with cash and plastic explosives. According to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and Life magazine investigators, the explosives were requested by Hoffa as part of a plot to kill Bobby Kennedy, and were obtained through New Orleans mafia boss Carlos Marcello. That article was in 1964, ten months after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and Life showcased Big Daddy with his five children in the same feature as former vice-president and newly appointed president Johnson and his family, implying trust in Bobby Kennedy’s star witness.

Hoover admitted to following Big Daddy for more than two years because of his relationships with New Orleans mafia and Castro, and almost immediately after the Life feature Big Daddy was indicted by New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison in the only trial against Clay, anyone involved in President Kennedy’s assassination; the two witnesses vanished, and the alleged photo of Big Daddy with Jack Ruby just before Ruby shot and killed Oswald hasn’t been seen since. In a nationally followed spectacle, Garrison tried Clay Shaw in 1967, and Big Daddy’s omission fueled conspiracy theories about Kennedy’s assassination being part of a bigger plot, going against the official Warren Report that mistakenly said Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he shot and killed Kennedy, and Jack Ruby acted alone when he shot and killed Oswald; Oswald was a New Orleans naitive who trained with the civil air force in Baton Rouge, and Ruby was a low-level mob runner and former trucking business agent before Hoffa’s Teamsters took over Ruby’s Dallas dump truck business. To counter all of the rumors, Bobby Kennedy kept Big Daddy in magazines like Look! and Life, and Walter kept close tabs on all state-level prosecutions to keep Big Daddy’s name out of other media to protect the reputation of thier only witness against Hoffa.

When Bobby was assassinated in 1968, Walter Sheridan stepped in and assumed our family’s protection from legal challenges; by then, Walter was nationally known, the hero investigator who had temporarily left the FBI twice, once to help run John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign and once again to lead Bobby’s. He countered all of Jimmy Hoffa’s publicity from prison – he continued to be paid by the Teamsters and control their $1.1 Billion pension fund from prison – and Walter took it upon himself to defend Big Daddy, not because Big Daddy was innocent, but because Hoffa was only in prison because of Big Daddy’s testimony and presumed all-American stature, so to keep Hoffa in prison Walter had to keep Big Daddy out. Hoffa countered, and sent word to the mafia via his attorney, Frank Ragano, that $121 Million in mafia debt to Hoffa and the pension fund would be forgiven if “anyone” could get Ed Partin to change his testimony; he had to be alive, but they could use “any” tactic necessary. Hoffa ensured anyone listening to him and Ragano would hear that Ed Partin must be kept alive; Ragano, nationally known as “the lawyer for the mob,” also represented Marcello, Traffacante, and a host of other family bosses, and he spread the word quickly. A series of kidnappings, beatings, and explosions began to plague the Partin family, and Hoover doubled the number of federal agents protecting my grandmother, aunts, uncle, and father; all while my father was a young teenager and enjoying his immunity from police prosecution in Baton Rouge.

Around the time Wendy met Ed Partin Junior, Big Daddy was arrested for stealing $450,000 from the Local #5 safe. The safe was found at the bottom of the slow flowing and murky Comite River, and the only two witnesses were discovered bloody and beaten. The survivor refused to testify, and state police left Big Daddy alone.

When stealing the safe didn’t disrupt Big Daddy, Hoffa had President Nixon send America’s most decorated war hero and adored movie actor, Audie Murphy, to negotiate with Big Daddy on Hoffa’s behalf. Audie may have been a household name as well known as Hoffa and Kennedy; he had 278 confirmed kills in WWII and won every medal America had to give, and his memoir, To Hell and Back, became a hit movie and led him to staring in almost 40 films. For years, Hollywood made money on Audie Murphy by capitalizing on his boyish grin and all-American good looks; Hoffa, a fan of Audie’s, had funded some of those films with the Teamsters pension fund. But, by the early 1970’s, Audie was aging and no longer fit his typecast, and he was a perpetually unsuccessful entrepreneur who was broke. Hoffa still controlled the pension fund – he was using it to fund Nixon’s campaign – and Audie was acting as middle-man between Hoffa, Nixon, and Big Daddy in hopes of making a comeback. To coordinate meetings, Hoffa used New Orleans boss Marcello, who sent D’Alton Smith and his private plane to shuttle Audie to and from Baton Rouge and California. In May of 1971, Murphy flew out of Baton Rouge, commenting that D’Alton’s plane seemed unservicable; two weeks later, he crashed in that plane and died with the other four passengers. Big Daddy was the prime suspect, and though in the mid 1990’s I’d read FAA reports that the crash was due to pilot error, Big Daddy capitalized on his reputation of being able to kill a man with 278 confirmed kills along with a handful of Carlos Marcello’s top men; the event skyrocketed Big Daddy’s influence in Louisiana. Walter continued to support his witness, and in a nationally lampooned confrontation between Walter and Louisiana Governor McKeithen, the governor proclaimed, “I won’t let Ed Partin and his gangstar, hoodlum Teamsters run this state!” To which Walter calmly, succinctly, and effectively replied: “Lay off Partin.” McKeithen didn’t get the Teamster endorsement and wasn’t reelected, and Big Daddy continued to run the state and his oldest son, my father, continued to sell drugs with immunity without concern for things like graduating high school.

Wendy wouldn’t have known all of that then; she was 16 and pregnant, already overwhelmed, and unlikely to realize what teams of FBI investigators and reporters did not. She, like most teen agers, barely noticed the news. When I was born, we lived without a television in Big Daddy’s house by the Achafalaya Basin and Comite River. Bills were transferred to my dad’s name, but without differentiating junior vs senior, and our address was listed under Edward Partin. The house caught on fire while Wendy and I were inside, and several parked cars and nearby houses exploded. Police and insurance investigators determined there was no foul play, and they awarded generous settlements for Big Daddy’s cars and Uncle Doug Partin’s home; Doug and his family claimed Marcello was at fault, Uncle Keith and Aunt Shannon said Doug was capitalizing on opportunities to collect insurance money. Regardless of what actually happened in our house – gas leaks or walls full of plastic explosives or me playing with matches as a toddler – Wendy had a small nervous breakdown and left all of us.

But, she felt guilty for leaving me and returned a week later. A few weeks after, my dad left with a group of his motorcycle friends to buy a literal ton of opioids in Cuba, Jamaica, or Puerto Rico. No one was sure where they had gone, and the ones I know today admit they don’t remember much of the ’70’s. They had places to stay all over the Carribbean, because Big Daddy did business in Latin American via the port of New Orleans. The name Ed Partin was well known: he was rumored to deal directly with Fidel Castro, and he knew all Teamster leaders in Latin America. After Hoffa went to prison, Franck Chavez, the Puerto Rican Teamster president, publicly said, “I’m gonna kill Ed Partin!” He was assassinated by his bodyguard in 1968, and the new president never said a negative word about my family. There were enough stories like that for me to believe Ed Partin and his friends had plenty of couches to crash on in Latin America.

While he was gone, court records say Wendy had another breakdown and fled to California with a man at a coffee shop looking for a hitchhiker to split gas. He was leaving that day, and Wendy thought it was a sign for her to flee. Before leaving, she dropped me off at a daycare center near Glen Oaks High School, a small school of around 300 students near the remote Baton Rouge airport, twenty to thirty minutes north of downtown, where she had met my father and still had friends. She gave the daycare the phone number of her former classmate still in school, Linda White, and drove off with the young man she had just met. Social services were limited back then, and the daycare was closing for the day and saw no alternative but to let me go home with Linda’s father, the custodian of Glen Oaks, Mr. James “Ed” White. Someone called the police, and Judge Pugh of the East Baton Rouge Parish 19th Judicial District family court assigned Mr. White, my PawPaw, as my legal guardian.

My father returned to Baton Rouge with a literal ton of drugs. Court records say that he was arrested for possession of opioids with intent to distribute, but prosecutors decided to not pursue a trial because he was Big Daddy’s son; though Bobby had been assassinated, Walter still had enough influence to ensure no negative news about any Ed Partin came out of from Louisiana.

Wendy returned to Baton Rouge on her own, divorced my father, and found a job with Kelly’s Girls, a national program that franchised low-skill and seasonal jobs for young mothers juggling school and daycare. She’d puck me up at PawPaw’s once a month and drove me around town, delivering Yellow Pages and residential phone books in a car PawPaw fixed for her. She persevered, fighting the Partins in court and proving that she could earn a living, find housing, and provide for me. But it was a lot for anyone to navigate, and she was an uneducated young woman. She was on the verge of quitting when Judge Pugh allegedly committed suicide the summer of 1975, just after Jimmy Hoffa famously vanished from a Detroit parking lot. Judge JJ Lottingger replaced Pugh, leaving a thirty year tenure with Louisiana legislative law in the downtown Baton Rouge state capital building to become the only family court judge in East Baton Rouge Parish. For the next year and a half, he reviewed Wendy’s progress with work and housing, and on 26 September 1976 Lottingger reversed Pugh’s decision and returned my custody to Wendy.

My father and the Whites appealed for more than two years; PawPaw and MawMaw had grown to view me as their own, and PawPaw loved me like a son. Big Daddy finally went to federal prison for stealing the $450,000, plus a few other judgements, like perjury and racketeering; the murder charge never stuck. He left Louisiana to serve an 11 year sentence in a Texas penitentiary – coincidentally the same time as Hoffa had been sentenced – and my father left Louisiana to grow weed in Arkansas. Wendy found a secretary job at Exxon Plastics, ironically one of the plants Big Daddy had helped recruit to Baton Rouge, and I began living with Wendy in 1979, in a two bedroom, one bath rental house with a small back yard with a chain link fence for Wendy to keep a dog. It was walking distance to Glen Oaks High School, and near the house party where I was conceived seven years earlier.

Almost every time we laugh about things we did when we were kids, and why I call her Wendy, she mentions my father; she laughs awkwardly and jokes that she was born WAR, but marrying Ed Partin WARPed her, and that’s why she drinks.

“And I thought…,” she said. I took two breaths in the pause… “It’s not important. Call me back when you can.”

There was another pause, and a sigh as subtle as the b in subtle.

“Tell Cristi I said hello, and I hope y’all are enjoying San Diego,” she said quickly.

Most people listening would say she forced her tone to seem upbeat.

“If I miss you,” she finished, “Have fun in Cuba and we’ll talk when you get back.”

I rewound the message – an archaic term for cassette answering machines that I still say in my head – and listened two more times. After she said, “And I thought…,” I held my breath… I thought I heard a hint of “I,” but fading before manifesting. That subtle pause is what triggered my sense of dread that she would commit suicide.

I had been thinking about Judge Pugh on the flight, coincidentally, after re-reading my custody report on the airplane ride to Cuba, looking for hints of clues that may have been unknowingly included in my custody records. I may have overreacted the first time I listened to her voice mail.

I sighed, rotated my left wrist, and glanced at my 30+ year old solar powered Seiko dive watch, modified to be a satellite pager. The technology was cutting edge back then: it hadn’t needed a battery changed or to be wound in three decades, and the charge from an average day lasted six months. I’ve been impressed by small solar cells ever since. But, the plastic parts oxidize and have been known to break unexpectedly, so I replace the thick black corrugated band before every sabbatical. (One of the most dangerous things about deep wreck diving is nitrogen narcosis, and many otherwise skilled divers lost their lives chasing something they were attached to that slipped off and slowly sank to irrecoverable depths.) I had replaced the band at San Diego’s Just-in-Time on Tuesday, and the watch was still on Pacific Standard Time. I could call Wendy back before she passed out that evening.

I sighed again, and my gaze dropped from my phone to my two big feet.

Wendy was one of the wealthiest women in America. According to Wikipedia, she was one of the wealthiest 26,000 or so people in Northern America. I’m unsure if Wikipedia includes Canada and Mexico in that number; regardless, the United States has around 350 million people within our border, so Wendy was among the wealthiest 26,000/350Million people in the United States, the top 0.1% of wealth in one of the world’s wealthiest countries. If we include everyone in Canada and Mexico, she’s in the top 0.05%. I’m not a statistician, but that seems like good odds.

My eyebrows narrowed and I thought: I shouldn’t worry about Wendy.

Her mother, Joyce Hicks Rothdram, was a savy investor. Granny had fled an abusive husband in Toronto when Wendy was five years old and landed with her sister and brother-in-law in Baton Rouge. Granny taught herself to type using Uncle Bob’s electric typewriter and a book from the nearby public library and scored a secretarial job with DuPont in the burgeoning Baton Rouge petro-chemical industry north of the airport; unbeknowining to her, Big Daddy was instrumental in brining that industry and having I-110 built to connect the industry to I-10, which connected downtown Baton Rouge to New Orleans. DuPont offered Granny a healthcare and a retirement plan, but she didn’t have enough to invest yet. She scrimped on the cheapest cartons of cigarettes and cases of Scotch possible, put a down payment on a $38,000, 680 square foot home directly under the flight path, and bought a few books on investing. A few years later, she was doing well; she upgraded to smoking Kents – according to Life advertisements, most scientists and teachers who smoked, smoked Kents – and stocked her licquor cabinet with the finest Scotch money could buy. Every twenty minutes the bottles rattled from jet engines passing over her roof, but she was happy with her home and enjoyed learning about stocks and investing. Despite choosing to smoke a carton or two of Kents a week, she invested wisely. Uncle Bob and Auntie Lo latched on and heeded her advice, and the IRA’s Wendy inherited averaged 10.7% compounding interest and dividends over 30 years, greater than somewhere between 90% and 95% of all professionally managed funds.

Wendy’s portfolio hadn’t changed in decades; it still leaned towards Exxon, DuPont, Chevron, McDonald’s, IBM, GE, AT&T, and companies with plants or offices in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Houston. She never tweaked Granny’s more than a smidgen here and there, mostly a few tech stocks from after Granny passed, like Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon.

(Wendy and Granny liked to read, and they saw value in Amazon, which was originally an online book retailer; Jeff Bezos called it Amazon because it had a wave of options as big as the Amazon River. They were both secretaries who learned to type on electric typewriters, and they saw the value of newfangled computers with word processors; they were two girls who got knocked up and became single mothers and scraped by on minimum wage, typing paperwork for engineers and middle managers with college degrees, and both appreciated that word processors came with an “undo” command.)

Granny – and eventually Wendy – allocated the maximum monthly amount possible in their company-sponsored retirement plans, around 10-17%, depending on congressional laws each year. They also contributed to individual plans in traditional IRA’s; the Roth IRA wasn’t an option yet. (I don’t know what the limits were back then, but, currently, you can contribute $5,500 to an IRA if you work for yourself, and $17,500 if you work for someone else, and all forms of IRA’s increase by $1000 after you turn 65.) Granny retired from DuPont after 30 years of secretarial work, Uncle Bob retired as manager of Montreal’s New Orleans headquarters of Bulk Stevedoring after 30 years, and Wendy accepted an early retirement from Exxon-Mobil after 27 years as a secretary and then as “tech support,” walking around offices and uploading Microsoft programs onto computers using a licensed CD. Minimum wage invested wisely and compounded over sixty years adds up, and if you do the math you may be as shocked as I was to see how wealthy Wendy could be, if she cashed in her four IRA’s.

The only unsolicited advice Granny ever gave, other than to never give money to the IRS, was to follow the law, every law: pay library fines, don’t cheating on taxes, and never, no matter how tempting, kill your loudmouth ignorant neighbor, or their dog that won’t stop that goddamn barking. All of our Canadian family was in America on work visas, and any one of them could be deported for a minor infarction. Granny didn’t want to return to Canada, and she didn’t want to be dependent on a husband again.

Outside of when I traveled, I wasn’t concerned with most American laws, except for not killing an opinionated neighbor or their yappy dog. That’s more of a moral, philosophical, or spiritual debate than a legal one, like abortion. I don’t know where I’d be if Wendy had scraped together $150, just like I don’t know whether or not she’d be happier. Like Granny, I view laws from a practical standpoint, a way to avoid hassles and live the life you want.

I was Wendy’s last relative, the one she called to say things she told no one else. Granny never had more children, and Auntie Lo and Uncle Bob couldn’t. Wendy didn”t want to call the Partins still living in Baton Rouge, and barely knew our Canadian relatives; I probably knew them better, because I traveled so much, and Wendy had only visited Toronto once since I was born. Granny’s aunt, the Toronto spinster and socialite Edith Lang, had married her boss 45 years and inherited Canada’s largest private art collection and a couple dozen million Loons – around $12 million – and in 2004 left Wendy a collection of art worth a small fortune. Granny’s sister, my Aunt Mary, inherited the bulk of Aunt Edith’s wealth; she was 93 years old, and showed now signs of slowing down. Aunt Mary was fit and active, like she had learned from their father, Harold “Hal” Hicks.

Grandpa Hicks was a well known hockey player, according to Wikipedia: Harold Henry Hicks (December 10, 1900 — August 14, 1965) was a Canadian professional ice hockey player who played 90 games in the National Hockey League with the Montreal Maroons, Detroit Cougars, and Detroit Falcons between 1928 and 1931. The rest of his career, which lasted between 1917 and 1934, was spent in various minor leagues. He was born in Sillery, Quebec.

(If Granny were alive today, she’d read what Wikipedia had to say about Grandpa Hicks and say: Bullshit! He played for the Maple Leafs and the Bruins, too. What the hell is this Wikipedia thing? Pay for a set of encyclopedias, turn off that hand-held TV, and read a goddamn book. She’d probably then ask for a cigarette and a Scotch on the rocks, pick up her reading glasses parked next to a faded black and white photo of Grandpa Hicks atop her bookshelf, and show me her scrapbook of his newspaper clippings to prove she was right.)

Most of what I know about my family history – and life – comes from Granny’s bookshelf. Like Granny, it was small but powerful; it had a complete Encyclopedia Britanica with the annual revision option; a row of classic literature, a dictionary, a thesaurus, and Bullfinch’s Mythology; a few investment books of authors I don’t recall, but all with Warren-esque philosophies; a stained first edition of The Joy of Cooking, The Times Picayune Creole Cookbook, and, after 1986, Paul Prudhome’s Louisiana Kitchen; my magic books and Hardy Boys series; Wendy’s Nancy Drew series; and Granny’s subscription to Reader’s Digest. One shelf was haphazard, like the “miscellaneous” folder Granny used for receipts in her tax-preparation drawer, and the books that stick in my mind are: Jimmy Hoffa’s 1975 “Hoffa: the Real Story,” Walter Sheridan’s “The Rise and Fall of Jimmy Hoffa,” and the memoirs of Earl Warren.

Of all the books, she most read the Reader’s Digest, keeping each month’s book by her Laz-Y-Boy recliner, beside her ashtray table that also had a reading lamp. After a long day of work and cooking and cleaning, she’d repose in that chair with a tallboy Scotch on the rocks, swap out her glasses, and fire up a Kent. She rarely spoke of her past, but I never doubted she adored Grandpa Hicks and had always been an avid reader: so was Aunt Mary, and she said that their parents were avid readers, too, so maybe it runs in the family. Investing, too. Grandpa Hicks died in 1965, retiring as a senior manager of the Canadian railway system; his obituary was published nationally, and no one had anything negative to say about him. I never had a reason to doubt Granny. We have a family tree in Canada that stems from Grandpa Hicks, and though none of them did anything to warrant a Wikipedia page, all the ones I’ve met have been lovely, distant relatives with remarkably high tolerances for alcohol. They all invested wisely. Apparently, Grandpa Hicks, who oversaw a lot of Canada’s rail system pension funds, was a savvy investor, and Granny was a good listener when she was a teenager growing up in their suburban Richmond Hill home. She never understood Wendy’s nervous breakdowns.

Granny passed away from throat cancer when I was in Airborne school, November 22nd, 1990, a few months shy of her 64th birthday. Before I left, she told Wendy to fun with the money; she had had a rough childhood, and deserved to have some fun. Granny’s already thin face was loose and drooping, covered in inked grids for radiation therapy, and she still smoked and chuckled every time an airplane passed overhead and made the ice cubes in her tallboy of Scotch tumble like glaciers cleaving and falling into the ocean; that’s the face I remembered when I chose to go to war instead of attending her funeral. Her final words to me were, “Everything’s a choice; be happy.”

Auntie Lo passed in 1993, and left her and Uncle Bob’s retirement to Wendy. She hadn’t touched any of the inherited IRA’s in thirty years, and hers was a Zerox copy of theirs, which was a carbon copy of Granny’s. When I pried or nudged, Wendy repeated Granny’s advice of avoiding 10% early retirement penalty, on top of income taxes of around 27%, and she was postponing traveling until that penalty went away at age 64. I once tried to show that withdrawing $100,000 would leave her with $90,000 of income, more than she ever dreamed as a kid, and wouldn’t be noticed in her accounts. But, our first habits are often the ones we cling to most tightly, and our first oversights are rarely noticed; Granny adhered to the early with drawl penalty to differentiate between comfort and excess. When Granny retired at 60, she owned her home, had a padded savings account and a small but growing personal brokerage account, a new car fully paid for (and enough savings to buy another without borrowing at “bullshit” interest rates), and she spent the two years before her cancer kicked back in road tripping through Mexico with a gaggle of girlfriends, laughing and chain smoking along the way, doing Tequila shots in Juarez with old gentlemen in reputable saloons, and swapping federally-fighting stories. Wendy was too absorbed in grief – focused on all of her family dying, and me in war – to see the full story behind Granny’s advice.

With her self-imposted constraint, Wendy was, admittedly, on a tight budget. She had just begun receiving social security checks, and that’s barely enough to pay for her air conditioning bill, vet insurance, and wine; she hadn’t inherited our family’s social security, because it’s a Ponzi scheme and when someone dies only their spouse can receive social security. She adored Aunt Edit’s paintings – they were all scenes of hunting and farm dogs set in Prince Edward Island and Wales – and, though each was worth more than I earned from the army’s GI Bill and about the cost of an LSU engineering degree, she kept them as a family heirloom that meant more to her than a couple of Grandpa Hicks’s old jerseys. Despite all of the wealth hung on her walls and parked in her brokerage account, she found things to complain about, and sometimes called to rant about social security and IRA laws. She said she was bored of waiting to turn 64, and that’s why she drank.

My eyebrows narrowed. My headache felt worse. I shouldn’t worry about Wendy, I thought to myself.

My dad crept into my thoughts, like he often does when I’m worry about Wendy’s mental health.

My biologic father, Ed Partin Junior, was arrested in 1985 for “cultivation of a controlled substance,” a fancy way of saying he grew weed. Deputies found the federal limit, 2.0 pounds, in the cracks of his barn, mixed with an unknown mass of dead bugs and rat turds. (I was 12 years old and with him, and I told the sheriff and armed deputies that wasn’t anything but shitty shake, so full of rat turds that even my dad said he wouldn’t smoke it.) Because Hoffa was declared dead and Big Daddy was in prison, my dad was sentenced to the Arkansas federal penitentiary in 1985. Wendy and I quip that he lost a battle in Reagan’s war on drugs.

He got out in 1986, passed his high school equivalency exam, was accepted to The Univeristy of Arkansas on academic probation, and earned honor graduate with a dual degree in history and political science in only 3-1/2 years. He immediately enrolled in The University of Arkansas law school. In 1991, as a 35 year old law student and ex-con, he won a national essay contest and was invited to speak to congress about legalizing flag burning. (He mailed me his essay and news clippings about his trip when I was an 18 year old soldier in the first Gulf war.) He graduated with a juris doctorate in 1993, and passed the Arkansas bar exam on the first attempt. He then took and passed the Napoleonic-esque Louisiana bar exam, a rarity for law students who didn’t study in Louisiana. (Louisiana, named for King Louis and Queen Anna, retains French-era laws from before the Louisiana Purchase, hence having parishes instead of counties, why we have a different law code than the rest of the United States, and why Americans wanting to study European law flock to Louisiana and study for Louisiana’s bar exam.) He was refused a license in either state, but represented himself in lawsuits that reached the state supreme courts of both Arkansas and Louisiana and allowed him to change the law: before his suits, few, if any, states allowed a convicted felon to practice law, a detail he had overlooked when planning his path.

After winning his Louisiana state supreme court case, he moved back home and became a public defense attorney. He rented a small office with a window overlooking an oak tree, within walking distance of the the downtown jail and courthouse, and, at 36 years old, earned his livelihood from anything other than “intent to distribute a controlled substance” for the first time in his life. He made local news weekly, both for defending those who had no other defenders (e.g. a nationally publicized case where five African American teens allegedly raped a caucasian girl, and no other defender in the deep south would step forward; it was a nationally publicized case, nicknamed the “Something-or-Another Five,” giving the gang a name before their trial; what kind of public defender would accept that case?) and for his own shenanigans around town. He had frequent DUI’s, fines for contempt of court, shooting a neighbor’s dog, and more than one awkward incident after a party at LSU, where he was too old to be partying and woke up naked and roaming campus, peering in windows along sorority row, looking for his clothes piled beside someone’s couch. (In a hilarious headline by the LSU gazette, they documented his escapades in a feature article: “Naked man escapes after roaming sorority row: campus police say he won’t get off that easily,” which made Wendy laugh out loud.)

All the bars around LSU and the downtown courthouse knew him well, even when bartenders were too young to remember Big Daddy. Wendy’s former favorite bar and grill, The Chimes at The Gates of LSU, had two small brass plaques with “Ed Partin” engraved from their “around the world” beer competition, primarily geared towards helping students understand geography: to get a plaque, you had to drink a couple of bottled beers from every country that made beer within a year. The wall was mostly college boys with fierce livers. (Wendy was young and looked younger then, and her tubes were tied; she dated a few college boys and hung out at The Chimes in a bout of fun that would have made Granny raise a toast in joy for Wendy living without regrets). But, not long ago, Wendy pulled out her credit card to pay, and the bartender asked if she were related to Ed Partin. He pointed to the wall and said that Ed was his roommate’s attorney and that guy who ran around campus naked. She hadn’t been back since.

Wendy and my dad hadn’t spoken in decades. But, in a remarkable coincidence, my dad settled in the town adjacent to Saint Francisville, appropriately named Slaughter, Louisiana. He bought five acres adjacent to Wendy’s coworker’s home, and, to their chagrin, he built a barn and chicken coop partially on their property. When they inquired about Wendy’s last name at work, they were curious if Ed Partin, the crazy long haired bearded guy who shooed Betsy away from his chickens with a shotgun and shot Roger’s German shepart, was a distant relative of Wendy’s. She reacted as if she had PTSD, and they filed a complaint with senior management. She was already known to snap at coworkers and tell them to mind their own business, and Exxon’s early retirement offer was generous. She avoided Slaughter after that.

Wendy was a notorious procrastinator, and had never changed her last name, saying it was too much trouble to get a new driver’s license and passport, or to change the benefactor’s name on her inherited IRA’s. After my dad stumbled into her favorite cafe in St. Francisville and called out, she avoided the cafe. Sometimes, in Jackson, she saw Keith Partin, Big Daddy’s other son and current president of Local #5, and though Keith’s a classic good guy and gentle giant who she knew in high school, she avoids him and therefore Jackson. In Zachary, she’d be asked if she were related to Joe Partin, Big Daddy’s nephew and the principal and football coach of the Zachary High Broncos, or the coincidentally named Jason Partin, Joe’s son, a local football hero who runs a physical therapy center. Zachary became off limits, too. Whenever she was asked about the Partins, she called me to complain about my father and made jokes about being WARPed. She said that avoiding my dad was enough to make anyone drink.

Wendy said she was happy. I had learned to stop asking if she were still going to therapy, or if she had tempered her drinking, because that prompted months of radio silence. When we talked, she’d tell me about volunteering at the relatively new West Feliciana Parsih Humane Society, the one next door to the infamous private Angola prison (for decades, it was “the most bloody prison in America”). Wendy brought a bag of McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches to the Angola work-release prisoners who cleaned dog cages for 15 cents an hour, even in 2019; no one but the society’s director and I knew she did that; Wendy preferred privacy, and those who knew her well respected her privacy. Sometimes, she saved a dog from death row, took it home, nursed it to health and house trained it, put purple and gold LSU ribbons in its hair, and brought it to the next adoption fair. Usually, she just finished feeding prisoners and playing with dogs, and returned home. She’d feed her dogs, make lunch, get bored, and open a bottle of wine. She said she drank because she was there was nothing else to do on a hot and muggy day in southern Louisiana. By 3 or 4, she’d be drunk.

The director was a friend of hers, and sometimes I checked in with her if it were to late to call Wendy. I asked her about the sandwiches when I called early one morning, and she said, “They only cost 99 cents each,” as if that’s all there were to it.

“Jimmy Buffet likes them, too,” she said.

She meant Warren Buffet, who had just been on a documentary driving through McDonalds on his way to work in Omaha. He, like Granny, invested in McDonald’s; compounding interest works the same if you invest $100 or $1 Million, and Buffet was the world’s second wealthiest person.

“And those poor old black men have those same shitty sandwiches from when I was a kid,” she said, with a tone of judgement towards the people who allowed that to continue.

She was talking about the annual Angola prison rodeo, a tradition predating the prison and perhaps reaching back to Angola plantation, always gave the same lunch in the same brown paper bags to the poor black men: grey bologna and orange cheese between two slices of soggy white bread. The Angola rodeo was the butt of February 2019 John Oliver show, and was on my mind as an excuse to call her one morning when I returned from vacation. I had used John Oliver as an excuse to call before, when he did a special on managed retirement fund fees. (John accepted his HBO contract on the condition that his shows be released to Youtube a few weeks later, because the information in his comedy show was useful to people who didn’t subscribe to HBO; Wendy chose to keep using a financial advisor to handle taxes on her IRA’s, making him wealthy in the process.) Though not as savvy of an investor as Granny or many other people – I may be one of them – she did more to help Angola than I ever did: the most I’ve done to help them has been to mention it now. Saint Francisville’s economy still revolves around plantations, and one of the bigger ones hosts an annual fundraiser for the humane society. Wendy had begun donating one of Aunt Edith’s paintings for the silent auction, and for a few hundred dollars, people driving up from Baton Rouge unknowingly walked away with what could pay children’s college tuition wrapped in brown paper padding. She didn’t want to be bothered finding an art dealer to help her sell a few for herself, and she avoided people who behaved hypocritically, so she donated an occasional painting anonymously.

I adjusted the time on my dive watch to delay making a decision, sighed again, and tried calling Wendy. As usual, her cell phone wasn’t getting reception. She didn’t answer her land line (another archaic word in my head, used for old home phones and for a line of wire hastily stretched across the ground between positions, to use in lieu of radio or light signals; any signal can be intercepted and decoded, or triangulated to locate the sender). I sent a text and an email letting her know I had already arrived in Cuba. I chuckled to lighten the tone, and said that that the cell reception in Havana was worse than at her place, and that I’d only be able to check messages when I came back to Havana every week or two, but to text or email me if it were important. I said I’d stay in Havana longer, if necessary, so we could schedule a time to speak. If it were urgent, I said, tell Cristi and she would know how to reach me.

Coincidentally, I added, chuckling, I was calling from a public square named after Saint Francis, the patron saint of kindness to animals, and I hoped that put a smile on her face. I reiterated that I’d check messages when I could, and added a perfunctory “I love you.”

I left a voice with Cristi, saying I arrived safely and that the WiFi was less than I had expected, so I would be mostly offline. She had been used to gaps of contact ever since we were in middle school and missed each other for summer vacations, which transitioned to the first war, where I was gone for most of 1990-1991, and my service on America’s quick reaction force under President Clinton after that (we deployed with two hour notice and communication lockouts to prevent media discernment between real versus simulated deployments, and I had been offline for up to six months at at time). Recently, I was a faculty of physics, engineering, and entrepreneurship at the University of San Diego Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering; an advisor for the UCSD Basement, a technology and entrepreneurship incubator; and a director or consultant for a few nonprofit organizations centered around incorporating entrepreneurship education and environmental stewardship into public K-12 schools. (That’s how I scored an Obama entrepreneurship visa to Cuba; I hadn’t worked for a president since my 20’s, and since retiring in my 30’s I wouldn’t say I’ve worked for anyone.) I took off once a year or more for one to three month sabbaticals, sometimes for fun and sometimes to work with side-gigs. (Like PawPaw, I used side-gigs to pursue whatever was more important to me than money.) In my message, I said everything was fine and I loved her; I paused, and enunciated that Wendy had left a voice mail and I was concerned. I didn’t mention the coincidence about St. Francis, because that would diluted my message and started Cristi thinking about synchronicity. I’d tell her when I got home and could share her reaction.

I looked up, hung up the phone, and sighed again. I took out my earbuds and held them, inhaled slowly and deeply, and exhaled completely. I squeezed a puff more out, inhaled again, and exhaled in a single purge before breathing normally again. I snapped my head back and forth to loosen tight muscles, packed away the earbuds. and glanced around the plaza to see if anyone was paying attention. There were a few handfuls of people scattered here and there, and about half of the people were using their phones, either talking or scrolling. A few were walking around, peering into the bars and chatting with their people about what they saw or heard inside, excited by the prospects. No one seemed to notice much.

I made a decision: I opened my Lonely Planet and called a couple of casa particulars I had circled on one of the airplanes. I spent precious WiFi minutes asking a few questions until I confirmed which had a room with two doors; one had a glass door that opened onto a center courtyard, they said. I told them I’d be there after dinner, and then sent a burst to my circle. (“Burst” was once an encrypted scramble between synchronized frequency-hopping radios in a single-integrated network, ground-and-airborne radio system, the most advanced communications technology known; now burst messages are accomplished by typing a list of names in the “bcc” line of a free email account.) I typed a quick gmail to two thirty-something eco-sports journalists guys, telling them I had arrived and would see them in Vinales in a week or so. I sent WhatsAp to a young illegal climbing guide in Vinales something similar, but in Spanglish.

As a side gig, I was a rock climbing guide in remote regions of off-the-beaten-path countries. Usually, I prefer with multi-pitch granite trad climbing or multi-peak summits covered in ice and requiring planning, but when the Cuban entrepreneurship visa became an option, I looked into the limestone cliffs of Vinales, the tobacco farming region of Cuba. They were only a few hundred feet high, and the routes were bolted, but I had read it had some of the best face climbing in the western hemisphere. The views of the farm fields from high above was spectacular, and the eco-journalists wanted to use their visa to take professional photos; one was a photographer, and their magazine was reputable because of the quality of articles coupled with photos. They’d write articles for their national magazine job, but they also wanted to dig deeper into the politics that prevented Americans from visiting Cuba. If they slipped and said too much, they risked their visa. But, they said, it was the only way to reach more Americans without preaching to the choir; they were battling the growing trend of compartmentalized news and ideas from singularly-focused media and websites that has widened the gaps between Americans.

I’m notoriously “hands off,” reticent about details, especially over the phone or via texts or emails. Like Wendy, I’m allergic to paperwork, so assistants handled our travel insurance. Cuba, like most countries with free healthcare, requires all tourists to have generous insurance. In many countries with ostensibly free healthcare, the price is loss of freedom. Rock climbing’s not a big deal, but illegal in Cuba because it’s deemed an unnecessary risk. (I read that Fidel stopped smoking cigars and only used them in publicity photos, trying to influence people rather than making smoking and the lucrative tobacco industry illegal.) Cuba, like many governments, monitors tourists; you never know who’s listening, or when a local law enforcement officer or person with a grudge or some other motivation could arrest you, or testify against you about anything you said or wrote. Every year, the news if full of American tourists detained in countries too small to be a threat to America, but that have every right to enforce whichever laws they choose, if only to make a point; typical crimes enforced against Americans included cannabis use, homosexuality, trespassing, graffiti, and spitting (one American schmuck was whipped with a cane pole in public for spitting on a Singapore sidewalk).

To put my caution in perspective of my family history, Jimmy Hoffa, the world’s most powerful labor leader and one of the wealthiest and most well known men in America not a Kennedy, went to prison in 1966 for a few words spoken to my grandfather. They were in a private hotel room and guarded by Hoffa’s inner circle, and Hoffa, feeling overconfident or bemused by Big Daddy’s wit and charm, uttered out a single sentence implying Big Daddy bribe a juror in the Test Fleet case against Hoffa. He timed his otherwise benign words with the motion of patting an envelope of cash in his back pocket, saying $20,000 should do it.

The room was swept for bugs by the best electronics goons money could buy, but nothing can stop a person with a hidden agenda; a few months before, Big Daddy was arrested for kidnapping and manslaughter, but two days later U.S. Attorney General Bobby freed him, in exchange for infiltrating Hoffa’ inner circle and finding “anything of interest” that Bobby could use against his nemesis. Big Daddy became a mole, and ten months after Bobby’s brother, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated, Hoffa was found guilty based solely on my grandfather’s testimony about a few words Hoffa uttered in presumed privacy. Hoffa’s lawyers were the best money could buy who were willing to work for people like Hoffa, Marcello, Traficante, and all the main mafia families in each state, yet they still couldn’t stop Hoffa from being sentenced to 11 years in prison because of a personal vendetta.

For ten years, newspapers had dubbed the fight between Bobby and Hoffa “The Blood Feud,” and after Big Daddy became his only witness against Hoffa, Bobby showcased my family nationally. The Partins shared billing with newly appointed President Johnson and his family, and Big Daddy was dubbed an all-American hero. Bobby ensured no court in America would find Ed Partin guilty of anything that would risk Hoffa’s attempts to discredit the only witness against him. Big Daddy was showcased on national media for years, including a 1968 Life focus on the mafia, where Big Daddy was shown to be tough enough to run the Teamsters and fend off mafia influence.The case was followed daily. Hoffa’a army of attorneys appealed his sentence for two years, but they lost their 1966 supreme court case, Hoffa versus The United States. The only one of nine judges to dissent against using Big Daddy’s testimony was Warren, a 40 year veteran of the court, having overseen landmark cases such as Roe vs Wade, Brown vs The Board of Education, and the case that gave us Miranda Rights. He was a household name by the time of Hoffa’s 1966 case, because he been chairman of a committee to investigate President Kenendy’s assassination, and the 1964 Warren Report was debated by almost every household in America. (Warren mistakenly said Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he shot and killed Kennedy, and that Jack Ruby acted alone two days later, when he shot and killed Oswald, who was wearing handcuffs and being escorted out of the Dallas police station and shot Oswald on live television; 110 million people witnessed it, so no one doubted Ruby’s guilt, but most people doubted that either Oswald or Ruby acted on their own, and to this day most people suspect a conspiracy. The 1979 congressional JFK and Martin Luther King Junior Assassination Report, though kept classified until President Clinton released the first part in 1992, reversed the Warren Report and said that Kennedy’s murder was the result of an organized effort, and the three suspects with the means, motive, and method were Jimmy Hoffa, New Orleans mafia boss Carlos Marcelo, and Miami mafia boss and Cuban exile Santos Trafacante Junior.) Chief Justice Earl Warren made decisions based on information presented to him, and in 1966 he was one of the first people to look at my grandfather’s criminal history and the details of his testimony against Hoffa, and only one of nine judges to see a problem with sending Hoffa to prison based solely on one person’s testimony, especially a person like Edward Grady Partin Senior.

This is what Warren said about Big Daddy, and the process by which America monitors personal conversations:

“Here, Edward Partin, a jailbird languishing in a Louisiana jail under indictments for such state and federal crimes as embezzlement, kidnapping, and manslaughter (and soon to be charged with perjury and assault), contacted federal authorities and told them he was willing to become, and would be useful as, an informer against Hoffa, who was then about to be tried in the Test Fleet case. A motive for his doing this is immediately apparent — namely, his strong desire to work his way out of jail and out of his various legal entanglements with the State and Federal Governments. And it is interesting to note that, if this was his motive, he has been uniquely successful in satisfying it. In the four years since he first volunteered to be an informer against Hoffa he has not been prosecuted on any of the serious federal charges for which he was at that time jailed, and the state charges have apparently vanished into thin air. Shortly after Partin made contact with the federal authorities and told them of his position in the Baton Rouge Local of the Teamsters Union and of his acquaintance with Hoffa, his bail was suddenly reduced from $50,000 to $5,000 and he was released from jail. He immediately telephoned Hoffa, who was then in New Jersey, and, by collaborating with a state law enforcement official, surreptitiously made a tape recording of the conversation. A copy of the recording was furnished to federal authorities. Again on a pretext of wanting to talk with Hoffa regarding Partin’s legal difficulties, Partin telephoned Hoffa a few weeks later and succeeded in making a date to meet in Nashville, where Hoffa and his attorneys were then preparing for the Test Fleet trial. Unknown to Hoffa, this call was also recorded, and again federal authorities were informed as to the details.

Warren’s missive of dissent was lengthy, even for a missive. After a few more paragraphs of ranting about Big Daddy, Warren cited a few words given to Big Daddy by FBI agent Walter Sheidan, a former campaign adviser for John F. Kennedy and head of the FBI’s Get Hoffa squad under Bobby Kennedy, that would be cited again and again for the next sixty years: “anything of interest.”

“Pursuant to the general instructions he received from federal authorities to report “any attempts at witness intimidation or tampering with the jury,” “anything illegal,” or even “anything of interest,” Partin became the equivalent of a bugging device which moved with Hoffa wherever he went. Everything Partin saw or heard was reported to federal authorities, and much of it was ultimately the subject matter of his testimony in this case. For his services, he was well paid by the Government, both through devious and secret support payments to his wife and, it may be inferred, by executed promises not to pursue the indictments under which he was charged at the time he became an informer.

This type of informer and the uses to which he was put in this case evidence a serious potential for undermining the integrity of the truthfinding process in the federal courts. Given the incentives and background of Partin, no conviction should be allowed to stand when based heavily on his testimony. And that is exactly the quicksand upon which these convictions rest, because, without Partin, who was the principal government witness, there would probably have been no convictions here. Thus, although petitioners make their main arguments on constitutional grounds and raise serious Fourth and Sixth Amendment questions, it should not even be necessary for the Court to reach those questions. For the affront to the quality and fairness of federal law enforcement which this case presents is sufficient to require an exercise of our supervisory powers. As we said in ordering a new trial in Mesarosh v. United States, 352 U. S. 1, 352 U. S. 14 (1956), a federal case involving the testimony of an unsavory informer who, the Government admitted, had committed perjury in other cases:

This is a federal criminal case, and this Court has supervisory jurisdiction over the proceedings of the federal courts. If it has any duty to perform in this regard, it is to see that the waters of justice are not polluted. Pollution having taken place here, the condition should be remedied at the earliest opportunity.”

Hoffa went to prison after he ran out of appeals in the supreme court. From that point on, his case, Hoffa versus The United States, would be cited by lower courts and used to justify unspecific wire tapping. I’m not a lawyer, and I read on Wikipedia that the fourth amendment says, among other things, “warrants must be issued by a judge or magistrate, justified by probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and must particularly describe the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.” A walking bug sprung from a Baton Rouge jail cell could violate a lot of things.

As for the sixth amendment, I’ve never studied it. For all I know, it excludes people like me from inalienable rights granted to others. I believe Chief Justice Earl Warren knew more about the sixth amendment than I do, so I’ll assume something about using Hoffa’s trial seemed to violate it, maybe the surprise factor Walter Sheridan and Bobby Kennedy used, having Big Daddy stand up in the court room and shocking Hoffa. According to everyone in the room, Hoffa gasped and said, “My God! It’s Partin!” All of the jurors overheard him, and his shock was a planned tactic to sway the jury.

Big Daddy was cross examined for three days he wooed them with his strawberry blonde hair, sky blue eyes, subtle but persistent smile, and charming southern accent. He described the context of what Hoffa said, mentioning the padded envelope Hoffa had patted in his back pocket, and safe full of padded envelops that no juror had seen. They believed Big Daddy’s word, and in 1964 they had quickly returned from only a few hours of deliberation and found Hoffa guilty of attempting to bribe a juror in the 1962 Test Fleet Case, escalating what was a seemingly benign state-level case to the federal charge of jury tampering.

From prison, Hoffa promised to forgive $121 Million of mafia debt if “anyone” could get Ed Partin to change his testimony “using any means” as long as he “remained alive,” to recant or sign an affidavit swearing that “spoiled brat Booby” used “illegal wiretapping.” (Hoffa always called Bobby Booby.) I grew up under federal protection, a gift from Bobby and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, even after Bobby was assassinated in 1968, for as long as Hoffa remained in prison. President Nixon pardoned Hoffa in 1971, but the attacks continued because, under Nixon’s pardon, Hoffa couldn’t return to running the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and controlling their $1 Billion, unregulated pension fund for another eight years. A Billion dollars was a lot of money back then, and Hoffa’s network continued to pressure Big Daddy to either recant his testimony or testify that Bobby Kennedy and Walter Sheirdan, head of the government’s Get Hoffa squad for more than a decade, had illegally used wire tapping to plot their strategy, thereby dismissing all lingering charges against Hoffa.

Though Big Daddy and Hoffa were ancient history, the consequences of supreme court verdicts are higher than one person’s sentencing: they impact all subsequent cases with similar wording. Warren had overseen the case that led to Miranda Rights, the one centered around the sixth amendment and the use of witnesses, and reminds everyone being arrested that the right to an attorney and the right to remain silent; I assume Warren knew a thing or two about the forth and sixth amendments, which is why he said Hoffa’s case should have never reached the supreme court, and why he wrote a missive for posterity to ponder. As for The Miranda Rights, it’s hard to deny that the world would be a more peaceful place if more people practiced their right to remain silent.

I don’t know if the waters of justice are still polluted, nor do I know what Warren would have said if he knew the ghosts of Big Daddy and Jimmy Hoffa would resurface in 2001. Hoffa vs The United States became a cornerstone of a foundation upon which President George Bush Junior built Patriot Act, the act rushed through congress after 9/11 and brilliantly abbreviated: “The 2001 Act for Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.” The Patriot act justified monitoring cell phone messages of hundreds of millions of people without a warrant, looking for “anything of interest.” Because it used technology, not just of a room of FBI agents, The Patriot Act used software to scrub messages looking for anything of interest by anyone using cell phones in America; similar justifications were used for monitoring people and embassy’s globally. Not only did a few words uttered by Hoffa land him in prison, those were the words Walter Sheridan offered as advice when prepping Big Daddy. Sixty years later, those words crawled off a page in the annals of the American justice system and touched millions of people’s private messages; justified locking up terrorists in Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay without attorneys, interviewing witnesses against them, or a trial; and paved the way for American’s torturing prisoners using the CIA-approved waterboarding method.

Bush’s leading legal advisor was a Harvard law professor named Jack Goldsmith, who, in one of the more remarkable coincidences I’ve seen, used to be Jack O’Brien; he is the adopted son of Chucky O’Brien, Jimmy Hoffa’s adopted son and long-time suspect in the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Hoffa’s disappearance.

When Jack was in law school at Yale, he changed his name to his biologic father’s, because Chucky O’Brien was still under FBI investigation for Hoffa’s disappearance and other mafia-related shenanigans. (Almost all mafia film charatertures of a short, squat, bulldog, fiercely loyal to Hoffa or one of the families, are based on Chuckie; Joe Pesci would portray him in The Irishman, and had, humorously, jumped up to slap Craig Vincent on behalf of Robert DeNiro in Scorce’s Casino film. Chucky despised Big Daddy, and cursed his ghost up until Chuckie’s death in 2020, a year after his adopted son exonerated his suspicion in Hoffa’s disappearance, and almost exactly thirty years after a team of burly men heaved Big Daddy’s casket into his grave in Baton Rouge’s Greenwood Cemetery.) Jack disagreed with many points of the Patriot Act, but did his job under presidential orders. (No offense to Jack, but I always mention anyone who reports to a boss and does something they believe is immoral or unethical as an example of why entrepreneurship can provide freedom to improve the world.)

In short: words have consequences, and after a while all you can do about it is laugh and watch what you say or write.

A simple word or two overheard and out of context could get you put in jail. Under Cuba’s national health coverage, unnecessary and risky sports are illegal. The law wasn’t enforced, like American marijuana laws or President Clinton’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policies in 1992 weren’t enforced, but there was always a possibility that one law enforcement official with a bug up his ass could use an obscure law to confiscate a farmer’s land or to make an example out of a gringo or two. In the 2000’s, President George Bush Junior had personally been involved in a $14 Million pursuit of Tommy Chong, from the comedy duo Cheech and Chong, for helping his daughter start a glass pipe business that everyone had to call Chong’s Bongs; he was arrested in his pajamas at his California home by a federal task force one morning. He spent nine months in federal prison for what was legal in California but illegal federally, sharing a cell with The Wolf of Wall Street; that’s no joke. Every year, at least a few American tourists are arrested for things like littering, spitting, marijuana, illegal sexual choices, or even traffic violations; they are detained in countries with a grudge against Americans, and have been publicly whipped with a cane (Singapore’s penalty for spitting on a sidewalk) put in prison for a year or more, etc. Iran still has laws allowing a hand to be cleaved off if you steal a piece of bread, and many countries have barbaric practices to get the devil’s homosexual seed out of you, America’s not innocent: after 9/11, we arrested and detained dozens of terrorism suspects based on intercepted messages, and detained them in an old American navy base in Guantanamo Bay, amd tortured them for years.

The Guatanamo prisoners were only three hours west of where I was checking voice mail and sending messages from my cell phone. They had been there for more than fifteen years without an attorney, and had been tortured by American soldiers under guidance from above. A few say the ends warrant the means; anyone who says waterboarding isn’t torture should try it for a while. Everything the prisoners said was used against them.

I planned to visit Guantanamo at the end of my trip, to see the base for myself, and to chat with a few locals and listen to their perspectives. Maybe I’d meet a chatty U.S. soldier and buy them a mojito, and listen to what they have to say. Many Cubans were still resentful of President Kennedy’s botched Bay of Pigs invasion that killed some of their fathers, and distrustful of seemingly benign tourists after America killed Cuba’s adopted son, El Che Guevara, using CIA operatives in Bolivia; not to mention several CIA attempts to murder Fidel Castro. A few old Cubans may even remember their father’s talking about President Rosevelt’s Rough Riders killing their great-grandfathers, and many may have more stories, whether true or not, and you never know which local official harbors deep seeded resentment against gringos. I grew up in the deep south, where history teachers in public schools taught us that the civil war was “the war of northern aggression,” and I didn’t know what Cubans were taught in school. Our minds are slaves of other people’s words, and I wondered what words were uttered around Guantanamo.

I glanced at my watch; it had been less than a minute. I could still beat the happy hour crowd. Should I get another WiFi card and wait, just in case?

I was on sabbatical, I reminded myself, and could look forward to lots of diving and climbing over the next few months. I had a book to research and write. Before flying to Cuba, I had downloaded the equivalent of a library’s worth of old court reports, news articles, and records onto my phone, along with a respectable playlist of music and eight downloaded albums. I had spent all day on airplanes reading my family history and listening to a mix of New Orleans jazz and funk, ranging from Dr. John to Galactic and Trombone Shorty, and including a few bands Spotify recommended based on Cuba’s Cima Funk and The Buena Vista Social Club. Some of them spoke between sets at Tipatinas, a classic music venue in New Orleans that Galactic had bought recently, and they said Cuban Funk was where it’s at; that’s like the Pope saying he digs a young preacher’s hip sermon. I was going to finish a lot of lingering projects once free from the tether of my cell phone, and I’d listen to live music in Havana jazz clubs, not from my earbuds or iBuds or whatever they’re called. I was on vacation – or sabbatical or whatever it’s called – and not wanting to worry about Wendy.

I thought: I had a lot on my mind when I first listened to her voice mail. I was distracted. Judge Pugh had been on my mind. It had been a long day. I had been sitting in cramped airplane seats and often trapped between large, chatty, and opinionated people (the guy from up north with pale white skin, a tight polo shirt, pudgy belly, and raccoon eyes sunburn wouldn’t stop talking about Disney Land, or World, or whichever one was in Florida). I may have overreacted to her voice mail. She was probably just drunk and sad about one of her dogs.

I sighed. I was tired and wanted a drink. I was Wendy’s son, and habits are hard to break.

Wendy and I rarely discussed our Partin history, because she was still traumatized by it. A lot of people undergo trauma, but I’ve always believed Wendy’s was especially intense. As a 16 year old little girl, she married a family known to murder and kidnap kids after unfavorable custody trials. She fought them, and was subjected to harassment and threats by strangers trying to get Ed Partin to recant his testimony; our address was listed in the Baton Rouge phone book under Ed Partin, and I’m sure even the lowest level of Carlos Marcello’s sycophants could read, or knew someone who could. There were around 20 Patins in the Baton Rouge phone book, and, alphabetically, we were fourth. Before us there was Big Daddy’s youngest, Donald Partin; Don Partin, named for Donald by the middle brother, Douglas Wesley Patin; and Doug. All had homes blown up, and Don was paralyzed. Doug, who took over the Baton Rouge Local #5 after Big Daddy went to prison, describes some of this time period in his autobiography, “From My Brother’s Shadow: Douglas Wesley Partin Tells His Side of the Story.” No one ever told Wendy’s story, so maybe this is it.

I was too young to differentiate random car explosions and house fires from malicious intent, but I recall enough to know, now, that we were either targets or the most unlucky family on earth. It’s no wonder she had a nervous breakdown and fled. What’s amazing is that she returned and fought Ed Partin get me back. Since then, she has been a private person and demonstrates symptoms of PTSD; when I worry about Wendy, I worry about her mental wellness. She always avoids the topic, and repeats her favorite pun: she was born WAR but marrying my dad WARP’ed her. I’d reply and enunciate our name, not pronouncing it the Cajun way, or the mumbled southern way that sounds like Dolly Parton, but saying it slowly: Part-in. I’d tell her she was a bigger part in my story than Ed Partin ever was. I didn’t want to share my small part in his story history without saying that pun, if only to make Wendy smile.

I sighed a final time, put away my phone, straightened my back and neck, looked forward, breathed, smiled, breathed again, and tried to not limp as I strolled across the plaza and to a bar. In the back of my mind, I hoped no one would notice the obvious XXL Force Fins strapped to my backpack; tomorrow, I’d ditch them at the casa, switch to a daypack, and discretely explore Havana on foot.

I had read in The Lonely Planet that the diving and climbing in Cuba alone was worth the trip, even if you didn’t solve Kennedy’s murder, or deliver McDonalds breakfast sandwiches to prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. It was going to be the best sabbatical imaginable, free from people interrupting me, worries, or cares about anything other than what I cared about. That’s freedom, no matter which country you’re in, and I was happy that President Obama had given me an opportunity to spend 30 days in Cuba promoting entrepreneurship, whatever that means.

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But then came the killing shot that was to nail me to the cross.

Edward Grady Partin.

And Life magazine once again was Robert Kenedy’s tool. He figured that, at long last, he was going to dust my ass and he wanted to set the public up to see what a great man he was in getting Hoffa.

Life quoted Walter Sheridan, head of the Get-Hoffa Squad, that Partin was virtually the all-American boy even though he had been in jail “because of a minor domestic problem.”

Jimmy Hoffa in “Hoffa: The Real Story,” 1975
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But then came the killing shot that was to nail me to the cross.

Edward Grady Partin.

And Life magazine once again was Robert Kenedy’s tool. He figured that, at long last, he was going to dust my ass and he wanted to set the public up to see what a great man he was in getting Hoffa.

Life quoted Walter Sheridan, head of the Get-Hoffa Squad, that Partin was virtually the all-American boy even though he had been in jail “because of a minor domestic problem.”

Jimmy Hoffa in “Hoffa: The Real Story,” 1975
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“We can report that Edward G. Partin has been under investigation by the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office in connection with the Kennedy Assassination investigation… based on an exclusive interview with an Assistant District Attorney in Jim Garrison’s office. We can report that Partin’s activities have been under scrutiny. In his words: “We know that Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald were here in New Orleans several times… there was a third man driving them and we are checking the possibility it was Partin.

WJBO radio, New Orleans, June 23rd, 1964; quoted from Walter Sheridan, “The Fall and Rise of Jimmy Hoffa,” 1972
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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”
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