I spend my life looking for the Friend
When I find him
If I find him
Will I get those years back?Rumi
“I never said that!” Cranky Ken said.
Surprised by his voice, I whipped around and almost spilled my cup of tea.
“I never said that! Don’t put that in your blog!” He said, emphatically.
Ken was standing between my balcony and the sidewalk that wraps around Balboa Park, and he looked very upset. I put down my tea, considered once again moving to a different baclony higher up or facing the ocean; but, I usually enjoyed the peaceful sunrises while I sipped tea or coffee, and a cost of that was neighbors stopping by unannounced and speaking without waiting for me to hear them and obtain eye contact. It really was a lovely spot; I was sitting on the biggest balcony on Earth with that view. Calmed by that thought, I was ready to speak with Ken.
I asked him a few clarifying questions, and he calmed down and said yes, he’d like a porter. Just a small one, though, and he may not finish it; his radiation treatments were taking their toll, and he had lost his appetite and had lost so much weight the past few weeks that he didn’t look the same. I helped him up the steps to our place and poured him a porter.
“I didn’t say that, Partin,” he emphasized. I said I’d change it, if he wanted, and I said I thought he had read Unlce Doug’s book cover out loud.
“I did. But I didn’t say that. You know better than to misquote people, Partin. You, of all people around here knows that people get whacked for shit they say. Make it right.”
I reached on my bookshelf for my copy of Doug’s book and asked what was wrong.
“That’s not what’s on your blog, Partin. Read it.”
I reread Doug’s book cover and realized my mistake: when writing a prototype for this book, I had cut and pasted the Amazon description of Doug’s book, assuming it was the back cover. I apologized, and opened my laptop and took down the blog post and said I’d rewrite it by copying Doug’s book cover from they copy on my shelf.
“Yeah,” Ken said. “You know what you do when you assume: you make an ass outta u and me. Don’t do that again, Partin. Jesus Christ! You know what happens to people who talk too much.”
The back of Doug’s book hadn’t been edited. Doug had paid a small publisher to make copies and they hadn’t used an editor or fact checker; or, their editor and fact checker missed a lot of things. Doug’s book was a glorified blog post, not unlike any other yahoo with a computer and time on their hands.
This is what my copy of the front of Doug’s book said:
“Finally, speaking out… From my Brother’s Shadow: Teamster Doug Partin Tells His Side of the Story,” by Douglas Westly Partin.
This is what the back said:
From a simple shotgun house in rural Mississippi to head of one of the most notorious Teamster locals in the United States… Doug Partin tells his story. Here are some memorable quotes from the book:
“By brother Ed Partin was a big, handsome young man, and everyone liked him. He was always the star of the show, and he did what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it.”
“After taking over as Local #5 Boss, Ed Partin didn’t have to worry about running for or being elected to that office, as everyone else did. He made sure his union officers were hand-picked by him, and gave them orders to harass and intimidate the members as necessary.”
“After his incarceration, Ed got these radical desires to have someone killed. Strangely, because he was now sitting in prison, he believed that he couldn’t be convicted of murder. In his eyes, he had the perfect alibi.”
“Some of the things Ed Partin did were so strange that only he could possibly have understood why he did them.”
“District Attorney Ossie Brown once stated that if Ed Partin had gone to college, he would have become the governor of Louisiana.”
“During the 1960’s, Ed Partin was indicted on many chargeds… from forgery, perjury, and manslaughter, to kidnapping.”
“While Ed was in jail, he informed local authorities about Jimmy Hoffa’s alleged plot to murder Attorney General Bobby Kennedy. To avoid staying in jail and facing a tough battle against kidnapping charges, Ed promised to cooperate with federal authorities to bring down Jimmy Hoffa.”
“The local newspapers and television stations in Baton Rouge, as well as some national media, had their hands full trying to keep up with the goings-on of Edward Grady Partin. Hardly a week went by that he was not in the news.”
“Even after I was in charge of Local #5, some Teamsters continued to funnel money to Ed right under my nose.”
“Edward grady Partin was a mysterious man who lived a life of intrigute, danger, excitement, duplicity, and voracity, and yet he was loved, looked up to, and cherished from his shadow, by a younger brother – Douglas Westly Partin.”
Oak of Acadia Publishers,
18890 Greenwill Springs Rd
Greenwell Springs, LA 70739
Doug’s book was not unlike one you find in local bookstores catering to niche intersts, like civil war sites, historical parks, Naitive American land, or in and around Baton Rouge, where my family had been leaders of the Teamsters Local #5, or previous iterations of it, for three generations. From what I saw on Amazon reviews, most people who bought and read Doug’s book were Teamsters still trying to understand how Partin fooled Hoffa.
“How’d he do it?” Ken asked, once again calmed after I opened my laptop and removed the blog; I had no idea he read it, or that he knew how to use the library’s computers.
“Hoffa was like a god. How’d your grandpa fool him. All of the other guys, too. Chucky. Buffalino. They’d die for Hoffa and they knew Partin well. How’d he do it?”
“Well,” I said. “I don’t know. But he was a lot like Doug said on the back of his book, and like Hoffa said: charming. And handsome. I think people were fooled easily by a handsome guy who smiled nicely and spoke softly.”
“Yeah, he sounded like you. Southern. Said y’all a lot. But I still don’t get it. He fooled everyone. Even the Supreme Court. Warren was the only one who said anything. And even Warren couldn’t convince the other judges. And after Nixon got Hoffa out, Partin was elected as president of Baton Rouge. I don’t get it.”
I sipped to collect my thoughts and watched Ken try to sip his porter. His face winced subtly, and he was’t really sipping; as soon as the tulip glass reached his nose, the shape of the glass, which was designed to concentrate aromas, probably overwhelmed his senses, and he would grimace and place the glass back down. His hands were shaking, as if the glass were too heavy to hold. I hadn’t seen him carry liquid laundry soap in weeks, though he still came by to collect quarters from the washing machine early in the morning, when most people were asleep, and he still liked to stop by for a happy hour on the balcony.
Ken was missing a point, too, but I didn’t want to get into it. He knew Hoffa was powerful, “like a god,” and probably skimmed over the parts in all books about Hoffa getting Nixon elected. Of course we all know how that ended, with Hoffa disappearing and Nixon resigning, but most people repeated that and tried to cut to the chase and learn who killed Hoffa, and where the body or DNA evidence was. Television news specials had, over the decades, dug up football stadiums and razed houses, hoping to be the news network that solved the mystery. And even today, the FBI still assigns young FBI agents to oversee the Hoffa investigation, and the jump in head first and try to make their fame solving a mystery that has existed ever since Hoffa disappeared from a Detroit parking lot in 1975. Few focus on Chief Justice Earl Warren’s missive and warning to posterity in Hoffa vs. The United states, where he called my grandfather a threat to American justice, and hoped someone would continue his observation, as if in a conversation across time and space. Fewer ponder what it means to America and to democracy if one human being in prison can forge the next president; and we all know how that turned out.
I smiled, because I had the best alibi of all. I probably wasn’t involved in Hoffa’s disappearance, because I was only four years old then; but, then again, I knew that my five year old dad had attended Big Daddy’s meetings when Mamma Jean went to church on Sundays, and I have no idea what either of us heard and remembered even though we probably didn’t understand the context or words. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t know what happened to Hoffa or the details of Kennedy’s assassination. But I believe that I have probably spent more time pondering it than most human beings who have lived on Earth.
“Ken, I don’t talk about this much, and I don’t want to go into detail; but, because you asked, and because I’m sorry I made a misquoted you, I’ll tell you what I think.”
Ken didn’t try to sip his porter this time. Instead, he leaned forward, as if he had been waiting all his life to hear what I had to say.
“I don’t know why he fooled so many people, because he never fooled me. When he got out of prison in 1986, I went to see him at my grandmother’s house – his mother, my great-grandmother. All of the family was there, Doug, too.”
That wasn’t exactly true: it was my Big Daddy’s more recent family, Kay and her children and their children, and the Partin brothers, Doug and Donald and a few of their kids; including, coincidentally, my first cousin, Donald’s nephew, Jason Partin. Most of them probably didn’t even know who I was, though they probably assumed I was from Mamma Jean’s side of the family because I had her and my dad’s unmistakable dark brown eyes, and almost everyone else in the room had Big Daddy and Grandma Foster’s sky blue eyes. The two families didn’t get along, and I had never seen them together and therefore they probably weren’t sure which of Mamma Jean’s kids was my dad or mother. When all the reporters and FBI agents were gone, our family was just like anyone else’s family drama after a bitter divorce, when new wives demanded more focus and fathers split time between children of different marriages. And, Big Daddy had other wives and other families, and it was complex to explain all the names. I didn’t want to get into any of that, so I lied a bit and said “all of the family,” which, I hope, set the stage for how Doug felt so lovingly about Big Daddy.
“And I was terrified of him; not him, really, but how everyone fawned over him. I actually felt ill around him, as if my body was telling me something. I loved my grandma and had fun with Doug and had looked forward to seeing B’… my grandfather for the first time in a few years, ever since my dad took me to see him in prison about four or five years before. I was 14 years old then. I was a punk little kid, and I felt terrified around him. Terrified’s not the word; I still don’t know how to describe how I felt, and I’ve never felt it since. But, I had no doubt that I wanted out of that house and away from my grandfather, and I decided that day to do whatever I could to never be like him or any of my family, and to never idolize another human being, like everyone in that room did.”
I paused, somewhat upset and concentrating. My eyebrows were narrowed, and I could feel a headache forming. Ken had never seen me like that, and, for the first time in more than ten years of chatting with him, he remained silent and listened to what I had to say.
I took a few deep breaths and exhaled and watched my pulse lower, and I looked at Ken and smiled and continued.
“I asked my grandmother about it. Think about it: you never heard a quote from her. You’ve read all the reports about Bobby paying her for her silence, but we were paid much more than any records show, even Chief Justice Earl Warren’s comments about Hoffa’s trial and all the big-time mafia lawyers Hoffa hired to dig up dirt on my family. Nothing. She was a Christian woman who said she’d never lie, and I believe her. She said that she practiced her right to remain silent all her life, to everyone except my oldest cousin and me. We were the two oldest grandkids and were about the same age, and we were the only one of all of B’… my grandfather’s grandkids who remembered him from before he went to Prison. We, too, adored him back then. My grandmother would talk to us were differently than her other grandkids, because we were older, and because she thought the two of us had suffered more than the other kids because we had been a part in all the explosions and shots that still haunted our family in the 70’s, even after Hoffa disappeared.”
I paused to sip my tea, and I leaned back and Ken did, too, and his shaking hand lifted his tulip glass and his face grimaced and he didn’t take his eyes off me.
“When I asked her how she was fooled, she laughed and quoted Hoffa, that when she met Ed Partin she was smitten. She thought he was big and handsome, and that he’d make a good father. He was 26 eyars old then, and was already running a couple of unions, and she was 18 and just out of high school. He went to church with her and prayed with her and seemed to know all the words to say to anyone nearby.”
I remained leaned back, trying not to lean forward and make the mood tense.
“After his funeral, when I was 17 and wondering exactly what you’re asking, I asked her how she was fooled, and why she still seemed to fawn over him. Her smile went away and she sighed, and she said, ‘Jason, I believe that Jesus Christ is our lord and savior, and the bible says that the Devil can quote scripture. I don’t know how I was fooled, and I don’t know why I still smile every time I think of Big Daddy.’ She continued for a bit and said, ‘He was so handsome! more than once,’ and then she sighed again, and said something bout perhaps that was why an old testament commandment was to not worship false gods, and why Moses threw the tablets at the idols his followers were building. And I’ve always felt that by “false gods,” whomever wrote those words meant people like my grandfather and Hoffa.”
I took a deep breath and summarized my rant.
“The short answer is, I don’t know. But I’ve spent more than 30 years wondering why I was different, and why Earl Warren was different than the other judges. And I’ve wondered what Hoover or Bobby had on them to influence them. And every time I see someone touting Trump or Obama or Hoffa or even football players or The Big Lebowski, I feel a feeling something like when I watched my family fawn over Big Daddy. I’m terrified by how easily people follow false gods and ignore facts and evidence.”
Ken mulled that over for a bit. It was the first time I had ever seen him ponder something I said, and I was fascinated. I wondered if his cancer was making ponder more things, or if his radiation treatment and chemotherapy had slowed down his thoughts. I wondered what he’d say about what I said.
“I been wonderin’,” he said. “That horse head in The Godfather. The one they cut off and dumped on the Hollywood producer’s bed. What that a threat from Hoffa, or to Hoffa?”
I hadn’t considered that before. The Teamsters logo has those two horse heads, and was scrolled in big, bold arrogance as the last scene on many Hollywood films in the 80’s, and Hoffa had funded many of them with the same Teamsters pension fund that the Kennedy’s had fought for decades to oversee, and that was the same fund that Hoffa used to fund organized crime building Las Vegas hotels and casinos.
“I wonder if the families were involved in The Godfather,” Ken continued. “It was a good movie. They got it pretty close. Not like these new ones, I tell you!”
Ken tried unsuccessfully to sip his porter, and then he sat the tulip glass down and rested his thin arm on my table beside it. He stared across the street at the big Mississippi Magnolia Tree and the medicinal gardens, and we sat silently for a while.
“It’s a beautiful view, ain’t it.” he said.
I made a sound like an agreement, and we sat silently for a while longer, and then he said he had to go, that he had work to do. I assumed he meant collecting quarters from the washing machine in one of his buildings, and I wished him happiness.
Ken’s final words to me were, “Thanks for the beer. And all the talks. You should right a book one day.”