East Baton Rouge Parish

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

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

I chatted with the hosts after breakfast. They were spry elders with children at work and grandkids in school, all of whom lived at their casa particular. The grandkids shared a room, and they rented their old room to help support their family now that they couldn’t work. Cuba paid for what was necessary, but they wanted a few luxuries and hoped to take their grandkids traveling one day. I mentioned what The Buddha taught, the nuance between earning your living vs earning your livelihood, and they said that explained a lot. I said I wanted to check messages, and they were pretty sure the Plaza de San Francisco de Asi was the best place for a gringo to get public WiFi. I thanked them, said “hasta luego,” and left their casa and meandered towards the plaza.

I walked along residential back streets, mostly, using a map from my Lonely Planet to force me to read street signs and chat with people to get back on track. I shopped a bit along the makeshift route, careful to mind the only awkward visa requirement of not exchanging currency with government owned businesses. I sought out private vendors, and bought another WiFi card and a pocket knife and a small pair of needle nosed pliers. I’ve carried a knife since I was four or five years old, like my dad and his father before him, but hadn’t been able to carry one on an airplane since 9/11. Soon after the world trade center collapse and just before the Patriot Act, a pimple faced boy in a TSA uniform stood between me and my flight and took my original, sheet-metal formed, military-issue Leatherman tool, the one engraved with “Magik” and “Airborne” by a deceased mentor; I still haven’t recovered from the trauma.

A pair of needle nose pliers is useful for tightening nuts and bolts of many sizes on boats and dive tanks, and the long tapered end can slip into a knot and loosen it without impatient Gordian measures that damage the protective kenmantle and weaken your lifeline; I’ve seen ropes snap and people fall, and it’s not pretty. Since 9/11, I’ve learned to say knife and pliers in about 20 languages, along with please and thank you; it’s amazing how many people all over the world are willing to help a stranger who looks lost and seems polite, even if you’re neither. When I check bags, I carry a modern Leatherman multi-tool, one with expensive steel that never rusts and rarely needs sharpening, and a hand-selected kit of tool bits and accessories that could fix almost any problem in any country on Earth. Tim Leatherman invented the original multitool in the 1980’s, after bumming around Europe with a Swiss army knife and pair of pliers in a beat up VW van, and five years and hundreds of cardboard and sheet-metal prototypes later, he made the world’s first combination knife and pliers. His first contract was with Delta Force in the mid 80’s, before anyone knew what a multitool was. His patents expired twenty years later (patent law is now 17 years) and other brands are now ubiquitous. The unmistakable shape of a multitool opening into pliers is still copywrited by Leatherman, like the shape of Mickey Mouse’s ears and Nike’s swish are copywrited for eternity. At USD, I used Tim as a case study in engineering and entrepreneurship classes, and new student teams consistently vote to forgo books on entrepreneurship and tests on memorization in lieu of prototype materials and time to iterate, like Tim, and all of them know my thoughts on the TSA and 9/11.

I put the booty in a thin packable daypack I carried inside my carry on backpack with a reusable bottle full of water, the Lonely Planet guidebook, a deck of cards, four Kennedy half dollars, and a handful of miscellaneous personal items like a pack of gum and hand wipes, and a spoon. (I like yogurt and ice cream, but dislike throwing away plastic spoons). A few years before, I began adding reading glasses and a telescoping hiking pole to my daypack, though I had forgotten the pole on this trip. I used to forget my glasses, too, before I acquiesced to the inevitable.

I included a homemade first aid kit, a version of which I’ve carried wherever I travel for more than thirty years: bandages and small packets of antibacterial healing cream; dimen-hydramine pills for rashes and bug bites and, in a pinch, motion sickness prevention; an atropine injector, like the ones used in the first Gulf war in case of chemical attack, and for people who have severe allergies to bee stings or shellfish (I don’t, but I’ve stumbled upon people whose throats were too swollen for CPR and had wished I had an atropine pen. During the first Gulf war, I carried a couple for emergency response to Saddam’s chemical nerve agents, but only used one on someone stung by a bee; they can be dangerous, even in a war zone). I had a large container of horse-pill sized ibuprofen, the prescription strength ones buddies called “Airborne candy” and pro footballers called “Football candy,” 800 mg chalky SSRI bombs that, conveniently, also have mild anti-depressant side effects. I tried to not use them habitually, because several studies showed professional football players who took ibuprofen daily were at higher risks of tendon tears, and a university rat study showed drastically reduced tendon tensile strength after being fed a varmit’s lifetime of SSRI’s. (I hope the rats were informed about the anti-depressant side affects, and died more cheerfully.) In a pinch, if I were feeling down, I could wash down a horse pill with a Hemmingway daquiri and rest my aching joints.

My tiny daypack was bulging and almost as big as my carry on, just without the shoes and fins and toiletries and a few changes of clothes, but it was worth having a few personal items while I walked around. If you can do first aide and fix things, you can earn a livelihood almost anywhere that has people, especially if you know a thing or two worth sharing. And, in a pinch, I could do coin tricks in a public square and earn beer money, or spend them on a phone call.

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

I carried Force Fins outside my backpack. They’re short, stubby, thick, polyurethene, split-toe fins, like a dolphin’s tail, with open ends for your toes to poke through. They were invented by a guy for SEALs and Rangers in, I think, the mid 1980’s. They’re compact and portable, designed to move far fast for those with strong legs. Their open toe design is useful for people with big feet, and the stubby size allow them to be strapped to a carry on backpack. They attract attention, so I leave them wherever I’m staying.

After I left the casa particular, I walked along downtown Havana backstreets, looking at shop windows and seeing what I knew and learning what I didn’t. I returned to the same spot in the Plaza de San Francisco de Assi, and learned that Cristi had been unable to reach Wendy. I tried to call again, but got her voice mail again. I left another message; two would be enough to let her know I wanted to listen.

If I spoke with Wendy, I thought, I’d tell her about the cards and coins in my bag. It would probably make her laugh, because she had always enjoyed my card tricks and encouraged me to perform as a kid, driving me to magic club meetings. And I’d tell her about the Force Fins, because she used to complain about how much she spent on shoes every time I hit a growth spurt, and she said I still hadn’t grown into them. I’m 5’11, but I wear 14W shoes, and I travel with fins and climbing shoes because guides and rental shops rarely have my size. More than once, on unplanned diving trips, a rental shop employee has joked that they didn’t have my size, but with 14 Wide feet I probably didn’t need fins. Jerks. Wendy had said the same thing the one time we went diving together in Cozumel, but she had smiled and her eyes had crinkled and we had laughed together about it. I splurged on a pair of Force Fins soon after; in all sincerity, I’m self conscious about my feet and scars, which is why I mention them so often.

I felt another surge of dread, less than before but still much more than I ever experience, and I pondered flying to New Orleans. I sighed, adjusted my posture to stop favoring my right hip, and tried to relax. I put away my phone, and walked into the same bar.

The bartender recognized me and spoke to quickly for me to understand, but I smiled and said Si! and enjoyed whatever he brought out. There was no band, so I opened my phone and read my 1976 court custody report while I waited for music.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not everything in the report is accurate, like the part about Wendy’s first home being fine: it was shithole infested with ants and cockroaches, a tiny two bedroom one bath ground floor unit with a narrow galley kitchen lined with peeling grease-stained wallpaper. We had no air conditioning in Baton Rouge’s sweltering summers, but resisted opening windows because we could smell rot wafting from the dumpster behind the cheap Chinese restaurant on Florida Boulevard, and it swarmed with flies that would find a way inside our screen-less windows. I assume Judge Pugh, the trial judge, was being kind, and I’d be surprised to learn he had actually committed suicide. I had always suspected Big Daddy had something to do with Pugh’s 1975 death.

Maybe I was worried about Wendy because I had been pondering Pugh, I thought. I had re-read my custody report on the plane, because I believe it holds clues to my background and Big Daddy’s influences. Bobby Kennedy had ensured my family protection from federal and state prosecution beginning in 1962, for as long as Jimmy Hoffa was in prison. Bobby was assassinated in 1968, but Walter Sheridan, former John F. Kennedy assistant and regional campaign coordinator, head of the FBI’s Get Hoffa Squad, and eventual NBC news correspondent, took over as our family’s patron. Hoffa disappeared from a Detroit parking lot on July 30th, 1975, around the time Pugh died and Judge Lottingger assumed my case.

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

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

The coincidentally named Judge Bob knew my case well, and was a fan of wrestling and magic and said he kept up with me in the Baton Rouge Advocate; the court couldn’t find my dad, and when Bob interviewed Wendy he granted my emancipation when I was 16 years old. The next day, I used the paperwork to join the army’s delayed entry program, choosing the 82nd Airborne and GI Bill. A year later, I was told I was the youngest soldier out of 560,000 allied soldiers squaring off against the world’s largest fleet of tanks. Thirty years later, I limped a lot.

I saw the anger and know myself a little bit, so I knew my mind was trying to justify turning off my phone for a month. Wendy had a rough life. I was in Cuba, complaining about tepid showers and bacon for breakfast, pondering if I would fly to New Orleans or turn off my phone, listen to Cuban Funk, and spend a month climbing and diving and in paradise; and facilitating entrepreneurship, which is just as fun.

The same band showed up, and the trumpet player recognized me and nodded with a smile. I smiled and nodded back. The bartender walked over and said something I didn’t understand, despite rotating my head back and forth while listening. I smiled a mischievous smile, and in my best Spanish I asked for a mojito with whatever rum the bartender would pour for God, if God showed up and asked for a mojito. He laughed, tapped the counter, and went to work.

The mojito was delicious and the mint was fresh, and even before the alcohol hit my brain the band sounded as good as I remembered. My second night in Havana was looking good. By the second mojito, I didn’t give a Pugh about anything other than the groove.

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