Everybody’s All American

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

We were sitting on the balcony late that evening, after Hope had gone to bed, sipping a homebrewed IPA and noting it’s differences compared to a Sculpin and an Alesmith. Sculpin had been the flagship westcoast style IPA from Ballast Point, which had been founded by a PhD student studying microbiology at UCSD and had recently been sold for $1.1 Billion dollars; as part of the deal, the PhD student kept his small homebrew shop and a few other beers he had been working on. He, like most of us in San Diego, revered Alesmith, whose founder was a local attorney and who lost money every year for 13 years making remarkably good beer that was financially unsustainable, and his wife, a former biotech recruiter, focused more on giving back to our community. Of course, I talked a lot about the history of beer with my friends, and I shamelessly felt pride every time my homebrew was chosen over other local beers in our randomized and somewhat blinded taste tests.

“This is good!” my neighbor, Carleson said. I wasn’t sure which beer he was sipping. His wife, Lysandra, agreed; she was sipping my last porter. Cristi didn’t drink alcohol any more, and she commented on a kamboocha we had tried making earlier that week, a lightly flavored one made from mint grown on my balcony, local strawberries, and an obscure fruit I found at the farmer’s market called a guava. It was good, too, though I’d omit the guava next time and use basil instead of mint.

We picked at the leftover Chinese food from a small restaurant around the corner and laughed about our fortune cookies and the conversation evolved into a free flow, because most of my friends rarely ask a lot of questions about facts of someone’s day, perhaps because I’ve always been a somewhat private person. After all, I grew up on what was considered America’s first family of paid informants, and then I was on several military teams with national security clearances; and, eventually, I held a diplomatic passport. I rarely discussed what I did for work, nor did I discuss my family history or other people. If you remove history, updates on actions, and gossip, there are few things to talk about other than what you’re doing at that moment. But, there’s only so much you can discuss the history of IPA – or, at least there’s only so much people are willing to listen to me about it – and eventually I told everyone about my day with Danny. But, to preface that conversation, I had to let Lysandra know that I was worried about my mental health, and that’s why I finally shared a brief summary of my grandfather’s involvement with Hoffa and Kennedy.

Carleton was a 32 year old visual artist who had attended film school and earned his livelihood designing web sites for local businesses. Lysandra was a pilates and yoga instructor with a handful of local clients. They had flexible schedules, and they sometimes joined me and Cranky Ken on the balcony for happy hour. But, they rarely chimed in, and we mostly listened to Ken. The short version of my grandfather’s history is accurately portrayed in The Irishman – he was Hoffa’s most trusted lieutenant and then was the surprise witness against him – and when he stood up in court to take the stand Hoffa simply lowered his head and said, somewhat sadly, “My God, it’s Partin.” His story was huge in the 1960’s and early 70’s, and over time kept being simplified and then simply copied from a New York Times article a few days after his 1990 funeral.

Edward Grady Partin, a teamsters’ union leader whose testimony helped convict James R. Hoffa, the former president of the union, died Sunday at a nursing home here. Mr. Partin, who was 66 years old, suffered from heart disease and diabetes.

He helped Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy convict Mr. Hoffa of jury tampering in 1964. Mr. Partin, a close associate of Mr. Hoffa’s, testified that the teamster president had offered him $20,000 to fix the jury at Mr. Hoffa’s trial in 1962 on charges of taking kickbacks from a trucking company. That trial ended in a hung jury.

Mr. Hoffa went to prison after the jury-tampering conviction. James Neal, a prosecutor in the jury-tampering trial in Chattanooga, Tenn., said that when Mr. Partin walked into the courtroom Mr. Hoffa said, ”My God, it’s Partin.”

The Federal Government later spent 11 years prosecuting Mr. Partin on antitrust and extortion charges in connection with labor troubles in the Baton Rouge area in the late 1960’s. He was convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice by hiding witnesses and arranging for perjured testimony in March 1979. An earlier trial in Butte, Mont., ended without a verdict.

Mr. Partin went to prison in 1980, and was released to a halfway house in 1986. While in prison he pleaded no contest to charges of conspiracy, racketeering and embezzling $450,000 in union money. At one time union members voted to continue paying Mr. Partin’s salary while he was in prison. He was removed from office in 1981.

Survivors include his mother, two brothers, a sister, five daughters, two sons, two brothers and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

New York Times, 16 March 1990

But, the first part of the JFK assassination report wouldn’t be released until 1992, coincentally two years after Ed Partin died; and it had only began a year after Hoffa disappeared, so neither Hoffa nor my grandfather could comment on it. When it reversed the 1964 Warren Report, Hoffa was a primary suspect and my grandfather was deemed as simply a pawn in a global chess game, and one of many daily news figures we soon forget about.

But I knew better, and it was a long story, especially for people Carleton and Lysandra’s age. As Frank The Irishman Sherman said,

“Nowadays, young people, they don’t know who Jimmy Hoffa was. They don’t have a clue. I mean, maybe they know that he disappeared or something, but that’s about it. But back then, there wasn’t nobody in this country who didn’t know who Jimmy Hoffa was.”

And if Hoffa was that big of a deal in his prime throughout the 50’s and 60’s, and could keep Nixon into the White House from his prison cell in 1971, then it seems like more people would be interested in how my grandfather put him there. But, perhaps I was biased. Or, I was crazy. And that’s why I started telling my friends and neighbors about meeting Danny by summarizing what only a few people listened to me long enough to understand. What I loved about that night is that everyone but Cristi was a little loose from the high ABV IPA’s, and she had been my best friend since I was Hope’s age and had known all of my family and relished in the faces of people who heard some of the stories the first time, especially the one that begins with when Hillary Clinton broke my finger two weeks before my grandfather’s funeral.

For two years, I had been working up to wrestling Hillary Clinton, the three-time state champion who wrestled at 145 pounds for the 1989-1990 season. I was only 5’5″ and 149 pounds back then, and would cut four pounds to wrestle him at every tournament and dual meet. I was co-captain of the Belaire High School Bengals, and he was captain of the Capital High School lions, named so because their underprivileged, inner city school was adjacent to the downtown Baton Rouge state capital building, and their wrestling room was nicknamed The Lions Den; hence, Danny’s name sparking old memories in me, and why I chose to begin telling my neighbors about my grandfather’s funeral by describing how Hillary Clinton broke my finger, especially because it’s still scarred from healing askew, and when I began telling them the story I held up my left hand and showed the V shaped gap between my two middle fingers that begins at my middle knuckle, which thickened into a ball not unlike a tree gall when it healed and is why I wore my wedding ring on my first finger. To my neighbors, Hillary Clinton answered a lot of questions they may have already had about my left hand, and it was a good place to start telling them about why I worried about my mental health.

I arrived at my grandfather’s funeral wearing my high school letterman jacket and with bandages around two of my left fingers, the middle finger and the ring finger, after having finished my final season of wrestling only two weeks before, competing in the finals against Hillary in front of more than 2,000 spectators who had paid admission to see the single, center mat matches after two days with eight mats going simultaneously as high school athletes moved up the brackets and the matches became more and more focused and intense and remarkable. No one in my family had attended; I had been emancipated from them since August of 1989, and felt neither attachment nor aversion towards them. To me, they were already like characters in a book, or like the 1983 film about my grandfather, The Blood Feud. To me, my family was the wrestling team, and Coach was our father figure.

“Tell them about your jacket!” Cristi said. I didn’t think it was relevant, but the conversation was flowing and she was emphatic and so I did.

Belaire’s colors were orange and blue, and our jacket was bright, bright orange with a big letter blue over the left chest.

The back of my jacket had a giant skull in a tophat, a logo Guns-n-Roses guitarist Slash, who had stolen a hat like that from a Sunset Strip thrift store before their breakout performance only a year or so before, and above the Slash skull was my nickname, “Magik,” sprawled in big, black, cursive letters; a gift from Cristi. She had known me since I was a little kid, and had seen me try to avoid using my Partin name so much that when the wrestling team called me Magik she had encouraged me to lean into the new name and reinvent myself. She had worn that jacket every day over the following winter when I was away at war, and to her it was synonymous with my grandfather’s funeral and my emancipation, and because she was a part in our conversation that night, I told my young neighbors about the jacket. Fortunately, Guns-n-Roses survived pop culture references, and I didn’t have to diverge from my story too much.

My big blue B was covered in tiny gold safety pins representing every time I had won by “pin” that year, four linked to one that was pinned to the soft felt blue B, making groups of five. I had 36; my record was 54 wins and 12 losses, and seven of those losses had been to Hillary. I also had pins representing sports and activities in which I had lettered. Wrestling, of course, and also cross country track, swimming, chess, and theater. But, in fairness, Belaire was not very competitive and was generous with letters; we were a small school with only 383 seniors and in a relatively poor area – recent statistics say we had two teachers from Teach for America because we couldn’t fill math and science slots, and the demographics are 68% African American, 16% Asian, mostly Vietnamese who settled there after the fall of Saigon, and about 8% caucasion. We were more diverse back then, but the pattern of approximately 40% of the kids being from single parent families below the poverty line hadn’t changed, sadly. Interestingly, even back then, Capital High was considered much, much poorer than Belaire, and it’s still an overwhelmingly African American school with saddening poverty statistics; but, I never saw Hillary or any of his family of wrestlers wearing badges given to them, and after he had broken my finger in the finals I began questioning which of us had overcome the most to be there. I had never competed in swimming, but was given a letter for persistently practicing all year, if only to get stronger for wrestling, and our team was so short of participants that simply practicing was deemed good enough. I only ran cross country on Coach’s advice, because that season was before wrestling season and was a good way to get in shape; I was considered an “upper halfer,” always in the top half, never placing well but always just ahead of the bell curve, and because we had so few track athletes they gave me a track letter, too. Theater and chess club teachers did similarly; I never won a chess game, but went to practice relatively often. In theater, I mumbled so badly and tripped over my big feet so frequently that I rarely had a talking or moving part, and mostly just helped out backstage and built props and cleaned up after all the stars went home. Mrs. Tichelai, the drama teacher, gave me a letter. Cristi and I had discussed that back then, and I was sure I would remove all the letters except for the one I earned from wrestling, but for some reason I wanted to keep them on when I saw my Partin family again.

I arrived at the funeral on my motorcycle and hung my helmet on the handlebars, and though the sunny southern spring day was too warm to wear a jacket without the wind of my bike, I kept it on as I approached the crowds of bystanders and the row of police keeping them and the reporters away from the door. It was 1990, and reporters still used big, bulky cameras with elaborate flashes held above the heads of bystanders, and their assistants held out foam covered microphones hoping to capture a quote. It seemed that all of the Baton Rouge police cars were parked in the Greenoaks funeral home parking lot – I had been fortunate to squeeze my bike into a spot between a stately oak tree branches with a gap not unlike my two left fingers – and I was worried that I was too late to enter. I stood on my tip-toes and tried to look over the shoulders of some of the bystanders and police, and then the police walkie-talkies crackled and they listened to a muffled command and parted the crowd so that the mayor could enter, I thought at first, but then I noticed that no one seemed to pay attention to him and they were focused on all of the LSU football players who were entering, especially Billy ????, a famous local celebrity and Heisman trophy winner who had been one of my grandfather’s bodyguards in the 60’s and was then, of all things, a family dentist with a cheerful smile, and most of the bystanders were focused on him and his smile and the aging LSU football players from the 1954 team that had won our first and only national championships. The reporters were focused on the bystanders, and were saying things to each other I can’t recall.

I walked through the gap formed and almost made it through when a police officer in a highly decorated uniform stopped me and said I couldn’t enter. As I thought, I was too late. I wanted to go inside, though; it was important to me to see my grandfather’s face when he was dead, no longer a threat to anyone. I was young, but I was already contemplating nature vs nurture, and whether or not someone as powerful as my grandfather had any sense of spirt left in them after they died. I had built up seeing in my head all week, ever since my aunt Janice had called around to find where I was living and told me about the funeral. But, I still hesitated telling the officer who I was simply because I had gone by Magik for almost three years and was unused to saying I was Jason Partin; to Cristi’s point, I had reinvented myself and had become what I had imagined, and saying I was a previous version of myself felt unnatural. I was about to turn around and leave, but fortunately my aunt Janice had heard the commotion that Billy was arriving and had peeked outside and saw me.

“Jason!” she called out, and I looked over and directed the officer towards her. We look remarkably alike, because we share my grandmother’s dark brown eyes, and it’s obvious that we’re related even though she’s much taller than I was, like most of my Partin family.

“Over here!” she said again when I didn’t move. The officer glanced back and forth and she said, “He’s with us. He’s family,” and he let me pass. I walked over to her and she bent down and gave me a big hug and I saw that the whites of her her dark brown eyes were a spider web of red lines, and her cheeks were puffy. She had been taking care of her father for months in addition to managing her household full of my cousins and her husband, an alcoholic I barely knew, and she looked more fatigued than I had ever seen. She loved her father: you can see that in a photo the editors of Time life used to put Ed Partin in front of all of America after the Hoffa trial, a happy little girl Hope’s age staring lovingly into the eyes of her big, handsome father, Edward Grady Partin. Both were smiling the classic Partin smile, and they radiated love. The article went on to say that my grandfather told Hoffa no, he wouldn’t use plastic explosives to kill Bobby Kennedy in his home, because Bobby’s kids could be there and he didn’t want to harm children. The photo made you believe him, and the story implied that Hoffa was willing to kill children to get rid of Bobby and that my grandfather had risked his life and the lives of his family to stop Hoffa; hence, he was an All American Hero.

“I’m so glad you came,” Janice said, still hugging me. She sniffed a few times and released me and wiped fresh tears away and told me how much I had grown; but I hadn’t, because I had seen her a year before, when I weighed 142 pounds and wrestled at 140. Perhaps my jacket made me look bigger, I thought. It was thick and puffy and showed off all the medals on my chest, though she didn’t comment on them. I took a deep breath to appear even stronger than I was, and followed my aunt into the family waiting area.

Everyone was there, except for my dad and Mamma Jean. She was a part of the 1962 deal with Bobby Kennedy to free my grandfather from jail, but they had been estranged since then and she eschewed any situation where reporters could ask her questions. I looked around with a smile on my face. I had inherited my grandfather’s smile and cheekbones, if not his blonde hair and blue eyes and formidable size, and I was undeniably his posterity. He smiled naturally, regardless of the emotions behind his smile, and so did I. But, he was a brutal man, just like my dad, and I had spent three years overriding what I felt was my family’s tendency towards anger and violence by channeling my actions into wrestling and the safety rules that allowed us to push ourselves.

I looked around at the crowd of almost 100 biologic family members. My grandfather had another wife and though I knew their side of the family somewhat well we weren’t close and they may not have even recognized me. All of Mamma Jean’s other children were there – Janice, Cynthia, Theresa, and Kieth – and all of their children, my cousins. I barely knew any them except for Tiffany, Janice’ daughter, who was a year older than I was, and had been my friend since before I knew even Cristi. In a way, she more than my cousin, she was my oldest friend, and I hadn’t seen her since I had seen Janice a year before. I relaxed as soon as I saw her, and wanted to walk over in my letterman jacket with lungs full of air and the Partin smile on my face.

But, Janice stopped me just as I was stepping away, and said, ominously, “Your dad is on his way.” She may have noticed her tone, and she stood upright and looked down at me and continued in the voice she used when summarizing one family member to another and focusing on the positives.

“He’s coming from Arkansas. You should be proud of him, Jason, we all are. He got out of prison and told me he was going to become a lawyer, and he got his GED and is in college now and studying political science and history. He earned all A’s his first semester! He’s so smart, and he can do anything he sets his mind to. So can you Jason, so can you…” Her voice trailed off and she looked as if she’d fall asleep on her feet; it had been a long year for her, and she loved her father.

Tiffany was gone by then, but I saw Grandma Foster leaning against Doug in Big Daddy’s viewing room and I walked over to her. She was Big Daddy and Doug’s mother and was remarkably tiny, only 5’1″ though seemingly shorter now that she hunched over. She once had his bright blue eyes – he had hers is more accurate – but she hers had become greyed from cataracts over the years I had known her, and now she seemed much more old and frail than I would have ever imagined. She had always been vibrant, lively, and cheerful, but she was so obviously sad and looked so much tinier next to Doug’s big body that she seemed like an ancient, sad, old woman that day. I walked over to her.

“Ohhhh, Jason…” she said between sobs, and let go of Doug and reached for me. She was probably the only person in the room I had to look down to see, and I opened my arms and received her tiny body in a hug.

“You ain’t suppos’d t’ outlive y’er chil’ren,” she bawled into my chest. “You ain’t suppos’d to outlive y’er chil’ren!” she repeated with a bit more strength.

Doug stuck out his hand and I partially released my hug and shook it with Grandma sanwhiched between us. He said, “I’m glad you’re here, Jason. I don’t know where your dad is, but he’s welcome, too. Momma’s always said you were a good boy. We’re glad you’re here.”

Doug’s bright blue eyes were bloodshot, just like Janice’s and Grandma’s, and his cheeks were puffy and he loved his big brother and his momma. Their father, Grady Partin, was a criminal and an alcoholic and had run out on Grandma and her three young teenage boys during the Great Depression, and he and Big Daddy did what they had to do to take care of her and each other while they lived in squalor until she met a mild mannered and hard working man named Foster who made their lives much easier; he had died before I knew them, but Grandma had always told me he was a good man.

Grandma Foster looked up at me and smiled the smile that I attributed to Big Daddy and patted my chest full of medals and said, “And look at you! All grow’d up!” Her face squinched up around her smile like when she was really happy and she patted my chest again and, though she couldn’t see everything on it clearly, she said, “And you won all those medals, just like I tol’ you you could! You is just like Ed, smart and hard working, and you is a good boy!”

I never knew when she was talking about Ed, my father, or Ed, her son; to Grandma, most people were smart and hard working, and were somehow good.

Her moment of joy ended and she collapsed back into my chest and began bawling again, and said, “Ed was a good boy! He did what he had to do. He didn’t mean no harm to no one; he did what he had to do…” She bawled and Doug nodded in agreement, though I doubted he could understand her with her face buried in my chest.

She looked back up at me with her greyed eyes and said, “And he took care of his momma and his brothers,” and Doug heard that and nodded in agreement, “Just like you done. You a good boy, you a good boy, and don’t you forget it!”

When my grandfather got out of prison in 1986, he stayed at Grandma’s but was too feeble to help much around the house and my dad was in prison by then and Doug and my uncle Kieth were busy running Teamsters Local #5 and, to use Doug’s words, cleaning it up after 30 years under Ed Partin, and Doug’s little brother, Joe, had been promoted from Zachary High’s football coach to their principal and was busy. Grandma lived a few blocks from my mom’s mom, my Granny, and I stayed with her a lot and would walk over to Grandma’s and chat with her and Big Daddy and help around the house. She told everyone I was a good boy; but, like I mentioned, she said that about everyone, including grandfather. But, she always meant it. You felt it more than heard the words. Every time I ever saw her I felt better about myself and believed her that I could, indeed, succeed at anything I set my mind to. I was smart enough and could work hard. That feeling was worth walking over and mowing her yard and helping take care of her small garden over the years.

Joe walked over and Grandma went back to sobbing and into Joe’s huge hands, and he and Doug consoled her and I once again saw her as remarkable

I parted ways with Grandma and did what I had come there to do: see my grandfather’s open casket. Because I had arrived late, most people had already viewed him and were mingling and I was the only one looking down at Edward Grady Partin Senior.

It was a big casket. The funeral home had done a good job, and he really did look peaceful; that was the proof I needed that his spirit, soul, energy, or whatever anyone would call it was gone. I had never felt peaceful around him; ever since I had first met him when I was only four years old, I had felt an emotion I could only describe back then as fear or terror or aversion. But it was gone, and I felt nothing staring down at him, and that felt good. He looked much smaller than I remembered.

His smile was exactly the same, and I wondered if he coroner or funeral director or whomever was responsible for applying makeup used photos to force his smile to look like that, or if it happened naturally. I felt my cheeks and noticed I wasn’t smiling, and I looked down intently and tried, to the best of my ability at the time, to master what I had learned from a martial arts instructor when I was training to wrestling Hillary Clinton: relax and calm your mind, and see what can not be described with words. But, I always had a hard time relaxing, much less letting my mind settle, and I couldn’t see what I came all that way to see: nature vs nurture. Was I really a good boy, or was I a Partin pretending to be a good boy? Cristi had said I could be whatever I wanted to be, and for three years I had been Magik, but I still got angry and still wanted to punch things sometimes and I wondered if that would ever change. For some reason, I had locked on to Big Daddy’s smile as a key to that. He could smile in any situation, and I wondered if that had taken him effort or if it happened naturally. I smiled and held it; it didn’t feel natural so I stopped.

Just then, I heard my dad enter the room. His booming voice is unmistakable, even in the din of a room full of 100 people. He was speaking with Janice, and she was hugging him and he was crying and saying something about the long drive to get there and asking where Daddy was. She pointed towards the big casket and therefore towards me, and my dad saw me and abruptly left Janice and walked briskly though the crowd towards me.

When he got within five feet, he boomed, “Justin – I mean Jason – I’m glad to see you, son!” He stepped towards me and bent down to hug me in a move that was remarkably akin to a wrestling double-leg takedown, but arriving at my chest instead of legs. He pulled me in tightly and I hugged him back.

We embraced for about two minutes as he sobbed, which is length of a round of wrestling, so I knew how it felt to be in a tight hold for that long. He really was sad, something I had only seen in him once before, just after he had been released on bail and was facing two years in prison for drug dealing, coincidentally just as Big Daddy was being released early for failing health. When my dad sobbed, he put his whole mind and body into it, and though he spoke I couldn’t understand his words through the tears. I didn’t stop him to ask what he was saying, and I just allowed my body to be shaken by his shudders between gasps for breath.

He began to catch his breath and let me go and pushed me back and looked me up and down and said, “You look good, son. You haven’t grown though.”

That wasn’t true. I had weighed 126 pounds and was close to Grandma Foster’s height the last time I saw him, three years before. He stood up and went to the casket and looked down without commenting on my letterman jacket or taped fingers. I told him that, and that I had even joined the 82nd and they thought I was big enough to be a paratrooper, but I don’t think he heard me or understood what I meant.

He leaned against the casket and began sobbing again, albeit with much less force and more like his sisters and brother had. He was, interestingly, the runt of their litter; a big, strong, forceful man among a family of physically fit and larger than life people. Janice and Kieth had told me that Big Daddy was rough on my dad, bullying him to be stronger or less like himself, and was disappointed in how little he was compared to the LSU football players that followed Big Daddy around. Apparently, Big Daddy had hoped his children would go to LSU and become football stars, like his little brother Joe had begun doing and like my younger cousin, also named Jason Partin, was on track to do as Zachary’s star football player. But, my dad has eschewed school and preferred to earn his livelihood selling marijuana and prescription opiates, and he and his father had been estranged ever since Big Daddy went to prison for a wide range of things in 1980.

The service was beginning soon, and everyone was asked to take their seats. Embarrassingly, Janice had forgotten to set aside a seat for me in the front row. She apologized, but I said I preferred to stand, anyway, and I walked towards the rear of the room, near the entrance that was guarded by a few police officers and two men in black suits.

The men were obviously FBI agents and part of a legacy of J. Edgar Hoover’s hand-picked task forces. Hoover had retired around the time I was born. He was the FBI director for 37 years, and had installed a dress code in the 50’s and 60’s that created the “men in black” meme. But, patterns persist, and some people cling to old ideals and embrace tradition more than others. I had seen a few of the Get Hoffa task force members here and there as a little kid, and there were a few of Hoover’s hand picked marshalls still lingering around us in the years surrounding Hoffa’s disappearance, and I had learned to ignore them. Probably because of that, I was able to look around them and wonder why they weren’t so obvious to everyone else. Granted, it was a funeral, and many people were in dark suits, but the classic men in black look is difficult to miss, especially because, like the Men in Black movie franchise, they always seem to travel in pairs.

These two were unremarkable in size, but they seemed much more alert than others who had languishly followed us, perhaps bored and wondering why they still followed the Partins even after Hoffa was gone. These two were looking around the room more than at the casket and podium with a succession of speakers that included the mayor and Billy ???? To me, that was the most obvious clue: no one in Baton Rouge ignored LSU football players, especially a Heisman Trophy winner.

They each had one of those silly little white ear plugs with a coiled white cord dangling down their neck and tucked under the back of their jackets. Out of habit, rotated my back a few times and stretched as if tired of standing, allowing me to glance behind them. Sure enough, their jackets bulged with what was probably a transmitting device and battery. As difficult as it is to imagine the best of FBI technology being that crude, it was 1990, years before small wireless devices would be available, and not very much changed since Walter Sheridan had first tried to strap on one Big Daddy in 1962.

In his book, Walter described how surprised he had been by Big Daddy’s size, though that’s a slight exaggeration, because Big Daddy was only about 6’4″ and 280 pounds in his prime. What I imagined Walter meant was how he felt around my grandfather, the trepidation hat I felt or the sense of reverence everyone in Baton Rouge seemed to feel. He was a force of nature more than a height and weight could describe. And he knew it, and his suits were tailored to showcase his physique, and when Walter tried to secure J. Edgar Hoover’s most advanced bugging device onto Big Daddy, he couldn’t find a spot where it wouldn’t bulge through. But, instead of attributing that to a tightly tailored suit, Walter said it was because of Ed Partin’s physique. He decided at the last minute to diverge from Hoover’s plan and rely on whatever Big Daddy said rather than what the bugging device could record, and that would be a critical point debated in all trials and appeals from that point up until Chief Justice Earl Warren was the only judge dissenting on using Ed Partin’s word to convict Hoffa, and my grandfather’s testimony became an accepted Supreme Court verdict that’s still used today to justify what does and does not constituted illegal bugging.

I was only 17 years old, but for the previous few years I had spent a lot of time at Grandma Fosters, listening to her and Big Daddy tell stories and reading the few books on her bookshelf. She wasn’t much of a reader, especially after her eyesight got so poor, but she had Walter’s book and a few others and had underlined key points, like the parts about Big Daddy’s suit and Walter’s impressions of him. And, though Big Daddy had never said anything even slightly related to his experiences with Hoffa and Bobby, he had smiled extra wide when he bragged about being able to defeat J. Edgar Hoover’s technology, including the relatively new lie detector tests. In the same Life article where you can see Janice and Big Daddy smiling lovingly, you can turn a few pages and see Big Daddy hooked up to an FBI lie detector test and a scientist in a stereotypical white lab coat showing the results to America and describing the science behind it – Hoover was really big into costumes for all of his staff, from the men in black to the scientists in white lab coats – and if you look closely you’ll see that Big Daddy’s smile was the same in that photo as it was when he was with Janice and in the photo of him shown, for reasons I don’t understand, shirtless and in boxing gloves. A rumor had been that Hoover was a closet homosexual, and more than one person had told me he was as enamored by Big Daddy as all the women in Baton Rouge seemed to be, and perhaps that photo was as much insight into the images Hoover wanted portrayed as where they white coats and black suits he chose.

The two FBI agents weren’t muscular and didn’t have tailored suits, but they were lazy in thier posturing and their jacket bulged from the transmitter’s poor placement, perhaps because their concealed weapons took up the prime spots. Those were less easy to spot, and I may have imagined that they each had two, one in classic shoulder holster made famous by Dirty Harry movies with improbably big revolvers held under armpits, and another, smaller one near each of their right hips.

I assumed they were right handed, and I knew they were unaware of whom they were dealing with. I had earned my nickname as Magik because in theater class I had performed magic shows between set changes, sort of like an emcee, and Mrs. Tichelai had encouraged that and allowed me access to their prop room, and I had learned to choose clothes that hid the things I’d produce on stage, like bottles of Coke and a rubber dove; it’s not hard, it just takes being aware of your clothing and movement and making your motions seem natural. But, obviously, Hoover hand’t consulted Mrs. T, and the two men in black hand’t read The Art of Magic by Henning Nelson, and I felt a swell of pride for what I knew and I imagined that I could become even more highly trained than J. Edgar Hoover’s elite men in black.

One noticed me smiling at him and straighten up and smiled back; that was another thing Big Daddy had told me, to smile patiently and watch what happens to anyone threatening you. He’s quoted in Life a couple of times over the years, when Hoffa’s men threatened him and he was asked what he did, he said he just smiled and did nothing and they backed down. He said similar things about the mafia threats against him and my family, and I had begun noticing that it was mostly true; I had tried it against Hillary Clinton the first few times we wrestled, and it seemed to only irritate him and make him pin me faster and with more force, so I eventually decided to forgo smiling with intention and focus on wrestling better. But I still smiled more often than not, without trying.

I nodded and told him about his bulging device and pistols, and he seemed surprised and tapped his partner and whispered something to him and they both stood more upright, breathing deeply and widening their shoulders and allowing their jackets to hang more loosely around their wastes, and the bulges vanished like Hoffa from a Detroit parking lot. I smiled, genuinely pleased. Ever since the team had voted me co-captain I had taken a special pride in helping people by pointing out what they probably didn’t notice, though usually that was a body posture for a double leg takedown and not concealed weapons and bulging transmitters.

The sermon proceeded, and most of my cousins got up to read letters they had written to Big Daddy, sort of like speeches by more personalized. Several called him an American Hero and pointed out that he helped Bobby Kennedy, though they were a few years younger than me and had been born after Hoffa disappeared.

Tiffany spoke, too. She was a year older than I was, and had graduated high school already and had helped Janice care for Big Daddy. She was a lovely young lady, a former homecoming queen with an athletic build and a mature, articulate way of speaking. She had Jancie and my dark brown eyes, our Mamma Jean’s, but she had somehow inherited Big Daddy’s blonde hair flecked with red, and that rare combination made her even more remarkable. Over time, her beauty and calm, methodical way of speaking – just like Big Daddy had spoken – had led to positive feedback and she played the role well. Only a few of us knew she was on new, experimental antidepressants, and as I watched her I began to believe that those drugs were working, and I pondered if perhaps that was the key to overriding nature.

The whole room listened to her every word, and I looked around and watched them transfixed, slightly envious that I hadn’t developed her radiant personality and clear articulation with the soft and subtle southern accent that added to her charm. Even the FBI agents seemed enamored, because they stopped scanning the room and focused on Tiffany; though they were still alert enough to maintain their posture and keep their bulges hidden.

Near the end of Tiffany’s speech – it was more like a speech than the letters our younger cousins had read – she said our Big Daddy was in Heaven. But, she said it in a way I recalled hearing our Mamma Jean talk when we were little, and I chuckled at pun in my mind. The agent with whom I had spoken heard me and looked over and cocked his head inquisitively – he obviously didn’t read the Lord’s Prayer that began with something like, “Our Father who is in Heaven” – and I leaned over and let him in on the joke, that apparently you can steal and kill and still get into heaven just by saying your sorry. He still didn’t get it, I assumed, because he didn’t chuckle or even smile. But, he did stare at me a few more moments, looking me up and down and probably very impressed by my many letters and 36 gold pins.

Billy and the mayor said some things that I don’t recall – I was getting bored by then – and the funeral began wrapping up and the official viewing was began. People lined up to see Big Daddy, who was in Heaven, in his big casket. The pallbearers were Doug, Joe, Kieth, Billy, and two big Teamsters whose names I don’t recall, stood by the casket and, in my mind, continued to protect Big Daddy like they had when he ran Baton Rouge.

Most people began leaving, but Janice waved me over and said the family was meeting later and I was invited. I knew she meant Mamma Jean and her sisters, my aunts Mildred, Wanda, and Recie, all of whom were uninterested in attending Big Daddy’s funeral. I stood by her and an abundance of flowery wreaths centered around a massive one shaped like an 18 wheeler truck with yellow flowers forming the truck and red ones spelling out, “From Local #5.” The police guided people outside to where reporters were still waiting, and the two FBI agents stood by the door and watched everyone who left; their postures were still good, and no one seemed to notice them, not even with those ridiculous white coils coming from their ears.

Janice went over and hugged Tiffany and said how proud she was of her – they had been estranged until recently, perhaps because of Big Daddy’s illness and death – and they walked off to talk. My dad came out and rushed over to me and hugged me and miscalled my name again and stood by my side with his arm draped over my shoulder. He must have been bored, too, because he was no longer crying and was very talkative, just like he always was whenever being cooped up inside for too long, like in a college classroom or federal prison cell.

“Look, Jason,” he said, getting my name right the first time. “Don’t believe any of that bullshit. Their ain’t no heaven, and none of these people know shit about Big Daddy.”

“Look,” he said, kneeling down to look me in the eyes. “Do you know what happened to me at the University of Arkansas?” I hadn’t even known he was at the University of Arkansas, home of the Razorbacks, and I was sure that if Big Daddy were in Heaven he would be horrified to learn his son had joined a rival team. My dad didn’t wait for an answer and he continued, “Those assholes told me I had to take off my shirt or leave, and I sued them for violating my first amendment and lost, and that’s bullshit.” I had no idea what he was talking about, but fortunately he talked a while about it and I didn’t have to ask any questions and I knew much more about what his shirt had said than he did.

He was asked to leave the university or get expelled because of a handwritten shirt in January that had said, “Fuck U.S. actions in Panama,” his response to the 1989-1990 U.S. invasion of Panama that had captured Noriega in a worldwide televised showdown. My dad kept saying that President Bush sent the marines to Panama because he was Reagan’s puppet in the bullshit War on Drugs – my dad’s words – and that it was illegal to target one man and that was too much power for any president, and that all his life he’s seen presidents and warmongers abuse their power and no one does anything about it, but that he was going to become a lawyer and help people put in jail for bullshit reasons and change the constitution to stop assholes and warmongers from ruling the world, and that it began with him exercising his first amendment and wearing that handwritten shirt and telling the president of the University of Arkansas to go fuck himself, and that I should be proud of “my old man” for wearing that shirt in the first place, and I had to understand that he only removed it so that he wouldn’t get expelled or arrested again – he was still on probation – and the only reason he changed his shirt was so that could change the world to be better for everyone, and that I should be proud of him.

But, he was mistaken. The 82nd parachuted into Panama and took over the country, not the marines, though a few marines helped. So did a few navy SEALS, though a couple died, just like the guy from Delta Force. The 82nd was the president’s quick reaction force, proceeding the marines in urgent situations by parachuting in and capturing airports and destroying beach fortifications so that the marines could follow. We were – and I used “we” by then – America’s Guard of Honor, The All Americans, and, unlike the t-shirts angry teens and PTSD saddled vietnam vets wore, we were not “Death from Above.” I had spoken with vets of the 82nd, and they were like me, kids who had wanted a family and had found it in wrestling, football, and the army. And, instead of raining death onto Noriega, the 82nd was shown all over the world surrounding his house with big speakers and blaring very, very loud and, in my opinion, good 1980’s hard rock music at him 24 hours a day until he surrendered from lack of sleep and the irony of hearing Van Halen’s Jump! and Panama 24 hours a day. I had thought they had a good sense of humor, and I tried to correct him about the marines and reminded him that I had joined the 82nd, but he never had listened to me and wasn’t about to begin on his father’s funeral day. He kept ranting about things he didn’t understand, and I practiced my right to remain silent; of all things in the constitution, that was the one I knew well and wished my dad would practice more than he practiced his right to free speech.

The funeral seating area finally cleared and only a few people were waiting to get out the door and into the crowd outside, and the pallbearers approached us and Doug saw my dad and walked towards us. My dad stood up and draped his arm over my shoulders and held me close. Doug stopped a few feet in front of and smiled despite the tears dripping down his cheeks, stuck out his hand to shake, and said, “I’m sorry for your loss, Ed, your Daddy was a good man at heart.”

In one swift motion, my dad swung his right arm off my shoulder and arched it in a smooth slap that knocked Doug’s hand away as my dad boomed, “Fuck you, Doug!” He lunged forward and shoved Doug’s broad chest so hard it knocked the big man backwards. Doug’s arms spun as he recovered from the slap and tried to regain his balance, and he stumbled backwards a few steps and regained his footing, but his hand tipped over a few wreaths and crashed into the big 18 wheeler from Local #5, knocking off a few yellow flowers. Without pause, my dad had followed Doug with a few steps forward and grabbed him by his suit collar with his left hand and formed his right hand into a fist held only a foot or so from my face. He began his punch and his fist moved forward and he rotated his body as any good boxer would do, and the punch would have done serious damage if it had landed. But, before he could, Billy tackled him and my dad instantly turned his rage on whomever was stopping him, but before anything more serious could happen, three of the big Teamsters who had loved Big Daddy pounced on him and joined Billy in subduing my dad. It took all four of them to drag my dad out of the room, and by then the police were surrounding them and more than a few Teamsters looked ready to join in the action. I don’t recall if the FBI agents did anything unusual, but, in a way that was stranger than anything I had seen yet that day, I distinctly remember my dad choosing to shout his final words so that we’d all hear his right to free speech, and he bellowed, “Fuck U.S. actions in Panama!”

I didn’t know what to do, and no one seemed to be paying attention to me, so I walked over to where Doug was standing and smoothing the wrinkles from where my dad had grabbed his suit, and I said I was sorry. Grandma Foster was nearby and walked over to me and hugged me, and told me I was a good boy and said she was sorry Ed was so angry all the time.

Billy and the Teamster pallbearers came back and Doug joined them and they heaved Big Daddy’s casket and proceeded to carry him to his final resting place in Greenoaks Resting Home. My family and a handful of other people followed to begin the funeral procession and final rights, where close family would toss handfuls of dirt onto the closed casket, but I wasn’t asked to join and I was very much through with my Partin family. I had seen what I went there to see, and I was more determined than ever to overcome nature using anything I could.

I looked outside and was happy to see that the crowds were gone. Interestingly, I had seen several of my teachers because Big Daddy had been a staunch supporter of the teachers union and had even gotten them concessions by threatening the governor with a Teamsters strike, and I hadn’t wanted to draw attention to myself after having spent years distancing from the Partins. Satisfied that the path to my motorcycle was clear, I stepped outside and was met by a man that, at first, I was shocked to see because he looked just like Jimmy Hoffa. It turns out he was Walter Sheridan, but I didn’t know that yet. He was standing between me and my motorcycle with his hands in his pockets.

Walter looks somewhat like Hoffa, especially if you look at the cover of his book. Walter’s there in the classic look of 1950’s and 60’s gentlemen, with a grey or blue business suit and close cropped and slicked back hair, and there’s a sillioute above him of Jimmy Hoffa and his close cropped and slicked back hair. Walter’s cover photo looks a lot like the photo on Hoffa’s book, “Hoffa on Hoffa,” and I had seen both copies so many times at Grandma’s and Mamma Jeans’s that, for a brief moment, I thought I was seeing the ghost of Jimmy Hoffa coming to check out Big Daddy’s funeral. Of course that was ridiculous, but I felt startled just the same, and hadn’t quite realized it was Walter yet, especially because I had never met him.

“Quite a show in there,” the ghost of Jimmy Hoffa said.

I recognized his voice, but couldn’t quite place it. After the FBI, Walter became an NBC news correspondent, and I had inevitably seen him on television a few times, and I must have assumed he was one of the reporters lingering around. Perhaps I could say something worthwhile, I felt. Something that would help me on whatever path I was on in the 82nd, something remarkable. Maybe I could do a magic trick and become famous, like David Copperfield or Doug Henning or Harry Blackstone Jr. I adjusted my posture and prepared to produce a giant Kennedy half dollar, should the opportunity present itself, and smiled without saying anything in response to his statement.

“I’m Walter,” he said, keeping his hands in h

“My friends call me Magik,” I said.

He cocked his head like the FBI agent had. I put my hands in my letterman jacket and palmed a 1972 half dollar in my right hand; I could produce it, make it vanish and reappear, and then turn into a giant half, which would be more impressive than irreverently producing a big coin simply to prove I could do it. My left hand grasped a thumb tip packed with a small red silk handkerchief, and I looked at Walter’s dark grey suit and drab tie – I don’t recall the color – and wondered if he was the type of person who would let me bunch his suit or tie into my fist and pull a red handkerchief out of it. He seemed remarkably unflappable, and I felt he’d be ok with a wrinkled suit in exchange for a fun magic trick, and magic with other people’s things is usually more memorable than simple sleight of hand.

“Well, Magik, your father stole the show. I’m sorry about that.”

I was shocked; how did he know my dad was my dad? But, I felt comfortable around him. His voice was familiar, after all. At the time, I didn’t know Walter Sheridan had retired and become a news correspondent, because I only knew about his book, but I was beginning to suspect who he was. It’s only a coincidence that a familiar voice sounds soothing and I felt as if I knew him. Janice had talked about him a lot, and he had been in constant contact with her the past year; I hadn’t seen her, but we talked on the phone quite a bit because she was so good about keeping in touch with family, and she had mentioned him to me a few times. I was pleased to have surmised so much on my own twice that day.

“He had a rough life,” Walter said. “And we think he’s ill, like your grandfather was, and my not be able to control himself.”

I asked if he meant scizophrenia, and he seemed surprised that I knew that. Jancie had told me, and I coincidentally had a friend who had been diagnosed with it years before and knew the symptoms. I had dismissed it when Janice said Big Daddy had it, but pondered what Walter said because, though I had heard from my friend’s doctor, Dr. Steve Zuckerman, coincidentally a magician in Ring #178, the Baton Rouge chapter of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, that schizophrenia was hereditary, I had never considered that my dad could have inherited it. That would make sense, because the disease begins showing symptoms around 24 to 27 years old, just when my dad left Louisiana to live like a hermit in the mountains of Arkansas and grow marijuana.

Walter said yes, after a pause where he cocked his head again, and then he sat silently again. I said schizophreneia doesn’t mean your violent, just confused with what’s real and what’s not, and that my dad never hit me. He had never really hit someone other than Doug, I said, but that he pushed people around to get his way, and that was wrong no matter how you see the world. I wasn’t quoting someone; I had come to that conclusion on my own, after meeting Big Daddy when he got out of prison, and I had spent three years watching people be bullies and seeing that most of them had had “rough” lives and reinforcing in myself that it was avoidable. And, my friend was the sweetest person despite her disease, and Dr. Z. had assured me that schizophrenia was treateable with medications, just like Tiffany’s depression, and I was more afraid of people like Big Daddy who were okay hurting people than anyone with a disease. I think I got that from Coach, who wanted us to wrestle as hard and as focused as we could, but to learn the safest methods so we wouldn’t harm anyone.

At the thought of Coach, I told Walter, “We are not our fathers or their fathers.” I surprised myself with the conviction I felt; it probably came from seeing Big Daddy in his casket and watching my dad get drug away by Billy and the Teamsters, and, of course, recalling my emancipation a few months before when Judge Bob and I had discussed nature vs nurture and he granted my freedom.

Walter looked at me with what can only be described as compassion. We stood there for a few moments. He was only a couple of inches taller that I was, and from a few feet away we could look into each other’s eyes as peers. But, I was young back then and unable to sit in silence yet, and I spoke first.

“I joined the 82nd,” I said, simply for something to say that would sound more mature than I was. “Like the guys who jumped into Panama,” not the marines, like my dad had said, “and I’ll be on the president’s quick reaction force by the end of the year.”

Walter remained silent.

“I’d like to serve my country,” I continued. “I don’t know what that means. But my dad’s right, in a way. A lot of bad things happen. I’d like to help.”

“What would that look like?” Walter asked.

I hadn’t thought about that, and no one had asked me that way before. Usually, I said things like that and people extolled on what I nice guy I was, as if all it took were bold statements to sound patriotic or compassionate or wise. I had no idea what it would actually look like, and I replied something to that effect.

Walter made a sound not unlike a friendly chuckle, and said that at least I was trying, and that was a start.

“Good luck, Magik,” he said as he took his hands out of his pocket and stuck one out to shake, and I dropped my half dollar and took out my hands – keeping the thumb tip in my left, just in case – and shook his hand.

He turned and walked away, and I walked to my motorcycle and put on my helmet and rode off. A week later, I removed the letter pins I felt had been given to me instead of earning them and gave my jacket to Cristi. It was much too warm to wear by then, and I’d be leaving for the army soon and wouldn’t need it.

On my balcony, I told a much shorter version to my neighbors, with Cristi chiming in about my emancipation. She was emancipated, too, after her mother had passed away and she was a 16 year old girl on her own, too old to be adopted and unable to sign paperwork on her own, like car purchases or apartment leases, and Judge Bob had helped her through the process and she told me about it the summer before my senior year, and that’s how I learned I could become a legal adult and join the army without my parent’s consent.

Lysandra mentioned she had been emancipated, too, when her mom, whom she believed had schizophreneia, had a nervous breakdown and couldn’t care for her. I had known Lysandra for years, but neither of us discussed our past much, and we chatted about funny coincidences for a while.

Carleton, whose mom was a lovely lady and frequently brought over cookies and met him for walks around Balboa Park, pointed out the humor of the FBI telling you that you have schizophrenia, and Cristi gasped that she had never seen that and we laughed a bit. I didn’t say that I had pondered it for many years, and it was a part of my thought process whenever I read books about the Kennedy assassination and conspiracy theories.

“Oh!” I exclaimed. “I almost forgot something Walter asked me.” That night was the first time I tried to tell that story as a story, and I got so caught up in it that I forgot what was, to me, the funniest part.

“He asked what I remember my grandfather saying, and I lied a bit and quoted Janice. She had told me on the phone that she’d never forget Big Daddy’s final words, ‘No one will ever know my part in history,’ and I told him that and laughed about how it sounded out loud. But he didn’t laugh. I had gathered similar things from him, but not in those words, and I laughed because it sounded so much better than anything I could have said. Janice still says it, and she still doesn’t get the joke because she’s so emotionally attached to it being his final words and still has a lot of trauma from everything that had happened to them, but I think it’s the funniest part in that story…”

I said the final part slowly enough that everyone got it and either groaned or laughed and we sipped our beverages and let the conversation flow to other topics and lots of laughter. But, a part of my mind was still back in 1990, chatting with Walter Sheridan and imaging a future where I served my country, whatever that would look like, and another part was watching me laughing on my balcony with my oldest friend and two of my closest friends, and another part, a tiny little bit, was realizing I still don’t know what it would look like to serve my country even though I kept wanting to write a book that would somehow do that.

We finished talking without reaching any conclusions about anything other than my homebrew IPA tasted more citrusy and crisp and refreshing probably because it was so much fresher than either the Sculpin or Alesmith, even though both had been canned within a few months; and that we agreed the first iteration of a non alcoholic kamboocha was good but would probably be better with basil instead of mint. I hadn’t told them about the guava – some details aren’t worth sharing until the situation calls for it – but we had some basil and mint on the balcony and that allowed a fun diversion from talking to taste and smell and feel the textures. In the end, no one dissented about the basil, and I looked forward to making a batch with Cristi and Hope before they returned home.

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