Havana, 01 March 2019

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

Edward Grady Partin.

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

Life quoted Walter Sheridan, head of the Get-Hoffa Squad, that Partin was virtually the all-American boy even though he had been in jail “because of a minor domestic problem.”1

Jimmy Hoffa, 1975

It was a long day of flights from San Diego to Havana. The plane laid over in Houston, and I was scribbling notes in the sidelines of a book when a man boarded and plopped into the seat beside me.

“What are you reading?” he asked.

I looked up slowly, and flicked my pen around my right thumb like a magician whirling a wand to distract someone. I placed it in the fold of my paperback to mark the page, closed the book, took off my reading glasses, and removed my left earbud. It wasn’t playing anything; I wear earbuds with noise canceling software to soften engine noise and to discourage small talk, and I didn’t want him to know I could hear with earbuds in.

“Say again,” I said.

He repeated himself. I tilted the book so he could see the cover. It was “I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran and Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa,” by Charles Brandt. The man’s gaze skimmed across the words, and he looked back up at me.

“What’s it about?” he asked.

He had read the seat numbers before sitting down, so I assumed he didn’t need glasses. He was a nondescript 35-or-so year old with a polo shirt that was too tight and emphasized a bulbous belly that had likely grown since he bought the shirt; I assumed he chose it either mindlessly or to emphasize his arms, which had hints of muscle tone lurking beneath a few extra pounds, as if he had played some sport in college before getting an office job. His face was a tad sunburnt, and he had subtle raccoon-eyes that exposed pale white skin. I imagined he wore expensive sunglasses and bright colored polo shirts when golfing with coworkers on weekends. It’s possible he didn’t know who Jimmy Hoffa was; in the book, I had just read Frank The Irishman’s harsh hitman voices saying, “kids now a days don’t know who Hoffa was. I mean, they may know the name, but they don’t know how much power he had.” I forced a thin smile and rotated the book to show the back cover. He glanced down.

He looked back up and smiled, and asked, “Did you go to LSU?”

“I’m not sure why you ask,” I said.

He nodded towards my head and said, “Because your hat says LSU.”

You couldn’t get anything by this guy. I had chosen an older, wool baseball cap for the cooler months that was so faded you could barely make out the letters. I was trying to be discrete yet still wearing things that made me smile inside, and to shield my thinning hair and relatively new bald spot from overhead air conditioners that seem to target my head like campfire smoke seeks my eyes. I found it the previous May, bobbing in waves almost a football field length off of Point Loma, just after I told myself I needed a hat to shade my burning scalp. The coincidence was understandable. I was surfing a month after the 2018 San Diego LSU Alumni association crawfish boil, the largest crawfish boil outside of Louisiana, with around 36,000 attendees. To feed that many people crawfish, a fleet of 18 wheelers trucks the mudbugs from Lafayette to San Diego every year, and any one of the truck drivers or attendees could have dropped the hat overboard on a Point Loma fishing trip or lost it on a beach along our 78 miles of coastline. Any hat would have allowed me to keep surfing, but to see an LSU hat bob beside me made the day much more remarkable. I was born in Baton Rouge in 1972, and grew up always within dozen miles from LSU’s campus. I left for the army in 1990, but returned in 1994 and was voted co-captain of the renewed wrestling program. I was mentored by the 1970’s LSU wrestling coach who had skyrocketed LSU to fourth in the nation, Coach Dale Ketelsen, and in 1996 our budding team hosted the first college wrestling matches in Louisiana since LSU’s team was disbanded after 1979’s Title IX law enforced equal numbers of male and female athletes in collegiate sports. Our historic match filled the Pete Marovich assembly center, and was attended by Coach and his family, practically every high school wresting coach in Baton Rouge, several LSU cheerleaders, and a bleacher section full of young ladies from the nearby Gold Club who thought we looked good in the tight purple singlets Coach had found for us. I graduated in 1997 with a summa cum laude degree in civil and environmental engineering – one of only eleven environmental engineering programs in America back then – and moved to San Diego. With every move, I carried a small cardboard box with my degree and a handful of awards from campus organizations, and I sometimes flew home for crawfish season, music festivals, and, of course, LSU football games in the Death Valley; the energy there is so strong that in 1988 fans made history with the only human-generated earthquake ever recorded, a 3.8 on the Richter scale, when almost 90,000 fans jumped up and down to the Tiger marching band beat after a 50 yard touchdown throw victory in overtime against Auburn. My email address had been LSUmagic ever since Google launched gmail in 2004.

I said, “I grew up in Baton Rouge.”

He asked if I lived in Houston now.

In fairness, Louisiana’s agriculture and tourism based economy meant that a lot of LSU graduates move to either Houston or Atlanta for office jobs. There are so many LSU graduates in Houston that it hosts the second largest crawfish boil outside of Louisiana every spring, and Houston golf courses are packed with people wearing LSU hats. I’m sure he was just being friendly in his own way. But, I suspected that no matter what I answered, he’d begin asking where I lived, where I was going, or what I did for a living; or, even worse, he’d ask about my family or where I was going.

I said I was focused on reading, and didn’t want to talk.

He shrugged, pulled out his smart phone, and busied himself by scrolling Facebook. I put the earbud back in and returned to reading and scribbling notes. The plane took off, and he paid the WiFi upcharge and scrolled through his phone the rest of the flight without interrupting me.

It was 01 March 2019. I was on my first day of a 30 day sabbatical to research my grandfather’s role in President Kennedy’s assassination on 22 November 1963. I was using an entrepreneurship visa granted by the Obama administration to enter Cuba, which had been under an American embargo since Kennedy enacted it in 1961, just before the Bay of Pigs invasion. Trump’s administration was about to eliminate the entrepreneurship loophole, and the irony of being an American without freedom to travel was something I didn’t want to discuss with people who don’t understand what freedom means, so I didn’t discuss my trip with anyone on the flights. And I’m slightly claustrophobic: sitting in small spaces all day had led to my mind being agitated, my head hurting, and my body screaming louder than the jet engines; but no earbuds could soften that noise, and my mind craved jumping out of the plane and into the silence of a wide open sky, if only for a few minutes of peace. To stay calm, I read and kept opinions to myself.

I finished The Irishman somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico. There wasn’t much to look at out our right hand side of the plane other than clouds and an occasional glimpse of the ocean, so I reread my notes and allowed the information to settle deep into my memory, neurons growing dendrites like a freshly planted flower grows new roots, and linking with old memories long since dormant, like how roots of a perennial shrub sprouts each spring. As a freshman at LSU in 1994, I stumbled across a Harvard research study that compared memory retention for three groups given the same class and a test three weeks later: one group did not review notes, one reviewed just after taking them but not again, and one reviewed them just before the test. By far, the students who reviewed notes immediately after performed better on tests. A mentor when I was in high school, a math teacher and voracious reader, had intuitively known that and given me books to write in rather than treating it like the unmarked books used by different students each year; and long before that, I studied books by the magician and memory expert Harry Lorayne, and attended his lectures at monthly meetings of the Baton Rouge International Brotherhood of Magicians Pike Burden Honorary Ring #178. I attributed my high GPA at LSU to that math teacher and Harvard study more than any skillset or aptitude or technique from Harry Lorayne. Ironically, I can’t recall the name of the study or the journal in which it was published, but I’ve used the lessons from that serendipitous discovery for more than 25 years. I can regurgitate facts eaten decades earlier. To this day, I still excel at tests based on memorization, regardless if I understand the material or not, and I have a Dropbox folder full of degrees and certifications that any robot could have accumulated. Since high school, I read with a pen in hand, and since LSU I review my notes before changing gears to do something else.

The plane crossed over the Florida panhandle. I put the book away and let what I read digest. The plane landed in Fort Lauderdale an hour later, and my row stood up and prepared to debark by gathering baggage from overhead bins. When the airplane doors finally opened, the man beside me moved forward and looked over his shoulder and bid me a cheerful “have a nice vacation,” though I had never told him where I was going or what I was doing. I imagined he had golf clubs waiting in checked bags, and was meeting coworkers in Fort Lauderdale. I nodded and said, “You, too,” trying not to focus on him while what I had read was settling and sprouting roots.

I hadn’t checked anything, so I wore my carryon backpack with squat scuba fins strapped snugly in the outside flap, and hand-carried my rolled up yoga mat. I walked through the terminal to smaller plane. It was part of a new service to Havana, and the ticket included 30 days of travel health insurance that included extraction back to the states, per Cuba’s requirements to protect their state-funded healthcare system. They confirmed my visa, and I took my seat. The elderly Cuban gentleman who sat next to me and took off his bandera and rested it on his knee, smiled and nodded, and simply said “buenas tardes,” that blissfully polite Spanish phrase that needs no forced reply. I smiled back and wished him a good flight. I put in my earbuds, pulled out the Lonely Planet, and began underlining casa particulares and making notes bout the streets and neighborhoods of Havana I planned to visit.

About an hour and a half later, I stepped off the plane on onto the tarmac in Havana. I took a deep breath and inadvertently inhaled a lung full of JP-4 jetfuel. If you’ve ever done that, you know how nauseated it can make you feel. Despite the wave of nausea, I exhaled with a content sigh and smiled. Any day you land with the plane is a good day.

Suddenly, I whipped my head around and looked up the plane’s stairs to the exit door.

“Fuck!” I exclaimed so loudly you could have heard it over the engine’s roar.

I had left my yoga mat in the overhead bin. People were still disembarking, but it was too late to go back. Cuban officials were directing me towards customs. I took another deep breath of JP-4, and reminded myself that I had planned on shopping, anyway, to see what was on the shelves in a communist island and to keep an eye out for entrepreneurs sprouting between the cracks of Havana sidewalks. Tomorrow, I could buy another mat, or something that would suffice, like a thick towel or small blanket. I exhaled and snapped my head back and forth to loosen neck muscles, tightened my hip belt, and followed the official’s finger across the tarmac towards a sign for customs.

I walked slowly and forced my stiff hips to move as smoothly as possible. As I walked, I reflected on why I had forgotten my yoga mat on the plane. I wasn’t sure. I’ve left things here and there as long as I can remember. I viewed water bottles, jackets, pens, and other things I set down mindlessly as disposable. But I only had two things to grab from the plane, and I wanted to use the mat after a long day of sitting in cramped economy seats. My memory may be failing. After last year’s sabbatical, I noticed mistakes in simple math when I was converting US dollars to Nepali rupees. Six times seven is 42, the answer to everything and a number I should have known from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, yet it kept eluding my mind. The number 42 was also in the news in 2018, because Elon Musk launched his red Tesla convertible into space atop a Space-X rocket, and he was a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fan who pasted his car with “Don’t Panic” and other references to the 1980’s classic by Douglas Adams. And 42 was the Ranger Pat Tillman’s number when he played for the Arizona Cardinals before he was shot and killed in Afghanistan. I became concerned as soon as I couldn’t recall six times seven in a simple transaction. I was only 46 years old, but my primary care physician at the VA was concerned that I may be showing early symptoms of a neurological disorder akin to Alzheimers or Parkinsons; he thought it could be related to what the VA called Desert Storm Syndrome. I knew older friends and mentors who entered dementia so slowly that no one noticed, and I, like most people who knew them, assumed their their increasing grumpiness and forgetfulness was just getting older. Coach was one of them, and his 2015 passing was still fresh in my mind.2

After my preliminary diagnosis, I began trying to pay attention to my memory and mood throughout each day. I also dusted off Harry Lorayne’s books and began exercising my mind, hoping to avert or at least slow down any possible decline. The mind needs exercise, just like the body. Too late now, but I should have never stopped. At the least, I wanted to become more aware of any lapses, and hopefully avoid becoming confused and irritable around people. At the higher end of hope, I wanted to exercise my brain by using memories from growing up in the 1970’s and 80’s to write a memoir about my family. A three month sabbatical would allow uninterrupted time to write.

I paused before entering the building and sighed again, though not contently this time. Since Nepal, I ruminated about every memory lapse, no matter how seemingly insignificant. I’ve been claustrophobic since 1983, so I know that being in any confined space more than about 20 minutes makes me feel agitated, act grumpily, and make mistakes. I decided that forgetting the mat was nothing more than a consequence of being cooped up all day. There was nothing to do about the mat at that moment, so I entered the building and strolled up to two customs officials sitting at a simple folding table. They stopped joking with each other to greet me. I took off my backpack, pulled out a money belt from the front of my pants, and handed the officials my passport and round-trip plane ticket. I smiled.

The officials checked my travel insurance and return flight more thoroughly than my visa. I was on the first day of a three month sabattical, and had a 30 day visa for Cuba. My flight back was on March 28th to provide a safety window for delayed flights or anything unexpected. I wondered if the officials would comment on the uniqueness of my visa, but the senior one was more interested in the Force Fins strapped to my backpack. He ran his finger along the thick polypropolene and flicked one of the tips with a curious countenance.

Force Fins are different than most SCUBA fins. They’re thick, short, black, duck-feet-looking fins modeled after a dolphin’s tail, invented by a guy in the 1980’s whose name I can never recall and used by SEALS and Rangers in the 80’s and 90’s for long-distance underwater missions. Conveniently, their stubby shape fits in a carryon bag, and I stuck them there in lieu of the Frisbee I usually carried. I was prepared to answer any questions about my atypical visa. Had I had my Frisbee, I could toss it around while discussing the Frisbee Pie Company near Yale university and the students who tossed empty pie tins around until someone had the idea to patent the shape as a flying disc. At the time, it was an innovative toy. Now, flying discs are ubiquitous, and saying Frisbee is like saying Kleenex, Band-Aide, Zerox, or Q-Tip. I didn’t know if Cuba had similar brands or concepts, but I was ready to show examples of the differences between trademarks and patents if anyone asked. Force Fins are much harder to toss back and forth than a Frisbee, but they can still be made into a fun learning lesson in the right context.

The senior official laughed politely and said something to the other, and he laughed too. My Spanish was rusty and I didn’t understand, but I smiled as if I had. The first put his hand through the open-toed fins and spread his fingers wide. He moved his hand in and out, and laughed and made a joke I didn’t understand, but I surmised that he was either being vulgar or joking about my feet. I was used to both. I was the runt of my family, only 5’11” in the morning (we all shrink about 1.5-2.5 cm by the end of the day because our spinal discs compress, ironically more from sitting than from walking), but I inherited Partin-sized feet and hands that are disproportionately big for my height. It’s like having natural fins and flippers, though I still use Force Fins to dive. I chuckled back and shrugged ambiguously, as if to imply any one of the following: “What’s one to do?” or “I don’t know, I just work here.” or “That’s what she said!” They both laughed at whatever they imagined.

They opened my backpack and made similar comments about my size 14 Mythos leather crack-climbing shoes. I had worn them for a few seasons of crack climbing in Joshua Tree and they had stretched to fit my feet. I recently had them resoled in Bishop’s Rubber Room to with rigid rubber to prepare for Cuba’s limestone face-climbing. I didn’t know a pun in Spanish to explain all of that: in English, The Rubber Room was funny enough. The officials didn’t ask, but browsed through my compact alpine harness, locking carabiner, and multi-pitch ATC. (My head is an average size, so I can always find a helmet.) I had a pair of dive googles that fit me so comfortably and sealed out leaks so well that I brought them rather than gamble with rentals. I carried a small custom filled first aid kit in a red semi-rigid sunglass case, and a Zip Lock bag with a dozen small red handkerchiefs, two decks of cards, and a handful of Kennedy half dollars for passing time on busses or in community rooms of climbing areas. I had an e-reader with a few hundred books, the complete 1979 congressional JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. Assassination Report (the paper version fills a small library in the national archives, yet only took up around 3% of my e-reader), a few dozen court reports from my family’s long record of arrests, and a few old hand-written letters transcribed to .pdf’s, complete with typos. I carried the paperback Charlse Brandt book and a Lonely Planet that was about the same size. A small zippered utility bag was stuffed with misellaneous items, like sewing needles and extra dental floss (it’s not that I’m obsessed with heigene – a recent study showed no long-term benefit to flossing – but waxed nylon floss is stronger than most threads, it’s waterproof and easier to pass through a needle, and, if you’re in a rush, you can simply tie it around torn backpack straps and keep moving). I had a one liter BPA-free Nalgene bottle tucked into the side pocket and clipped there with a small non-locking carabiner. With all of the gear and books, there was only room for a handful of clothes. I had packed lightweight, compressible, fast-drying clothes that were as faded as my hat and unlikely to seem ostentatious in the working-class neighborhoods of Havana I planned to visit, yet were nice enough to blend in to an occasional upscale but casual restaurant. One of those shirts was the Patagonia brand, the first Benefit Corporation in California; the mountaineering founder was a legendary entrepreneur who had recently purchased a mountain range in Patagonia the size of Rhode Island and donated it as a new national park, and my go-to example of socially responsible entrepreneurship.

I was wondering if they’d ask questions about my visa or climbing gear. The Lonely Planet said rock climbing was technically illegal because it was deemed an unnecessary risk; Fidel was an avid diver, so he preserved dive sites all around the island and encouraged swimming as safe recreation. The officials didn’t question anything, and were kind enough to help me repack without more comments about my feet.

The senior official asked where I would be diving. I said Playa de Giron. He said it was beautiful there. His colleague agreed. The senior one stamped my passport, and I cocked my head and stared at him, at first surprised that he stamped an American passport, then realizing it was okay because I had a visa; according to The Lonely planet, Cuba stamped a removable piece of paper for Americans in lieu of our passports to encourage American tourism dollars despite the embargo. With my visa or without, the Cuban customs officials were just like officials at any other airport. I felt disappointed that I hand’t simply visited from Mexico City or Toronto instead of waiting for a legal entry. I hmph’ed to myself, wondering what else I had built up more than I should. Maybe if I hadn’t been so worried about the trip, I wouldn’t have forgotten my yoga mat. Or maybe it was all the information I was trying to absorb on the flight. No, that’s not it: I was mentally drained from being cooped up all day, and I had been more focused on getting off the plane than anything else. The mat was just another thing I had left on a plane or bus or theater seat over the decades. Now that I traveled with one, maybe I would add it to my list of disposable things.

I ruminated on all of those things as I smiled, straightened my posture, and tightened the hip strap on my backpack. The officials smiled back and waved goodbye and said buen viaje. I said gracias, turned around, and strolled out of the building like a duck moving slowly across a murky pond without anyone noticing that its feet are frantically paddling under the surface.

Per my visa, I had to use private rather than state-owned businesses, so I only peripherally glanced at the taxis as I left the airport grounds. I walked to a row of private drivers. Finding them was exactly as the Lonely Planet guide book had described, effortless and a good introduction to what many Americans expected to see: the 1950’s trapped in time. I scanned the options and chose a convertible that was older than I was but probably in better physical condition. It was buffed to a shine, and had an almost ineffable look of care that implied love rather than labor. I don’t know which type of convertible – I’ve never been good at identifying vehicles – but the top was down and it looked like all convertibles from that time period. To me, and what was on my mind, it was identical to the one in which Kennedy was riding through downtown Dallas when Lee Harvey Oswald – or someone else – shot and killed him on 22 November 1963. All I can guarantee is that the convertible definitely wasn’t Elon Musk’s red Tesla, which was on its way to the sun and being tracked by an app on my phone. The convertible in front of Havana’s airport was just as remarkable. It was in pristine condition in a country where replacement parts were rare and expensive. Either an investor with a goal or an owner with a love affair cared for it, and I voted for the later.

I stared with obvious admiration. I may not be a car person, but I appreciate anything that shows someone cares. The driver proudly said it had been his father’s, and that he maintained it himself and tried to keep it looking original. It was a fine automobile, whatever type it was, and we agreed on a price to a downtown plaza within walking distance of several casa particulares I had circled in the Lonely Planet.

I put my bag in the back seat and sat in the front. He had installed a surprisingly modern Bluetooth stereo and three-way door speakers, and a large digital counsol that played videos and waves of lights in sync with the music. He turned on something I had never heard but sounded like what was, I imagined, classic Caribbean Funk with a congo drum beat and brass horn riffs. We took off smoothly, and soon we were out of the airport and cruising down the melecon. The door speakers were clear without needing to be loud, and driver seemed to love the sound as much as he loved his car. He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, just like The Lonely Planet said you were likely to see in a country that revered music and Caribbean beats, and when we picked up speed he turned up the radio to be heard over wind. I leaded back and sunk into the vinyl seat, rotated my cap backwards to keep it from blowing off, and slipped into the groove.

I stretched my arms above my head to get blood flowing, and took a deep breath of clean salty air, allowing the moist ocean air replenish what the dry airplane air conditioners had depleted. We drove with the ocean on our right, and in the mirror I could see the massive Spanish forts made more impressive in my mind because I saw them in a mirror that said objects are closer than they appear. I was finally seeing what I had only read about before, and the satisfaction of a plan coming together was just beginning to sink in. I extended my hand flat, like an airplane foil, and held it by the mirror and rotated my wrist back and forth to make my hand fly up and down like Superman flying over the wall of the melacon. The reflection dwindled slowly, and soon I could see the forts and the ocean and the melacon and a row of 1950’s cars in what looked like a postcard beside my Superman hand.

I looked at the driver and asked where I could get public WiFi. I must have said it poorly, because he turned down the radio and asked me to repeat the question. I said I would like a public WiFi card and access. (I didn’t know the word for ‘access,’ but I said the English word after a pause that, in San Diego, implied a Spanglish word followed.) He told me there was a kiosk near where we were going, Playa de San Francisco de Asi. I asked if he’d drop me off there. “Claro que si!” he said, and turned the radio back up and resumed tapping his fingers on the steering wheel. I road the rest of the way silently, smiling and watching stones in the wall of the melecon zip past my window while the ocean seemed to stay the same.

We arrived and I hopped out and gathered my bag and paid him. I asked if he knew of a hotel that existed in the 1960’s called The Havana Cabana. He shook his head and said no, that he had lived here all his life and hadn’t heard of it. He was about my age, so it could have been before his time. I said “Gracias,” and handed him a tip wrapped in a small red silk handkerchief. I stretched my colloquial Spanish to make a joke about it, but the pun was lost in translation and fell flat. He shrugged and waved and drove off.

Beside me was a vendor selling WiFi cards from a kiosk that also had chargers and cases. I bought a card and walked to where a handful of people were gathered staring at their smart phones around a few benches and a statue that the Lonely Planet said it was a statue of ______. I set down my backpack and clipped it to a bench with a climbing carabiner, and pulled out my already outdated iPhone 8. I doubted anyone would ask, but I had used the iPhone to buy the latest Lonely Planet guide for Cuba from Amazon. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, was a famous entrepreneur who needed no introduction; so was Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person and founder of Amazon; less known was the married couple who founded Lonely Planet in the 60’s or 70’s and had recently sold their brand to a big publishing company for around $51 million Euros. (The couple was British.) If a conversation organically steered towards the people behind products, I could point out that the married couple never had children and spent their retirement traveling and blogging in a van; both Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos were adopted and saw no limitations in that. If I saw a Wendy’s hamburger chain, I’d mention that the founder, Dave Thomas, was an adopted kid who named his first restaurant after his daughter; after he became a billionaire, he lobbied to change the American laws and make adoption easier and less expensive for working-class parents. If pressed further, I’d say that entrepreneurship means freedom. Free from a boss, free to travel, and free to spark social change and make the world a better place for more people. I was happy to pay a few cents extra for a WiFi card from a vendor who was his own boss, and unsurprised that no one asked me to expound on anything.

Despite having earbuds, I held my smart phone to my ear like an old flip phone. It transcribed voice mails, but I didn’t feel like rummaging for my reading glasses. I told Siri to play voice mail. I kept the phone to my ear, and moved into a modified warrior pose with one hand on the phone and the other outstretched. I rotated my feet and squatted into the pose, trying to stretch my hamstrings and open my hips a bit until I could find a mat and do a proper job of releasing tension. My mind wandered to why I forgot the mat, and I was only partially listening. The first voice mail was from Wendy.

“Hey Jason, it’s Wendy. You’re probably in Cuba by now, but I thought I’d call just in case.”

She paused almost three seconds. Twice as long as usual.

“It’s not important.”

Pause.

Something felt wrong. I stood upright and tried to listen more closely.

“I just wanted to talk with you about my will.”

Another pause. I pressed the phone tighter to my left ear, and plugged my right forefinger into the cauliflower-scared canal of my right ear. I had to fumble a bit for it to fit – I was so perturbed that my hand was unsteady. I breathed quietly and leaned in to what she was saying.

“It’s not big deal… You travel so much that I wanted to add Cindi as executor. We can talk about it later.”

There was another pause, and I heard a hint of a sound, as if she had inhaled deeply and began to say, “I…” I can’t explain why, but I suddenly thought that Wendy would commit suicide and that she was calling me first; she wouldn’t, and I had no reason to suspect she would, but that’s the thought that popped into my thoughts and dominated my actions. My body tensed as springs wound up inside me, and I pressed the phone and my finger more tightly. I held my breath and listened. She sighed a subtle sigh, and said in what was obviously a forced cheerful tone, “Tell Cristi I said hello, and have fun in Cuba. Call me when you get back.” She hung up.

Gut instincts can be wrong, so instead of calling her back immediately I kneeled by the bench and dug through my backpack and pulled out my reading glasses and earbuds, and rewound her message. The VA says I arrived in the army with perfect hearing, but I left with a 15% hearing loss in each ear at different frequencies. Despite the stereo headphones, my head rotated back and forth as if trying to catch missing frequencies by whichever ear could. I habitually rotated one ear and then the other; anyone noticing probably thought I was moving my head to music and had jittery rhythm. I listened twice. Nothing changed from what I heard the first time. The transcription made a few mistakes translating her southern Louisiana accent, and it missed her beginning to say, “I…”, but she had definitely began to tell me something and stopped before the first word manifested. I was fixated on what she had begun to say, and wondered what had sparked my feeling that she could kill herself. I heard nothing other than that one subtle sound and atypically long pauses.

I sighed. When she was drinking, Wendy sometimes called me to mumble about things about our past that no one else would understand. It had been getting worse the past few years.

Wendy was my mother, Wendy Anne Rothdram Partin. She was a 16 year old mother and abandoned me when I was an infant, but visited me once a month and taught me to call her by her first name so people would think I was her little brother.3 In fairness, she had a rough life. She was a single child of a single mother who fled an abusive husband in Canada and moved Baton Rouge; Granny happened to move down the street from my dad’s grandmother, Grandma Foster, near the airport and a few miles from Glen Oaks High School, and in 1971 Wendy met the 17 year old drug dealer of Glen Oaks, Edward Grady Partin Junior. His father, Edward Grady Partin Senior, was the famous Baton Rouge Teamster leader who collaborated with US Attorney General Bobby Kennedy and infiltrated Jimmy Hoffa’s inner circle of International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Hoffa went to prison solely based on my grandfather’s word. Around the time I was being conceived at a drug-fueled New Years party, Hoffa sent word from his prison cell to all mafia families that he’d forgive their debt – about $121 Million total, a lot of money back then – if “someone” could do “something” to get Edward Partin to recant his testimony.4 Wendy didn’t know any of this. She realized she was pregnant two weeks after she lost her virginity to my dad at a 1971-1972 drug fueled New Years party. She couldn’t afford a $150 abortion, so she hastily agreed to elope with him to Woodville Mississippi, an hour and a half away, where my dad had family and where state laws allowed a 17 year old boy to marry a 16 year old girl without parental consent. They returned to Baton Rouge and were listed as Mr. and Mrs. Edward Partin phone book. Our home and neighborhood were instantly plagued by a disproportionate number of explosions, arson, accidents, shot dogs, vandalized houses, and kidnappings; she had two small nervous breakdowns, and when my dad was in Jamaica buying drugs wholesale she left me at a day care near Glen Oaks High and fled to California with a man she had just met. She returned on her own a few weeks later and divorced my dad, but by then I was in foster care under orders from Judge Pugh of the East Baton Rouge Parish 19th Judicial District. He put strict requirements on her before he would return me to her, and at the same time my dad was suing the state for my custody. She persevered, fighting the Partin family for seven years, and eventually regained custody of me. But old habits are hard to break, and I still call my mother Wendy.

I don’t know why I felt that Wendy had called with thoughts of suicide. She wouldn’t, and she had never indicated that she would, but on that day I was overwhelmed by the feeling that she was reaching out to me as a last hope. I stared at my phone and fidgeted in place, trying to separate my sudden concern from fatigue and an agitated mind. She never remarried and had no other children, and sometimes she called me after more than a few glasses of cheap white wine to talk about things no one else would understand. In the past few years, her slurred voice mails were beginning earlier and earlier, and she was usually passed out by happy hour my time.

I rotated my left wrist and glanced at my watch despite the phone in my hand. I was wearing a 30-year analog Sieko dive watch. It had a rotating bezel and a glow-in-the-dark minute hand to tick off time underwater, and a thick black corrugated band that circulated air to dry quickly. It was solar, so there was no battery to fail, and I trusted it when I was distracted or slightly intoxicated from nitrogen narcosis. It was my talisman, a watch to connect me to past and present and prepare for the future. I replace band changed before every sabbatical – even the best polymers break after too much UV light and salt water. When I picked it up from Moe at About Time in San Diego, I intentionally left it set to Pacific Coast Standard time to keep me mentally connected to home and to remind me that any misery on an airplane was transient and would pass. I did the math: it was almost 5pm where Wendy lived in Saint Francisville, a town of about 1,500 people an hour upriver of Baton Rouge. I glanced at her voice mail time stamp, but it showed when I turned on my phone in Havana, not when she left her message. She could have called any time since I last checked messages in Houston, about eight hours or so. She was probably already on her third bottle of wine.

I sighed and set the watch to Havana time. The feeling that she was contemplating suicide was so strong that – despite being glad to be off a plane – the thought that dominated was jumping on a flight to New Orleans, renting a car, and driving past Baton Rouge to reach Saint Francisville as soon as possible. I ignored the urge. I closed my eyes and stood still, and told myself that she’d be fine, that she was probably just drunk, or that one of her dogs had died. She was always upset when one of her rescue dogs either passed away or was adopted, and that led to opening the first bottle of wine earlier in the day. She sometimes got drunk and called to brainstorm about updating her will to include the West Feliciana Parish humane society. I was sure she’d sober up by tomorrow and be fine. But an analysis can be wrong.

“Fuck,” escaped my lips. I opened my eyes, put my earbuds in, and called her while I still had WiFi minutes.

Her mobile phone went to voice mail, probably because she was at home and the cell reception there was spotty. I called her land-line, but after four rings her vintage answering machine picked up. I called her mobile again, just to see if she’d answer. It went to voice mail.

I forced my voice to sound cheerful, and said: “Hey Wendy, it’s Jason. I got your voice mail. I’m in Cuba. I’ll be offline for a month and diving and climbing in a remote areas, but I’m in Havana for a week and will check messages every day or two.”

I chuckled clearly enough for her to hear, and said, “The cell phone reception here is worse than in Saint Francisville, so I have to find spots where I can check messages.”

On a whim, I told her that I was calling from a plaza named St. Francis, after the patron saint of kindness to animals, and said that I hoped that coincidence made her smile. She had been fostering dogs for about fifteen years, volunteering at the West Feliciana Parish humane society next door to Angola Prison in Saint Francisville. If anything made her smile, it was kindness to animals and her work with the human society. I added a perfunctory “I love you” as sincerely as the man between Houston and Fort Lauderdale had wished me a good vacation, and reiterated that I’d check messages once every day or two. I hung up and sent Cristi a WhatsAp telling her I had arrived safely, that I had a cryptic message from Wendy, and to message me if she hears anything.

I didn’t feel like checking other messages, but I was already wearing my reading glasses and glanced at the names. Nothing jumped out, and I didn’t have many minutes left, so I called a few of the casa particulares I had circled in the guide book. In my best but most simple Spanish possible, I asked each one that had availability a few questions about the spaces because I didn’t want a cramped room. One that said their room had two exits: a private door with a lock and a glass door looking onto a small courtyard. It had another door to a private bathroom with a shower and hot water. Breakfast was included. It was a reasonable price and within walking distance from the plaza. I said that if it were okay, I’d be there after I had dinner, mas o menus a la nueve. They said that was fine, and told me what to look for outside of their building. Havana’s a densely packed city, and many of the neighborhoods look the same. They said to knock when I arrived, that they went to bed a las diez, mas o menus, so me showing up at around nine was no problema.

I packed away my earbuds, phone, and glasses. I stretched my hands above my head and twisted this way and that. I glanced around the square. It was happy hour. Small groups of mostly young professional-looking Cubans walked around, peering in bars and occasionally glancing at their phones. No obvious tourists were in sight. I scanned the perimeter and listened to competing beats of music, and generalized the clientele of each. I stopped at what looked most promising, a bar with wide open double doors next to a large open window, and with a diverse crowd that would make me less noticable. The evening sunlight was fading, so I could see inside the bar clearly enough. Just inside the doors, a six-person band was playing a guitar, three brass horns, a stand-up wooden bass, and a congo drum set. Past them was a stand-up bar with high bar stools, and a hand-written sign that I couldn’t make out but looked like a daily food menu; being hand-written implied it was fresh. There were about a dozen low-sitting tables with six chairs each generously spaced around the room, and a few booths opposite of the bar that would hold the same number of people. There were approximately twenty people inside, scattered in small groups among the tables and booths. The barstools I could see were empty.

I glanced at my wrist. I could still catch happy hour and begin my sabbatical with a Hemmingway Daiquiri, if only to raise a toast to Papa Hemmingway and say that I did it. I looked around the plaza wistfully. I imagined toasting Coach and my old high school English teacher, who would be as surprised as anyone that I was standing in Cuba and read Hemmingway on my own. Before LSU and the army, I flunked out of Scotlandville Magnet High School for the Engineering Professions, a new program half way between Baton Rouge and St. Francisville that allowed almost anyone in back then. I transferred to Belaire High School and scraped by with shop and theater classes to graduate with an upper D grade point average, only 0.37/4.00 points above the minimum 1.5 required to graduate in Louisiana.5 I skipped the required Hemmingway reading in 11th grade, but I paid attention to the teacher enough to make an A on the test about The Old Man and The Sea and Hemmingway’s time as an expatriate. In hindsight, had the teacher not been such a good story-teller and told us about Hemmingway’s escapades in Havana, things like driving around with Fidel and hunting for U-Boats invading America by WWII by tossing hand grenades from his boat into the Gulf of Mexico, I wouldn’t have done as well on the test. If I hadn’t been given that A, I wouldn’t have made a C in his class, and I would have missed the margin that let me graduate, the opposite of a war lost because a battle was lost because a knight’s horse threw a shoe. For that matter, if Coach hadn’t tasked me with earning a B average my senior year, not just the C required to compete in varsity sports. Without them, I don’t know where I’d be, but it probably wouldn’t be Cuba. I’d probably be a Teamster, just like my Uncle Keith and Uncle Doug and grandfather before them. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a Teamster, driving 18 wheelers around the country and maybe even carrying crawfish to San Diego, it would just have been a different life than the one I led. The least I could do for them 35 years later is read the book they assigned me in 11th grade. I thought I may try to read it in Spanish as a nod to my Spanish teacher, who graciously gave me a D so that I could graduate. I wanted to sip a Hemmingway Dacquiri and raise a toast to all of them, from Papa to Coach, that they may rest in peace.

I didn’t see a sign with the bar’s name, but it stood out well enough and I could describe its location. I reached in my backpack and pulled out a flip phone mailed to me by an old army buddy, opened it, and waited for it to connect. I began typing a text message using the archaic buttons. The tactile feedback flowed from old muscle memory, and I automatically pushed buttons once, twice, or three times to spell the words in my mind. I wrote that I had arrived, and described the bar’s location. He responded immediately. I replied “yay!” and packed away the phone.

I shouldered my backpack, but didn’t bother to adjust the straps. The bar was only a phone’s throw away. I stretched my neck again, took a deep breath, and began walking towards the bar slowly and intentionally, like I had on the tarmac, ostensibly unrushed and trying not to limp. I arrived and peered inside and smiled. It was just as I imagined. I was finally ready to begin 2019’s sabbatical.

Go to The Table of Contents

Edward Grady Partin and James Jimmy Hoffa
Life Magazine, 1964
Edward Partin and Aunt Janice
Big Daddy and Aunt Janice in Time Magazine, 1964, showing Big Daddy as a family man and all-American hero who saved Bobby Kennedy’s life and stop Hoffa’s Teamster corruption, and that Big Daddy had only been in jail for “a minor domestic problem.”

Footnotes:

  1. The “minor domestic problem” was a reoccurring point in Hoffa’s defense strategy after my grandfather stood up in court as the surprise witness against him. Hoffa exclaimed, “Oh God, it’s Partin,” and his team of lawyers began attacking my grandfather’s character in retaliation of Bobby Kennedy’s media push to build it up, emphasizing that Bobby – or someone – purged America’s court records of my grandfather’s criminal history and told American media that the only witness against Hoffa had been in jail for a “minor domestic problem.”

    What remained in records was still pretty bad, yet media focused on what FBI director J. Edgar Hoover told them, which was that my grandfather was a trustworthy family man and didn’t lie, and that he simply wanted to clean up American labor unions. Hoover went so far as to put his name beside Big Daddy taking a lie detector test in a six-page Life magazine focus on the Partin family in the same May 1964 issue that showed the newly appointed President Johnson and his family. In other words, there was no reason for most people to doubt Life magazine back then.

    For the next 13 years of his life Hoffa, quoted Walter and Bobby’s lawyers by using “rabbit ears” to emphasize my grandfather’s “minor domestic problem.” In his second autobiography, published just before he vanished in 1975, Hoffa summarized my grandfather using what evidence remained.

    Let’s take a look at this “all-American boy” and his record, which was carefully kept from the jury by Judge Wilson and the government.
    In December, 1943, he was arrested in the state of Washington for breaking and entering. Pleading guildy, he was senteneded to fifteen years in the state penitentiary, from which he escaped twice.

    Freed, he joined the Marine Corps and was dishonorably discharged. He had been accused of raping a young black girl.
    Becoming head of the Teamster local in Baton Rouge, he was charged by certain members with embezzling $1600 in union funds and he had been indicted on thirteen counts of falsifying records and thirteen counts of embezzlement.

    While out on fifty thougsand dollars’ bond, he had been indicted in Alamama in Septermber of 1962 on charges of first-degree manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident.

    One day beofe the Alambama incictment, he surrendered on September 25th, 1962, to Louisiana authorities on a kidnaping charge, the “minor domestic problem” to which Life magazine had referred. He had assisted a friend in snatching the friend’s two small children from the friend’s wife, who had leagal custody of the children.”

    Walter Sheridan, who spent a decade heading the FBI’s Get Hoffa Task Force under Bobby Kennedy and John F. Kennedy before that, couldn’t deny the facts presented by Hoffa and Warren. In his 1972 Opus, The Fall and Rise of Jimmy Hoffa, he addressed the growing realization that his star witness was controversial by expanding on my grandfather’s “minor domestic problem” only a bit less harshly than Hoffa. Walter wrote:

    “Partin, like Hoffa, had come up the hard way. While Hoffa was building his power base in Detroit during the early forties, Partin was drifting around the country getting in and out of trouble with the law. When he was seventeen he received a bad conduct discharge from the Marine Corps in the state of Washington for stealing a watch.One month later he was charged in Roseburg, Oregon, for car theft. The case was dismissed with the stipulation that Partin return to his home in Natchez, Mississippi. Two years later Partin was back on the West Coast where he pleaded guilty to second degree burglary. He served three yeas in the Washington State Reformatory and was parolled in February, 1947. One year later, back in Mississippi, Partin was again in trouble and served ninety days on a plea to a charge of petit larceny. Then he decided to settle down. He joined the Teamsters Union, went to work, and married a quiet, attractive Baton Rouge girl. In 1952 he was elected to the top post in Local 5 in Baton Rouge. When Hoffa pushed his sphere of influence into Louisiana, Partin joined forces and helped to forcibly install Hoffa’s man, Chuck Winters from Chicago, as the head of the Teamsters in New Orleans.

    Chief Justice Earl Warren tried to dispel that myth in the 1966 supreme court case Hoffa vs The United States. He was the only dissenting supreme court judge, a 40 year veteran of the supreme court and a household name because of the newly published Warren Report on Kennedy’s assassination, where he mistakenly said that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he shot and killed Kennedy, and Jack Ruby acted alone when he shot and killed Oswald two days later. That was fresh on America’s mind when Warren focused on my grandfather in a multi-page missive permanently attached to Hoffa’s supreme court case.

    Here’s a part of what Warren wrote:

    Here, Edward Partin, a jailbird languishing in a Louisiana jail under indictments for such state and federal crimes as embezzlement, kidnapping, and manslaughter (and soon to be charged with perjury and assault), contacted federal authorities and told them he was willing to become, and would be useful as, an informer against Hoffa, who was then about to be tried in the Test Fleet case.

    In hindsight, there’s no doubt that my grandfather was an unreliable witness, regardless of whether or not Hoffa wanted to influence a jury in the Test Fleet case. More importantly to Warren than one man’s case was the risk to our justice system by removing American rights protected in the 4th, 5th, and 6th amendments. To him, Hoffa’s case represented a dangerous precedent that all future courts could use to justify illegal search and seizure, despite our founding fathers fighting to protect citizen freedoms. They wrote the 4th amendment: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,[a] against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. At the core of Hoffa’s defense was that Walter and Bobby asked my grandfather to find “something” or “anything” against Hoffa rather than something specific and based on probably cause. And, Hoffa’s army of attorneys argued, my grandfather was a trusted ally and therefore could influence Hoffa into saying something incriminating. Despite all of that, Warren was the only one of nine supreme court justices to vote against using my grandfather’s testimony to convict Hoffa. At the end of his missive in Hoffa vs. The United States, Warren wrote:

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

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

    In 1966, Jimmy Hoffa began serving eight years in prison based soley on my grandfather’s word. To say Hoffa was pissed off is probably an understatement. ↩︎
  2. Coach’s family graciously gave their blessings for me to mention him in any memoir I wrote. His obituary was published in The Baton Rouge Advocate, published from Mar. 26 to Mar. 29, 2014:

    Dale Glenn Ketelsen, 78, Retired Teacher and Coach, passed away March 22, 2014 at Ollie Steele Burden Manor with his wife by his side. A Memorial service will be held Saturday, March 29 at University United Methodist Church, 3350 Dalrymple Drive. Visitation will begin at 10 am with a service to follow at 12 pm conducted by Rev. Larry Miller. Dale is survived by his wife of 52 years, Pat Ballard Ketelsen, 2 sons: Craig (Emily) Ketelsen of Covington, La; Erik (Bonnie) Ketelsen, Atlanta, Ga and one daughter, Penny (Lee) Kelly, Nashville, TN; 5 grandchildren: Katie, Abby, Brian and Michael Ketelsen and Graham Kelly; a Sister-in-Law, Karen Ketelsen of Osage, Iowa, and numerous neices and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, 2 sisters and a brother. Dale was born in Osage, Iowa where he attended High School, lettering in 4 sports. Upon graduation, he attended Iowa State University as a member of the wrestling team where he was a 2 time All American and won 2nd and 3rd in the NCAA finals in Wrestling. He was a finalist in the Olympic Trials for the 1960 Olympics. After graduation, he joined the US Marine Reserves and returned to ISU as an Asst. Wrestling Coach. In 1961, he took a job as Teacher/Coach at Riverside-Brookfield High School in Suburban Chicago, Ill. While there, he also earned a Masters Degree from Northern Illinois University. In 1968, he was hired to start a Wrestling program at LSU in Baton Rouge, La. He was on the Executive Board of the National Wrestling Coaches Association and a founding member of USA Wrestling. He was the wrestling host for the National Sports Festival in 1985, He was instrumental in promoting wrestling in the High Schools in Louisiana. He was head Wrestling Coach at Belaire High School for 20 years and Assistant Wrestling coach at The St. Paul’s School in Covington, La. He was devoted to Faith, Family, Farm and the sport of Wrestling. Among his many honors were induction into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and being named Master of Wrestling (Man of the Year) for Wrestling USA magazine. He was a long time member and Usher of University United Methodist Church. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Alzheimer’s Services, 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge, La. 70806. ↩︎
  3. My custody records, like most of my family history, are easily downloaded by anyone with internet access who knows my name and my parents name. Or you could walk into the East Baton Rouge Parish 19th Judicial District and ask for paper copies. Either way, Judge Pugh, a family court judge who removed me from the Partin family and alleggedly committed suicide a year later, isn’t named by name; that’s where my family’s daily talk and apocrophyl stories help me put together a few pieces of the puzzle. Pugh’s the “trial judge” referenced by Judge JJ Lottingger, the judge who stepped in and assumed my case around the time Jimmy Hoffa vanished on 30 July 1975. Here’s what Lottingger said about my family in his 26 September 1976 custody court ruling:

    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.

    Lottingger, incidentally, knew my grandfather and father well, though that’s not obvious in my custody report. He was a 30 year veteran of Louisiana legislative law, and served in the Baton Rouge state capital building down the road from Big Daddy’s Teamsters Local #5 headquarters. On behalf of three governors, he spent almost three decades and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars trying to rid Louisiana of Big Daddy, similar to how Bobby Kennedy spent fifteen years and millions of taxpayer dollars trying to prosecute Hoffa. That’s probably why he was so kind to Wendy and took such a personal interest in my well being. ↩︎
  4. Frank “The Irishman” Sheenan talks about why he or the mafia didn’t just kill my grandfather, though they only knew a small piece of the puzzle. In his memoir, Frank wrote: “Partin was no good to them dead. They needed him alive. He had to be able to sign an affidavit. They needed him to swear that all the things he said against Jimmy at the trial were lies that he got from a script fed to him by Bobby Kennedy’s people in the Get Hoffa Squad.”

    Frank was a soldier who questioned nothing – literally, he was a seasoned combat infantryman from two years in WWII, like a lot of mafia hitmen back then, who simultaneously became a Teamster leader and hitman for Hoffa. But even he didn’t know that Hoffa had lent the mafia families $121 Million to build Las Vegas casinos and fund Hollywood films, and that Hoffa had promised them to forgive all debt if “someone” could do “something” to get my grandfather to recant his testimony. If he didn’t, or if he died, Hoffa would continue to rot in prison. $121 Million was a lot of money back then, around $6 to $12 million per family in each major city, and almost $21 Million to Carlos Marcello’s family in New Orleans. To prevent them from killing my grandfather and keeping the money while Hoffa languished behind bars, Hoffa also said that he’d cut off all future funding from the Teamsters $1.1 Billion pension fund, which was an unfathomable amount of money back then and a major reason the Kennedys pursued him for decades with what was, at the time, the most expensive and drawn out pursuit against one man in American history. Hoffa was so powerful that he defied the Kennedys and ran the mob using only the $10 or so monthly dues from 2.7 Million truck drivers who paid in cash and trusted Hoffa to invest and grow their pension fund. Frank said: “Jimmy told me point-blank to tell our friends back East that nothing should happen to Partin,” and, like a lot of soldiers, he never questioned orders or asked why. Details of Hoffa’s loans to the mafia to build Las Vegas casinos and fund Hollywood films didn’t surface publicly until 1992, after newly elected president Bill Clinton released the first part of the classified 1979 congressional committee report on JFK and Martin Luther King’s assassinations that implicated Hoffa, New Orleans mafia boss Carlos Marcello, and Miami mafia boss and Cuban exile Santos Trafficante Junior. Most books are trash, an attempt to cash in by tossing out names; for all anyone knows, this may be one of them. Two shelves on my bookshelf at home were lined with about two dozen of, in my opinion, the most reliable books about Hoffa and my grandfather, like 1994’s “Lawyer for the mob” by Frank Ragano, who was both Hoffa and Marcello’s attorney, Jimmy Hoffa’s two autobiographies (1971 and 1975), my Uncle Doug’s 2017 “From my brother’s shadow: Teamster Douglas Wesley Partin tells his side of the story,” Dan E. Modela’s 1992 “The Hoffa Wars: The Rise and Fall of Jimmy Hoffa”, Walter Sheridan, the head of the FBI’s Get Hoffa Squad and eventual NBC news correspondant’s 1972 “The Fall and Rise of Jimmy Hoffa.” I also had a small collection of Look and Life! magazines focused on Hoffa, the mob, and my family. After my trip to Cuba, I’d add an updated copy of The Irishman’s 2005 “I Heard You Paint Houses,” renamed “The Irishman” to align with Martin Scorcese’s 2019 epic film about Hoffa, “The Irishman.” I had most of the books on my e-reader, too, but not with the scribbles and underlinings upon which I relied to make sense of the mountain of sometimes conflicting information. I keep some of the trash on my bookshelf, partly to highlight the differences, but partly because I still find a quote or reference that has since vanished as thoroughly as Hoffa’s body; I treasure analog: it rarely fails, and is harder to erase from the internet. Everyone had pieces of the puzzle over the years and made assumptions, but few had the benefit of hindsight or time to rearrange the pieces and sift through the trash for occasional nuggets worth keeping. I was working on it while on sabbatical. I had lots of time, 60 years of hindsight in books and articles, a few old buddies still in the state department and classified agencies with access to information still classified, and a handful of unpublished anecdotes from growing up in the Partin family that provided missing pieces, similar to how I knew that Judge Pugh was “the trial judge” in my court records. (Wendy, incidentally, never drank back then and had a sharp memory, but she never spoke of the Partins other than to quip that she was born Wendy Anne Rothdram, WAR, but that marrying a Partin WARP’ed her and that’s why she drank now. In hindsight, I can see why. I’m unsurprised that she abandoned me to flee the Partin family; what’s remarkable is that she returned and fought them to regain custody.) The VA’s recent concern about my memory probably sparked me to start assembling the puzzle so that, at the least, more people could begin seeing the bigger picture and go from there if something happened to my mind or body. ↩︎
  5. The Scotlandville Magnet Program for Engineering Professions was an attempt to meet federal integration laws by encouraging caucasian families to bus their kids into African American communities by funding the best equipment and teachers and recruiting high performing students from what was, at least back then, almost exclusively white neighborhoods. Scotlandville was – and is – practically an all-black community half way between Baton Rouge and Saint Francisville, just north of the airport and a row of petrochemical plants known as Chemical Alley, and just west of Fort Pickens, the site of the Civil War’s longest battle; Scotlandville’s location is perhaps related to why it’s still predominately a low income community despite decades of desegregation. According to Wikipedia, famous alumni of the engineering program includes Stormy Daniels, a former Gold Club dancer and the pornography star who sued President Donald Trump for harassment and received a settlement in 2018, after which she toured with a show called, “Make America Horny Again.” And before the magnet program began, a spree killer and Louisiana National Guard combat engineer, John Allen Muhammad (born John Allen Williams), graduated from Scotlandville High. With publicity like that, in the 1980’s it was an uphill battle to recruit caucasian kids, and that’s how I lucked up and scored a seat in the engineering program despite having abysmal grades in middle school, which was probably related to, among other things, me being cooped up inside all day. ↩︎