Havana: 01 March 2019

“We can report that Edward G. Partin has been under investigation by the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office in connection with the Kennedy Assassination investigation… based on an exclusive interview with an Assistant District Attorney in Jim Garrison’s office. We can report that Partin’s activities have been under scrutiny. In his words: “We know that Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald were here in New Orleans several times… there was a third man driving them and we are checking the possibility it was Partin.1

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

I walked into a bar and stood beside a stool to avoid becoming a statistic.2 The bartender was busy. He didn’t see me yet, so I peered under the bar to see if there were a hook to hang my backpack.

I saw a dual purse hook: two upwardly curved rods emanating from an oblong brass disc held in place by two phillips screws that looked like two crossed-out eyes. The rods ended in oversized spheres to prevent tearing jackets. Combined, it looked like a drunk fighting octopus holding up two boxing gloves, blindly challenging anyone who dared approach. At least it did to me, probably because I was hungry and had noticed the daily special scribbled in chalk above the bar said pulpo a la parilla: grilled octopus.

Smiling and happy to have seen the owner’s attention to detail in a place as lowly as under the bar, I handed the octopus my backpack and removed my LSU baseball cap and rested it on the bar to mark my spot. I walked to the bathroom and splashed copious amounts of water on my face before looking at myself in the mirror. It had been a long day, and I suspected that I’d look like shit. I was right. Under my eyes was darker than usual and puffy, and a web of tiny red rivers radiated from my dark brown pupils and flowed across the whites of my eyes.

I twisted my head as far as I could, as if trying to see the back of my head. I knew I couldn’t, but I had been rotating my head to see the big backwards letter C peeking through my hair since I was 4 years old. I knew my rotation better than an army of physicians ever could. During my annual exam, VA doctors armed with a fancy goniometer said my range of motion was reduced by 20-30%, mostly from the bone spurs jutting into then disc and foramen of C5/C6, where most of our rotation comes from. In the mirror, I could barely see my right ear canal and its cauliflower scar. I tried joke to myself and say that I was 21.8% stiffer than usual, and that’s why I felt as badly as I looked, but the joke fell on deaf ears. The strain of looking tightened the skin across my scalene, and I watched it twitch and spasm like an agitated neck artery pulsing at around 80Hertz.

I looked back straight into the mirror and leaned slightly forward, resting my right hand on the sink for balance. It was slightly numb from radiculopathy, and I tried to ignore the long-term consequences of the feeling that’s exactly as of I had fallen asleep on the arm, and it tingling without me able to discern if I was actually touching the sink. I felt my weight shift to my arm, then I reached back with my left hand and ran a finger along the scar, an old habit that grounds me like a talisman.

There’s only one scar like it on Earth, and I knew its shape and texture no matter how fatigued I felt, how anxious I was, or how lost in thought I was. It’s a finger width apart, curving from top to right to bottom, slick and waxy compared to the rest of my scalp. Before my hair thinned, I could feel a forest of folicles rising at the junction of a horseshoe lake. Now, I felt a few scraggly weeds poking up in the barren ground beside a drying C-shaped waxy mud puddle.

I traced the bumps spaced every centimeter or so, lost in thought and remembering my first father and his mumbled Mississippi accent telling me the doctors put in 82 stitches. He had exaggerated. When I was 18 and in the 82nd Airborne, I learned to suture from a buddy and did the math: most docs put 1-2 stitches per centimeter, more for scalp wounds that tear open easily and bleed profusely, so I probably only had around 25 stitches. It’s difficult to discern an intrinsic bump from an iatrogenic one, but at max I had 30 stitches. PawPaw had probably just picked a big number to emphasize something very big, like 10,000 things in the Tai Te Ching or 100,000 soldiers in any old epic tale, to impress upon me how big the second brain was that they shoved in there. After a couple of rough parachute landings into dense forests, MRI’s of my head confirmed I did not have a second brain, only the one, and it was average sized; PawPaw was mistaken on several details, but his heart was pure.

I lowered my head and bowed my chin to touch my chest. I stretched my eyeballs upward, but I couldn’t see my bald spot yet. It would happen soon. “Hair today, gone tomorrow,” my mostly bald Uncle Bob had said when I asked to grow my hair longer and hide the scar. Last year, Cristi saw the emerging bald spot and quipped that my backwards C had become a semicolon; I grabbed a hand held mirror and saw that she was right. Coincidentally, an internet meme had just gone viral that showed a young lady with a semicolon tattoo on her finger as a tribute to her father, who had taken his own life; it gave rise to ProjectSemicolon; a semicolon means an author could end a sentence, but chose to continue with a better alternative. Cristi told me about ProjectSemicolon because I was trapped in remorse after an old buddy from the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment – who went on to the 75th Ranger Battalion, the same battalion as Pat Tillman – performed a modified Hemmingway after a night of drinking: he put a pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger. It was probably a Glock 19. That year, there was an uproar about the 19,000 murders in America using a combination of guns, knives, baseball bats, tire irons, pipe wrenches, rocks, and beer bottles; yet there was barely a murmur about the 38,000 people who ended their last sentence with a period. I quipped back to Cristi that, with my growing bald spot, I could finally become a spokesperson for something worthwhile; at least until my hair marched Uncle Bob’s.

I splashed more water on my face and tried to change gears and stop thinking. With hope that flowed from an eternal spring, I attempted to dry my face with a simple electric hand dryer mounted on the wall. I don’t recall the brand, but I guarantee it wasn’t a Dyson Airblade. I walked away wiping each face cheek on a shirt sleeve and patting damp hands on faded blue jeans, and stood at the bar with a dry face and smiled.

The bartender walked over with a pleasant grin that hadn’t changed since I first walked in. He was about 28 to 30 years old, skin the color of cafe au lait, shorter than I am by a normal sized hand, and fit. His thick wavy hair was meticulously yet unostentatiously groomed, and probably required only a few extra minutes of effort each morning. (My dad’s mother, Mama Jean Partin, was a hair stylist and gave me the first haircut I remember, meticulously hiding my scar, and ever since then I noticed details in hair grooming that I would have otherwise overlooked.) He had a confident demeanor that was more like an absence of worry than anything he tried to project. He was young and happy, and I bet he had never heard of Hoffa. If anything, he may have had a vague idea about Hoffa from movies or memes, the way I had an idea of El Che from The Motorcycle Diaries and ubiquitous and ironic t-shirts with El Che’s profile sold in kiosks all over the world, usually next to shirts with Bob Marley, Nelson Mandella, and Bart Simpson.

He asked what I’d like. On a whim, I changed from ordering a Hemmingway Dacquiri and began dusting off my Spanish, as if I were stretching muscles on safe ground before committing to a steep climb. I said that I had never tasted Cuban rum, but I was hoping to learn how to make a mojito. But, I said, I’d like one not with the most expensive rum, but the rum he felt was… I paused, looking for a phrase that matched ‘bang for your buck,’ but I couldn’t conjure up one. Instead, I said I’d like a good value rum, one he’d keep at home for when someone who appreciated rum was coming over for dinner. Not a boss, but someone like a grandfather or a date. His smile broadened and he tapped the bar top and said something I didn’t understand. He turned and took down a bottle and went to work crushing fresh mint. It was like watching an artist immerse himself in painting, or sculpting something he could see as beautiful but wasn’t fully formed in his mind yet.

The band began playing something that sounded like the Buena Vista Social Club but wasn’t. All band members were 20-something men who seemed fit and had darker skin than the bartender, probably due to creole descent. They knew how to play above the din of patrons chatting but without drowning out conversations. The bar was a good choice. I was glad Tim would join me there. I tapped my fingers to the beat and smiled and sipped my mojito.

The mojito was everything I hoped for. I ordered the daily special, and it came with a side of mojo sauce. I wished I had a sharp knife to cut my slices more thinly than possible with the dull generic restaurant knife. I lamented life after 9/11 selfishly, how it used to be unremarkable to fly with a Leatherman tool strapped to my hip and a Benchmade clipped in my front pocket. Either blade would have cut the squid thinly enough to melt in your mouth. I tried to jot think about it, but I was still upset at myself for feeling upset when the young uniformed TSA agent confiscated the Leatherman in my personal bag. Of course I knew it wasn’t allowed; I had simply forgotten to remove it from the sunglasses pocket after tucking it in there on a quick drive to surf in Ensenada the week before. I had lost probably a dozen similar knives since 9/11, and just as many small Victorionox keychains, the ones with a puny blade and finger nail file and scissors that would barely cut an article out of an airline seat magazine. I lamented the loss of reason among humanity, and saw myself feeling old and cranky. I sipped again.

Confiscating my Leatherman was a ridiculous safety measure. The double edged razor blade in my German safety razor passed through three security checkpoints with fancy imaging software, and it could have been removed and taped to a plastic spoon with duct tape in my carryon backpack. I could have slit the throat of the air marshal seated casually near the exit door, then I could have seized what was likely a Glock 19 in appendix carry. His lazy belly inadvertently profiled what I assumed was the butt of a pistol pressed against his overtly casual shirt. I had a Glock 17 at home, modified with sites to work with my aging eyes, because it fit my big hands better than the 19, which had become standard issue to Rangers and police officers, and, almost by default, many air marshals. I assumed his wouldn’t have a round chambered, which would be a risk to firefighters should the plane crash, but that was easy to rectify and would only cost a bullet if I were mistaken. In the exit row, I’d have more space to react and could easily stymy three or four would-be heroes. The cockpit door had post 9/11 bolts easily shot out. All of that could have been avoided by letting me keep my Leatherman. Of course, it was all probably just my agitated mind and hyperbolic imagination passing time on the flight, lost in thought while nibbling a surprising tasty salad using disposable plastic utensils, but it felt real.

The bartender approached and thankfully interrupted my thoughts. He asked if I wanted another mojito. I flashed the whites of my teeth through my beard and cheerfully exclaimed, “Claro qui si!” He tapped the table and went to work. I watched him as my mind drifted back to the flight. I wondered how, if a guy armed with box cutters could change the world, or a guy with plastic explosives in his underwear and a lighter in his hand would prevent Zippos from being on airplanes, one person could make the world safer yet less irritating and more practical. Plastic explosives need pressure tighter than snug underwear combined with a spark, so banning lighters made sense to people who didn’t know that disposable military C4 igniters and det-chord pass through most security checkpoints and could ignite smuggled on C4. Anyone could easily blow a hole in an airplane’s paper-thin aluminum skin using something as adorable as a silly-putty looking gopher and speaking with a Bill Murray Caddyshack accent. Imagining myself saving the world was healthier than ruminating about the uniformed TSA kid who confiscated my Victorionox keychain but never noticed the double edged razor obscured by what was obviously a safety razor his grandfather may have used.3

The bartender interrupted and asked how the drink was. I wanted to push my Spanish, so I made a joke about why I don’t give opinions because opinions stifle creativity, and that The Buddha said unhappiness stemmed from liking or disliking; but it fell flat. I reacted to his blank stare by saying the Margarita was invented in Ensenada after a customer asked a bartender to have fun and create something unique, and that the Pina Colada was invented similarly in Puerto Rico. I paused just a moment and added the Cuba Libre was invented Cuba, though I didn’t know the history.

“Innovation takes iteration!” I said. He laughed as if he understood, and asked if I’d like another mojito. I said, “Claro qui si!” again, but added to have fun and experiment. I said that he could do no wrong. I said I was on vacation, and the last thing I wanted to do on vacation was think too much. He laughed and said he understood; I believe he did, hence his worryless demeanor.

Just before he tapped the counter and turned away, I added that I was expecting an old friend, and asked if he would put all of our orders on one tab and hand me the bill no matter what my friend said, and to please keep a glass of tap water with no ice filled for both of us. I said we’d be catching up, and if drinks kept magically appearing he could do no wrong. He thought about that for a moment, nodded affirmatively, tapped the counter, and spent a few moments inspecting his shelf before choosing a different bottle than before. He glanced around the shelf again, pulled down a second bottle, and went to work combining the two: one was white, one was light brown. When he finished, he brought it over with water. When he walked by the next time, he didn’t ask if I liked the mojito, and his gaze swept across my water glass.

I sipped and grooved to the band. The alcohol began to soften my thoughts. I glanced at my watch in the bottom of my vision, and in my periphery I saw Tim walk in and stand in the door. He was a few minutes early. He quickly saw me – I was the only other caucasian there – and walked towards me with the same cherub faced smile I had known for thirty years, and wearing the same battery powered Rolex Submariner with a gaudy metal band that caught a hint of light and stood out like a beacon. It was a poor choice for his line of work.

“J.P.!” he said, opening his arms.

“Timmy!” I said, stepping into his embrace.

We patted each other’s backs with Hemmingway-esque manliness; then we stood still and held the embrace. Hearing J.P. flooded my mind with memories of a narrow window of time between when I was nicknamed Scarhead in basic training and AIT (because of Al Pacino’s 1980 Miami drug lord film Scarface, which was still fresh on everyone’s mind, espcially when the kids held their first machine gun and mimicked Pacino taunting, “Say hello to my little friend”), and Dolly (because of Dolly Parton, it was an inevitable nickname for someone named Jason Partin). Between Scarhead and Dolly was J.P., given by a few buddies after our first jump in Airborne school, when we first stood behind a C-130 and inhaled JP-4 jet fuel, the second class in the history of Airborne to go through an accelerated program in a rush to send “replacements” to the 82nd on the front line of what was expected to be a bloodbath when the ground war began.

“It’s good to see you,” I said, holding the embrace. Memories washing over me like waves of nausea from jetfuel.

“It’s been too long,” he said.

We backed apart and glanced up and down at each other.

“Dude,” he said, “You’ve aged.”

“Fuck you,” I said.

“Seriously,” he said. “That beard makes you look old.”

“Fuck you,” I repeated, though he was right. I scratched it and heard the crinkle over the band. “I’ll shave it before diving,” I said with a hint of self consciousness that embarrassed me a bit.

I stood at the bar and Tim plopped into a stool next to me. The bartender saw us and walked over with that same confident smile. It was going to be a good night. We let it begin.

Go to The Table of Contents


  1. New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison led the only trial for President Kennedy’s death. His work would become the book JFK and the basis for Oliver Stone’s 1992 film, also called JFK, and that film would prompt American voters to demand that incumbent president Bill Clinton release the then-classified congressional committee on assassinations report JFK and Martin Luther King Jr.’s murders. Coincidentally, in 1992 Tim and I were on President Clinton’s Quick-Reaction force, the 82nd Airborne, also called America’s Guard of Honor, when JFK was released and Clinton authorized releasing the JFK Assassination report that reversed the 1964 Warren Report. We were being reviewed for diplomatic passports, and my family was brought up and I was cleared. Tim and I have mentioned my grandfather and his role since then, and we realize the significance of the JFK report beginning two years after Hoffa vanished and being released two years after my grandfather passed; neither were available to comment on the report. To this day, Garrison’s investigation stands as a cornerstone for theories about CIA or FBI agents – not necessarily the CIA or FBI – being involved in a long and elaborate plot to assassinate John F. Kennedy.

    What’s universally agreed upon is that Lee Harvey Oswald had been born in New Orleans, served in the US Marines (his records show he was either a lousy marksman or intentionally missed targets), defected to the Soviet Union, and returned to New Orleans with a Russian wife and son who would be eligible for citizenship; inexplicably, the FBI paid for his flight home. Oswald busied himself spreading pro-Castro socialist pamphlets around New Orleans and trained in the Baton Rouge civil air force under the alias Harvey Lee. Oswald tried to enter Cuba and see Castro by going through Mexico City, but failed and returned to New Orleans. He given a job at a bookshop in downtown Dallas the summer before Kennedy was shot and killed driving through downtown Dallas in a convertible; Oswald’s 6.5mm Italian army surplus carbine with a scope mounted by a Dallas gunsmith was found on the 6th floor of his employer’s book repository, outfitted by a Dallas gunsmith with a sniper’s scope, and with a row of 6.5mm bullets on the windowsill. The shots that killed Kennedy are still debated. Two hours after Kennedy was shot, a Dallas policeman spotted Oswald in a nearby movie theater, and Oswald shot and killed him: his name was Tippit. Oswald was arrested, and immediately said, “I’m a patsie!” His role is still debated. One of the key pieces of evidence was his carbine and shots fired by it into a US Army general’s study, barely missing him only six months before Kennedy’s death. Oswald’s wife confessed that Oswald had tried to kill the general; presumably, Oswald was still a lousy shot. What’s not debated, probably because it was witnessed by 110 Million people on live television, was that two days after Kennedy died, Dallas police were escorting a handcuffed Oswald out of the police station, and Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner, low-level mafia gopher, and associate of Jimmy Hoffa – they had spoken on the phone several times in the months preceding Kennedy’s death – walked through crowds of police, walked next to Oswald, removed a Colt .38 Detective Special snub nosed revolver, and shot Oswald point-blank in the stomach. Ruby was arrested, and Oswald died a few hours later in the same hospital as Kennedy. Ruby was an air force veteran (I don’t know his marksmanship records, but it’s hard to miss from four feet away) who, like Oswald, had a lifetime history of mental illness, trouble in school, and a spotty military record.

    Ruby confessed to killing Oswald to save Jacquline Kennedy the heartache of seeing Oswald’s trial drug out; apparently, he shed tears over his love for the Kennedy’s, then inexplicably said that he must be a good actor. (Hoffa, on the other hand, never tried to fake condolences. He ordered all Teamster flags returned to full mast, said he was happy Kennedy was dead, and that his spoiled brat of a little brother, “Booby,” was “just another lawyer now. My grandfather never expressed his opinion on the Kennedys; or his opinion on much of anything, for that matter, other than saying alcohol loosens lips.) Ruby initially claimed he acted impulsively, but interigations showed otherwise. He had used his middle finger to pull the trigger, presumably a mafia technique to stabilize a snub-nose for multiple shots, and would later claim he had intended to shoot three times, belying his initial claim that he acted impulsively. Ruby originally denied any collaborations or conspiracies, but he would change his testimony many times in prison over the next two years, and he began claiming that government was trying to give him cancer in prison. He passed away on 03 January 2019 from complications secondary to lung cancer in 1964. He had been a lifetime smoker. Oswald was never tried, because the United States does not try people who are deceased and can’t testify.

    After an extensive investigation, Jim Garrison charged Clay Shaw as a participant in an alleged conspiracy to kill President Kennedy, but the trial’s jury voted not guilty. My grandfather was never tried. After Garrison suppeoned him and talked about photographic evidence of Ruby, Oswald, and probably my grandfather driving around together a few months before Kennedy’s murder, the two alleged witnesses were found beaten and refused to testify. The alleged photo of my grandfather with Oswald and Ruby was never seen publicly. In 1964, the hastily assembled Warren Report said that Oswald acted alone when he shot and killed Kennedy, and that Ruby acted alone when he shot and killed Oswald; Warren, who presumably knew everything about my grandfather remaining after Bobby Kennedy – probably – made his records vanish as cleanly as Hoffa’s body vanished, doesn’t mention him in the Warren Report, and Garrison omitted those details in his book. ↩︎
  2. At least five double blinded, randomized studies followed around 800,000 people in different jobs over at least fifteen years, and the evidence was that sitting was as dangerous to health, if not more so, than smoking. People who sit more than 20 minutes at a time have 4 times the rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, and lower back pain. The highest risk profession is truck driving, followed by sedentary office workers. My grandfather led the Teamsters but never drove a truck, and though he was an active hunter for decades, he sat in prison from 1980 to 1986 and was released early for declining health due to diabetes and an unspecified cardiovascular condition, perhaps a consequence of sitting all day and watching the big color TV in his cushy Texas federal penitentiary. He died in Baton Rouge in 1990, just before I left for basic training. After a long day on flights, the last thing I wanted to do was sit down and order a drink. I’d stand instead.

    A Leatherman tool, incidentally, is named after Tim Leatherman, a University of Oregon mechanical engineering graduate who shunned desk jobs and drove an old Voltswagon van around Europe after graduating, armed with a Swiss Army knife and a pair of pliers; combined, they could cut his cheese and fix his van, and he drove around pondering how to combine the two into one tool. Five years of cardboard prototypes later, he raised money for sheet-metal versions, and used those iterations for decent 440 stainless steel blade and tools and machinists who knew more about design for manufacturing than Tim did. He raised more money, and ordered a ton and became a salesperson. In the early 90’s, he scored a contract to supply Leatherman tools to Delta Force, the army’s anti-terrorism unit in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home of the 82nd Airborne, and soon he scored a national account with a major outdoor sports chain. He didn’t copy the Swiss Army knife – I assume he omitted the Swiss Army corkscrew in lieu of a more American beer bottle opener – and he added a Philips screwdriver and an awl useful for field repairs of of thick materials Victorianox, incidentally, is the civilian brand of the Swiss Army Knife and has been around for over a hundred years; it’s named after the founder’s mother, Victoria.).

  3. ↩︎