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 barstool to avoid becoming a statistic. At least five long-term, double-blinded, randomized trials following a total of around 800,000 people over ten to twenty years had conclusively shown that sitting for long periods without a break at least every twenty to thirty minutes was as detrimental to your health as smoking cigarettes. Diabetes, heart disease, and back pain all significantly impacted people who sat all day more than other people; truck drivers and office workers were affected the most. Nurse’s aides were a close second for back pain, but that was a different mechanism; they lean forward and reach out over waist-high gurnies to move patients, damaging their spinal discs and resulting in herniations in their 30’s and 40’s, when discs naturally dry up and became more brittle while the nucleus remains squishy and wants to pop out. As a kid who grew up around Teamsters and truck drivers, those research studies stuck in my mind, especially after my grandfather died from diabetes. Decades later, I seek bars with a stand-up section. If you’re going to drown your liver, at least be gentle to your back.

I peered under the bar and saw a double purse hook that looked like a drunk fighting octopus – you know the one – and draped my backpack over it. I rested a foot on the round brass rail that looked like a church pew but was made to rest a cowboy boot; a slight elevation of one foot rests it and forces the other to pump blood back to the heart more vigorously, and reduces bending moments about the lower spine; alternating feet keeps a body relaxed but alert, and helps the mind calm. Wendy was still on my mind, and my desire for a drink was partially to squelch concern.

The bartender walked over with a genuine smile. He was about 28 to 30 years old, olive skinned, and had a hairstyle that required a few extra minutes of effort each morning to look like it did. I had the impression that he knew that women noticed, but that he did it for himself. He asked what I’d like. In the periphery of my vision, I saw a top shelf selection of rum behind him, and to my left was a handwritten board with daily seafood specials; to my right was the six-man band, wide open doors, and the statue where I could get WiFi. On a whim, I changed my mind from ordering a Hemmingway Dacquiri and began dusting off my Spanish. I said I was hoping to learn how to make a mojito, and that I’d like one with not his most expensive rum, but the rum he felt was – I paused looking for a phrase that matched “bang for your buck,” but couldn’t find one – a good value, a rum he’d keep at home for when someone was coming over for dinner. His smile broadened and he tapped the bar top, said something I didn’t understand, and turned and took down a bottle and went to work crushing fresh mint. The band began playing something that sounded like the Buena Vista Social Club but wasn’t, like what the driver had played in his convertible on the way from the airport.

The band was good, and knew how to play without drowning out conversations. They pointed the horns outside, and I suspect that the drums were padded to soften the sound. The guitar was acoustic. The mojito was everything I hoped for, and I took a deep breath and leaned back and closed my eyes at the ceiling and allowed the aftertace mint to tingle my tongue. I looked back at my drink, exhaled, shifted my feet, took another sip, and felt my worry from Wendy’s phone call melt off, ooze down my straight leg, puddle on the floor, and work it’s way out the double doors and drip over the melacon into the Gulf of Mexico, where it would probably swim back to San Diego and be waiting for me when I returned home a month later. But, for that moment, I was free.

I ordered calamari a la planca, which the board said came with a side of mojo sauce. The squid was chewy, but the sauce was deliciously tangy; I had noticed the cooks through an open kitchen cutout squeezing fresh orange juice, and I assumed that’s the flavor I tasted. It cut the squid perfectly, though the knife they provided didn’t. I wished I had a knife; selfishly, I lamented life after 9/11. I used to travel with a Leatherman tool on my hip and a 3.25″ fast open Benchmade clipped in my front pocket; it would have cut the squid thinly enough to melt in your mouth, especially with that mojo sauce.

The bartender asked how it was. I wanted to push my Spanish, so I made a joke about never giving opinions because opinions stifles creativity. It fell flat. I mentioned the Margarita being invented in Baja Mexico based on a customer and bartender having a good time, like the Pina Colada in Puerto Rico. I paused just a moment and added the Cuba Libre. He laughed at that, and asked if I’d like another. I said claro qui si! but to think about what I said and have fun, that he could do no wrong. His grin widened, and I again had the sense he enjoyed what he did and paid attention to detail. Just before he tapped the counter, I added that I was expecting a 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 water with no ice filled for both of us. He smiled, tapped the counter, swirled around, and spent a few moments inspecting his shelf before choosing a bottle. The mojito was even better than the first. He remembered the water, and didn’t ask if I liked the mojito; I’m sure my expression told him all he needed to know.

Tim showed up and walked right up to me with a huge grin on his face. I stood upright on both feet and opened my arms. We vigorously patted each other on the back. He sat on a barstool and I propped a foot on the bar rail, and we jumped back in to a conversation that hadn’t stopped in 30 years.

“Dude!” he said. “A beard looks good on you.”

I scratched it and barely heard the rustle over the band. I made a joke about the grey in it and said I was lazy about shaving, and that I had just spent three months in the Himalayas and grew it to keep my face warm. I said I’d shave before diving, so that my mask fit better. He was as clean shaven as always, with a round cherub of a face that was decievingingly innocent looking, and made him appear much younger than my grey and auburn beard made me seem. We chatted about dive sites for a bit. He was wearing an old Rolex dive watch that needed batteries and had a fancy looking band. He said that he relied on his dive computer now, and hadn’t gone deep in since our u-boat dive off Cape Hatteras. We reminisced about that until the bartender arrived, and Tim asked for a mojito. The bartender winked at me and tapped the table and swirled around. Tim and I swapped a few updates about each other and people we knew, and he finally asked what brought me to Cuba.

“Wait,” I said. “You gotta try this. This guy’s a maestro de mojito.” As I said that, I smiled and nodded towards the bartender. His wink had looked effortless. I never look cool when I wink, so I nod. When I wink, I look like Popeye squinting awkwardly with one eye.

Tim took a sip and uttered an explicative and agreed. He didn’t comment on the glass of water that magically appeared. Mine was refilled. I sipped it to slow down my alcohol and allow Tim to catch up.

“I’m on some kind of entrepreneurship visa,” I said. “Obama added it recently. I’m supposed to ‘promote entrepreneurship,’ whatever that means. It was a chance to come here without going through Mexico City.”

He said he heard I was teaching, and I took a moment to correct him, and stood on a proverbial soapbox to preach the gospel of project-based learning.

“I don’t use that word. It’s not like our days, when teachers were like Youtube videos and you memorized what they said. We’re trying to get people solving problems and looking up information when they need it to take a step. Solving problems and discerning information online is more important than regurgitating what someone says.”

I paused.

“We use project-based learning,” I continued, “which is starting with a unique problem or design that has no obvious solution and moving forward. We form small teams and what used to be a teacher becomes a coach. Some people call it ‘fascilitator’ or ‘co-learner’ or ‘lead-learner.’ I like that one, because I always have a role in the projects and have to learn and coach the teams.”

I paused again. He had less comprehension. I added something about some of our small teams. He chirped in with how he recalled it, and I said yes, like that. I told him I was at the University of San Diego, and that it was the only Catholic university in America not part of the diosce; Tim was a Boston Catholic with eight siblings, and carried a backpack filled with guilt and conflicting beliefs wherever he went. Not being part of the diosce resonated with him, and we chatted about doctrine for a bit.

“Our dean came from a school that just won national awards for being more innovative than MIT or Cal Tech. They steered an entire university system towards team-projects that all overlapped with entrepreneurship in the middle, like a Venn diagram of different classes with entrepreneurship as the common link. It’s a push away from job training, and towards innovation. He asked me to create a class called ‘user-centered design’ that gets students designing based on real-world feedback. It’s cool, because I’m one of, I think, only three faculty in the country getting to do that without a PhD.”

I paused, searching for an analogy. I asked if he remembered a couple of 80’s films, cop movies and exaggerated military special-operations flicks that began by an altruistic mentor searching for fresh recruits, and using the line that if you want good apples, pick them from the tree instead of the rotten barrel. He pointed back to one of our teams; we had both been young in 1992 and were selected as a new idea in the military: communications laisons. Tim and I served in the middle ease as unarmed peacekeepers in President Carter’s still-existing Multinational Force and Observers, a result of his 1979 Camp David peace accords.

“Exactly,” I said. “PhD’s are trapped in a Ponzi scheme without realizing it. They got out of high school and chose to spend 12 years in college, then go on to teach other kids trapped in the same scheme. How does someone who needs a job ‘teach’ entrepreneurship?”

I used “rabbit ears, like Hoffa talking about my grandfather, and paused for a moment so the rhetorical sarcasm would sink in. He nodded, and I continued preaching in a way that was more like venting.

“There’re a bunch of ignorant pricks propagating a problem they don’t realize exists,” I said. “PhD’s need students paying tuition or they’re out of jobs. Besides, except for things that need certifications, most big companies are shying away from requiring college degrees. IBM, Google, and Cisco say 30% of their engineers don’t have degrees. So do a lot of other companies. They hire people with portfolios. Engineering firms use draftsmen who design things for fun, and engineers stamp their drawings. I can learn all of that without a PhD standing in front of a chalkboard lecturing about shit I can read on my own.”

The mojitos had kicked in, and I was on a roll. Tim laughed and reminded me that I had always been like that. He was asked to be a communications laison because of many reasons, mostly his ease with linguistics. I was asked for many reasons (not linguistics), one of which remarkable affinity for new communications technology back then, SINCGARS, which stands for single integrated ground and airborne radio system, that was replacing the archaic radios we had used in the first Gulf war and was being shared with all branches of the U.S. military and NATO. I spoke about army training programs and experts with the same vulgarity I now attacked PhD’s, and eventually I became a trainer of trainers in technologies and methods of comuicating. I had trained Tim in 1992, and he thought I hadn’t changed. I called PhD’s a few derogatory words we had used back then for army officers and pretentious enlisted men hiding behind a stack of paperwork, standing between me and what I wanted from the supply closet. I paused to take a breath and stop myself.

“Peter Theil, that guy from PayPal, even gives kids money to not go to school. Instead of $150,000 in debt, go-getters can get a library card and spend four years and a few thousand dollars iterating ideas or building portfolios. Each student in one of my classes is paying $56,000 a year – $5,500 for each class with me – so what kind of asshole would I be to try and ‘teach’ them things they could learn on the internet?”

We talked about that for a while, and I told him about the lab I ran at the University of San Diego’s Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering called Donald’s Garage. Donald Shiley was a San Diego engineer who tinkered in his garage after chatting with a Sweedish neurosurgeon with a name that sounded like Bjork the singer, and he invented what would become the world’s most common heart valve. Their startup company was bought by Pzier in the 80’s for around $800 Million, which was an unfathomable windfall back then. In 2017, his widow, the former Miss Marcos, donated $21 Million to USD’s school of engineering to build a hands-on maker’s lab with 3D printers, circuit board rapid prototyping machines, simple machine shop stands, and all the tools and prototype materials you could imagine. And, of course, pick an apple or two without a PhD from a tree of entrepreneurs to run the lab as an innovation center rather than a job training shop. And our classes embraced the change and immersed with the community to learn by doing: one of my classes had just made the news for collaborating with a middle school to design Arduino and Rasberry-Pi driven robots in City Heights, a refugee settlement region with around 100,000 people, and reputed to be the most densely diverse group of languages spoken in America, a coincidentally numbered 82 languages within a mile and a half radius, with around 160 dialiects spoken. Six thousand Somalians shipped in next to four thousand Ethiopians, a gaggle of Chaldian Iraqis, Indians, Pakastani’s, Greeks, etc. And of course hispanics, because City Heights is only 18 miles from the Tijuana border, and had been populated by Latin American gangs for decades. It’s where I volunteered as a CASA, and I knew most of the teachers who were willing to try new ways to help kids.

I apologized and said the mojitos had loosened my tongue. I mumbled something about my grandfather never drinking. Tim laughed and said it was funny to see me drink; I had been abstinent from 17 until my mid-thirties.

“Dude,” I said, already mimicking Tim. Over time, most teams start sounding alike. Every time I visited to Louisiana, I returned home to California sounding like one of the The Beverly Hillbillies. “Here’s a great part. I have 36 student employees helping run the labs, including a group of combat vets. The VA has changed college fund rules, and disabled vets are getting floated the $56,000/year tuition.”

He was shocked. Both of us had received around $36,000 after almost four years of service and countless combat scars. I used mine, but Tim had remained in the service and could still use his one day. He was only a few years from retirement, and would have a generous pension, a college fund, and a VA housing loan at his disposal. He had no kids, and didn’t plan on going back to college. We chatted about that. He knew about my volunteer work as a CASA, and I told him how nice it would be to be able to gift unused college funds to people who could use it and didn’t deserve to earn it by going to war. Neither of us had biologic children, but many vets did, and there was a bill being pushed that would allow them to transfer their college fund to their children. I compared the fact that wasn’t allowed to a Ponzi scheme of sorts that dangled college tuition in front of 17 year olds graduating high school without a plan, and emphasized that under U.S. law college tuition wasn’t erased in bankruptcy. “If I had known then what I know now” escaped my lips, and I felt old and drunk and caught myself before continuing.

The bartender came over and didn’t ask how Tim liked the drink, but Tim enthusiastically ordered another. So did I. I told Tim the calamar de parilla was okay, but that the mojo sauce was remarkable. I ordered another squid and a ceviche, and asked for extra mojo. The bartender with the meticulous hairstyle tapped the table and went to work. I noticed a clip outside Tim’s right front pocket, and assumed he’d have a sharp knife to slice the squid thinly. I was in a loose mood, and felt a moment of nakedness without a knife, followed by a burst of irritation at every young TSA twat who had lectured me when I forgot to take my knife out of my pocket before arriving at the airport. I must have lost a supply room full of knives since 9/11.

We kept chatting on a few topics like old friends do, and paused when the drinks arrived. After a few sips and more toasts to common friends for good and bad reasons, I told him about some of my students. The 32 year old SF medic with a scar wrapped around his head from an AK47 bullet zinging around inside his helmet. The 28 year old engineer – the army’s version of an engineer – who lost both legs, his genetalia, his left arm, and most of his right; he was in a wheelchair with a service dog, and used the prosthetic on his right hand to draw designs for improved prosthetics on CAD software, and make prototypes in our lab. The handful of physically fine men with PTSD, not wanting to ever take orders again and hoping to become their own bosses – entrepreneurs. One young lady I didn’t know well, a quiet San Diego latina who was a first-generation American and college student. A few more, though I knew less about them and relied on stereotypes. Our conversation grew somber. I grew quiet.

“To Mike,” Tim said, raising his almost empty glass.

“To Mike,” I said, clinking his glass.

Tim tapped his glass on the counter and we both drank. My jaw tightened and I lowered my gaze. My upper lip quivered. Tim rested a hand on my shoulder.

“Alcohol’s a depressant,” I said. I looked up and wiped my eyes. In lesser company, I would have said, “Sorry.”

We sipped silently for a bit. The food came out and we beamed and dove in. The squid was much better thinly sliced. I changed subjects.

“Have you heard of an old Hotel in Havana called the Havana Cabana?”

He hadn’t. I sighed.

“I think my grandfather was here with Fidel at the Havana Cabana. I’d like to find it and poke around.”

“Dude,” Tim said, “Seriously? That was almost 60 years ago. I thought you gave that up. “

I told him that I had read in the Lonely Planet that under Fidel, Havana’s downtown developed differently than in more capitalistic countries. I used New Orleans as an example. I pointed to the band playing music with a similar horn and Carribean influence as The Crescent City, and said we were in a more residential area, not forced into a tourist zone, and that Fidel’s zoning kept families in buildings next to hotels and bars, more mixed than The City of Sin’s concentrated debauchery on Bourbon and Frenchman streets. If my grandfather had been here, it’s likely that someone remembered seeing him: he was remarkable.

“I don’t know, Dude,” I said. “Maybe I’m hoping to bump into someone who remembers seeing a big blonde haired dude with blue eyes and a charming smile walking with Castro. Or maybe I’ll see someone my age who looks like him. My grandfather was prolific.” I smiled at that one, because it was true. I probably have cousins all over Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Flagstaff, Chicago, Miami, and Havana; they wouldn’t have my eyes, though, because those are Mamma Jean’s.2

We chatted about leads for a while. The last time we had brainstormed about my grandfather was in 2005 after a blurb on national news reported that a group of men claiming to be federal agents removed all evidence of Edward Grady Partin from the Baton Rouge police station where he had been incarcerated for 48 hours in 1962, when Bobby Kennedy and the FBI released him. The article revived his role in Hoffa’s inprisonment, and spotlighted similar stories of Baton Rouge’s Barry Seal, the drug runner turned CIA piolet who operated from the airport near our house, and followed up that all federal agencies denied being involved, and the evidence boxes were missing. Our police were embarassed, and they became butt of jokes nationally. But that news was dwarfed by another, even more humourous blurb about a Baton Rouge fire station burning down after firefighters rushed to a call and left a turkey frying on a propane burner inside the hanger. Talk show pundits ran with the turkey story and harped on stereotypes about the south, but I locked on to hearing my grandfather’s name. I called two buddies on the Baton Rouge police force and they verified the story. I called Tim and asked if he could look into it. That was still soon after 9/11, and Tim had become part of a new or revised organization with alleged oversight of different and often conflicting agencies; one rarely knew what the other was doing, especially the FBI and CIA, and that was a problem for national security. He found nothing, and I didn’t see another route to find what had been removed. Soon after, Hurricane Katrinia decemated New Orleans. I did some volunteer work, and didn’t think about my grandfather, Oswald, or Ruby for almost ten years.

“Get this,” I said. “Have you heard of the new Scorcese film coming out? The Irishman?”

Of course Irish-Tim had. I resisted the urge to tell him an Irish drinking joke; he could outdrink most soldiers in the 82nd Airborne, and that’s saying a lot. The joke was the AA on our patch didn’t stand for “All Americans,” it stood for “Alcoholics Anonymous.” Once a year, the entire 12,000 soldier division went on a five mile jog at some godawful hour early in the morning, and for generations the tradition had been for everyone to get hammered all night before. The tradition was so old that a parade car led us and carried the oldest surviving 82nd veterans. When Tim and I ran it, there was still a WWI vet from when the 82nd Airborne was the 82nd Infantry, and he cackled and rambled on that we were a bunch of pussies who couldn’t handle our alcohol. Most of us were too drunk to care. You could smell us from space, and if anyone lit a cigarette the fumes from our breath would explode like Chernobyl, yet somehow we followed those geezers in their vintage uniforms for five long, smelly miles. I was an oddity. A quirk about growing up as Ed Partin’s grandson was that he adamantly never drank alcohol. He said it loosened your tongue and made your mind sluggish. Though he wasn’t known to tell the truth, I never heard him lie, and I saw adults drink and realized he was true. At 46, I only drank around people I trusted implicitly; apparently, I over indulged at times, but Irish-Tim wouldn’t think twice of it.

“The actor playing my grandfather called us to ask about the role. Craig Vincent. Do you know him?”

Tim didn’t. I thought about it for a moment, and asked if he remembered Scorcese’s film Casino. He did. I said did he remember the big guy in a cowboy hat who talked a lot of shit, the one little Joe Pesci’s character reached up and slapped on behalf of Robert Deniro. He did. That’s Craig Vincent, I said. It clicked. We went off topic and talked about films for a bit and the actors in The Irishman: Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Ray Ramono, etc. We talked about Raging Bull, The Taxi Driver, The Godfather, and the topic tilted to the 80’s war movies we grew up on, like Platoon, Apocolypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, The Deer Hunter. We made a joke or two about Robert Downey Jr. looking and sounding like our old Sergeant Major in the film Tropic Thunder, then we turned to Black Hawk Down and I grew quiet again and lowered my head. Tim rested his hand on my shoulder again. It was time to stop drinking. We ordered another round. Our waters filled magically.

“Anyway,” I said, “Scorcese changed the role to match Craig’s voice.” Craig’s an old-school New Jersey brute with family ties to the mafia, my grandfather was born in Mississippi and died in Baton Rouge.

“Dude!” I exclaimed, off topic and bouncing around time, probably because of the booze. “Scorcese raised $257 Million for that film. He could do whatever he wanted. But he said he was making it to sell tickets, not educate. It’s entertainment. So Big Daddy became Big Eddy Partin. But Craig wanted to learn the nuances about what made men like Hoffa fall for him. He was a humble dude. He said he was being given a chance to work with Scorcese again and wanted to do his best. He only had about 20 minutes and they edited down to about 5, but they ended up gave him all the clips for his portfolio. Scorcese had bought the rights to The Irishman book a few years before, but I think Craig was the only one who read it.”

“Think about it,” I began, then held up a hand and counted names on my fingers. “My grandfather fooled Hoffa, the FBI, Bobby Kennedy, Nixon, Hoover, and practically every mafia family in America.” I finished by raising all fingers on my right hand for the mafia.

Tim sighed. “Jason. I don’t think there’s anything there. The FBI isn’t conpiring against your family.”

I shrugged. I said he was probably right. But everyone needs a hobby, I quipped. I laughed about the calls we still get from cherry FBI agents assigned to Hoffa’s case, kids born after my grandfather had died. I enjoy fucking with them.

I reached in my backpack and asked if he wanted my copy of The Irishman. I slurred that I always remembered him as the intellectual bookworm, the soldier who alway had a book in his hand. He was older than most of us by a couple of years, because he had studied political science and American literature at Harvard before dropping out – or failing out or loosing cut his scholarship, I could never remember which – and he had always said that was his insecurities manifesting. I said bullshit, he was an intellectual. I even remembered the first book I saw him carrying: The Quiet American. It was prophetic, I said. He smiled and mimicked me and said I was probably right. I reminded him of the time we met in Equador and he had Angela’s Ashes – another Irish Catholic book – and, of course, how he introduced me to Harvard University’s Let’s Go travel guide in 1993. I told him I used The Lonely Planet now, and mentioned that it had recently been purchased by a big publishing company for $51 Million, and that the husband and wife founders had cashed out and were circumnavigating the globe. I quipped that they never graduated college, but they had a helluva portfolio and had been to more countries than Tim and me combined.

In my peripherial vision I saw the time on my watch and noticed the bartender approaching. Before he could ask if we wanted another round, I held my left palm up and pretended to scribble on it with an invisible pen held in my right, the universal sign for la cuenta, por favor. He nodded, tapped the counter, and went to his pile of notes and fished around for ours. Tim was flipping through The Irishman, looking at my notes. I pulled a few twenties from my money belt. I had done the math and knew the tally. Ever since the VA was concerned about my memory, I had been been exercising it by doing simple math in my head, memorizing the four-to-six digit codes on grocery store bulk items rather than writing them on the bags, and revising languages I hadn’t touched in almost a quarter of a century. Even drunk, I can do math well. But, just in case, I added an extra twenty and told the bartender to keep the change. If I had made a mistake, at least he’d think I was a great tipper.

Of course Tim protested, and of course I said he’d get me next time. He suggested something, but I said I wanted a few days to relax before committing and would text him then.

“Oh!” I exclaimed. “One more thing.” Tim perked up. “I need to make a joke about a tip, but I don’t know local slang.” I reached in my bag and pulled out a quart-sized Ziplock full of plastic thumb tips stuffed with tiny red handkerchiefs. I sometimes called them silk, but they had been made from some polymer since before I was born and did the same job more cheaply. Each one was barely big enough to seem like an actual handkerchief, but maybe one for traveling because it was only 4 inches square. The polymer could squish into the tip of the thumb tip and be retrieved without being so wrinkled that it gave away the secret.

“I give these away as tips after I do a trick,” I said. “I want to hand them a tip, and say it’s a tip and have them laugh.”

“Dude – what the fuck?”

“Seriously. It’s fun. And, it happens that Fidel was a magician.”

I smirked and waited. He called bullshit. I told him about Muhammed Ali being a magician and visiting Castro and Cuba’s most famous boxer for a publicity tour. I told him to look it up on Youtube. He did (his phone had service). Ali makes a red silk vanish then shows Fidel the thumb tip and gives it to him, saying he likes magic but since he converted to [a version] of Islam, he won’t lie. I briefly mentioned that my grandfather had been a boxer and that may be a clue on the trail, but mostly I got a kick out of giving them away. I said I hoped that enough English blended in with Cuban Spanish to find a pun. I thought it would be a good way to loosen lips. We brainstormed a bit and couldn’t come up with anything. I offered him a tip. He declined. He never appreciated magic.

He stood to part ways, and when I straightened up to hug him I winced. He began to say something. I told him yes, I hurt, but I didn’t want to talk about it. Surprisingly, he pressed. I was firm. He hugged me and wished me well. A lesser man would have persisted.

We left and I dropped a folded up five in the band’s brass tip bucket. At least I thought it was a tip bucket, not a spittoon. I let the five drop so it would be face-up, more to alert other people than to impress the band; a one is too little for someone to see, a twenty too intimidating for others. A five feels right. They had been a good band. The horns had been pointed outside, perhaps to entice people. It had worked, and the place was packed. Pointing outside also kept the volume down inside and let people talk, but was loud enough to camouflage all but the most ignorant or ostentatious voices. I glanced down, and my five was atop a random assortment of bills and currencies. I looked back up and The French horn player and I caught eye contact. He nodded without missing a beat. They were good.

I stumbled to the casa particular and arrived in plenty of time. The family was pleasant and the room was as expected. I cursed myself for drinking too much, then said it was worth it. Old friends are the best friends. I stretched a bit on the cold floor, and pondered what had led me to forget my yoga mat. I attributed it to fatigue. The same with worrying about Wendy. I washed my face and brushed my teeth, and collapsed on the bed and crashed hard. I fell asleep lamenting the loss of my yoga mat.

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  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. 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 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 about my grandfather, doesn’t mention him in the Warren Report. ↩︎
  2. Mamma Jean began what would have probably became a memoir in 1996, but she died soon after beginning it from a second bought with breast cancer. Until 1996, she had never discussed any of her and Big Daddy’s history. Ever. She never offered opinions, and rarely if ever spoke of someone if they weren’t in the room. She began talking about sharing her story after Walter Sheridan died in 1995; I assume her mind was racing with thoughts of her cancer and the tidal wave of books and films coming about in the 1990’s after President Bill Clinton released part of the 1979 JFK assassination report that reversed the Warren Report and fingered Jimmy Hoffa, New Orleans mafia boss Carlos Marcello, and Miami mafia boss and Cuban exhile Santos Trafacante Jr. I think Walter had been probing her for secrets. He had retired from the FBI and became me a somewhat famous newsman for NBC, and he had remained something not quite a family friend, but someone who poked their head in and said hello quite a bit. She never even discussed things with him, though he mentions her a few times in his 1972 book, calling her a “quiet, attractive, Baton Rouge girl,” who “received some money.” He was mistaken: she was only quiet around FBI agents and mafia hitmen. Around us, she was loquatious, and every time the black suit-and-tie wearing evangelical Christians – I think they were Jajova’s Witnesses – came knocking, she’d invite them in and lecture them about truth and what the bible says about not bearing false witness, and when pressed, she’d quote Jesus that any word other than “yay” or “nay” was sent from the devil. Apparently, the devil spoke a lot through her, and she’d quote the bible to the Jajova’s Witnesses until even they got up and left in a whirlwind of doubt about their piety. Here’s what she hand-wrote to us, copied down in my e-reader with all of her typos for me to review on the trip.

    504 9th N.E.
    Springhill, LA 71075
    Aug. 17, 1996

    My dear children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren,

    I don’t know how to begin this. I should have written this when you were small, while it was fresh on my mind, also while your daddy was living. After someone dies, you seem to forget all the bad things and remember only the good in them. That is the way it is with my memories of Ed.
    He was so charming when I met him. As Jimmy Hoffa wrote in his book, “Ed Partin could charm a snake off a rock.” It was Aug. 1949 and I was living with my sister, Mildred and her husband, Percy Cobb in Natchez, Mississippi. International Paper Company was building a mill and Percy was superintendent of construction. Ed was steward over the Teamsters, Union (I.B.T.C. and W.). He came to the house one afternoon to talk to Percy concerning the Teamsters, and that is how I met him. I was 18 years old and he was 26. I thought he was the most handsome man I had ever seen. He had blond hair, blue eyes and teeth like pearls. Keith, he looked just like you, except he was 6’2”. He didn’t smoke or drink, not even beer, and I believed every word he said. He loved to come over to Mildred’s when I babysat James Paul. I thought he would make a good father. After six weeks we were married in Fayette, Mississippi, Sept. 27, 1949.

    Cynthia, I guess it was good thing I waited three years for you. Ed had not told me about his debts. He owed for three cars and we didn’t even have one. He had sold them before we married, spent the money but had not paid for the cars. He also had to spend three months in jail in Woodville, Mississippi, from October 10, 1949 until January 1, 1950. He wouldn’t tell me why; just that he was innocent. I wrote the judge a letter and he let him out. It was not until March 1964 that I found out why he was in jail.

    He made about $75.00 every two weeks, which was pretty good in 1950. We moved to Pascagoula, Mississippi in the spring of 1950. The Electricians went on a strike the first week we were there. Ed drew his unemployment, $20.00 a week. We paid $8.00 per week for our rented room and shared a kitchen. It was nice, we had no responsibilities so we would go to the beach everyday and cook hotdogs or hamburgers. We started going to church and were baptized June 17, 1950. The strike lasted three months. By that time, International Paper Company, had started an addition to the mill in Natchez and we moved back there, to the Pharsalia Apartments, which were brand new and real nice, two bedrooms, kitchen, living room and bath, no air conditioning in those days. That is when we bought furniture, the old mahogany bedroom suite, sofa, chairs and tables for the living room and a red Formica top, chrome kitchen table and chairs. By this time Ed had let me start handling the money and I had him out of debt by the time you cam, Cynthia. You were the answer to my prayers. Ed was real disappointed that you were a girl. Your grandmas Foster always said she was so glad you were a girl because “Son,” (that’s what all his family called him) didn’t get his way for the first time in his life. You were so pretty and you soon won his heart because you cried after him every time he went to work.

    Janice came a year later. I didn’t mind because Maurice was pregnant with Susan and we had the best time together. You and Susan were a week apart. I was going to help Maurice when she came from the hospital and then she was going to help me with Janice. I was not due until the first of August, but you came early so we had to call Mildred to come to our rescue. She was always so good to come stay with me when the first three of you were born. She stayed two weeks the next year when I had Edward. Ed was real good to go to church, he even went to Men’s training class when we lived in Natchez.

    The construction ended with I.P. Company so we moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, September 1, 1953. He got a job with a construction company driving a truck, and then in March 1954, he was elected business agent and Secretary and Treasurer for the Teamsters of Local #5. He made $75.00 a week.

    Baton Rouge was booming. Houses to rent were scarce. We rented a small two bedroom, kitchen, bath and living room on Ellerslie Drive, behind Memorial Stadium. By this time I was pregnant with Edward.

    We were doing better financially. We bought a brand new 1954 Ford. Edward was born July 1, 1954, finally a boy. You were so precious. You had the most beautiful brown eyes and dark brown hair.

    Ed began to find excuses not to go to church with us. He had union meetings on Sunday morning, so sometimes he would have them at the house and he would keep Edward while we went.

    He organized Louisiana Creamery, Holsum and Sunbean Bakeries, and the Refineries that were being built between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. I really think he was honest during this time.

    We bought a lot on Prescott Road and in 1956 we built a house. I drew the plans and selected everything in it. Ed was very cooperative. It was just what I wanted, 2,586 square feet and a double carport. We moved in December 15, 1956. By this time we had two cars. The Teamsters had bought our 1954 Ford for Ed and we bought me a 1955 red and white Oldsmobile. I suppose that was the happiest time of my life. I really wanted another baby, now that I had this big, pretty house with two bathrooms. I was thrilled when I had you, Teresa. Especially to have one with blue eyes.
    Ed bought a truck stop and restaurant on Airline Highway, in April 1959, called the J and L Truck Stop. He also bought and old house with fifty acres out in the country close to Greensburg, Louisiana. He made a garden and mad repairs on the old house. He wanted us to move in it an sell the one on Prescott. I wouldn’t agree to it. I’m sure glad I didn’t. This is when our problems started. He was gone most of the time. Always Union Business or at the Truck Stop Restaurant. Mildred Kelly was a waitress there. I began to have suspicions of her and Ed having an affair. It would make him mad and deny it when I confronted him about it.

    I am so thankful you all don’t remember how abusive he was to me. Cynthia, you probably remember some. I might could have tolerated his “other women,” if he had been good to me, but the only good thing about him was his generosity with is money. He thought money could buy anything. He never cared how much money I spent and he never objected of us going to church. He wouldn’t go with us but he was good to help me get you all dress. I am thankful for that. He was continuously buying me things what I called “a peace offering.” He bought me a 1959 Impala Chevrolet and the transmission went out on it with only 80 miles on it. He wanted to have it fixed but I told him I didn’t want it, that I would keep my Oldsmobile. I later found out he had given it to Mildred Kelly. He also started my silver with a place setting and all the serving pieces. He could never save money. He thought it was made to spend. He lavished you all with toys. Edward you had a gun and that lovely knife by the time you were five years old. I guess it’s a good thing I was conservative and learned how to handle money, because by the time we separated I knew how far a dollar would go.

    He seemed to blame me for everything, even the fusses you all would have. He insisted I get a maid so I hired Olivia, remember her? She worked for me until we separated.

    It was in January 1960 that I knew he was having the affair with Mildred Kelly. He had to go to Washington, DC on union business. He had driven and called me on his way back to tell me he was snow bound right outside of Atlanta, Georgia and would be home when he could. I knew she was with him but when he came home he denied it. I guess he thought if I had another baby that I wouldn’t leave him, so Keith, you were on the way soon after this.

    By the summer of 1960, I knew Ed was doing things that were dishonest. He had to go to Atlanta and while he was gone, C.J. Brown, a Baton Rouge realtor, called and told me that the grass needed cutting at the house we had rented on Sevenoaks Drive. I quickly asked what was the house number and he told me. This was a shock to me, so that night I went over there. Ed came to the door but he turned out all the lights and wouldn’t let me in. The next day he told me that he was hiding dynamite for Jimmy Hoffa in that house. He also told me he was on some kind of drugs. I had called your Aunt Mil to come help me decide what to do. She came and I went home with her to Pine Bluff. Ed called everyday, begging me to come home. I was gone about two weeks, but we did go back. When I got home, I realized there was something wrong with him. He tried to keep it from me, but he finally showed me where he had been stabbed, the lowest part of his stomach, a horizontal cut about six inches long. It was always a mystery as to who did it. It needed stitches but he wouldn’t go to the doctor. He had been stabbed on his shoulder about four or five months before this. He wouldn’t tell me who did it either, but wouldn’t go to the doctor. When he left in January, the cut on his stomach had still not healed. In later years, Mrs. Rankin, one of my lawyers, said he probably was bringing in some kind of drugs in the wound. It sounded horrible to me, but I never knew.

    Keith, I didn’t think you would ever get here. All the rest of you had been three or four weeks early, so by November 1, I was ready, but you didn’t get here until November the 17th. I worried about you while I was in the hospital, not knowing if Ed would be home, but I had Olivia and she took real good care of you.

    Keith was nine days old when Ed told me he had to go to Havana, Cuba to see Fidel Castro. I didn’t believe him, but he gave me a number at the Havana Cabana Hotel for me to call. I called and talked to him, so he was there. This was another mystery. I never knew why he went. When President Kennedy was assassinated, and Lee Harvey Oswald arrested, I really thought Ed was going to be involved, but I don’t suppose there was any connection. When he got back from Cuba, there was some argument we had every day. Marge and Orlan were so good to me, helping me decide what to do. He advised me for one and a half years to stay with him. He would talk with Ed and Ed making promises not to see Mildred Kelly anymore, but finally said that she was blackmailing him. I tried to believe him, but there was always something disturbing and a mystery.
    One nite I was giving Keith a bottle. Ed was asleep. I looked down, there under the bed were his shoes with a lot of money in them. I counted it quickly, I would guess about $20,000. I put it in the drawer and the next a.m. he asked where it was. I asked him where he got it. He said it wasn’t his, that he was to pass it on to someone that was to meet him at the Palms Motel. I never knew.
    He had made several trips to Chicago, he said, and then

    <That’s where Mamma Jean ended her letter. She never finished her story. She passed away from breast cancer a few years later. – Love, Janice> ↩︎