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

I arrived in Havana on 01 March 2019 on a three-month sabbatical and carrying a 30 day entrepreneurship visa, thanks to a loophole created by the Obama administration that was on it’s last legs under the Trump administration. I was lucky to have squeezed in legally. I stepped off the plane with a carryon backpack strapped over one shoulder and breathed in the tarmac JP4 jetfuel deeply and felt more than saw old memories swirling. I smiled and let out a content sigh, but then I grit my teach and uttered, “Fuck!” and whipped my head around to look back at the line of people exiting. I had left my yoga mat rolled up in the overhead bin.

“Fuck,” I said again, but with less grit. It was too late to go back. Cuban officials were directing me towards customs. I took another deep breath of jetfuel, exhaled, and capitulated to looking for another mat in Havana tomorrow. Besides, I had planned on shopping, anyway, just to see what was on the shelves in a communist island, and to see if any entrepreneurs were sprouting between the cracks of Havana sidewalks.

I took a deep breath that widened my chest. I tried to ignore the nausea I felt from JP-4. With a full chest, I pulled the backpack’s hip belt tight, yanked down on the shoulder straps, and tightened the sternum strap until it fit snugly. I exhaled and let the backpack settle. It was transferring weight to my hips and felt fine. I snapped my head back and forth to loosen my neck muscles, then followed the official’s finger across the tarmac towards a sign for customs.

I entered the building and strolled up to two customs officials sitting at a simple folding table. I took off my backpack and pulled my passport from a moneybelt tucked into the front of my pants. One of the officials inspected the XXL Force Fins strapped to my backpack, an old faded black rock climbing pack with an external flap to hold a rope or helmet. I usually tucked a Frisbee inside for flights, but, at the last minute, I had swapped out my faded white Frisbee for a pair of Force Fins that I had stumbled across in a San Diego thrift store a few months earlier. They’re thick, short, squat, 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. One of the SEAL teams is based near my condo, and it seems I always stumble across barely used pairs. I always buy fins I find in my size, because their size makes them possible for carryon but they’re pricey from civilian dive shops and I can never find rentals to fit my big feet. The official laughed politely and said something to the other and he laughed too, but 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 and moved his hand in and out and laughed and looked at me and made a joke. I didn’t understand him. He was either being vulgar or joking about my feet, and I was used to people who did both. I laughed back and shrugged ambiguously as if to say 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 chuckled at whatever they imagined.

The first asked where I would be diving. I said Playa de Giron. He said it was beautiful there, and his colleague agreed. He stamped my passport, and I was visibly surprised. Since the 1961 embargo, Cuba had stamped a removable piece of paper when Americans arrived from Mexico or Canada. My 2017 Lonely Planet guidebook had said the practice was still common, and that U.S. dollars were still the major source of revenue for Cuba. I assumed my visa changed the custom. There were only 13 categories of visas, and the officials didn’t take even a moment to inspect mine. I had built up this moment for nothing. 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. No; I was mentally drained from being cooped up all day, and I had been more focused on getting off the plane than anything else. Or, the VA was right, and I was starting to loose my memory. The officials stared at me, wondering what I was still doing there. I should focus. I tried. I smiled, shouldered my backpack without tightening the straps, and turned to leave. The officials waved goodbye. I waved back and left the building.

Per my visa, I had to use private rather than state-owned businesses, so I walked pass the taxis and left the airport grounds to a row of private drivers. It was a simple process, exactly as the Lonely Planet guide book had described. I chose a 1950’s convertible with the top already down. I don’t know which type of convertible – I’ve never been good at identifying vehicles – but it looked like all convertibles from that time period, like the one President Kennedy had been riding in when he was shot, and was in pristine condition. The driver proudly said it had been his father’s, and he had maintained it and tried to keep it looking original. It was a fine automobile, whatever it was called. We agreed on a price to a downtown plaza within walking distance of several casa particulares I had circled in my Lonely Planet. I put my bag in the back seat and sat in the front. He had installed a surprisingly elaborate Bluetooth stereo and speakers, and he turned on something I had never heard but sounded groovy; I assumed it was the Buena Vista Social Club, if only for tourists who expected to hear it. We took off smoothly and cruised out of the airport and down the melecon with the driver tapping his fingers on the steering wheel to the music. I wore an all-cloth faded purple LSU baseball cap, faded enough to soften the purple to an almost neutral grey, but not faded so much that it was remarkable. It was just any other college alumni baseball cap, a slightly pricer one than a kid would wear, something a middle aged man may buy out of nostalgia for not having the nicest hats when he was younger. I rotated it backwards, stretched my arms above my head, snapped my head side to side to loosen neck muscles, and leaned back and listened to the wind whipping overhead. I finally began to relax.

I asked where I could get public WiFi, but 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: quiciera un tarjeta de WeeFee, y una lugar con ‘access.’ (I didn’t know the word, but I said it with a pause that, in San Diego, implied a Spanglish word was following.) He told me near where we were going, Playa de San Francisco de Asi, and 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.

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. In the rear view mirror, I could see Spanish forts illuminating in the late afternoon sunlight. 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. I breathed deeply. The sea air was much nicer here than beside the jet engines. I had smiled beside them earlier; but, in truth, JP-4 has always made my stomach ill. I just wasn’t complaining about it on the tarmac. Now, I was glad to be free of it, and the smile was genuine. We slowed down near downtown, and I asked if he knew of a hotel that once existed called the Havana Cabana. He shook his head and said no, that he had lived hear all his life – he was about my age – and hadn’t heard of it. I thanked him and dusted off my Spanish at stop signs and a few long waits in after-work traffic, and we chatted about a few things and laughed a bit and passed time until we arrived at the edge of the plaza. I hopped out, grabbed my backpack from the back seat, paid and thanked him. I handed him a tip wrapped in a small red silk handkerchief, and tried to stretch my colloquial Spanish by making a pun about the tip that fell flat. He shrugged and waved and drove off. I shouldered my pack, took a deep breath and adjusted the straps to fit my chest, exhaled, and looked around.

Beside me was a private kiosk selling WiFi cards. I bought one 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, pulled out my iPhone 8 and smirked: the $1,000 phone was only two years old and was probably already outdated, but $40 flip phones of the 90’s went almost a decade working just fine. Nostalgia had begun to creep up on me; now I look back fondly on when I didn’t know it existed. I used my smart phone just like I used my old flip phone and held it to one ear. I told Siri to play voice mail, and moved into a modified warrior pose with one hand on my phone and the other outstretched. My legs were rotated, and I was squatting into the pose, hoping to stretch my hamstrings and open my hips. My phone was transcribing messages, but I had packed away my reading my glasses and thought it was easier to listen than to rummage around for them.

The first voice mail was from Wendy. I wasn’t expecting anything important, so I only listened half-heartedly while stretching.

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

She paused longer than usual.

“It’s not important.”


I stood upright. Something felt wrong.

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

Another pause. I stopped stretching and stood upright. I pressed the phone tighter to my left ear, and plugged my right forefinger into the cauliflower scarred canal of my right ear. I breathed softly 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…”, and I felt like I was choking. 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 don’t want to imply that she would, but that’s the thought that popped into my thoughts and now dominated my mind. I pressed the phone and my finger more tightly, and held my breath as I 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 – or iBuds or whatever they’re called – and rewound her message. The VA says I arrived in the army with cauliflower ear and had perfect hearing, but I left with a 15% hearing loss in each ear at different frequencies. The earbuds are in stereo and the software on my phone allows me to adjust frequencies so I can hear clearly, and the noise-canceling features would soften the din of live music wafting from bars circling the plaza. I had a smaller size for my narrowed right ear. I put them in and listened to her message twice more while reading the transcript. Despite the stereo headphones, y head rotated back and forth as if trying to catch missing frequencies by whichever ear could; a habit that wasn’t worth stopping. I bobbed without hearing differences, making a pattern that stemmed from somewhere inside me and had nothing to do with what Wendy was saying. Anyone noticing may have assumed I was moving my head to rhythms from the bars or my headsets. Nothing changed from what I heard the first time. The transcription made a few mistakes translating her southern Louisiana accent and missed her beginning to say, “I…” because it was as subtle as the b in subtle, but she had definitely began to tell me something and stopped before the first word manifested. I was fixated on wondering what she had wanted to say but had stopped, and wondering what had sparked my feeling that she could kill herself.

I sighed. Before calling her back, I reviewed what had spiked my worry.

Wendy was my mother, Wendy Anne Rothdram Partin, but she had taught me to call her by her first name when I was a toddler in the Louisiana foster system. When she was 16, she lost her virginity to Edward Grady Partin Junior, the 17 year old drug dealer of Glen Oaks High School, at a New Years Eve party on 01 January 1971. She realized she was pregnant two weeks later, but she couldn’t afford the $150 for an abortion and was estranged from her single mother, a Canadian immigrant named Joyce Rothdram. She accepted my dad’s proposal, and they dropped out of school and eloped to Mississippi, where state laws allowed a 16 year old to marry without parental permission. They returned to Baton Rouge a few days later as Mr. and Mrs. Edward Grady Partin and moved into one of my grandfather’s houses near the Achafalaya Basin on the outskirts of town.

My grandfather was Edward Grady Partin Senior, the Baton Rouge teamster leader famous for infiltrating Jimmy Hoffa’s inner circle and helping U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy put Hoffa in prison after almost 20 years of failed efforts by the FBI’s Get Hoffa task force; he was portrayed by Brian Dennehy in 1983’s “The Blood Feud,” and was set to be portrayed by Craig Vincent in Martin Scorcese upcoming film about Hoffa’s 1975 disappearance, “The Irishman.” In the 60’s and 70’s, he was in national media monthly, including exposes on the newly recognized threat of organized crime, where he publicly scoffed at men like Carlos Marcello other mafia bosses. He ran Teamsters Local #5 until 1981, and was a household name in Baton Rouge until his death in 1990. None of us knew then what we know now. In 1972, Wendy quickly learned that her new name attracted unwanted attention in town, and that her new father-in-law wasn’t the all-American hero national media had shown. She had two small nervous breakdowns. She left our house the first time and returned a few days later, but abandoned me the second time, when my dad was away for a few months buying drugs wholesale in Kingston and she was trapped at home without a car. Wendy returned on her own and divorced my dad, but by then Judge Pugh of the East Baton Rouge Parish 19th Judicial District had assigned Mr. and Mrs. James “Ed” White as my legal guardians. Wendy found work and fought the Partin family and then the Whites and temporarily regained custody in 1976, but because of appeals by both my dad and the Whites it would be a few more years before I began living with her. 2 While I was in foster care, she visited me twice a month. But, she was ashamed of being a young single uneducated mother who had abandoned her infant son, and she taught me to call her by her first name so that people would think I was her little brother. Old habits are hard to break, and I still called my mother Wendy.

Wendy never remarried, had no surviving family in America, and I was her only child. We lived 3,300 miles and two time zones apart. I rotated my wrist and glanced at my wrist watch despite the phone in my hand. I had owned the watch since moving to San Diego almost 25 years before. It was a solar powered Sieko dive watch with a rotating bezel to tick of time underwater, and a thick black corrugated band that survived abuse and circulated air so it’s not too hot to wear on land or in the air; though, like all polymers, it becomes brittle with age. I have the watch serviced and the band changed before every sabbatical. A week before, Moe, a watchsmith who runs About Time in San Diego, had changed the band, and the watch was still set to Pacific Coast time. I did the math, and it was almost 5pm where Wendy lived in Saint Francisville, a town of about 1,500 people an hour upriver from Baton Rouge. I glanced at her voice mail’s time stamp, but it showed the time as when I turned on my phone in Havana, not when she left her message. It could have been any time since I last checked messages, about eight hours or so. I rotated the dial on my watch to move the hands to Havana time, lowered my hand, and watched my thoughts bounce around. She was, for understandable reasons, reticent about sharing her past. She had a few good friends, but I was still the one she called when no one else would understand. I cringed at the thought of getting on another series of flights to reach New Orleans, where I would have to rent a car and drive two hours to Saint Francisville; the feeling that she was at risk was so strong that my mind was already a few steps into a possible future.

I closed my eyes. The feeling that she would commit suicide was still there, but it was dissipating and I began to think more clearly. If I called her now, she would be at least three bottles of wine into the evening and incoherently slurring her speech and repeating herself. I wouldn’t learn much. I wondered what had led to my thought that she’d commit suicide, and I tried to backtrack before deciding what to do.

First of all, I was fatigued. I knew it, and had known it since before I last checked messages. In addition to my body tensing from sitting too long, I’m slightly claustrophobic. I felt mentally drained from resisting the urge to jump out into open space all day. I had done it before, and knew that anything’s better than small talk next to a chatty person while strapped into a cramped seat. My body grew inflamed sitting: my labrums are shredded and my discs degenerated, and sitting presses agains the labrums and increases intradiscal pressure by 120% and leads to stenosis, and the resulting inflammation leads to increased pain, and my mind jumps around as it tries to escape, just like how I wanted to jump from the plane rather than be present in it.

Secondly, I had spent all day reading our family history in a book and an e-reader full of court documents and the latest releases of the congressional JFK and Martin Luther King Jr Assassination Report. Wendy and my history was full of death and violence – this wouldn’t be much of a memoir if it weren’t – and two of my cousins on my dad’s side had committed suicide in my youth. Others had tried. I don’t know how many had pondered it or tried without me knowing. Mental illness runs rampart on the Partin side of my family, especially depression and sczhiphrenia, and people with sczhiphrenia have approximately four times the rate of suicide as the general population. Also, an old army buddy whom also used to get ill from JP-4 fumes had recently taken his life; like people with some types of mental illness, veterans, on average, have four times the suicide rate of the general population. I knew hundreds of soldiers very well for seven years and kept in touch with many. We have a tight grapevine network, and I planned on meeting an old buddy now in the state department who was coincidentally in Cuba that month, probably something to do with Guantanamo.

I sighed again, and realized I was fingering the big scar on the back of my head. I’ve had it since I was four years old. It’s a finger-width wide scare about eight inches long and curved like a backwards letter C. My finger had crept under my hat and was feeling my recently formed bald spot. At that, I chuckled. I had only recently noticed the bald spot. When I used a mirror to look at it the first time, I saw my scar and realized it no longer looked like a backwards C; it looked like a semi-colon, a recent symbol for suicide prevention thanks to a viral internet meme that sparked a nonprofit called Project SemiColon. I had shown the back of my head to Cristi and quipped that I could finally become a spokesperson for an organization. I lowered my hand and took a deep breath, and realized I was too tired to think clearly. 3

I took out my earbuds, closed my eyes, and took another deep breath and exhaled slowly. With my eyes still closed, I snapped my head back and forth and up and down and all around. I heard the crepitus and felt the tension and was distracted by my headache. I stood still. I tried to accept being unable to do anything about it. I focused on remembering getting off the plane and clearing customes, and I saw the chain of thoughts that led to thinking Wendy was contemplating taking her own life. I told myself that she’d be fine. She was probably just drunk, or one of her dogs had died and she was reaching out for that and updating her will to include the humane society.

But, an analysis can be wrong. I opened my eyes and put my earbuds back in and called Wendy 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 there was no answer and no answering machine. I called her mobile back and left a voice mail. I forced my voice to sound cheerful.

“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. She had suffered from depression as long as I could recall, but if anything made her smile it was kindness to animals and her work with the human society. She’d take one or two mangy dogs home, nurse them to health, house train them, and groom them for pet adoption fairs in Baton Rouge. She had joked about the irony of Saint Francisville having so many prisons named after slave plantations, so I thought she’d appreciate the coincidental name of where I was standing. I added a perfunctory “I love you,” and reiterated her that I’d check messages once every day or two, emphasizing the ambiguity so she wouldn’t expect a quick reply.

I hung up and sent a WhatsAp to Cristi telling her I had arrived safely. I didn’t feel like checking other messages, but because I already had my reading glasses on I glanced at the names, just in case something looked important. Captain America had called – his name was Steve Rogers – and there was a call from the George Benson detention facility in San Diego, which meant JoJo was back in jail. I felt like sighing. JoJo was a 32 year old, 6’1″ 185 pound mostly latino with a shaved head and gang tattoos covering both arms and the left side of his neck. He had a long record or arrests for assault and battery, drug abuse, and mental illness. His message could wait. There was nothing I could do, anyway; I was just the only phone number he remembered that still had someone who knew him answer. I had known JoJo since he was a kid in the San Diego foster system and I was his CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocate. I had represented him in school, hospitals, and court until he turned 18 and emancipated from the system. 4 Wendy volunteered with the West Feliciana humane society, I volunteered with the San Diego foster system. We solve our demons however we can. Captain America was an old buddy, and his message could wait at least another day or two.

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. One that said their room had a window looking onto a small courtyard and two doors, one leading to a private bathroom. 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 their building. They said to knock when I arrived, that they went to bed mas o menus a la diez, so it was no problema.

I packed away my earbuds, phone, and glasses. I stretched my hands above my head and twisted this way and that trying to crack my back. I glanced around the plaza. It was happy hour, and small groups of mostly young professional-looking Cubans walked around the square, peering in bars and occasionally glancing at their phones. No obvious tourists were in sight. I scanned the perimeter and listened to the competing beats of music and summed up the clientele of each. I stopped at what looked most promising, a bar with wide open double doors next to a large window that was also open. A couple of small round tables with 2 to 3 chairs each was outside, and a six-person band with a guitar, three brass horns, a stand-up wooden bass, and a congo drum set stood just inside on one half of the open doors. The evening sunlight was fading, so I could see inside clearly enough. It had 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. 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. I couldn’t see the entire bar, but I assumed it had six stools since the owner seemed to like groups of six. Three tables and one booth had people sitting, and there were approximately a dozen people inside all together. The barstools I could see were empty. I glanced at my watch, and smiled. 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 I did it. I sighed again, but it was a pleasant sigh.

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, opened it, and waited for it to connect. I began typing a text message using the archaic buttons. The tactile feedback flowed into my fingers, and my mind recalled patterns of pushing buttons once, twice, or three times to spell words. I smiled recalling my first flip phone in the late 1990’s and my similarly tactile Blackberry in the early 2000’s, and felt a tinge of nostalgia at not needing glasses to send a text message. I typed out that I had arrived, and gave my old buddy the bar’s location. He responded almost immediately. I replied “yay!” and packed away the phone and glasses, then unclipped my backpack from the bench and shouldered it 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 exhaled slowly, and began walking towards the bar, concentrating on my gait so that I wouldn’t limp noticeably. I smiled, ready to begin that year’s sabbatical.

Go to the Table of Contents


  1. The “minor domestic problem” was a reoccurring point in Hoffa’s defense strategy, and is summarized in Chief Justice Earl Warren’s missive attached to the 1966 supreme court case Hoffa vs. The United States:

    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.

    Big Daddy’s cellmate was Billy Simpson, a 21 year old Teamster who had lost his two children in a custody dispute. He and Big Daddy were in jail for kidnapping Billy’s two young children from their mother after a disputed custody settlement. Billy and Big Daddy faced life in prison, compounded by a coincidentally timed manslaughter charge from when Big Daddy was driving back from his (our) family’s home in Woodville, Mississippi. The charges of assault and perjury came later, and Chief Justice Earl Warren, famous as the author of the 1964 Warren Report on Kennedy’s assassination, emphasized the charge of perjury to his colleagues, and he permanently attached his thoughts in a three-page summary at the end of Hoffa vs. The United States for posterity to ponder. Warren was the only dissenting judge; five voted to accept my grandfather’s testimony, and two obstained. Hoffa swore Bobby Kennedy or the media influenced them. Hoffa’s team of celebrity attorneys tried to discredit Big Daddy, but the FBI’s Get Hoffa task force and prosecuting attorneys told Hoffa’s jury – and later national media – that Big Daddy’s charges were simply a “minor domestic problem,” and Hoffa was sentenced to 11 years in prison based on my grandfather’s word. For the next 13 years of his life Hoffa, quoted Walter and Bobby’s lawyers by using “rabbit ears” to emphasize his sarcasm about “a minor domestic problem.” He said it was obvious that my grandfather was incintivised to help Bobby Kennedy, whom Hoffa called “Booby,” to “set the public up to see what a great man he was in getting Hoffa.” Even after Booby’s 1968 assassination, Hoffa so hated the man that he continued to call him Booby and insult him after Hoffa was pardoned by Nixon in 1971, just to rub it in and remind everyone how easily fooled anyone could be, even himself and the Supreme Court. Wendy had me around this time, and quickly learned that the Partin family wasn’t above kidnapping disputed custody hearings and had assassination attempts by Teamsters and, according to a full-feature 1968 article in Time’s six-issue expose on the mafia, New Orleans mafia boss Carlos Marcello, who kept sending low-level henchmen to Baton Rouge to intimidate the family of Edward Grady Partin when Wendy and I were living in a house listed in the phone book under my dad’s name, Edward Grady Partin. A 1964 feature on my grandfather talked about his houses, and how he kept plastic explosives in them on behalf of Jimmy Hoffa, who wanted to blow up Bobby Kennedy’s home. Wendy was 16 when she met my dad and missed a lot of news and issues of Life. It’s no wonder she had a couple of nervous breakdowns after having me and moving in wiht my dad. ↩︎
  2. My custody records, like most of my family history, are easily downloaded by anyone with internet access. Judge Pugh isn’t named by name. His alleged suicide in 1975 was briefly mentioned in local news but discretely not harped upon. He was the only family court judge in East Baton Rouge Parish, and he was replaced by Judge JJ Lottingger, a 30 year veteran of Louisiana legislative law who served in the Baton Rouge state capital building down the road from Big Daddy’s Teamsters Local #5 headquarters, and he knew my grandfather well. He had spent decades and thousands of taxpayer dollars trying to rid Louisiana of Big Daddy on behalf of three governors, similar to how Bobby Kennedy – and Senator John F. Kennedy before him – had spent fifteen years and millions of taxpayer dollars trying to prosecute Hoffa, as if my grandfather was a fractal version of Hoffa in a series of power struggles. Lottingger assumed my case around the time Hoffa vanished on 30 July 1975, and for the next year he took a personal interest in Wendy’s well being, if only to help her against the two Ed Partins. He oversaw her effort to meet Judge Pugh’s surprisingly strict requirements against her, and his inexplicable ruling that, on paper, my dad retained custody despite the Whites dictating when and if my parents saw me. Lottingger doesn’t mention Pugh by name, nor does he mention Hoffa, but I believe he knew more than he wrote and was being prudent, because he barely mentions my dad and his tone seems kind to Wendy.

    Here’s what Judge Lottingger had to say 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.

    Wendy never discussed that time of her life, but she would always joke that she was born WAR, Wendy Anne Rothdram, but marrying my dad WARP’ed her and that’s why she started drinking. It’s no wonder she had a nervous breakdown and left. What’s impressive is that she returned and fought the Partins to get me back. ↩︎
  3. According to ProjectSemiColon.com, “Project Semicolon’s vision is that fewer lives are lost to suicide and anyone affected by suicide receives the best possible support,” and “Our mission is to get all parts of society working together to take action to reduce suicide and improve the support for those bereaved by suicide.” Project SemiColon was formed after Amy Bleuel posted a meme in 2013 of her with a ; tattoo as a tribute to her father, saying something to the effect of what was later polished into: “A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.” According to Wikipedia, as a child, Amy was taken into state protective custody and emancipated from the foster system at age 18, after her father committed suicide. Wikipedia says: “Bleuel died on March 23, 2017, aged 31; the cause of death was suicide.”Also, according to Wikipedia, “there is a nonprofit organization inspired by Project Semicolon called The IGY6; Foundation. It was created by combat veterans to support veterans and first responders, and advocate for suicide prevention and awareness. Like Project Semicolon, it uses identifying tattoos: the phrase “IGY6” is used (meaning “I Got Your 6”, or “I Got Your Back”), as well as a semicolon (coming from Project Semicolon, sometimes in the color teal to symbolize PTSD awareness), and occasionally the number 22 (representing a statistic that an average of 22 United States military veterans die by suicide every day).” I was unaware of IGY6 in 2019, or maybe it hadn’t registered in my mind yet, because I had never used that expression in the military. I just happened to know the veterans statistics, which were often in the San Diego news because of a new Veterans Village being funded to support our large population of homeless veterans and to acknowledge the 250,000 civilian employees supporting our plethora of marine, navy, and air force bases who had steered San Diego’s economy since WWII. My work was more focused on the kids and refugees crowded into former shipbuilding neighborhoods and warehouse districts, which is why I knew about Project SemiColon. ↩︎
  4. Coincidentally, the national CASA began the same year of Judge Lottingger’s ruling in Partin vs. Partin. According to the CASA organization’s website:

    Inspiration came to Seattle juvenile court judge David W. Soukup in 1976.

    Judge Soukup had insufficient information to make a life-changing decision for a 3-year-old girl who had suffered from child abuse.

    That’s where the idea came from: These children, who had experienced abuse or neglect, needed trained volunteers speaking up in the courtroom for their best interests.

    There are around 400,000 kids officially in the American foster system at any given moment, probably more than twice that if you count kids living with extended family and not receiving any state oversight. Mark Twain said there are lies, damn lies, and statistics; and no one’s certain, but researchers have spent years tracking foster kids into adulthood, and several studies show that about 85% of emancipated foster kids end up in jail, about 25% before they’re 21. Jail has about an 80% recidivism rate, so they usually return. Only 15% will attend college, and only 3% grad school. Almost all are traumatized, and most have mental illness or learning deficiencies from a range of reasons including bouncing between schools, missing days to weeks to months of school, and having more on their minds than homework, especially because they rarely have stable homes. Many if not most were abused, which is why they’re in state custody. San Diego receives about 55,000 calls for suspected abuse a year and has 300 social workers dedicated to investigating. About 7,500 kids are waiting for a San Diego CASA, but there are only about 300 CASA volunteers at a given time, and few can take on more than one case. We spend almost as much time sifting through court records as we do visiting with the kids, their foster families or group homes, and their biologic parents; and often their social workers, public attornies, teachers, and doctors, because a CASA holds legal rights to represent the kids for school and healthcare programs. There are a handful of CAMA’s who help, volunteering to focus on sifting through the annals of family court records to help everyone know the full story. CASA’s use a kid’s history to help paint a picture for judges. Everyone’s busy, and the stakes are large. Prison costs taxpayers around $75,000 per year per former foster kid; social workers earn less than $30,000 in most towns; minimum wage varies, but is less than $22,000 per year in San Diego. Volunteers do what they can when they can. We spend time that social workers can’t, and can follow kids cross county lines when bureaucratic systems won’t. We get to know everyone involved, and write reports on what we learn and tie those reports with court records to paint a more complete picture of each kid. We meet with judges in their chambers just before cases, and they make decisions that will affect a youth for the rest of their lives. There’s hope for some kids, because not all cases turn out badly. Steve Jobs, celebrated inventor of my already-outdated iPhone and once one of the world’s richest people, was adopted. So was Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and the world’s richest person for many years. Dave Thomas, the self-made millionaire who founded Wendy’s Hamburgers, was adopted. He spent part of his fortune and lots of his time lobbying congress to make adoption more streamlined and to provide tax breaks to adopting families. Despite those few cases, the statistics – those lies and damn lies – point to a problem that hasn’t changed throughout all our legal system’s history: judges have a lot of authority, but even the most honorable judges are human and can only make decisions based on the information given to them. Juries too. We only know what we think we know. Probably because of my history, I know more than most how much information can be withheld from a judge when they’re making life-changing decisions; or, in the case of Jimmy Hoffa and my grandfather, history-shaping decisions. I don’t know the statistics for suicide specific to emancipated foster youths; the numbers are muddled with many other factors, mostly centered around mental health. But aren’t all suicides a matter of mental health?

    A Court Appointed Special Advocate is an attempt to bring truth and compassion to the American justice system, for the sake of kids today and their posterity tomorrow. Coincidentally, casa is Spanish for home and cama means bed, two things we often take for granted until we think about kids who have neither. ↩︎