Havana 3

“Partin was a big tough-looking man with an extensive criminal record as a youth. Hoffa misjudged the man and thought that because he was big and tough and had a criminal record and was out on bail and was from Louisiana, the home states of Carlos Marcello, the man must have been a guy who paints houses.”1

Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran in “I Heard You Paint Houses,” 2014

Per President Obama’s entrepreneurship visa, I had to use private rather than state-owned businesses, so I only peripherally glanced at the taxis as I left the Havana airport as I strolled away from the state-controlled zone and towards a row of private drivers. (Uber and Lyft were banned because of President Kennedy’s embargo against trade with Cuba.) Finding a classic, privately-owned was exactly as the Lonely Planet guide book had described, effortless and an introduction to what many Americans expected to see: the 1950’s trapped in time.

I scanned the options and chose a convertible that was older than I was but probably in better physical condition. It was buffed to a shine, and had an almost ineffable look of care that implied love rather than labor. I don’t know which type of convertible – I’ve never been good at identifying vehicles – but the top was down and it looked like all convertibles from that time period. To me, and what was on my mind, it was identical to the one in which Kennedy was riding through downtown Dallas when he was shot and killed. All I can guarantee is that the convertible definitely wasn’t Elon Musk’s red Tesla, which was on its way to the sun and being tracked by an app on my phone and a small army of amateur astronomers. But the convertible I was admiring was just as remarkable as Elon’s Tesla; it was in pristine condition in a country where replacement parts were rare and expensive. Either an investor with a goal or an owner with a love affair cared for it. I voted for the later.

I stared with obvious admiration. I may not be a car person, but I appreciate anything that shows someone cares. The driver approached and proudly said it had been his father’s, and that he maintained it himself and tried to keep it looking original. It was a fine automobile, whatever type it was, and we agreed on a price to a downtown plaza within walking distance of several casa particulares I had circled in the Lonely Planet during the flight from Fort Lauderdale. AirBnB and Vevmo were banned in Cuba, just like Lyft and Uber, perhaps because helping entrepreneurs in Cuba have access to American technology was somehow a threat to national security in ways I didn’t understand. I didn’t ask the driver what he thought about it all, I was just grateful to ride in his gorgeous 1950’s convertible for less money than I left as a tip in American 1950’s-themed breakfast diners.

I put my bag in the back seat and sat in the front. He had installed a modern Bluetooth stereo and quality three-way door speakers, and a large digital counsel that played videos and waves of lights in sync with the music. He turned on something I had never heard but sounded like what was, I imagined, classic Caribbean Funk with a congo drum beat and brass horn riffs. We took off smoothly, and soon we were out of the airport and cruising down the melecon.

The door speakers were clear without needing to be loud, and the driver seemed to love the sound as much as he loved his car. He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, syncing with the stereo’s congo drums. I leaded back and sank into the slick vinyl seat that stretched from door to door and was more like a living room couch than any car seat since the 50’s. I rotated my cap backwards to keep it from blowing off, and tapped my fingers in sync with the driver; or as close as I could muster: I’ve never had rhythm.

A few minutes later we were cruising along the melacon. I stretched my arms above my head and took a deep breath of clean salty air, inhaling moisture and wide open space to replenish what the cramped seats and dry airplane air conditioners had depleted. We drove with the ocean on our right.

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, just above ocean level. The reflection dwindled slowly, and soon I could see the forts and the ocean and a row of 1950’s cars parked along the melacon in what looked like a postcard beside my Superman hand; my smile broadened from the 1950’s warning on the mirror: objects are closer than they appear. How true, I thought.

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

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

Beside me was a vendor selling WiFi cards from a kiosk that also had chargers and cases. I bought a card with only 15 minutes and walked to where a handful of people were gathered around a few benches and a statue that the Lonely Planet said it was a statue of ______. They were all staring at their smart phones, and I assumed they knew where WiFi was most reliable. I set down my backpack and clipped it to a bench with a non-locking carabiner, and pulled out my already outdated iPhone 8.

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

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

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

“It’s not important.”


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

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

Another pause. I pressed the phone tighter to my left ear, and I was so perturbed by the voice mail that I fumbled a bit for my thick sausage of a finger to fit into my narrowed cauliflower-scarred right ear canal. I breathed quietly and leaned in to what she was saying.

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

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

Gut instincts can be wrong, so instead of calling her back immediately I kneeled by the bench and dug through my backpack and pulled out my reading glasses and earbuds, and rewound her message. The VA says I arrived in the army with perfect hearing, but I left with a 15% hearing loss in each ear at different frequencies, attributed to not having ear plugs for incessant machine gun fire and explosions during the first Gulf war. I was used to rotating my head to hear more clearly. Despite the stereo headphones, my head still rotated back and forth out of habit, as if trying to catch missing frequencies by whichever ear could. Anyone noticing probably thought I was moving my head to music and had jittery rhythm.

I listened to the entire message twice with earbuds. Nothing changed from what I heard the first time. The transcription made a few mistakes translating her southern Louisiana accent, and it missed her beginning to say, “I…”, but she had definitely began to tell me something and stopped before the first word manifested. I was fixated on what she had begun to say, and wondered what had sparked my feeling that she could kill herself. I heard nothing other than that one subtle sound and atypically long pauses.

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

Wendy was my mother, Wendy Anne Rothdram Partin. She was a teenage mother and abandoned me when I was an infant, but visited me once a month and taught me to call her by her first name so people would think I was her little brother.2 In fairness, she had a rough life. She was a single child of a single mother who fled an abusive husband in Canada and moved Baton Rouge; in 1963, just before Kennedy was shot and killed, Granny happened to move down the street from my dad’s grandmother, Grandma Foster, near the airport and a few miles from Glen Oaks High School, and in 1971 a 16 year old Wendy met the 17 year old drug dealer of Glen Oaks, Edward Grady Partin Junior. His father, Edward Grady Partin Senior, was the famous Baton Rouge Teamster leader who collaborated with US Attorney General Bobby Kennedy and infiltrated Jimmy Hoffa’s inner circle of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Hoffa went to prison solely based on my grandfather’s word. Around the time I was being conceived at a drug-fueled New Years party, Hoffa sent secret messagea from his prison cell to all mafia families that he’d forgive their debt – about $121 Million total, a lot of money back then – if “someone” could do “something” to get Edward Partin to recant his testimony.3

Wendy didn’t know any of this. She realized she was pregnant two weeks after losing her virginity to my dad but couldn’t afford a $150 abortion, so she hastily agreed to elope. They fled to Woodville Mississippi, an hour and a half away from Baton Rouge by car, where state laws allowed teenagers to marry without parental consent. They returned to Baton Rouge and were listed as Mr. and Mrs. Edward Partin in the phone book. Our home and neighborhood were plagued by a disproportionate number of explosions, arson, accidents, shot dogs, vandalized houses, and kidnappings. Wendy had two small nervous breakdowns, and when my dad was in Jamaica buying drugs wholesale she left me at a day care near Glen Oaks High and fled to California with a man she had just met. She returned on her own a few weeks later and divorced my dad, but by then I was in foster care under orders from Judge Pugh of the East Baton Rouge Parish 19th Judicial District. She fought the Partin family for seven years and eventually regained custody of me. But old habits are hard to break, and I still call my mother Wendy.

She never remarried and had no other children or surviving family, and sometimes she called me after more than a few glasses of cheap white wine to talk about things no one else would understand. In the past few years, her slurred voice mails were beginning earlier and earlier, and she was usually passed out by happy hour my time.

I had been worried about her for years, but only for her health. But maybe she had reached her breaking point. Anyone can. And, as had been on my mind the past year, she could be like Robin Williams, Ernest Hemmingway, or a frog in a gradually warming pot of water, and not realize what was happening. I didn’t know what to do, so I stood in quiet reflection and thought about it for a while before acting.

Go to The Table of Contents


  1. To paint houses was mafia lingo for hitmen: they painted walls red with splattered blood. According to Frank, when Jimmy Hoffa first called him on what could have been a tapped phone line, he said, “I heard you paint houses.” ↩︎
  2. My custody records, like most of my family history, are easily downloaded by anyone with internet access who knows my name and my parents name. Or you could walk into the East Baton Rouge Parish 19th Judicial District and ask for paper copies. Either way, Judge Pugh, a family court judge who removed me from the Partin family and alleggedly committed suicide a year later, isn’t named by name; that’s where my family’s daily talk and apocrophyl stories help me put together a few pieces of the puzzle. Pugh’s the “trial judge” referenced by Judge JJ Lottingger, the judge who stepped in and assumed my case around the time Jimmy Hoffa vanished on 30 July 1975. Here’s what Lottingger said about my family in his 26 September 1976 custody court ruling:

    This is a suit by Edward Partin, Jr., plaintiff, seeking a divorce from his wife, Wendy Rothdram Partin, defendant, after having lived separate and apart for more than one year following a judgment of separation from bed and board. Plaintiff also seeks custody of the minor child, Jason Ian Partin, and the defendant reconvened asking that she be granted the permanent care, custody and control of the minor child.

    The Trial Court had previously, by ex parte order, awarded the temporary care, custody and control of the minor to Mr. and Mrs. James Ed White. Following trial on the merits, plaintiff was awarded a divorce as well as the permanent care, custody and control of the minor child, with the temporary physical custody of the minor child to remain with Mr. and Mrs. James Ed White. The defendant has appealed this judgment as it regards the custody of the child.

    This couple was married when plaintiff was 17 and the defendant was 16 years of age. Nine months following the marriage, they gave birth to young Jason. While we are not concerned with the facts surrounding the separation and divorce, it was apparently one of incompatibility as defendant testified that at the age of 17 she found herself married to a man who did not love her and so she left. Her testimony was as follows:

    “As I say I was emotionally upset. I was receiving little support from Edward. I was scared, very confused. I didn’t know exactly which way to turn. I felt I had no one to listen and help with the situation at hand.”

    Several weeks later she returned and lived with her husband again. She found that the situation hadn’t changed, and felt she had to get away again. She heard of a man who wanted someone to share expenses on a trip to California, so she quit her job and with her last wages left with him. She testified that she had no sexual relations with this man, and plaintiff does not accuse her of such. Following this trip she returned to Baton Rouge still emotionally upset. Her husband was suing her for separation and told her he was going to take custody of Jason. She went to live with her aunt and uncle, got a full time job with Kelly Girls paying $512.00 per month.

    In February, 1975, the defendant’s mother was injured in an accident and she moved in with her to care for her. In September, 1975, following the recuperation of the mother she returned to live with her aunt and uncle.

    During these above periods of time, the minor child lived with Mr. and Mrs. White. The Whites came to regard Jason as their own and, although the separation judgment awarded custody to the plaintiff with reasonable visitation privileges to the defendant, the Whites decided the defendant-mother could only see the child two days a month and that she could never keep the child over night. The reason the defendant did not contest custody at the separation trial was because at the time she felt unable emotionally and financially to care for her son.

    [Judge Lottinger wrote a paragraph of legal jargon here, citing the “double burden” placed on Wendy by the deceased Judge Pugh to go above and beyond what was typically necessary to regain custody.]

    We note that the petition for separation was grounded on habitual intemperance, as well as abandonment of the husband and the minor child. There are no other grounds listed for the separation nor for custody. The petition for the separation and custody of the minor child was not contested by the defendant, and a default judgment was granted. Defendant testified in the instant proceedings that the reason she did not contest custody in the separation proceeding was that she was not financially or emotionally capable of caring for the minor, and that knowing the Whites were going to be caring for him, she knew he would be in good hands.

    Though the petition for separation had as one of its allegations “habitual intemperance”, the plaintiff in the instant proceeding testified that he had never accused his wife of drinking, nor had he ever seen her drink.

    [Judge Lottinger goes on to cite a few precent cases, verdicts from previous judges in higher courts used to justify his opinions, a detail that’s less important in Louisiana’s version of the Napoleonic code, but still useful to show one’s logic and suggest unbiased decisions.]

    The welfare of the child is the main issue that the Court is concerned with. This issue is more important than any wishes or wants the parents may have. Fulco v. Fulco, 259 La. 1122, 254 So.2d 603 (1971), rehearing denied (1971). As a general rule, and in particular where children of young age are involved, preference is given to the mother in custody cases. This preference is very simply explained, the mother is normally better able to care for the child and look after the education, rearing, and training necessary. Estes v. Estes, 261 La. 20, 258 So.2d 857 (1972), rehearing denied (1972).

    No argument is made that the mother is not now morally or emotionally fit to care for the child, or that the house in which she lives is not a proper place to rear a child. In fact, the Trial Judge admitted that it was a fine home.

    The Trial Judge has not favored us with written reasons for judgment, however, we must conclude from various statements by the Trial Judge that appear in the record that he could find no fault with the defendant, nor was there anything wrong with the house in which she lived. It thus becomes apparent to this Court that the Trial Judge applied the “double burden” rule to the defendant. We have already ruled that the “double burden” rule does not apply in this situation, and thus, under the established jurisprudential rules, we can see no reason why the defendant-mother should not be granted the permanent care, custody and control of the minor child with reasonable visitation privileges granted to the father.

    In consideration of our above opinion, there is no need to discuss the specification of error as to the ex parte granting of custody to the Whites.
    Therefore, for the above and foregoing reasons, the judgment of the Trial Court is reversed, and IT IS ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that the defendant-appellant, Wendy Rothdram Partin, be and she is hereby granted the permanent care, custody and control of the minor, Jason Ian Partin, and IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that this matter be and it is hereby remanded to the Trial Court for the purpose of fixing specific visitation privileges on behalf of plaintiff-appellee Edward Partin, Jr. All costs of the appeal are to be paid by plaintiff-appellee.

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

    Frank was a soldier who questioned nothing, a seasoned combat infantryman from two years in WWII – like a lot of mafia hitmen back then – who simultaneously became a Teamster leader and hitman for Hoffa. But even he didn’t know that Hoffa had lent the mafia families $121 Million to build Las Vegas casinos and fund Hollywood films, and that Hoffa had promised them to forgive all debt if “someone” could do “something” to get my grandfather to recant his testimony. If he didn’t, or if he died, Hoffa would continue to rot in prison. $121 Million was a lot of money back then, around $6 to $12 million per family in each major city, and almost $21 Million to Carlos Marcello’s family in New Orleans. To prevent them from killing my grandfather and keeping the money while Hoffa languished behind bars, Hoffa also said that he’d cut off all future funding from the Teamsters $1.1 Billion pension fund, which was an unfathomable amount of money back then and a major reason the Kennedys pursued him for decades with what was, at the time, the most expensive and drawn out pursuit against one man in American history. Hoffa was so powerful that he defied the Kennedys and ran the mob using only the $10 or so monthly dues from 2.7 Million truck drivers who paid in cash and trusted Hoffa to invest and grow their pension fund.

    Frank said: “Jimmy told me point-blank to tell our friends back East that nothing should happen to Partin.” Frank and others like him sent word that Ed Partin must live, but to do whatever it took to his business and family to convince him to change his testimony against Hoffa.

    Marcello and the “friends back east,” Sheenan’s turf, were all motivated by $121 Million 1972 dollars: around a Billion dollars in 2020 hindsight. Though I know a thing or two about combat infantrymen like Frank, I’m not an expert on low-level mafia hitman. But, I assume they knew how to read, or at least knew someone who did, and that there were only a dozen or so Partins in the Baton Rouge phone book in the late 60’s to mid 70’s. All were my family, and all suffered shots, explosions, unexplained car wrecks, and attempted kidnappings.

    Hoffa was pardoned from prison by President Nixon the month after I was born, November of 1972, but the intimidation continued until he disappeared from a Detroit parking lot on 30 July 1975. Though I can’t be sure why, I suspect it was a combination of at least three things.

    The first is that after six years of low-level mafia hitmen trying to intimidate Edward Grady Partin’s family, they kept doing it out of habit – it’s not like the national assassin network had an on/off switch. I assume those guys never put much thought into their actions, and simply acted like trained monkeys seeking treats from bosses who hadn’t given them a second thought since suggesting they’d be pleased if “someone” influenced Edward Partin without killing him, or they continued marching forward from a deep-seeded sense of loyalty and a singularly-focused mind that didn’t realize the war was over, not unlike Japanese soldiers on remote islands sniping unsuspecting tourists a decade after WWII ended.

    The second is that Teamsters loyal to Hoffa carried a grudge against Big Daddy and acted from vengeance. Chucky O’brien, the adopted son of Jimmy Hoffa, would carry that grudge to the day he died. In late 2019, after my trip to Cuba, I’d read Chucky’s adopted son’s memoir and true-crime book about Chucky and Hoffa’s disappearance, “From Hoffa’s Shadow,” and some of Chucky’s final words as an old man in 2019 were reflecting upon the 1960’s trials against Hoffa, and Chucky summarized his sentiment concisely: “Fuckin’ Partin, I should have killed him that night, and I almost did.”

    The third is most likely. Hoffa was famously furious at Fitzgerald, his appointed front-man while Hoffa sat in prison, and was more furious to find out that his pardon came with a condition that Hoffa not hold any Teamster position for eight years. This was evident in the first words of Hoffa’s second autobiography, published in 1975 just before he vanished, more poignant if you consider that he was put into prison by Big Daddy and had spent a decade choosing his words.

    I made two disastorous mistakes in my life.

    The first was coming to grips with Robert F. Kennedy to the point where we became involed in what can only be called a blood feud. The result was that I became John F. Kennedy’s steppingston to the White Houe. And then the brothers Kennedy railroaded me to prison in March of 1967 and I spent four years and ten months in Lewisburg Penitentary.

    My second mistake was naming Frank Fitzsimmons as my successor. Maybe I should say my steward. Because everyone knew that I intended to come back and take over again as president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen, and Helpers of America.”

    Hoffa’s second autobiography was unabashedly an attempt to regain control of the Teamsters and wake up America to how politics really works. After Nixon pardoned Hoffa, the only way Hoffa could return to his beloved role was if he could overturn his original 1964 conviction that was upheld by the 1966 supreme court before he finally went to prison in 1967; the only way to do that remained getting Big Daddy to either recant his 1964 testimony, or to sign an affidavit swearing that Bobby Kennedy and Walter Sheridan used illegal wire-tapping to monitor Hoffa and plot their prosecution of him.

    From my family’s perspective, nothing changed when Nixon released Hoffa from prison. By then, Big Daddy was out of Louisiana and there was only one Edward G. Partin listed in the phone book, my dad, and Wendy and I lived there with him. Wendy never spoke of that time, but, knowing what we know now, you can imagine the understatement of her testimony:

    “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.”

    It’s not surprising that Wendy had a nervous breakdown and abandoned me. What’s remarkable is that she came back and fought the Partin family face-to-face to regain me: not even Jimmy Hoffa or The Irishman had the balls to do that, despite all of their tough-guy mafia lingo and strong words later in life, long after Big Daddy passed away.

    Most of those house painters are dead now, so I’ll never know what really happened. When I returned from combat at 18 years old, I spoke a bit of their language and was much bigger than when I was a kid in the 70’s. I briefly tried to imagine what I would have said to some of those men in private, to discuss cleaning up the mess they leave behind. Whether they painted a few houses out of blind loyalty or simple-minded ignorance, I imagine my first few words with them would have been the same. ↩︎