Havana 6

“The defense then tried to get into the record some reference to Partin’s friendliness with Fidel Castro. It sought to introduce a letter from a Cuban general thanking Partin for help in training Castro’s militia. It tried to show that Partin had been trying to lease freighters to run arms into Cuba. But, needless to say, Prosecutor Neal’s objections blocked every effort.

Jimmy Hoffa in “Hoffa: The Real Story,” 1970

Tim had barely changed in 20 years. He was a cherub-faced Irish Bostonian with eight siblings and a mother he adored and called frequently, and a friendly smile that belied his kill count. Despite having been in Cuba for a few weeks, he still had rosy cheeks and a pale complexion from no sunlight in his Washington DC office. There wasn’t even a hint of raccoon eyes. He probably wore a wide brim hat and used sunscreen diligently. He had always been more cautious and diligent than I ever was.

He grinned and rubbed his baby-butt smooth chin and said that though my beard made me look older, it suited me.

“I grew it out in Nepal,” I said, absent-mindedly stroking my beard like Tim stroked his imaginary one. “It keeps my face warm in snow. I’ll probably shave it to fit my mask soon.”

He nodded as if that made sense, and we plopped down and we jumped back in to a conversation that hadn’t stopped since we met in 1991. We reminisced about diving u-boats off Cape Hatteras and recovering mines in the Red Sea, and climbing Grandfather Mountain near television’s town of Mayberry, and I told him about climbs in the Himalayas the year before. We spoke rapidly with a flow only possibly between old friends, and probably would still be talking if the bartender hadn’t approached. Tim asked for a mojito. The bartender nodded to him and said he knew just what to make, winked at me, tapped the table, and whirled around. Tim grinned at the wink; a long time ago, he had taught me that bartenders were your best ally in a new town when you didn’t know anyone. We changed gears while the bartender worked his magic, and swapped a few updates about each other and people we knew. He finally asked what brought me to Cuba.

“Wait,” I said, because the bartender arrived. “You gotta try this.” I smiled and nodded respectfully towards the bartender. “This guy’s a maestro de mojito!”

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 just as deftly. The guy was good. I sipped water to reduce the alcohol muddling my mind and loosening my tongue, and to allow Irish Tim to catch up.

“Hey, Tim,” I said with a grin. “Did you hear about the Irishman who walked out of a bar?”

I paused, and he smirked and said he hadn’t.

I shrugged and twisted my lips into a nonchalant dismissal said, “It could happen…”

He forced a groan, but I could tell he’d use it soon. We sipped and talked about rum and mint for a minute. I lamented to him about not having a knife. He offered his. I declined and said I’d look for one on the streets the next day, that I wanted to walk around and see what was for sale to most people, anyway.

“I’m on some kind of entrepreneurship visa,” I finally said. “Obama added it towards the end of his last term. I’m supposed to ‘promote entrepreneurship,’ whatever that means. It was a chance to come here without adding more time on flights to Mexico or Toronto or risking a bullshit misdemeanor.”

I sat upright and put on a pretentious air and said, “Now that I’m at a university, I figure I should be respectable.”

He said that was unlikely to ever happen. I told him to go fuck himself, then about bout my new role at the University of San Diego, the only Catholic University in America not under control of the diocese. That kindled his interest, and I elaborated.

“I lead a few classes and designed an innovation lab,” I said. “A hands-on lab that’s hands-off when it comes to letting people iterate ideas without fear of failure. A San Diego billionaire’s widow donated $21 Million to make it. He was Donald Shiley, an engineer who invented the world’s most successful heart valve in his garage.”

I paused just a moment to let that word sink in. “They renamed the school after him. It’s now the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, and it’s centered around ‘Donald’s Garage,” the innovation lab I run. USD recruited a dean from another university that won awards for integrating entrepreneurship into all classes, like a constant theme. He had Mrs. Marcos’s money to spend, so he didn’t have to work with PhD’s entrenched in the Ponzi scheme. I got lucky. I run the lab with about 36 student employees, including a bunch of vets from Afghanistan on a free ride. Tuition’s $56,000 a year, but the VA has bumped up disabled vet’s GI Bills to attend any school they want.”

I let that sink in. In our day, after almost four years of service and two tours, I was capped at $36,000 to pay for college. Tim had joined with a degree from Boston University in political science and American literature. He knew he’d never go back, so he waived the GI Bill to keep the $100 per month it cost and spent it on beer for everyone in the barracks. Every liked Timmy; for a while, we tried to nickname him Irish Tim as a play on his prodigious liver, but Timmy stuck. Timmy was the only one left alive who called me JP, a play on JP-4 and limited to a group of us who first experienced nausea from jet fuel together in the second-only accelerated jump school in American history, reduced to two weeks by eliminating a week of tower jumps and made possible by General Stormin’ Norman Scwarzcoff and a team of Washgington REMF’s who called our class necessary as “body replacements” for the impending first ground war in Iraq; it was, in my opinion, the most ill-conceived and demoralizing phrase to tell a bunch of kids who had volunteered for service in the history of America. It’s possible that Timmy and I are the only two soldiers from that 1990 class still alive.

I nodded towards the Rolex on Tim’s left wrist and said, “Two were in Group. One was in Fallulah, and has a scar around his head from an AK47 round that spun around the inside of his Kevlar.” I ran my finger around my head like a halo.

“The other lost both legs and his nuts in Herat.” I didn’t feel the need to illustrate.

“They run small teams of students and most of the lab. We also have a few Saudi Arabian royalty who can afford the tuition and want to spend a few years in San Diego.” I thought he’d question that, but he merely cocked his head and let it sink in; we both had small medals from the Saudi royal family, who had offered to pay the 82nd Airborne $2,000 each – all 12,000 of us – as if we were mercenaries; instead, America scored a lot of oil, and I received $36,000 to pay for my first engineering degree.

“I lead a couple of project-based engineering classes and break the class into teams,” I said. “A couple of the guys volunteer to help coach team leaders. A few of the kids pick up on the techniques without us having to sound like those assholes who flap their lips about their service and call themselves motivational speakers or consultants.”

“So after I got the visa,” I said, “I had a call that rekindled my interest in my grandfather.”

I sipped my Mojito to help change gears. Tim mimicked absent-mindedly, leaning in a bit as if sincerely interested in my grandfather. Since 1992, when we were selected for an experimental program of peacekeepers in the Middle East, we’ve had access to documents that never made sense until the next one was released or discovered and added another piece to a big puzzle. That big picture was only just beginning to show hints of what it could be, and it was looking like my grandfather was more important than even I had imagined.

I set my drink on the bar and leaned forward and said, “Have you heard of Scorcese’s upcoming film, The Irishman?”

“Yeah,” he said without hesitation; he had always been a film buff.

“With DeNiro and Pacino,” he said. “About the guy from the 45th Infantry who says he killed Hoffa.”

“Yeah; he failed out of jump school. And Joe Pesci and Ray Ramono and all the Scorsece favorites people pay to see,” I added.

“He raised $257 Million to hire all the big guns to play the people who were around Hoffa back then.” I paused just a bit and said, “Edward Partin is a small part in the film…”

I paused again to let the pun I tossed land, but it went over his head and fell flat. I made a mental note to improve my enunciation and timing; like making a perfect cocktail, humor takes iteration. I continued, “The actor playing my grandfather called us to research the role. Do you know Craig Vincent?”

He didn’t.

“Craig had a small part in Casino. He was the big guy in a cowboy hat that Joe Pesci reached up and slapped on behalf of DeNiro.”

A light bulb turned on in Tim’s mind and lit up Tim’s face, and he said, “Oh, right. When he was on the phone.”

I nodded yes and said, “He’s an Italian Catholic from New Jersey, and got the role for my grandfather despite being dark skinned and with an accent more like yours than mine.” I exaggerated Tim’s lingering New England nasal tone and quick cadence; it’s no wonder he didn’t catch the Partin pun.

“He called my uncle, Keith, to research the part. Kieth’s still president of the Baton Rouge Teamsters, so he was easy to find. So was my aunt, Janice. She’s a genealogy website contact for the Partin family. That led to me.”

I put up a finger and sipped my mojito, mostly to slow down my thoughts and not rant, but also because it was approaching room temperature and I wanted a fresh cold one. Tim sipped his faster than I did, which was good. My tongue was looser than his by then, and I wanted us to be on level ground so I wouldn’t feel foolish thinking out loud. Like telling a bartender to experiment, working out a thought takes trial and error without feeling judged, a sounding board that helps distill a story like starting with a gallon of wort and making a pint of gin.

“Anyway,” I said. “He looked up an old Youtube of…” I hesitated for a fraction of a second; I almost said Big Daddy, which told me I was drunk. Tim didn’t seem to notice. I continued, “My grandfather, so he knew the accent. And he had watched Brian Dennehy copy it in Blood Feud when my grandfather was still alive and people knew what he sounded like.”

“But Craig couldn’t do the southern accent. Scorcese tweaked the role to fit Craig, and my grandfather became ‘Big Eddie Partin’ who looked and sounded like Craig. Craig said he wanted to honor his mother with his work, and to focus on the nuances of my grandfather’s behavior that let him fool Hoffa. I respected that.”

Timmy took a deep breath and glanced down, nodding his head. In conversations stretching back to 1990, we had pondered how to honor our mother and father, the only one of the bible’s ten commandments without an obvious answer or illustrative parable. He looked back up and I continued.

“I told Craig to watch Brian Dennehey in Blood Feud and sent him a bootleg DVD from 1983. My grandfather was still alive and everyone knew what he looked and sounded like, so Brian had to nail it. His natural calm demeanor sold the role to people. My grandfather planned ahead and knew how to wait. He could sit in a deer stand all night and wait for a one-shot kill. Craig never served, but I tried to make a sniper analogy. I said my grandfather was patient, calm, always smiling, and unconcerned about misses; even if he was standing next to you, he was so far away that no one realized they were being sniped.”

I paused to let the layered metaphor hit its mark, though it wasn’t 100% truthful. Walter described Big Daddy being nervous before walking into Hoffa’s hotel room to report what he saw and heard. In fairness, he went unarmed and knew he’d be surrounded by a dozen armed men as big as he was and fiercely loyal to Hoffa, who was only 5’6″, but smart to not feel bashful recruiting the biggest, roughest men he could find; the fact that Hoffa made Big Daddy the “Sergeant at Arms” to protect his inner circle tells you just how deadly Big Daddy could be. He always smiled, except around my dad; I had seem Big Daddy lose his calm demeanor and pull a knife on is oldest son twice; but, in fairness, my dad has that effect on most people. Otherwise, Big Daddy was a patient man, confident and smiling and charming. It was as if he always knew things no one else did.

“People trusted him. They adored him. He was a false god.”

I was trapped in thought, and I fluffed my shirt absent-mindedly and said, “He set his hunting clothes outside for a few days before hunting to camouflage human scents,” I tapped my nose and added, “He was just like The Sergeant Major, big on using your other senses in darkness.”

I relaxed and pulled back, and said with a smug air, “I told Craig that the only fabrication I noticed was the scene where the guy playing Walter slaps Brian Dennehy and Brian whimpers like a bitch. Craig joked that Brian deserved a slap, and I agreed.”1

“You’d like Craig,” I said, relaxed again. “He was raised Catholic and talked about his mom a lot, and how proud she was that he scored another role in a Scorcese film. His part is only about 20 minutes, but he took it seriously.”2

Here,” I said, and pulled out I Heard You Paint Houses, and handed it to Tim. “The film’s based on a book that came out just before the police records vanished.”

He laughed at the worn edges and marked up pages. He said, “I remember getting my Let’s Go Israel back from you like this,” he said. “worn out and written on.”

I beamed and reached into my bag and showed him my Lonely Planet and all the scribbles around the Plaza de San Francisco de Asi, and we had a good laugh and talked about counties we had seen together for a while. I told him about the Lonely Planet selling for $51 Million Euros and the two hippy founders becoming millionaires. He was uninterested; he never had an entrepreneurial spirt. I returned to The Irishman.

“Painting houses was mob lingo for making a wall red with someone’s blood,” I said. I took the book and opened to a page and showed him something I had bracketed:

“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.”

Tim asked. I said I didn’t know for sure, but I that I couldn’t imagine my grandfather ever doing anything for anyone else.

“He never wanted a boss,” I said. “I think that’s where I got my interest in entrepreneurship.”

I pointed to the book. “There’s a ton in here about the mob and Bay of Pigs, and Castro and Kennedy,” I said. “And the Bay of Pigs. And Audey Murphy. But that’s too many subplots, so Scorcese whittled it down. He said he wasn’t making a documentary, that he was making entertainment to sell tickets. People from his generation just wanted to know who killed Hoffa, and younger people will buy tickets for anything with DeNiro and those guys.”

I flipped to chapter 20. The first paragraph was circled, and several sentences of the second were underlined. It was the most marked-up chapter, with practically every other paragraph a gold mine of information that probably meant more to me than anyone else left alive.

“He talks a lot about Audie and Richard Nixon,” I told Tim. “But Craig said all of that was left out of the script.”

“Funny,” I said, “Craig’s the first person I’ve ever heard question that big part in the story…”

Nothing. Damnit. I’d work on it.

Tim asked about me writing a version. I admitted I was working on it.

“Craig offered to introduce me to a ghost writer.” I pointed to the book cover. “Like Charles Brant. But even I don’t like books like this. Besides, I don’t know more than anyone else. Almost all but a few family stories are splattered throughout books and court records. A few hotel names and such… oh! Have you heard of the Havana Cabana?”

Tim hadn’t, but said that a lot of hotels went under after the embargo. That made sense, and I was surprised that I hadn’t thought about the effects of the embargo on businesses, and I told Timmy that’s why I’m a horrible entrepreneurship ambassador.

“That’s part of why I’m here,” I said, continuing our original thread. “I bought a couple of books on how to write books, and I wanted nothing else to think about. I just want to dive and climb and eat and try to make it into a story. I was thinking of linking it to my high school wrestling coach. They never met, but their timelines overlap.”

I held up my scared left hand and held it like Spock form Star Trek’s famous salute to live long and prosper; my fingers spread the gap without trying due to an old wrestling break on my ring finger that healed with a bulge.

“Coach was there when Hillary Clinton broke my finger in city finals, two weeks before Big Daddy’s funeral, when Walter caught me and picked my brain about his final words.”

Tim didn’t indicate if he noticed that I said Big Daddy, and he already knew about Hillary, a coincidentally named brute who was captain of the Capital High Lions when I was co-captain of Belaire High Bengals under Coach Ketelsen. Hillary was a the three-time undefeated state champion, and after seeing the film “Vision Quest,” a wrestling version of the more popular “Karate Kid,” I set my sites on Hillary at the beginning of my senior year.3 He pummeled me seven times and pinned me 46 seconds into the second round of finals my senior year, so my story wouldn’t be made into a film, and in 1990 no one I knew knew who the future first-lady and secretary of state was so no one got the joke. Hillary Clinton faded from my mind until Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992 and released the first part of the JFK and Martin Luther King Junior Assassination report, and then I showed my finger around the barracks with a huge grin, telling everyone who would listen about wrestling Hillary Clinton.

I shrugged to Tim and said, “Maybe Martin Scorcese will make a film about it one day. What really happened. It would be long; there were hundreds of people involved that I know of. I wouldn’t know how to begin whittling it down to a two hour film. That’s why I was thinking of making it about Coach instead, and making his story tell the story of Hoffa and Kennedy as a sub-plot and end with me wrestling Hillary Clinton. I can’t imagine a ghost writer nailing down the nuances and contrasts.”

Our conversation slipped into films, mostly centered around DeNiro and Pacino, like Raging Bull and Scarface, which got us laughing again. The mojitos came again and the bartender laughed a bit with us without knowing why, and made sure our waters were filled without even Tim noticing. We sipped and chatted our way through the 1980’s war films and others we liked and even laughed at, like Apocolypse Now, Platoon, The Deer Hunter, Tropic Thunder (the spoof with Robert Downey Junior as a black man who looked and talked remarkably like The Sergeant Major), and a few others. We were both laughing too loudly when we reached the 2001 film Black Hawk Down. We stopped laughing, and tried to recover momentum, but our efforts fell as flat as my puns about Ed Partin being a part in history. Both of us stared at our mojitos rather than make eye contact.

Tim looked up and spoke first.

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

“To Mike,” I said, clanking my glass against his.

Tim tapped his glass on the counter and we both drank deeply. I put down my empty glass. 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. Timmy sat silently. Veterans have four times the suicide rate as the civilian population. You never get immune to the pain, thank God, and you know how to remain silent when someone feels it. All loss is painful, but I’m biased to believe that the loss of a friend you had fought beside and lived to fight again cuts deeper than most people will ever know; no book or film we know has ever captured the feeling.

We sipped silently for a bit until our glasses emptied, then we sat in silence and ostensibly listened to the music. 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 face-up and pretended to scribble on it with an invisible pen held in my right, the universal sign for the check: la cuenta, por favor. He nodded, tapped the counter, and went to his pile of notes and fished around for ours. I deftly snuck out a few twenties from my money belt. Even drunk, I can do math well, unless my memory is slipping. 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 and probably remember me next time.

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 give them away to drivers as a tip and have them get the pun.”

He cocked his head, unsure where I was going.

“Seriously. It’s fun, especially if you meet a kid who wants to talk with an American.”

I slowed my cadence and slipped in a reoccurring point in our talks that cut Tim like a sharp knife. “It’s like you learned in Catholic school: giving gifts and sharing knowledge is a good way to build teams.” He ignored me; I always returned to the unambiguous Thou Shall Not Kill. I returned to the tip.

I showed him how to shove it in and hold your thumb pointing towards someone so less plastic was visible. It takes just a few seconds and is easy to learn. It’s a tip that would keep on giving long after a dollar was forgotten. Tim saw the light, but he couldn’t think of anything colloquial that would be funny. I thought of another idea.

I looked down and rubbed my thinning hair and said, “Hair today, gone tomorrow?”

He couldn’t think of anything for that, either. He still had the same unremarkable hairstyle, just peppered grey, and probably couldn’t relate.

“What good are you?” I asked with a huge smile. I offered him a tip. He declined. He never appreciated magic. He relished the book, though, especially with my notes. We hadn’t talked about Audey in years. Several of our friends either went through AIT or rehabilitation in the San Antonio Audey Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital, and a few of us remembered his films. He had been an all-American hero to The Sergeant Major’s generation. But, like how most kids today don’t really know who Hoffa was, most young soldiers may recognize the name Audey Murphy but don’t really know the whole story.

We stood to part ways. I straightened up to hug him and 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.

“I don’t like to see my friends hurting,” he said.

“I don’t want to talk about it now,” I said, “but it’s mostly from sitting all day.”

He reluctantly acquiesced and hugged me and wished me well. A lesser man would have persisted. Timing is crucial in many things, and Timmy had always been patient.

We left and I dropped a folded up five in the band’s bulbous brass tip bucket – at least I thought it was a tip bucket, not a spittoon to match the foot rail- with the five obviously showing to alert other patrons who wondered how much to tip. 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 volume camouflaged conversations without overwhelming them. We didn’t have to raise our voices, and it would have been practically impossible to overhear or record us.

The place had grown packed since I arrived, but I hadn’t paid attention until then. I glanced down, and my five was atop of mostly US dollars and a scattering of local pesos. I looked back up and The French horn player, and our gazes met. He nodded without missing a beat. I kept the gaze and nodded back, then limped out the double doors. I realized I was limping, and reminded myself I was drunk. I took a deep breath and shook my head, and slowed my gait and focused on walking well. I glanced around at the gorgeous architecture that reminded me of New Orleans. Anyone noticing would have assumed I was immersed in an evening stroll, and they’d be right.

I stumbled to the casa particular and arrived a bit late. The family was pleasant and the room was as expected. They went to bed and I shut the door without locking it. I felt dizzy, and cursed myself for drinking too much. Then I said to myself that it was worth it. Old friends are the best friends.

I left the door to the courtyard open and listened to small frogs chirping like crickets. I laid down a towel and stretched on the cold Spanish tiled floor. I smiled and thought that maybe Douglas Adams was right, every traveler should carry a towel.

After about 20 minutes of Yoga, my scalene quit twitching and emotions began to flow out of tense muscles, and I began to sob. I remained in a modified downward dog, and saw a few tears fall onto the towel, instantly vanishing into the frayed fuzzy texture, invisible now but with hints of salt drying in the fibers that modern science would probably be able to detect years from now. I let the tears fall. The younger self in my mind’s eye was clueless about how much he’d miss those days when they were no longer feasible or possible, and he was sad to see his friends and know he’d never see them again. Mike and many others. I let the wound bleed, because bleeding cleans the wound. The nicest thing I could do for that kid deep inside me was to let him shed tears silently and unrushed, with no closing time and nowhere else to be, and with nothing marking time but crickets in a courtyard singing a song through an open door.

But life is for the living. I thought of Timmy, and of other friends still around, and I knew I’d see Tim again soon; especially because when we hugged goodbye, I stole his watch. It was sitting on my nightstand.

I smiled and went to bed on a good note, my door open and listening to crickets sing me a lullaby.

Go to The Table of Contents


  1. Brian Dennehy was a famous actor during my teenage years, known for playing handsome, strong, and honorable men; albeit usually in supporting or second-fiddle roles. In addition to portraying Big Daddy in 1983, he portrayed the small-town sherif in 1982’s “Rambo: First Blood” alongside Sylvester Stallone as the PTSD-suffering Vietnam veteran Special Forces soldier who breaks into a national guard armory and shoots up the sherif’s town in that famous bullshit scene where he wields a M-60 in one arm that bulges with muscles and uses his other arm to drape a never-ending coil of M-60 ammo. Brian’s sherif character was calm in the storm, a leader tasked with managing a small army of hot-headed kid deputies hell-bent on capturing Rambo. I’m sure characters like the sheriff existed and were necessary, especially in the draft-era days of Vietnam. On the sheriff’s desk was a nuance that told a separate story for anyone paying attention: a display case of medals and photos of buddies from the Korean war. Brian ran with that image in real-life, adding to his marketability, and he spoke of his military service in a way that made people admire his calm, non-PTSD demeanor even more; later, he’d apologize as real heroes unveiled him as having “stolen valor” worse than a vet exaggerating his service, because Brian never even enlisted. To say he deserved a slap would be the nicest thing I had heard real heroes say about Brian Dennehy, and no matter how accurately he portrayed Big Daddy I probably would have given him a wake-up slap myself. ↩︎
  2. Craig’s role as Big Daddy was edited down to only about 5 minutes. Even then, the film was released at a whopping 3 hours and 29 minutes. Scorcese was kind enough to give Craig the unused footage for his portfolio. The film missed its summer release date and was sent to theaters just before the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic shuttered all doors globally, but Netflix bought it and The Irishman set streaming records that persisted for a couple of years.

    Craig, in researching his role of Big Daddy, “Big Eddie Partin” in The Irishman, was one of the few people who saw hints of the big picture simply by reading a few books and asking the question of which traits or nuances could an actor portray to show an audience what Big Daddy was like, to convey the mystery of, after all of the Kennedy’s and FBI’s efforts to “get Hoffa,” and Hoffa’s extreme dilligence and small circle of trust, what was it about Big Daddy that led people to trust him and fear him. We spoke of it several times, and it’s a long story that I’m still not sure how to tell. But, Hoffa was on to something in his first autobiography, dictated from prison and published in 1970, where he tried to describe characters of his life like characters in a movie. He said:

    “Forget about decency. Forget abouyt privacy. I ask only that the principles of American justice and democracy be considered, as I tell the tale of Edward Grady Partin.

    It was Edward Grady Partin who volunteered the testimony that sealed my doom in the Chattanooga court.

    You may have read about him. Thanks to a government sponsorship he was protrayed as something of a national hero. He somehow looked the part, too: a rugged, firm-jawed man with slightly wavy hair and the appearance of sincereity and honesty that would have made him a successful salesman. Auh, you’d say upon meeting him, there’s a true-blue American, a churchgoer, no doubt, a man who contributes regularly to charity, a fellow who devotes much time to community-service groups, a chap who turns over most of his paycheck to a devoted wife.”

    That’s a lot of sub-plot for a film entitled and focused around “The Irishman.” Martin Scorcese himself admitted he was making a film to sell tickets as entertainment, not a documentary about the principles of American justice and democracy. Because of that, despite his diligence in researching Big Daddy, Craig adapted his role to fit the screen and did a fine job as Big Eddie Partin, a small part in Martin Scorcese’s film about The Irishman. ↩︎
  3. Vision Quest was based on a teen-centric novel of the same name, a book John Irving, himself in the national wrestling hall of fame, would say was the best book of wrestling ever written; it would be hard to compete with that. Like a lot of John’s novels, Vision Quest didn’t convey to film exactly as the writer may have hoped. Vision Quest floundered in the American box office, and was released in Europe as “a film starring Madona,” because the then-unknown mega-star had a cameo singing a background song as Mathew Modine danced with an older girl and pondered how many calories he could burn by having sex, accurately showing how many wrestlers are focused on, in priority: wrestling, making weight, and sex. I was the same, which is why I was only partially listening to my grandfather’s stories as I pondered things more important to me at the time.

    Like kids today, when I overheard conversations or talked with family, I only had a vague idea of who people in history were. I often confused the three Kennedy brothers, especially because the Kennedy family had showcased them for decades to prep America for an inevitable President Kennedy; my family and adoring housewives of neighborhood kids spoke of the brothers with similar familiarity, calling them Bobby, Johnny, and Teddy: I still confuse which one was like Big Daddy and arrested for manslaughter. Similarly, after Jimmy Hoffa Senior vanished, Jimmy Hoffa Junior soon assumed his role as national Teamster president when my two uncles, Big Daddy’s little brother Doug Partin and youngest son Keith Partin, continued to run Local #5; I still confused words I heard attributed to Hoffa with the Senior and Junior leaders. Like Hoffa Senior wrote, the list goes on and on and quickly becomes confusing, and all of those names swap places in my memories, especially knowing what I know now. Discerning actual memories from what forms in my mind upon reflection 40 years later makes writing a memoir challenging. It’s tempting to be like Brian Dennehy and fake it, but then I’d be as big of an asshole as he was.

    I have to write something that helps move narration forward. As John Irving discussed in his collection of short stories and memoirs, “Saving Piggy Sneed,” a writer’s memories become what we write, and in a way the fictionalized version more accurately captures the emotions, sentiments, experiences, and context than movie camera in real-time would have. Our memories are flawed, and we try our best to condense a lifetime into a few words; please read anything I write with that in mind. ↩︎