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.”Jimmy Hoffa in “Hoffa: The Real Story,” 1975
I landed in Cuba on a 30 day entrepreneurship visa and was pondering my grandfather’s role in President Kennedy’s assassination, and was listening to voice mail with an already outdated iPhone 8 pressed against my left ear. My right forefinger was poked into my right ear to block out the din of downtown traffic and the faint crashing of waves against the malecon, where a driver had dropped me off and pointed me towards the Plaza de San Francisco de Asi, one of only two places the driver said a gringo could get public WiFi, even in 2019. I was stretching my hamstrings by leaning forward into a lunge pose and alternating each rotating my neck to stretch it while glancing around the plaza and scoping out the venues, looking for a pub with a stand-up bar and live music.
My head hurt, my back ached, and I was wound up from sitting in confined spaces next to chatty people. I was only half-heartedly listening to messages; in my mind, I was debating whether or not to take an 800 mg prescription strength ibuprofen from the plastic bottle I kept in a convenient pocket outside of my backpack. I had been taking the pinkie-tip sized 800 mg tablets for 35 years – we called them Airborne candy when I was in the army – and the white chalky residue led to a placebo effect that immediately let me forget about head and back aches, probably because I believed it would work within twenty minutes based on past experiences, but also just as likely because the taste and ritual reminded myself of my relatively invincible youth; each pill was a time capsule that transports me to a time when Snap! Crackle! and Pop! was a breakfast cereal slogan rather than my joints when I stand up after sitting too long. The pills are easy, but I had recently read a meta-analysis on the risks of daily ibuprofen use ligament tears and ibuprofen. In short: long-term daily use of ibuprofen was shown to correlate with ACL tears in professional football players and a few elite military units, and that human data corresponded with rat studies where rats who took prodigious amounts of ibuprofen had post-mortem ACL tear-strength 40% less than the rats who did not. Several diverse labs repeated the tests, and I was confident that I should temper my ibuprofen consumption, but reluctant to travel without them. I hoped the rattle of pills inside the plastic bottle provided enough of a time capsule that I’d soon stop thinking about them as a first resort.
None of the research teams locked onto other studies that ibuprofen is an SSRI and therefore acts as an anti-depressant in addition to reducing inflammation and pain sensations, so the rats with weak ACLs may have died happier. I smiled a bit at the thought of happy lab rat, looked skyward, straightened my shoulders, and arched my back in a slow stretch that I hoped would counter the long day of sitting. At Stanford University, another study applied physical pain to a bunch of rodents but with one group surgically altered to somehow disconnected the part of their brains that ruminate or suffer, and they behaved happier than non-altered rodents trapped in identical cages who may have thought about their situation too much. In humans, placebos work as well or better than most medications and surgeries in randomized, double blinded research studies, which means there’s a mental effect we can’t deny. After the mid 2010’s opioiod crisis, the VA Healthcare system, after a decade of overprescribing opiods, recognized the mental affect of chronic pain, and began recommending mindful meditation to recondition the brain into not ruminating over pain. In theory, pain is subjective and suffering is dependent on duration and rumination, so, with daily practice, mindfulness can eventually reclassify pain in the brain as a sensation, just like any other sensation or sense that can be ignored, rather than an absolute measure of pain that demands our attention. The handy bottle of Airborne candy in my backpack was a problem for me, because the ease of access distracted my thoughts away from focusing, and not taking one was as hard as not taking opioids or grabbing a beer to unwind. The bottle of pills called my name, not just my name, but my old army nickname, telling me I could take one or two and drive on. Just as loudly, the bars circling Plaza de San Francisco beckoned like sirens with promises to forget about aches and pains for the evening, to pump happiness into my body rather than allowing tension to leave.
I sighed, and mindlessly pushed play for a message from Wendy despite reading the transcription on my screen, because it never worked well on people with a southern accent and I almost always had to listen to the message, anyway. Suddenly, I stopped feeling aches and pains, and I didn’t even notice the sensations. I slowly stood upright and stared at the phone in my hand. I had heard a sound during a pause in Wendy’s voice mail, a sound so subtle it was undetected by the transcription software. Inexplicably, that sound trigged a feeling that Wendy was planning to commit suicide, and had called me in an effort to reach out to someone; I had no reason to suspect she would, it was just a feeling that overwhelmed me and shouted louder than the aches and pains that had plagued my mind only moments before. My heartbeat had sped up as if I had been jogging instead of stretching, and my breath became more frequent and less deep. I almost called her right then.
Gut instincts can be wrong, so I put in my earbuds – or iBuds or whatever they’re called – and listened to her message again, looking for nuances that few, if any, other people would have noticed or understood.
“Hey Jason, it’s Wendy,” she began, followed by a pause.
“I know you’re going to Cuba, but I was hoping to speak with you about my will.”
“It’s not a big deal,” she said quickly and continued at a similar pace, clumping words so they almost sounded as one: “I’d just like to add Cindi as executor because you travel so much.”
Wendy was my mother, Wendy Anne Rothdram Partin. She had taught me to call her by her first name when I was in the Louisiana foster system and she was 16 years old, ashamed to be a high school dropout who had abandoned her son. She had visited me once a month for seven years, and hoped people would think I was her little brother. She regained custody, but old habits are hard to break and I still called my mother Wendy.
She had called about her will several times over the past ten or fifteen years, and every time she used the same brisk cadence. And, no matter where I was on Earth, she always called an hour or so before happy hour in San Diego; she lived near St. Francisville, Louisiana, a remote community about an hour upriver of Baton Rouge, and her 6pm was my usual 4pm; her 8am was my 6am, and her lunch was when I usually had up to a hundred students waiting to see me. It was difficult for us to coordinate talking when she was sober, and I avoided speaking with her when she was drunk. After a few drinks, she almost always mentions my father, laughs awkwardly, and jokes that she was born WAR, but marrying Edward Partin WARPed her and that’s why she drinks. Sometimes she forgets who she’s talking to, and slurs that she should have found the money for an abortion, then she wouldn’t have married him. We had an atypical mother-son relationship.
“And I thought…,” she said. I took two breaths in the pause… “It’s not important. Call me back when you can.”
There was another pause, and a sigh as subtle as the b in subtle.
“Tell Cristi I said hello, and I hope y’all are enjoying San Diego,” she said quickly.
Most people listening would say she forced her tone to seem upbeat.
“If I miss you,” she finished, “Have fun in Cuba and we’ll talk when you get back.”
I rewound the message – an archaic term for cassette answering machines that I still say in my head – and listened two more times. After she said, “And I thought…,” I held my breath… I thought I heard a hint of “I,” but fading before manifesting. I don’t know why it triggered my sense of dread, but when I listened the third time I still felt it, though much less strongly. I knew I was fatigued, and I knew that the old adage of fatigue can make a coward out of anyone has a corollary: fatigue can make your mind see or perceive things that aren’t reality. I sighed, and pondered what to do.
It was the first day of what I planned to be a three month sabbatical, a month in Cuba thanks to President Obama’s new visa to promote entrepreneurship (whatever that means), and two months of hopping around Caribbean islands, climbing and diving and following any leads about my grandfather’s and father’s time there in 1962 and 1973. My grandfather was Edward Grady Partin Senior, famous for sending Jimmy Hoffa to prison and a possible suspect in President Kennedy’s 1963 assassination who had allegedly visited Castro in 1962, despite the embargo, and my father was Edward Grady Partin Junior, the drug dealer of Glen Oaks High School who had allegedly left Wendy and me in 1973 to buy prescription opioids in bulk from somewhere in the Carribbean islands, probably swiped from an American offshore pharmaceutical manufacturer in Puerto Rico and distributed to regional drug lords. I had spent the day of flights glued to my e-reader, rereading my childhood custody reports and dad’s arrest records, the 1979 congressional John F. Kennedy Assassination Report, and the 2014 memoir that had prompted Martin Scorcese’s upcoming Hoffa and mafia epic, The Irishman, that was full of pages about my grandfather, President Nixon, and Audie Murphy in 1971, around the time my dad met Wendy, just as Nixon pardoned Hoffa and Hoffa still needed my grandfather’s testimony revoked to return to leading the Teamsters. My custody records overlap with Audie’s death, Nixon’s reelection and pardoning Hoffa, and Hoffa’s 1975 disappearance; that’s why Wendy had been on my mind the entire flight, and several of the characters in our story had committed suicide, which may be why I reacted to her voice mail with a perception that she was reaching out to me.
Wendy had met my dad, Edward Grady Partin Junior, the drug dealer of Glen Oaks High School, in the winter of 1971 and lost her virginity to him on New Years Eve. Two weeks later, she realized she was pregnant. She couldn’t afford a $150 abortion, so she accepted my dad’s proposal. They dropped out of school and eloped to Woodville, Mississippi, where my dad had family and a couch to crash on, and where state laws didn’t require parental consent for teenagers to marry. They returned to Baton Rouge as Mr. and Mrs. Edward Grady Partin, and I was born ten months later, on 05 October 1972. (Gestation takes ten months, not nine; the myth comes from births nine months after wedding nights.) Wendy and my dad moved into one of grandfather’s houses, and she soon had a series of small nervous breakdowns abandoned me twice. She returned less than a week later the first time. The second time she left was a few weeks later, and she brought me to a daycare center business ran from someone’s home near Glen Oaks, and drove to California with a young man she had met that morning. He had just scribbled a note saying he was leaving for California, and had space for someone with gas money. She saw it as a sign. My dad was away again, buying drugs wholesale somewhere in the Carribbean. She did the best she could, gave the daycare Linda White’s phone number, her best friend who was still a junior at Glen Oaks, and left Louisiana, and left me in Louisiana while she shared gas to California.
Wendy’s nervous breakdowns had many reasons, but in the early 1970’s they centered around my dad and our Partin family. Wendy’s new father in law, Edward Grady Partin Senior, known in Baton Rouge called Big Daddy, was known nationally as an all-American hero, a working class man who saved Bobby Kennedy’s life by risking his own to send Jimmy Hoffa to prison. For two decades, the public taunts between Bobby and Hoffa were so intense that media dubbed it “The Blood Feud,” which was the name of a 1983 film centered around Hoffa and my grandfather, back when everyone remembered who they were and actors were chosen to resemble known faces. (Brian Dennehy portrayed Big Daddy’s southern charm well enough, Robert Blake won an accademy award for “channeling Hoffa’s rage, and a daytime soap opera heart throb played the tall and handsome Bobby Kennedy.) During Hoffa’s 1964 trial, Big Daddy was Bobby’s secret witness, and simultaneously a leading suspect in President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 assassination; New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison indicted Big Daddy in his trial against Clay Shaw, the only trial against anyone for Kennedy’s assassination, based on reports of Big Daddy driving Lee Harvey Oswald around and a photo of him with Jack Ruby just before Ruby killed Oswald; the two witnesses and the photo vanished before the trial. A 1968 Time expose on organized crime showcased Big Daddy defying New Orleans mafia boss Carlos Marcello’s attempts to bribe Big Daddy with $1 Million if he free’d Hoffa; pundits dismissed the Life feature as ludacris, saying the mafia didn’t bribe, but few people knew that Hoffa was in prison based solely on Big Daddy’s testimony, and Hoffa had told his lawyer, Frank Ramano, who was also Marcello and Trafficante’s lawyer, that he’d forgive all families debts – around $121 Million from the Teamster pension fund – if “anyone” could do “anything” to get Edward Partin to “reconsider,” his testimony. Hoffa emphasized that Edward Partin must remain alive to recant his testimony or to swear that the snot-nosed brat “Booby” and his boy Sheridan used illegal wiretapping to plan their prosecution. If Big Daddy died, Hoffa couldn’t be released without a presidential pardon. Nixon pardoned Hoffa in exchange for millions in campaign contributions and the world’s first Teamster endorsement of a republican, but his team of lawyers added a clause that Hoffa had to remain detached from the Teamsters for eight years, and had to travel to Hanoi to negotiate the release of American POW’s on behalf of Nixon, thereby winning him more votes. Hoffa wanted to run the Teamsters and the $Billion pension fund, so he still needed Big Daddy to recant or negate Hoffa’s 1964 conviction; a Billion dollars and control of the world’s largest union was a strong incentive for him to forego $121 Million. For the first couple of years of my life, Wendy and I lived in houses listed in the Baton Rouge phone book under Edward G. Partin; both Senior and Junior, because we sometimes stayed in Big Daddy’s houses, the one’s with all the plastic explosives and cash in the walls. I’m no expert on the mafia, but I’m sure even low-level hitmen, like Jack Ruby or the guy that wrote The Irishman, could read the phone book. Just after my dad left for Miami and the Carribbean with a group of friends on motorcycles, there were several attempts to kidnap either me or Wendy and me, someone shot our dog, and there were fires and explosions in our house and in houses along our street. She did the best she could before having a nervous breakdown and fleeing to California.
The daycare center was closing, so they called Wendy’s emergency contact. Linda’s father, James “Ed” White, responded; he was the custodian at Glen Oaks, and knew both Wendy and Ed Partin well, and I assume he would have known about Big Daddy, too. Ed Partin Senior nationally showcased for the most watched court cases in America in the 1960’s, and, as a powerful and influential labor leader, his face had been in the news and on the front page of the Baton Rouge Advocate practically every week for the ten years leading up to Wendy leaving. The next week, Judge Pugh of the East Baton Rouge Parish 19th Judicial District removed me from Wendy and my dad’s physical custody, and placed me under the guardianship of Mr. White, whom I called PawPaw; inexplicably, Pugh allowed Ed Partin to retain custody on paper, though PawPaw could dictate if and when my parents saw me.
Wendy returned to Baton Rouge on her own, divorced my father, and found a job with Kelly’s Girls, a national program that franchised low-skill and seasonal jobs for young mothers juggling school and daycare. She’d puck me up at PawPaw’s once a month and drove me around town, delivering Yellow Pages and residential phone books in a car PawPaw fixed for her; as a side-gig, he also ran the local chapter of Kelly’s Girls, which is how Wendy found a job as a high school dropout in a town where everyone did what Big Daddy told them to. She persevered, fighting the Partins in court and proving that she could earn a living, find housing, and provide for me. But it was a lot for anyone to navigate, and she was an uneducated young woman. She was on the verge of quitting when Judge Pugh allegedly committed suicide the summer of 1975, just after Jimmy Hoffa famously vanished from a Detroit parking lot. Judge JJ Lottingger replaced Pugh, leaving a thirty year tenure with Louisiana legislative law in the downtown Baton Rouge state capital building to become the only family court judge in East Baton Rouge Parish; he had known Big Daddy well, and had unsuccessfully tried to help three governors “rid the state” of “Edward Partin and his gangster teamsters.” For the next year and a half, Lottingger, who probably knew more about the Partins than anyone else in Louisiana, reviewed Wendy’s progress with work and housing and spoke kindly of her in his court reports, and never once mentioned anything negative about my father or how we lived in Big Daddy’s homes without apparent source of income. On 26 September 1976, Lottingger reversed Pugh’s decision and returned my custody to Wendy. But, everyone appealed and fought for my custody, and I languished in the system and bounced between homes until 1979; that’s when Hoffa was officially considered dead, Big Daddy finally wen to prison, and Lottingger retired, having finally seen Louisiana rid of Ed Partin Senior.
I had been thinking about Judge Pugh on the flight, coincidentally, after re-reading my custody report on the airplane ride to Cuba, looking for hints of clues that may have been unknowingly included in my custody records; Big Daddy was known to kidnap kids and kill people, and part of me wondered if he had orchestrated Pugh’s demise. I don’t think so, but I was tired from the flight and re-reading my childhood history, nd I may have overreacted the first time I listened to her voice mail.
I sighed, rotated my left wrist, and glanced at my 30+ year old solar powered Seiko dive watch, modified to be a satellite pager. The technology was cutting edge back then: it hadn’t needed a battery changed or to be wound in three decades, and the charge from an average day lasted six months. I’ve been impressed by small solar cells ever since. But, the plastic parts oxidize and have been known to break unexpectedly, so I replace the thick black corrugated band before every sabbatical. (One of the most dangerous things about deep wreck diving is nitrogen narcosis, and many otherwise skilled divers lost their lives chasing something they were attached to that slipped off and slowly sank to irrecoverable depths.) I had replaced the band at San Diego’s Just-in-Time on Tuesday, and the watch was still on Pacific Standard Time. I could call Wendy back before she passed out that evening.
I sighed again, and my gaze dropped from my phone to my two big feet. I craved a beer.
I adjusted the time on my dive watch to delay making a decision, sighed again, and tried calling Wendy. As usual, her cell phone wasn’t getting reception. She didn’t answer her land line (another archaic word in my head, used for old home phones and for a line of wire hastily stretched across the ground between positions, to use in lieu of radio or light signals; any signal can be intercepted and decoded, or triangulated to locate the sender). I sent a text and an email letting her know I had already arrived in Cuba. I chuckled to lighten the tone, and said that that the cell reception in Havana was worse than at her place, and that I’d only be able to check messages when I came back to Havana every week or two, but to text or email me if it were important. I said I’d stay in Havana longer, if necessary, so we could schedule a time to speak. If it were urgent, I said, tell Cristi and she would know how to reach me.
Coincidentally, I added, chuckling, I was calling from a public square named after Saint Francis, the patron saint of kindness to animals, and I hoped that put a smile on her face. I reiterated that I’d check messages when I could, and added a perfunctory “I love you.”
I left a voice with Cristi, saying I arrived safely and that the WiFi was less than I had expected, so I would be mostly offline. She had been used to gaps of contact ever since we were in middle school and missed each other for summer vacations, which transitioned to the first war, where I was gone for most of 1990-1991, and my time with the 82nd Airborne (called The All Americans and with an AA on our patch because, after the civil war, they were the first national force with representatives from all United States) and service on America’s quick reaction force under President Clinton; we deployed with two hour notice and communication lockouts to prevent media discernment between real versus simulated deployments, and I had been offline for up to six months at at time in my teens to early 20’s. Recently, I was a faculty of physics, engineering, and entrepreneurship at the University of San Diego Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering; an advisor for the UCSD Basement, a technology and entrepreneurship incubator; and a director or consultant for a few nonprofit organizations centered around incorporating entrepreneurship education and environmental stewardship into public K-12 schools; that’s how I scored an Obama entrepreneurship visa to Cuba. I took off once a year or more for one to three month sabbaticals, sometimes for fun and sometimes to work with side-gigs. Cristi had an eight year old daughter with a complex home-school schedule, and she worked as a unionized but freelance set designer for the Hollywood film and television industry, accepting gigs whenever she received a last-minute phone call. And, she was afraid to fly, so she stayed near Los Angeles or northern Georgia, where she worked on The Walking Dead series and the Guardians of the Galaxy films and had a network of other workers with children; she hadn’t traveled with me since 2001, when we took a year to drive down to Patagonia and back to San Diego, when she decided she wanted to have a child and I decided I did not.
In my message, I said everything was fine and I loved her; I paused, and enunciated that Wendy had left a voice mail and I was concerned. I didn’t mention the coincidence about St. Francis, because that would diluted my message and started Cristi thinking about synchronicity. I’d tell her when I got home and could share her reaction. Until then, she’d know what to do; she knew Wendy well, and had grown up in a family of Teamsters who practically worshiped Big Daddy because he brought work to Baton Rouge when no governor or president could; like most working class people I remember from growing up, they ignored Big Daddy’s transgressions in favor of steady paychecks and health benefits. Cristi had gotten her start from him, ironically; in the 1980’s, Big Daddy had brought Hollywood films to Baton Rouge, similar to how Georgia did now, and you can see Cristi, along with several dozen of my middle school classmates, in a stadium scene of 1985’s college football epic, coincidentally called “Everybody’s All American.” All of Baton Rouge dressed as if it were the 1950’s and the actors played ball for us, and about 10,000 people saw themselves in movie theaters thanks to Big Daddy. 1983’s The Toy brought Richard Pryor and Jackie Gleason into town, and Teamsters drove the film crews and housed the actor’s trailers all summer. About two dozen films had similar stories, going back to the 1960’s and John Wayne being driving around town by Teamsters in a series of civil war films using our plantations as backdrop. Cristi viewed the long series of connections with Big Daddy and Hollywood films as synchronicity, physical manifestations of inner worlds, especially with the reoccurring theme of All American. For me, the AA and parachute wings tattoo on my arm was a joke about alcoholics anonymous and confidence that I can leap into any situation and a parachute will appear, and I believed that the reoccurrence of patterns is because we noticed a coincidence and keep seeing things that support whatever we believe.
I looked up, hung up the phone, and sighed again. I believed I wanted a drink. I took out my earbuds and held them, inhaled slowly and deeply, and exhaled completely. I squeezed a puff more out, inhaled again, and exhaled in a single purge before breathing normally again. I snapped my head back and forth to loosen tight muscles, packed away the earbuds. and glanced around the plaza to see if anyone was paying attention. There were a few handfuls of people scattered here and there, and about half of the people were using their phones, either talking or scrolling. A few were walking around, peering into the bars and chatting with their people about what they saw or heard inside, excited by the prospects. No one seemed to notice much.
I made a decision: I opened my Lonely Planet and called a couple of casa particulars I had circled on one of the airplanes. I spent precious WiFi minutes asking a few questions until I confirmed which had a room with two doors; one had a glass door that opened onto a center courtyard, they said. I told them I’d be there after dinner, and then sent a burst to my circle. (“Burst” was once an encrypted scramble between synchronized frequency-hopping radios in a single-integrated network, ground-and-airborne radio system, the most advanced communications technology known; now burst messages are accomplished by typing a list of names in the “bcc” line of a free email account.) I typed a quick gmail to two thirty-something eco-sports journalists guys, telling them I had arrived and would see them in Vinales in a week or so. I sent WhatsAp to a young illegal climbing guide in Vinales something similar, but in Spanglish.
As a side gig, I was a rock climbing guide in remote regions of off-the-beaten-path countries. Cuba, like most countries with free healthcare, requires all tourists to have generous insurance. In many countries with ostensibly free healthcare, the price is loss of freedom. Rock climbing’s not a big deal, but illegal in Cuba because it’s deemed an unnecessary risk. (I read that Fidel stopped smoking cigars and only used them in publicity photos, trying to influence people rather than making smoking and the lucrative tobacco industry illegal.) Cuba, like many governments, monitors tourists; you never know who’s listening, or when a local law enforcement officer or person with a grudge or some other motivation could arrest you, or testify against you about anything you said or wrote. Every year, the news if full of American tourists detained in countries too small to be a threat to America, but that have every right to enforce whichever laws they choose, if only to make a point; typical crimes enforced against Americans included cannabis use, homosexuality, trespassing, graffiti, and spitting. One American schmuck was whipped with a cane pole in public for spitting on a Singapore sidewalk. I didn’t know what Cuba did to illegal rock climbers, but until I had more experience I would be cautious, especially when I had just landed and was prone to mistakes when I’m tired and distracted.
To put my caution in perspective of my family history, Jimmy Hoffa, the world’s most powerful labor leader and one of the wealthiest and most well known men in America not a Kennedy, went to prison in 1966 for a few words spoken to my grandfather. They were in a private hotel room and guarded by Hoffa’s inner circle, and Hoffa, feeling overconfident or bemused by Big Daddy’s wit and charm, uttered out a single sentence implying Big Daddy bribe a juror in the Test Fleet case against Hoffa. He timed his otherwise benign words with the motion of patting an envelope of cash in his back pocket, saying $20,000 should do it.
The room was swept for bugs by the best electronics goons money could buy, but nothing can stop a person with a hidden agenda; a few months before, Big Daddy was arrested for kidnapping and manslaughter, but two days later U.S. Attorney General Bobby freed him, in exchange for infiltrating Hoffa’ inner circle and finding “anything of interest” that Bobby could use against his nemesis. Big Daddy became a mole, and ten months after Bobby’s brother, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated, Hoffa was found guilty based solely on my grandfather’s testimony about a few words Hoffa uttered in presumed privacy. Hoffa’s lawyers were the best money could buy who were willing to work for people like Hoffa, Marcello, Traficante, and all the main mafia families in each state, yet they still couldn’t stop Hoffa from being sentenced to 11 years in prison because of a personal vendetta.
That’s how Big Daddy was dubbed an all-American hero: Bobby ensured no court in America would find Ed Partin guilty of anything that would risk Hoffa’s attempts to discredit the only witness against him. Big Daddy was showcased on national media for years, including a 1968 Life focus on the mafia, where Big Daddy was shown to be tough enough to run the Teamsters and fend off mafia influence. Hoffa’a army of attorneys appealed his sentence for two years, but they lost their 1966 supreme court case, Hoffa versus The United States. The only one of nine judges to dissent against using Big Daddy’s testimony was Warren, a 40 year veteran of the court, having overseen landmark cases such as Roe vs Wade, Brown vs The Board of Education, and the case that gave us Miranda Rights. He was a household name by the time of Hoffa’s 1966 case, because he been chairman of a committee to investigate President Kenendy’s assassination, and the 1964 Warren Report was debated by almost every household in America. Warren mistakenly said Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he shot and killed Kennedy, and that Jack Ruby acted alone two days later, when he shot and killed Oswald, who was wearing handcuffs and being escorted out of the Dallas police station when Ruby shot him on live television; 110 million people witnessed it, so no one doubted Ruby’s guilt. Chief Justice Earl Warren was one of the first people to look at my grandfather’s criminal history, not just the media portrayal, and Warren was only one of nine judges to see a problem with sending Hoffa to prison based solely on one person’s testimony, especially a person like Edward Grady Partin Senior. But, even Warren didn’t have access to all of Bobby Kennedy’s and J. Edgar Hoover’s files on Big Daddy and Hoffa; otherwise, he would have addressed the obvious: the 1979 congressional JFK and Martin Luther King Junior Assassination Report, though kept classified until President Clinton released the first part in 1992, reversed the Warren Report and said that Kennedy’s murder was the result of an organized effort, and the three suspects with the means, motive, and method were Jimmy Hoffa, New Orleans mafia boss Carlos Marcelo, and Miami mafia boss and Cuban exile Santos Trafacante Junior. Without that knowledge, Warren acted on what he had learned about Big Daddy and how Bobby pulled him from jail to infiltrate Hoffa’s “savage kingdom,” as Life called it.
This is what Warren said about Big Daddy, and the process by which America monitors personal conversations:
“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. A motive for his doing this is immediately apparent — namely, his strong desire to work his way out of jail and out of his various legal entanglements with the State and Federal Governments. And it is interesting to note that, if this was his motive, he has been uniquely successful in satisfying it. In the four years since he first volunteered to be an informer against Hoffa he has not been prosecuted on any of the serious federal charges for which he was at that time jailed, and the state charges have apparently vanished into thin air. Shortly after Partin made contact with the federal authorities and told them of his position in the Baton Rouge Local of the Teamsters Union and of his acquaintance with Hoffa, his bail was suddenly reduced from $50,000 to $5,000 and he was released from jail. He immediately telephoned Hoffa, who was then in New Jersey, and, by collaborating with a state law enforcement official, surreptitiously made a tape recording of the conversation. A copy of the recording was furnished to federal authorities. Again on a pretext of wanting to talk with Hoffa regarding Partin’s legal difficulties, Partin telephoned Hoffa a few weeks later and succeeded in making a date to meet in Nashville, where Hoffa and his attorneys were then preparing for the Test Fleet trial. Unknown to Hoffa, this call was also recorded, and again federal authorities were informed as to the details.“
Warren’s missive of dissent was lengthy, even for a missive. After a few more paragraphs of ranting about Big Daddy, Warren cited a few words given to Big Daddy by FBI agent Walter Sheidan, a former campaign adviser for John F. Kennedy and head of the FBI’s Get Hoffa squad under Bobby Kennedy, that would be cited again and again for the next sixty years: “anything of interest.”
“Pursuant to the general instructions he received from federal authorities to report “any attempts at witness intimidation or tampering with the jury,” “anything illegal,” or even “anything of interest,” Partin became the equivalent of a bugging device which moved with Hoffa wherever he went. Everything Partin saw or heard was reported to federal authorities, and much of it was ultimately the subject matter of his testimony in this case. For his services, he was well paid by the Government, both through devious and secret support payments to his wife and, it may be inferred, by executed promises not to pursue the indictments under which he was charged at the time he became an informer.
This type of informer and the uses to which he was put in this case evidence a serious potential for undermining the integrity of the truthfinding process in the federal courts. Given the incentives and background of Partin, no conviction should be allowed to stand when based heavily on his testimony. And that is exactly the quicksand upon which these convictions rest, because, without Partin, who was the principal government witness, there would probably have been no convictions here. Thus, although petitioners make their main arguments on constitutional grounds and raise serious Fourth and Sixth Amendment questions, it should not even be necessary for the Court to reach those questions. For the affront to the quality and fairness of federal law enforcement which this case presents is sufficient to require an exercise of our supervisory powers. As we said in ordering a new trial in Mesarosh v. United States, 352 U. S. 1, 352 U. S. 14 (1956), a federal case involving the testimony of an unsavory informer who, the Government admitted, had committed perjury in other cases:
This is a federal criminal case, and this Court has supervisory jurisdiction over the proceedings of the federal courts. If it has any duty to perform in this regard, it is to see that the waters of justice are not polluted. Pollution having taken place here, the condition should be remedied at the earliest opportunity.”
Hoffa went to prison after he ran out of appeals in the supreme court. From that point on, his case, Hoffa versus The United States, would be cited by lower courts and used to justify unspecific wire tapping. I’m not a lawyer, and I read on Wikipedia that the fourth amendment says, among other things, “warrants must be issued by a judge or magistrate, justified by probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and must particularly describe the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.” A walking bug sprung from a Baton Rouge jail cell could violate a lot of things.
As for the sixth amendment, I’ve never studied it. For all I know, it excludes people like me from inalienable rights granted to others. I believe Chief Justice Earl Warren knew more about the sixth amendment than I do, so I’ll assume something about using Hoffa’s trial seemed to violate it, maybe the surprise factor Walter Sheridan and Bobby Kennedy used, having Big Daddy stand up in the court room and shocking Hoffa. According to everyone in the room, Hoffa gasped and said, “My God! It’s Partin!” All of the jurors overheard him, and his shock was a planned tactic to sway the jury.
Big Daddy was cross examined for three days he wooed them with his strawberry blonde hair, sky blue eyes, subtle but persistent smile, and charming southern accent. He described the context of what Hoffa said, mentioning the padded envelope Hoffa had patted in his back pocket, and safe full of padded envelops that no juror had seen. They believed Big Daddy’s word, and in 1964 they had quickly returned from only a few hours of deliberation and found Hoffa guilty of attempting to bribe a juror in the 1962 Test Fleet Case, escalating what was a seemingly benign state-level case to the federal charge of jury tampering.
Though Big Daddy and Hoffa were ancient history, the consequences of supreme court verdicts are higher than one person’s sentencing: they impact all subsequent cases with similar wording. Warren had overseen the case that led to Miranda Rights, the one centered around the sixth amendment and the use of witnesses, and reminds everyone being arrested that the right to an attorney and the right to remain silent; I assume Warren knew a thing or two about the forth and sixth amendments, which is why he said Hoffa’s case should have never reached the supreme court, and why he wrote a missive for posterity to ponder. As for The Miranda Rights, it’s hard to deny that the world would be a more peaceful place if more people practiced their right to remain silent.
I don’t know if the waters of justice are still polluted, nor do I know what Warren would have said if he knew the ghosts of Big Daddy and Jimmy Hoffa would resurface in 2001. Hoffa vs The United States became a cornerstone of a foundation upon which President George Bush Junior built Patriot Act, the act rushed through congress after 9/11 and brilliantly abbreviated: “The 2001 Act for Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.” The Patriot act justified monitoring cell phone messages of hundreds of millions of people without a warrant, looking for “anything of interest.” Because it used technology, not just of a room of FBI agents, The Patriot Act used software to scrub messages looking for anything of interest by anyone using cell phones in America; similar justifications were used for monitoring people and embassy’s globally. Not only did a few words uttered by Hoffa land him in prison, those were the words Walter Sheridan offered as advice when prepping Big Daddy. Sixty years later, those words crawled off a page in the annals of the American justice system and touched millions of people’s private messages; justified locking up terrorists in Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay without attorneys, interviewing witnesses against them, or a trial; and paved the way for American’s torturing prisoners using the CIA-approved waterboarding method.
Bush’s leading legal advisor was a Harvard law professor named Jack Goldsmith, who, in one of the more remarkable coincidences I’ve seen, used to be Jack O’Brien; he is the adopted son of Chucky O’Brien, Jimmy Hoffa’s adopted son and long-time suspect in the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Hoffa’s disappearance.
When Jack was in law school at Yale, he changed his name to his biologic father’s, because Chucky O’Brien was still under FBI investigation for Hoffa’s disappearance and other mafia-related shenanigans. (Almost all mafia film charatertures of a short, squat, bulldog, fiercely loyal to Hoffa or one of the families, are based on Chuckie; Joe Pesci would portray him in The Irishman, and had, humorously, jumped up to slap Craig Vincent on behalf of Robert DeNiro in Scorce’s Casino film. Chucky despised Big Daddy, and cursed his ghost up until Chuckie’s death in 2020, a year after his adopted son exonerated his suspicion in Hoffa’s disappearance, and almost exactly thirty years after a team of burly men heaved Big Daddy’s casket into his grave in Baton Rouge’s Greenwood Cemetery.) Jack disagreed with many points of the Patriot Act, but did his job under presidential orders. (No offense to Jack, but I always mention anyone who reports to a boss and does something they believe is immoral or unethical as an example of why entrepreneurship can provide freedom to improve the world.)
In short: words have consequences, and after a while all you can do about it is laugh and watch what you say or write.
A simple word or two overheard and out of context could get you put in jail. Under Cuba’s national health coverage, unnecessary and risky sports are illegal. The law wasn’t enforced, like American marijuana laws or President Clinton’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policies in 1992 weren’t enforced, but there was always a possibility that one law enforcement official with a bug up his ass could use an obscure law to confiscate a farmer’s land or to make an example out of a gringo or two. In the 2000’s, President George Bush Junior had personally been involved in a $14 Million pursuit of Tommy Chong, from the comedy duo Cheech and Chong, for helping his daughter start a glass pipe business that everyone had to call Chong’s Bongs; he was arrested in his pajamas at his California home by a federal task force one morning. He spent nine months in federal prison for what was legal in California but illegal federally, sharing a cell with The Wolf of Wall Street; that’s no joke. Every year, at least a few American tourists are arrested for things like littering, spitting, marijuana, illegal sexual choices, or even traffic violations; they are detained in countries with a grudge against Americans, and have been publicly whipped with a cane (Singapore’s penalty for spitting on a sidewalk) put in prison for a year or more, etc. Iran still has laws allowing a hand to be cleaved off if you steal a piece of bread, and many countries have barbaric practices to get the devil’s homosexual seed out of you, America’s not innocent: after 9/11, we arrested and detained dozens of terrorism suspects based on intercepted messages, and detained them in an old American navy base in Guantanamo Bay, amd tortured them for years.
The Guatanamo prisoners were only three hours west of where I was checking voice mail and sending messages from my cell phone. They had been there for more than fifteen years without an attorney, and had been tortured by American soldiers under guidance from above. A few say the ends warrant the means; anyone who says waterboarding isn’t torture should try it for a while. Everything the prisoners said was used against them.
I planned to visit Guantanamo at the end of my trip, to see the base for myself, and to chat with a few locals and listen to their perspectives. Maybe I’d meet a chatty U.S. soldier and buy them a mojito, and listen to what they have to say. Many Cubans were still resentful of President Kennedy’s botched Bay of Pigs invasion that killed some of their fathers, and distrustful of seemingly benign tourists after America killed Cuba’s adopted son, El Che Guevara, using CIA operatives in Bolivia; not to mention several CIA attempts to murder Fidel Castro. A few old Cubans may even remember their father’s talking about President Rosevelt’s Rough Riders killing their great-grandfathers, and many may have more stories, whether true or not, and you never know which local official harbors deep seeded resentment against gringos. I grew up in the deep south, where history teachers in public schools taught us that the civil war was “the war of northern aggression,” and I didn’t know what Cubans were taught in school. Our minds are slaves of other people’s words, and I wondered what words were uttered around Guantanamo.
I glanced at my watch; it had been less than a minute. I could still beat the happy hour crowd. Should I get another WiFi card and wait, just in case?
I was on sabbatical, I reminded myself, and could look forward to lots of diving and climbing over the next few months. I had a book to research and write. Before flying to Cuba, I had downloaded the equivalent of a library’s worth of old court reports, news articles, and records onto my phone, along with a respectable playlist of music and eight downloaded albums. I had spent all day on airplanes reading my family history and listening to a mix of New Orleans jazz and funk, ranging from Dr. John to Galactic and Trombone Shorty, and including a few bands Spotify recommended based on Cuba’s Cima Funk and The Buena Vista Social Club. Some of them spoke between sets at Tipatinas, a classic music venue in New Orleans that Galactic had bought recently, and they said Cuban Funk was where it’s at; that’s like the Pope saying he digs a young preacher’s hip sermon. I was going to finish a lot of lingering projects once free from the tether of my cell phone, and I’d listen to live music in Havana jazz clubs, not from my earbuds or iBuds or whatever they’re called. I was on vacation – or sabbatical or whatever it’s called – and not wanting to worry about Wendy.
I thought: I had a lot on my mind when I first listened to her voice mail. I was distracted. Judge Pugh had been on my mind. It had been a long day. I had been sitting in cramped airplane seats and often trapped between large, chatty, and opinionated people (the guy from up north with pale white skin, a tight polo shirt, pudgy belly, and raccoon eyes sunburn wouldn’t stop talking about Disney Land, or World, or whichever one was in Florida). I may have overreacted to her voice mail. She was probably just drunk and sad about one of her dogs.
I sighed. I was tired and wanted a drink. I was Wendy’s son, and habits are hard to break.
Wendy and I rarely discussed our Partin history, because she was still traumatized by it. A lot of people undergo trauma, but I’ve always believed Wendy’s was especially intense. As a 16 year old little girl, she married a family known to murder and kidnap kids after unfavorable custody trials. She fought them, and was subjected to harassment and threats by strangers trying to get Ed Partin to recant his testimony; our address was listed in the Baton Rouge phone book under Ed Partin, and I’m sure even the lowest level of Carlos Marcello’s sycophants could read, or knew someone who could. There were around 20 Patins in the Baton Rouge phone book, and, alphabetically, we were fourth. Before us there was Big Daddy’s youngest, Donald Partin; Don Partin, named for Donald by the middle brother, Douglas Wesley Patin; and Doug. All had homes blown up, and Don was paralyzed. Doug, who took over the Baton Rouge Local #5 after Big Daddy went to prison, describes some of this time period in his autobiography, “From My Brother’s Shadow: Douglas Wesley Partin Tells His Side of the Story.” No one ever told Wendy’s story, so maybe this is it.
I was too young to differentiate random car explosions and house fires from malicious intent, but I recall enough to know, now, that we were either targets or the most unlucky family on earth. It’s no wonder she had a nervous breakdown and fled. What’s amazing is that she returned and fought Ed Partin get me back. Since then, she has been a private person and demonstrates symptoms of PTSD; when I worry about Wendy, I worry about her mental wellness. She always avoids the topic, and repeats her favorite pun: she was born WAR but marrying my dad WARP’ed her. I’d reply and enunciate our name, not pronouncing it the Cajun way, or the mumbled southern way that sounds like Dolly Parton, but saying it slowly: Part-in. I’d tell her she was a bigger part in my story than Ed Partin ever was. I didn’t want to share my small part in his story history without saying that pun, if only to make Wendy smile.
I sighed a final time, put away my phone, straightened my back and neck, looked forward, breathed, smiled, breathed again, and tried to not limp as I strolled across the plaza and to a bar. In the back of my mind, I hoped no one would notice the obvious XXL Force Fins strapped to my backpack; tomorrow, I’d ditch them at the casa, switch to a daypack, and discretely explore Havana on foot.
I had read in The Lonely Planet that the diving and climbing in Cuba alone was worth the trip, even if you didn’t solve Kennedy’s murder, or deliver McDonalds breakfast sandwiches to prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. It was going to be the best sabbatical imaginable, free from people interrupting me, worries, or cares about anything other than what I cared about. That’s freedom, no matter which country you’re in, and I was happy that President Obama had given me an opportunity to spend 30 days in Cuba promoting entrepreneurship, whatever that means.
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