Spend my days with woman in kind
Smoked my stuff, and drank all my wine
Goin’ to California with an achin’ in my heart
Heard there’s a woman out there
With love in her eyes and flowers in her hair
Led Zepplin, Goin’ to California
The three of us were sitting on the balcony enjoying breakfast tacos with thinly sliced avodado and homemade hot sauce, when Hope saw Cranky Ken approaching.
She finished chewing her bite of taco waved and said, “Hey Ken!”
Ken put down his empty mop bucket and big bottle of liquid laundry soap and said, “Hey, Sweetheart. I’m happy to see you.”
He looked at me and began complaining in a tone of voice that made me long for a balcony further away from the sidewalk, or at least a few floors up.
“I don’t know why people use powdered soap. It clogs the washing machine and I have to fix it. Don’t they see all the frickin’ signs I put all over the laundry room? I should raise all of their rents and make them figure it out! What a bunch of frickin’ morons. I tell you…” I interjected and asked him if he’d like to stop by for a homebrew after he fixed the machine, that I had another bottle of the porter he liked. His eyes lit up and he said sure, that he’d be back in a bit, and he picked up his bucket and liquid soap and limped up the street.
We finished our breakfast tacos, and Cristi and Hope went off an adventure while I did the dishes and waited for Cranky Ken to return.
Ken had bought several small apartment buildings facing Balboa Park in the 1970’s. Recently, an investment firm had offered him $10.7 Million for the one up the street with a clogged washing machine, but they wanted to tear it down and build a high rise condo with underground parking and security gates. Condos went for around $3 million each, depending on how high away you were from the sidewalk, and investors were always hoping Ken would sell at least one of his buildings. But, he had told them to go fuck themselves – his words – and he told them that they’d have to pry the title from his cold, dead hands. Every time they handed him their business cards, Ken would shove it in his pocket and throw it away as soon as he was near a trash can, sometimes at my condo when he walked by in the mornings.
He had grown up poor and had had a rough time as a teenager, working the frigid docks of New York harbor, loading and unloading big crates for mafia bosses and Teamsters, and he had dreamed of owning a place in Central Park one day. When he became wealthy some time in the 70’s, he moved to sunny San Diego and began buying apartments around Balboa Park and Hillcrest. Over time, he grew to love them, and didn’t want to see them turned into condos. He said they cost multi-millions each and kept kids like him from living there, and they blocked sunshine from public spaces and made it less enjoyable for kids wanting to climb trees in the center of a big city. He rented his small apartments for remarkably cheap monthly rates and without checking people’s credit, and many of his tennants and had lived there for more than ten years. Most people mailed their monthly checks – he was old school, and still demanded checks instead of transfers or online payments – and I don’t know if any of them knew who Cranky Ken was. I only did because my balcony faced the sidewalk, and I had seen him lugging big bottles of liquid soap up the street for years, and had invited him over for a beer one morning.
I pulled a porter from the fridge and set it on the balcony to warm just a bit, and I set aside two tulip glasses. I realized that I had something I though Ken would appreciate, a calling card I kept in my pocket when I was younger, and I pulled it out and put it beside his glass.
I had found it by the photos at Wendy’s with my medals, and I had almost forgotten about it until Ken said something that reminded me. It was the size of a business card and faded and frayed, held together over thirty years because I had laminated with strips of Scotch tape many years before. One side had a large black and white Ace of Spaces with a skull in the center of the spade, and the skull was wearing an 82nd Airborne beret with the ubiquitous parachute wings spread across the spade. The other side said, “I’m an American Paratrooper. If you’re recovering my body, kiss my cold, dead ass.” I had been using it as a bookmark while researching my family history.
Ken walked in without knocking and his pockets jingled with quarters retrieved from the washing machine.
I handed Ken the faded Ace of Spades and told him the quick story, and he said thanks and shoved it in his pocket and sipped his beer.
“This is good!” he exclaimed. “I still prefer Guiness. But they don’t know how to pour it here. I gotta teach them, every time. They won’t learn on their own. Bunch of frickin’ lazy bastards, I tell you!”
Ken had bought a bar down the street, closer to the downtown tourist district, and converted it to an Irish pub and named it after his family, who had all died when after they immigrated to New York after WWII. He was a night owl, and always had been, and had always enjoyed a Guiness when he got off the docks night shift. His happy hour began around 8am, but few San Diego bars were open then, and none of ones that were seemed to know how to pour a proper pint, so he bought one for around $20 Million and refurbished it with original decor and bar stools from an old Irish pub near where his family had originated. For some reason, not many of his bartenders stayed long, and he kept having to train new ones so that he could enjoy a proper pint after getting quarters from his apartments’s laundry rooms once a week.
Ken looked at my bookshelf and asked, “Have you seen the Irishman yet?”
I told him I hadn’t, that a lot had been going on. I hadn’t told him Wendy had died and that I had been going back and forth to Baton Rouge to finish details of her estate. I didn’t want to talk about it.
Ken said he had, and he told me what he thought about Frank “The Irishman” Sheenan, a former mafia hitman with, obviously, an Irish background.
“They got a lot right, but it was a movie and not real life. It was for men my age. We grew up seeing Pacino and Peci and those guys play mob bosses. Frank said as best he could, but no one today gets it. They see too many movies, like Goodfellas. The Godfather was good, though, and that’s why people want to see Pacino. They confuse actors with real people. No one today realizes how much Hoffa had to do with all that. He was the most famous man in America! Working class. We looked up to him. He didn’t take shit from no one! Not even the Kennedys or the families. I can see Frank doing it. Like Pacino said in The Godfather, it’s just business. Hoffa was old and no longer in the Teamsters then, and the families did what they had to do to keep him from talkin’.”
I sipped my porter and waited for what I suspected he’d ask.
“Well?” he asked.
I asked him, “What?” I tried to not assume what people were thinking.
“Did he do it?”
“No, no, no,” he said in a tone of voice that made me, for a moment, regret having invited him over.
“Hoffa. Did he try to bribe the Negro?”
He meant the juror, and Ken spoke like his generation. Even Chief Justice Earl Warren had called the juror a Negro in Hoffa vs. The United States.
I let Cranky Ken’s comment slide, and said that I didn’t know for sure. But, I said jury tampering was common back then, and my family knew how to do it well. I realized I had something he may appreciate, and I excused myself and pulled a new book from my bookshelf. It was still shiny, with a bright blue book cover. I had just finished reading it, and had coincidentally tucked my calling card between the pages that may have answered Ken’s question.
“Here. My uncle, Doug, just published a book about it.” Ken knew that Doug had recently retired as president of Teamsters Local#5, and was in a veterans nursing home in Natchez Mississippi, near where he and my grandfather had been born. I tried to joke about it.
“They say you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, but I think this one does a good job of summing it up. And he bluntly says that my grandfather lied to send Hoffa to prison, but that was just his opinion. My grandfather never talked about it. You’d have to decide for yourself.”
Ken took the book and looked at the cover: “From my brother’s shadow: Douglas Westly Partin tells his side of the story.” It was published by a small Mississippi publisher, Oak Publishing, and the cover had a simple photo of Doug’s smiling face from about twenty years before, and a small photo of my grandfather’s face above him, looking down as if from heaven.
Ken didn’t comment on the title, but he read the back cover out loud
“Boxes full of money in the trunk of the car, suitcases filled with fresh twenty-dollar bills, assassination plots against President John F. Kennedy and against his brother Bobby, then Attorney General of the United States, deals with the New Orleans mob, arms deals with Fidel Castro, fake passports and Mexican IDs, contracts on the lives of any who dared to oppose, violence against companies that refused to cooperate with union organizers, secret testimony against union boss Jimmy Hoffa, criminal indictments, trials, convictions and imprisonment … these are all part of the story told by Douglas Wesley Partin, younger brother of Edward Grady Partin, ruthless boss of Teamsters Local #5 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for thirty years. Doug witnessed it all from the shadow of his older brother, and then he stepped in, succeeded his brother as principal officer of Teamsters Local #5, cleaned it up and led it for many more years. This is a story for the ages.”
“Hey, thanks,” Ken said. “This sounds good. I’ll bring it back to you next week. I love this stuff!”
I wasn’t sure if he meant Hoffa’s history or the porter and I didn’t ask; it was nice to hear Ken happy about something. I made a mental note to ask Doug for a singed copy made out to Ken; both would probably get a kick out of that.
“You should write a book,” he said.
I said that everything was already out there, waving my hand towards The Universe. But I wasn’t being dismissive. It was all out there, though many book chapters are omitted or modified in films. Even the Irishman’s 2005 book, “I heard you paint houses,” had an entire chapter focused on Edward Grady Partin, Audie Murphy, and Nixon; but that was cut out for the sake of a linear story that fit into a two and a half hour film. It had been the same with Hoffa and even The Blood Feud. My bookshelf had all the books, and each one had much more information than the films; but, few people were old school, like Ken, and, from what I had seen, most people who edited Wikipedia seemed to either get their information from movies or have biases that they propagate. I rarely shared my thoughts about it with anyone, but I would happily lend them a book or two to prime the pump for them. It was all there, but it took a long time to sort through all the information, and it was like sipping water from a fire hydrant. Few people had that much energy or time on their hands.
I told him that he knew enough to write a book, and he guaffed and said no one would read it, that even the frickin’ assholes in his apartment didn’t read the signs he kept leaving in the laundry room to stop using powered soap or he’d raise their rents and put them on the street.
“They don’t know how lucky they are,” he grumbled. “If I had this view when I was a kid, I’d been happier than a pig in shit.”
Ken never told me how he earned the money he used to buy all his properties. He finished his beer and left, and I walked to the corner cafe and worked on the latest iteration of a book I was struggling to write.
My mother was born Wendy Anne Rothdram on August 14th, 1955, in Richmond Hill, Ontario, an upper middle class suburb of Toronto, to Joyce Hicks and a man whose last name was Rothdram, but whose first name I never learned. Joyce was 18 years old and the youngest of three daughters of my Great Grandpa Harold “Hal” Hicks and Grandma Hicks, French Canadians who settled in the English speaking metropolis of Toronto; he’s easily found online, too, because he was a professional hockey player with 90 professional games with the Montreal Maroons, Detroit Couars, and Detroit Falconsl and though Wikipedia omits his brief stints with the Toronto Mapleleafs and Boston Bruins, Joyce – my Granny – had kept one of his Mary kept one of his Bruins jerseys, and I trust her more than Wikipedia.
Grandpa Hicks retired his jersies, and thirty years later he retired as an upper manager for the Canadian railway system, and local newspapers and coworkers mentioned him and his work and, of course, his hockey career respectfully in his 1960 obituary.
Grandma Hicks was a homemaker and attended to her daughters, Joyce, Mary, and Lois. Because of Grandma Hicks time and their dad’s stable career, the three sisters wanted for nothing in their upper middle class home; but, in full disclosure, a part of their lifestyle came from their aunt, my great-great-great aunt, Edith Lang. She, too, was well known in Canada, because at age 80 and after a lifetime of being a spinster, she married Canada’s wealthiest man and almost ten years her senior. She had been his secretary for forty years, and it was quite the scandal in newspaper gossip columns. Aunt Edith donated her ex husbands extensive artwork to museums all over Canada and traveled extensively and enjoyed time with her nieces, taking them to fancy country clubs and dinners when she was in town. Though somewhat aloof and cantankerous and ostentatious with her wealth, she didn’t have children of her own, and she ensured her nieces had a comfortable life and wanted for nothing. Granny and her sisters would all say they had a loving home and every opportunity imaginable.
Granny and Auntie Lo were partiers, embracing the post WWII prosperity of the 1950’s and enjoying Canadian rye whiskey on the rocks and an occasional splurge on Good Scotch. Aunt Mary was more of a homebody and, like her Aunt Edith, almost never drank alcohol except for wine with good meals. She married a young, mild mannered and family oriented man named John and they lived the rest of their lives in Toronto, raising their daughter without any events that would lead to Wikipedia pages. Lois was rarely sober, and she married a navy veteran and delightfully indulgent French Canadian named Robert, a middle manager of Montreal’s Bulk Stevedoring Company, and they accepted a transfer to manage the loading and unloading of America’s second largest shipping port in New Orleans and bought an upper middle class home an hour upriver in the smaller, more affordable river port and capital city of Baton Rouge. Joyce was the only daughter left at the Hicks’s home, and one night she stayed out too late and had too much to drink and became pregnant with Wendy and then married the father, a man who’s first name I don’t remember but who gave Wendy and Granny their last name, Rothdram, a man who claimed to be a cartoonist for Walt Disney; though I never found evidence to support his claim.
A few years later, Granny fled an abusive relationship with her husband and took Wendy to Baton Rouge to stay with Auntie Lo and Uncle Bob; they could never have their own children, and they had rooms to spare in their newly built home and they welcomed Granny and Wendy when Wendy was a five year old girl.
Granny was not one to sit idle, and though she was a single uneducated mother in the deeply ingrained culture of southern Louisiana that insisted women were homemakers and looked down upon unwed mothers, she persisted and exhibited confidence and found a job in the newly created “chemical alley” of industry north of Baton Rouge’s airport, a long rural road of chemical processing plants and oil refineries that processed oil from offshore oil rigs in Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. She was a secretary and taught herself to type and studied and learned the lingo CoPolymer’s processes, and in return CoPolymer allowed Granny health insurance – something that had been free in Canada and she had taken for granted until she was a single mother – and they increased her pay equitably, and soon Granny was able to save enough money to put a down payment on a small, 680 square foot home on a relatively large acre of land in a new housing development under the airport flight path. Her commute to work drastically reduced and Wendy had safe streets to play in and public schools and parks nearby. The home had three tiny bedrooms and two bathrooms and a modest kitchen, and Granny’s liquor cabinets rattled every ten to twenty minutes from jet airplane engines above her roof, but Granny was proud that despite her setbacks and obstacles, she had achieved what some people called “The American Dream” of home ownership as a single mother who immigrated to America without an education.
Granny would work for CoPolymer for almost 30 years. She was respected for being a self-driven learner, and for being polite but honest, and forthcoming with useful information, never shy, and she was recognized for never having come to work late or missed a day except except for a brief period in 1975 when she was coming home from work and was sidestruck by a careless driver who had likely been drinking. The accident shattered her right ankle and she was immobilized for a few weeks and couldn’t drive to work, and Wendy volunteered to move back home and care for her. They had been estranged ever since Wendy had eloped with my dad, but Wendy had been maturing and knew she should help her mother, especially because the driver that hit Granny was uninsured and CoPolymer’s health insurance policy wouldn’t cover at-home care until Granny could drive again.
Even before the accident, Granny had been adamant against any type of driving after having had a drink, and she drank every day without concern for what other people thought about it. She would come home from work and relax with a tall glass or two of the best Scotch on the rocks she could afford, and she so enjoyed her lifestyle that she rarely drove anywhere to socialize. Instead, she focused on being home as soon as she returned from work, which was only 20 minutes north of the airport, and she tried to be home when Wendy came home from Glenoaks Elementary and then Glenoaks Middle and then eventually GleanOaks High, and her routine was always to relax then cook dinner for her and Wendy. She was proud of her home she worked so hard to afford, and was happy simply reposing in her recliner with a bottle of Scotch and a carton of Kents and her monthly Reader’s Digest books, including a section of cookbooks, like Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Paul Prudhome’s Louisiana Kitchen and the ubiquitous Times Picayune Creole Cookbook. She was a self-taught chef, embracing the Cajun culture of making delicious food from scratch using frugally purchased ingredients and never shying away from adding extra sherry to her turtle soup or a splash or two of wine in her tomato sauce while enjoying a glass or two for herself.
Granny encouraged Wendy to be independent and to play with her friends on bike in their safe streets or explore her spacious yard with it’s large pecan trees and gumball trees and, typical to old Baton Rouge homes, at least one majestic stately oak tree with branches that reached out and bounced against the ground in heavy winds. Inside, Granny encouraged Wendy to read books from the copiously stocked bookshelf she kept with her other luxuries, an expensive collection of the Encyclopedia Britanica and a subscription to it’s yearly updates and several subscriptions to fiction and nonfiction books for a range of ages. Granny’s bookshelf was so well stocked that some of Wendy’s friends would use it for homework rather than Glen Oak Elementary’s library resources, just like I would, and Granny was generous with her time and would sit and learn with them, if they wanted, just like she would with me. Wendy had her own bookshelf for whichever books she chose for fun, and the encyclopedia’s were down low where she and other kids could reach them.
Wendy grew up playing with her best friends nearby, Linda White and the sisters Cindi and Debbie LeBoux, and they were what most people called Tom Boys, cheerful and playful but preferring jeans over dresses and bicycles over dolls, a rarity in the traditional southern culture where women wore dresses and didn’t get dirty often. They climbed the sprawling stately oak trees in Granny’s yard and caught minnows and crawfish in the drainage canal that wrapped around half of Granny’s yard, and rode bicycles for miles around the relatively sparsely populated subdivision with it’s meandering streets that navigated around waterways and oak grooves. As Wendy got older, she began swimming on Glen Oaks Middle School’s team and playing tennis and golf with Uncle Bob and Auntie Lo in the country club near their home thirty minutes south of the airport.
Wendy grew to be a beautiful young lady with hazel colored eyes that crinkled when she smiled, and long straight strawberry blonde hair that blew in the wind behind her when she rode her bicycle. She was petite, like Granny, and only 5’1” tall, but whereas Granny was thin as a twig, Wendy grew to be full figured and attracted the attention of boys at Glen Oaks High School. Like most of her friends and for reasons I don’t understand, she dated older boys and her first serious boyfriend was an 18 year old senior when she was a 15 year old sophomore. He graduated in the spring of 1971 and was immediately drafted and shipped to basic training and then to the conflict in Vietnam, where he was immediately shot and killed before Wendy would begin her junior year.
Wendy was devastated by his loss. He had faithfully written her letters, but she had procrastinated responding – a trait she would maintain all her life – because she had wanted to send him the perfect picture to remember her and had borrowed Uncle Bob’s fancy and rare color film camera and had Linda and Debbie take her photo dancing under one of Granny’s trees with the last of that season’s red azalea flowers tucked above her ear and augmenting the strawberry hints in her hair. Photos took a few weeks to develop back then, and Wendy enjoyed playing outside during the summer and forgot to pick up the film, and time passed and then she heard he had been shot and killed.
She had what I consider a minor nervous breakdown, and she rebelled against everyone and everything and told Granny she wanted to return to Canada, where there wasn’t a draft and the government didn’t make young boys go to war and die and people could live happily, she thought. But, she hadn’t told Granny she had been dating an older boy and that he had died, so she simply demanded to return to Canada and live with her father, a man she hadn’t seen in more than 10 years but had built up in her mind as a man who loved her more than Granny, and she imagined he would be more fun and supportive than her boring mother who just sat at home ever day and drank Scotch and cooked meals and read books.
Granny was a woman of action and preferred experiential learning over long lectures, and she forewent her good bottles of Scotch to buy Wendy a plane ticket to Toronto for Wendy to see her dad for the first time since they had immigrated to America eleven years prior. Wendy boarded the plane and she saw the trees in her yard from above after having spent her life looking up at them passing over their home, and she thought she’d never return to Louisiana. But, only a few days later she used the return ticket Granny had had the foresight to purchase and returned home, because her father wouldn’t even hug her and said he was happy with his new family and that Wendy was Granny’s problem now. He gave her a hastily drawn cartoon caricature of a drunkard with a 1940’s hobo hat, and Wendy returned to Baton Rouge even more distraught than before, and Granny resumed buying the good bottles of Scotch and, in her pragmatic way, encouraged Wendy to focus on being happy.
Wendy turned 16 a few weeks later and began her junior year at Glen Oaks High School, but was so depressed that she dreaded being stuck inside and all of the questions that permeate southern culture ostensibly to be friendly but usually only mindless of diverse households, like “Who’s your momma, and what church do y’all go to?” and “What’s your daddy do?” and, for those people who know a bit about you already, “Have you heard from your boyfriend?” She had always been friendly but shy, and in her junior year she became reticent and smiled less and less frequently. To tolerate the anxiety of going to school, she began smoking marijuana with her friends and relaxing in class, comfortably numb and passing time until she could go home and smoke again.
She met Edward Partin that fall, a 17 year old senior who was the Glen Oak’s main drug dealer.
He was tall and physically strong and ruggedly handsome, with long black hair and dark brown eyes so dark they seemed black. He rarely smiled in school, and usually frowned or scowled to express his discontent with the system and disdain for authority. He always had abundant marijuana and new cars that attracted attention, especially in the lower economic school district of Glen Oaks, and he had been arrested for selling drugs but somehow a judge set him free, and that added to his reputation as a “bad boy” and confident young man that seemed to attract 16 year old girls going through issues with their fathers. He told his friends that Wendy was “fine,” and soon they were skipping school to ride in his cars and sneaking out at night to meet; coincidentally, he had recently moved in with his grandmother, my Great Grandma Foster, who lived a few blocks away from Granny.
Wendy and my dad snuck out one night in January of 1972 and got high, and they listened to a new album that had just come out, Led Zepplin IV, and the song that was the most popular in America at that time and would become prophetic for Wendy, “Going to California.”
Wendy smoked his stuff and got high and lost her virginity to Edward, and almost immediately realized she was pregnant. She didn’t have enough money for an abortion and didn’t tell Granny for fear of judgement, and when she told my dad she was surprised by his insistence on getting married; his father had had several illegitimate families and, in my dad’s mind, had abandoned him and my dad wanted to be a better father and insisted they get married. Wendy agreed, and they dropped out of school and drove an hour and a half away to Woodville, Mississippi, where state laws didn’t require parental consent for a 16 year old girl to marry a 17 year old boy. They returned to Baton Rouge as Mr. and Mrs. Edward Partin and resided in one of his father’s many homes while my dad started growing marijuana in a dry patch of land in a nearby bayou. A few months later, as JJ Lottingger wrote, I was born; and Wendy soon abandoned me and left for California.
“It’s interesting that Lottingger never mentioned my dad’s history,” I said.
After reading about Wendy, Cristi had read what I had written about him, and she agreed that it seemed more odd that Wendy hadn’t, if only to defend her case.
“And it’s funny that the judge went out of his way to say your dad hadn’t seen Wendy drink,” she said.
I mumbled a sound that implied agreement, and tried one last time to imagine why my dad’s history had been omitted. I had been removed from both of their custody, and he was obviously at the 1976 trial, yet only Wendy was blamed for abandoning me. No one explained where my dad was when they found me alone. And he had recently been arrested and convicted of having prescriptions opiotes with intention to sell, though he had escaped jail. He was gone often, which is why I was removed “ex-parte,” without consulting all parties, and that seemed like an important point in a custody trial.
“But the judge didn’t need to prove your dad was wrong,” she said, probably after thinking about it more, like I had. “He only had to prove Wendy was…” She paused and looked at my court record and then said, “‘now morally and emotionally fit’ to care for you, and that she had a… “‘fine‘ home.”
“She had won,” Cristi said.
“Even without talking about your dad’s history, she had gotten you back. She took the high road – no pun intended – because she didn’t have to say anything. Like you said, more counts less.”
I looked at her, surprised that I hadn’t seen it that way. She said I was too biased; I knew to much about Wendy to remain open minded to new ways of seeing her.
She was probably right, and I said I’d begin looking up his history the same way I had Wendy’s, simply searching his name and starting from there.
“And I can’t believe Warren called the juror ‘Negro.’ Why were those adjectives used so much back then? Did it matter which race the juror was? And that your grandfather raped a black girl, as if any word after ‘rape’ mattered.” She was more upset than her voice let on – her father had been a light skinned African – and I knew enough to remain silent. We had already talked about that part, and Doug goes into detail in his book. My grandfather had been found not guilty because one white male juror in Mississippi had said, “Ain’t no white man need go to jail for nothin’ he done to a nigger girl,” and he went free despite considerable evidence against him. I never learned what happened to her or her family, because her name was hidden from court records.
We changed topics and enjoyed the rest of our time together. If writing about Wendy had taught me anything, it was that seeing Uncle Bob’s watch next to her had reminded me, again, to focus on what was important.