If they can whack a president, they can whack the president of a union. You know it and I know it. – Joe Pesci as Russell Bualino in Martin Scorcese’s The Irishman, 2019
Six months after Wendy died, I was on the phone with Craig Vincent, the big actor who had recently portrayed Big Daddy in Scorcese’s 2019 film, The Irishman, based on a 2005 book where mafia hitman Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheenan says he killed Hoffa, and that the only way three men can keep a secret is if two of them were dead. Cristi and I had just seen it in the theater, and I had been looking forward to speaking with Craig.
I won’t ruin the book or film for you; they’re both remarkable, especially combined. But, Craig’s role, which he had diligently researched for almost two years, was modified to fit the long and complex book into a two and a half hour film. And he had never mastered my grandfather’s accent, even after hours of chatting with Kieth and Janice and a bit with me (though I had long since lost, mostly). But, he had worked with Scorsese in a few other films where he portrayed big, rough men, and Scorcese had changed Big Daddy’s origin film a bit and Craig had portrayed Big Eddie Partin, a big guy with dark hair and a Italian accent to match DeNiro, Pecsi, Pacino, and all the other wise guys known for their mafia movies.
We talked about how much Frank and his coauthor had expounded on Big Daddy, Audie Murphy, Nixon, and of course Kennedy’s assassination; just like Doug and Hoffa and Sheridan and others. Craig had noticed that his parts in films are cut out.
“A lot of that was intentional, back then,” I said. “Oliver Stone’s Hoffa in 1992 even gave his role in history to Fitzgerald, and that’s why Fitzgerald was seen as more than he was. I guess it’s too hard to keep track of all characters in 2 hour film and they combine them and shorten some roles. Or skip them, like a scratched record.”
Craig agreed and offered his thoughts, and we chatted about life and The Universe and a few other things. He had recently lost his mother and had been diagnosed with Leukemia, and I shared with him that I had recently lost my mother, and that the VA said if I don’t have both hips replaced I wouldn’t be walking within three years.
“Thank you for your service,” he said. “I never did, but I respect you guys.”
We both agreed that Brian Dennehey did a great job in 1983’s The Blood Feud, about Hoffa and Kenndedy and Big Daddy’s part as an All American Hero. Though he didn’t win an acadamy award like Robert Blake did for “channeling Hoffa’s rage,” he portrayed Big Daddy fairly well, or as well as possible without going into detail that was still classified at that time. He had been carefully selected to match his blonde hair and blue eyes and charming southern accent, especially because he was alive and watching from his Texas prison cell with a big color television, and many people knew what he looked and sounded like from television and around town.
We both agreed that Brian Dennehy had been the perfect choice, and that he had done a wonderful job with Big Daddy’s accent, though not the persistent subtle smile; it was hard to replicate. And we both agreed that it had been dishonrable for Dennehy to lie about having served in Vietnam. Yeah, that was shitty of him to do, I had said, and we chatted a bit more. I don’t remember if we said anything else about Brian Dennehy, who said he regretted his lie later in life.
“Getting old sucks,” Craig said, surprisingly cheerfully, when we transitioned back to our lives. “I have no regrets, though.”
I didn’t know what to say, and we chatted a while more about acting as a vocation, which I knew nothing about. At the end, I thought that acting sounded like what a lot of us do every day. We all have a lot going on behind the scenes, it seemed.
All of this news coverage led to me being somewhat famous in my elementary school, White Oaks Elementary, where I was in the 5th grade when The Blood Feud debuted after considerable marketing and advertisements by the network and producers. Brian Dennehy was already famous, so, by default, that made him portraying Big Daddy make me famous at White Oaks Elementary.
My teacher, a cheerful African American lady coincidentally named Mrs. White, adored Big Daddy. Her husband was one of the Teamsters who had voted to keep paying him a union salary in prison and she said her teaching job was thanks to his support of the teacher’s union. The principal, whose name I don’t recall, spoke of the famous strikes when he had been a teacher in the picket line, and recalled Big Daddy walking among them and handing them bundles of cash from his pocket, perhaps money from Local #5’s safe used to pay picketing teamsters during long strikes, and ensuring that teachers could pay rent and bills while waiting out the strike. Every Monday, Mrs. White posted news clippings about Big Daddy from the Sunday paper, and all kids in class were encouraged to watch The Blood Feud. The principal even spoke to the school over the intercom system and reminded them to tune in to the film each day it was played.
Everyone in school knew me, and I was an unpopular kid. I was friendless and bullied, partially because living with my dad during summers and winter breaks from school had left me underdeveloped academically and emotionally, and I mimicked his unsanitary hygiene habits and parroted things he had said. I stank, and I was isolated from my classmates and known by their parents as the kid who brought lice into school and caused hundreds of kids to undergo scalp inspections, and they probably spoke harshly of me and therefore validated their children’s’ dislike of me. At lunch, I wore a badge around my neck like other kids on free and reduced lunch, part of a new federal policy to shame parents into working harder rather than suckling the government’s tit for discounted school lunches, and I was labeled as a burden on society. My vocabulary was limited, but it was rich with curse words and statements about news and politics that seemed above my age and uncouth and harshly directed at anyone who accepted the status quo, like teachers and students and parents who believed what they saw on the news.
To make matters worse, I was the smallest kid in 5th grade because of a quirk about my October 5th birthday. If had I been born a few days later, Louisiana law would have said I was too young to begin kindergarten, and I would have had to wait another year to begin school and would have began as the oldest and biggest kid in class. Though laws would change, by 1983 I was in 5th grade and always the youngest and smallest kid in school, a fact that would frustrate me in college, when I was researching statistics and read a Canadian research study and learned that almost all of the best performing hockey players shared the same birthday month, and that some university team realized that those adults had began life as the oldest and biggest kids in school, giving them a physical advantage. A year from four to five is a huge difference at that age, it’s probably 20 or 30% more. That’s an advantage that persists and paves ways for physical advancement, or to allways be the biggest bullies, or other things that we don’t understand. And mentally and academicly, too. We never know the cause and effect of being the youngest kid in class. Nature and nurture. In 1983 I had both working against me.
My situation was compounded because I was considered odd, strange, or weird by most kids, not unlike kids a decade or two later could be labeled as disruptive or ADHD or autistic; but I don’t think I was any of those things. I was just weird and smelly and had atypical bathroom habits, like peeing in the bushes instead of the bathroom and getting up and leaving class when I had to poop, just like my dad told me I should. And because of my family name and how famous Big Daddy was, I was unfortunately unable to hide from being in the spotlight of teachers and kids, and I wasn’t clever enough to avoid questions like Wendy had in school and I’d become awkwardly quiet when questioned about even the smallest of details about my home life; Monday writing assignments about what we did with our families over the weekend became an act of creative writing for me, and I never volunteered for weekly the show and tell that most kids seemed to enjoy. I grew to loathe fifth grade and everything associated with school and I acted out a lot, which led to deepening everyone’s perception that I was a weird kid.
The day after Walter slapped Big Daddy on television, a group of larger boys cornered me in the gymnasium during physical education class and held me by my outstretched arms behind the bleachers where the Coach Simpson couldn’t see us. They alternated between calling me “Feet” due to my disproportionately large feet and “Dolly,” because it was a girl’s name and Dolly Parton was famous by then; in the Baton Rouge accent, Partin is pronounced with a drawl and syllables blend together and sound like Dolly Parton. A few joked with each other and remembered my old nickname, given earlier that year after an embarrassing flatulance incident in class, when I farted three times loudly and malodorously, and, sensing the laughter, exaggerated my facial expressions and squeezed out another, and they called me Fartin’ Partin for a while. After much debate, they settled on Dolly, which had been the first the choice of the biggest of them.
The biggest bully and I had already fought after my dad had given me the advice to act like a man and stand up for myself, so he had already beaten me badly and now just toyed with me. His minions held me and he climbed onto the fourth bleacher and made a gesture like the World Wide Wrestling heroes most of us watched on television Saturday afternoons, wrestlers with names like Hulk Hogan and The Junkyard Dog and Andre the Giant who knew how to put on a show for crowds of people paying to see men fight or at least pretend to fight. The big bully who was a year older than I was stood atop the fourth bleacher and pounded his chest like the wrestlers on television and said he’d defeat Dolly Partin, and he beckoned the few onlookers to cheer him on and by reaching towards them with outstretched hands and pumping his hands up to raise the roof, and when they cheered for him he jumped off the bleacher and brought his elbow down onto my chest, stomping the ground with his foot as he landed and grunting loudly to imply he had brought the full force into my chest. I cried out loud in shame and frustration and buckled so hard that the other boys released my arms and allowed me to collapse onto the floor, and cradled my stomach and gasped and claimed my crying was because he had hit me so hard in the stomach. To me, that somehow felt more brave than crying simply because I was the smallest weirdest kid in school. I was letting everyone know I had been hurt badly, and perhaps they’d be impressed that I would be able to stand up and stop crying eventually. I must have been a good actor, because my tears were so convincing that even the bullies stood back, temporarily embarrassed that their game of wrestling had to a serious injury. Sensing a moment of pity, I cried louder and hoped for more sympathy, and I must have cried so loudly that Simpson heard and walked over, perhaps because he couldn’t ignore what was happening now that a crowd had gathered.
Simpson was a young coach, about the age of my dad but somehow still soft and not intimidating, even to kids. He was of average height and had a paunch belly packed into a tight physical education teachers shirt that fit his shoulders perfectly, the type of tight fight that implied it fit him when first issued a few years before. I was scared of him, because he had pushed me against a wall twice before and seemed to dislike me.
“Hmph,” he said, watching me cry. “Not as tough as your dad, are you, you little punk.” He turned around and walked away and left us there. After that, the group of aspiring professional wrestlers felt validation in what they were doing and would become my daily tormenters in the 5th grade.
Simpson never said anything, and all that week he even made more derogatory comments about my dad, though I believe he mistook Big Daddy as my father. Both were named Edward Grady Partin, and Simpson could have been one of the boys my dad had intimidated in high school. Or, he could have been one of the two kids Big Daddy and Sydney Simpson kidnapped in 1962, when they were locked up for 48 hours until the charges were dropped, and he could have harbored resentment . That part in the story is also illuminated by Chief Justice Warren in Hoffa vs. The United States, expounding on how Big Daddy had been facing federal prison helping a fellow Teamster, Sydney Simpson, kidnap his children after loosing custody of them in the same East Baton Rouge Parish courthouse that has my custody records. They had been arrested together, and were in the same cell in 1962, but only Big Daddy was released. Warren had this to say about that:
One Sydney Simpson, who was Partin’s cellmate at the time the latter first contacted federal agents to discuss Hoffa, has testified by affidavit as follows:
“Sometime in September, 1962, I was transferred from the Donaldsonville Parish Jail to the Baton Rouge Parish Jail. I was placed in a cell with Partin. For the first few days, Partin acted sort of brave. Then, when it was clear that he was not going to get out in a hurry, he became more excited and nervous. After I had been in the same cell with Partin for about three days, Partin said, ‘I know a way to get out of here. They want Hoffa more than they want me.’ Partin told me that he was going to get one of the deputies to get Bill Daniels. Bill Daniels is an officer in the State of Louisiana. Partin said he wanted to talk to Daniels about Hoffa. Partin said that he was going to talk to Captain Edwards and ask him to get Daniels. A deputy, whose name is not known to me, came and took Partin from the cell. Partin remained away for several hours.”
“A few days later, Partin was released from the jail. From the day when I first saw the deputy until the date when Partin was released, Partin was out of the cell most of the day and sometimes part of the night. On one occasion, Partin returned to the cell and said, ‘It will take a few more days and we will have things straightened out, but don’t worry.’ Partin was taken in and out of the cell frequently each day. Partin told me during this time that he was working with Daniels and the FBI to frame Hoffa. On one occasion, I asked Partin if he knew enough about Hoffa to be of any help to Daniels and the FBI, and Partin said, ‘It doesn’t make any difference. If I don’t know it, I can fix it up.'”
“While we were in the cell, I asked Partin why he was doing this to Hoffa. Partin replied: ‘What difference does it make? I ‘m thinking about myself. Aren’t you thinking about yourself? I don’t give a damn about Hoffa. . . .'”
None of that was in Blood Feud, which emphasized the charm of the Bobby and the steadfast determination of Walter, and helped propogate the myth that my grandfather was a patriotic hero who risked his life to help the FBI and Kennedy’s stop Hoffa’s corruption. For a while, his moniker nationally was All American Hero.
Fifteen years later, I think Sydney Simpson’s two young children could have been about the age as Coach Simpson, whom I recall being called Sid by another teacher, so there’s a chance he was one of them; at least either of the males, Sydney and his son. Or, he was simply a horrible adult and unfit to be responsible for a gym class of 5th graders in public school, perhaps holding his job only because of the favorable contract teachers had with Baton Rouge schools thanks in part, ironically, to Big Daddy’s Teamsters supporting the state teacher’s union so that administrators could buy more steak dinners. But I’m unsure, because he was so much older than I was at ten years old, just before I turned 11 and most kids were 12, and most people over 20 looked like old people to me.
After Simpson practically provided bullies with unrestricted permission to punish all Partins, I had a brief repose from gym class after the second half of The Blood Feud aired that weekend. On Monday’s show-and-tell, several kids spoke about what their parents thought of the film. White Oaks was public high school in Baton Rouge that catered to lower middle class white suburbs, and a surprisingly large percentage of parents attributed their climb out of poverty and into the middle class to Big Daddy and the jobs he and his “gangster Teamsters” brought to town. Many were truck drivers, but others worked on the newly formed filming industry that Hoffa and Big Daddy had brought in from Hollywood, and others were in small unions that Big Daddy supported with the might of Teamsters Local #5. Some parents recalled me as the kid who gave their children lice, but more recalled my grandfather giving them work and helping increase their benefits and standing up for their livelihoods when politicians wouldn’t. Many quoted a few governors who said Ed Partin would become governor if he only had a college degree. But, instead of increasing my status in 5th grade, their praise did nothing but shine a spotlight on me in class and renew interest in my oddities, and when the bell rang for physical education class after show-and-tell I stood up and the kids next to me laughed and pointed to the blood in my seat and a few older boys joked that I had had my period. Mrs. White looked at the seat and the blood soaking through my jeans and took me to the principal’s office instead of gym class, and they debated what to do about Edward Partin’s grandson. I heard them say that they couldn’t report anything because “his grandfather would find out,” so the principal decided to allow me to skip gym class, where I’d have to wear shorts that would show all the welts and cuts on my legs, and I’d spend every gym class in the waiting room outside of his office instead of going to gym class where Simpson and his gang of hoodlum fifth graders waited for me. I was saved from practice wrestling matches behind the bleachers, which, in a way, made the beatings at home worth while.
Wendy had never stopped being reticent in public, though instead of fearing school desks she feared her office cubicle and the questions from coworkers. Like Granny, she was uneducated single mother and found the highest paying possible for her at Exxon plastics, a chemical plant up the road from CoPolymer, where Granny still worked. For the two weeks The Blood Feud was broadcast, she attracted as much attention at Exxon Plastics as I did at White Oaks Elementary, not because she was weird, but because she had kept the Partin name and probably because she was an attractive young lady and an office assistant who was surrounded by mostly college educated and prideful male engineers who had grown up fascinated by Hoffa and Kennedy and Big Daddy. They questioned her daily and made jokes they may have thought were benign or inoculant, ranging from her getting her job because of Big Daddy and she was unable to be fired to she looked like Dolly Parton; she was a beautiful young woman, and though not as voluptuous as Dolly she was what most people considered curvy and athletic. Mostly though, whether male or female, her coworkers simply asked questions and assumed, like most of America, that Big Daddy was really a hero for risking his life to help the Kennedys and they wanted to know more about him from her.
For them, it was fascinating to have someone so close to the truth sitting at a desk and easy to approach. For her, their questions felt similar to when she was in high school and was asked who’s your daddy and where do y’all go to church. And because I was a weird kid, she was frequently called at work to handle my problems at school, and she would loose her hourly pay when she had to take off and drive all the way from Exxon Plastics to pick me up and buy head lice shampoo and watch me for a few days of mandatory quarantine before I could return to school; and, of course she worked with one of my classmate’s parents, and the gossip at Exxon was that she was an unfit mother who let her son go to school with lice and infect everyone else’s kid. I’m sure she heard some of the gossip. And, like my court paperwork implied, she was intemperate, unable to act with moderation or restraint, and she still had nervous breakdowns when she felt overwhelmed at work and at home.
The night of the second half of Blood Feud, I had been playing with the gears and pulleys on her new 10 speed bicycle. They looked like the ones Brian the one armed drug dealer, but the pulleys on Wendy’s bicycle must have been more delicate than the prototypes on Brian’s motorcycle, and I accidentally derailed the chain. I was trying to fix it when she came in and thought it was broken instead of merely derailed, and she screamed that she had been saving money for a year to buy it and I ruined it just like I ruined her life. She began to slap me and I had cried as loudly as I had when the boys jumped on me behind the bleachers, but that seemed to make her angrier. She screamed at me to stop crying and slapped me, and I began crying louder and more earnestly, and for some reason I cried out for PawPaw. She screamed so loudly that my voice was dwarfed, and she began shouting that he didn’t want me, that no one wanted me, that I ruined everyone’s life; and, still screaming, she ran to her bedroom and came out with her fathers thick leather belt folded in half and grabbed my left arm with her left hand and began hitting my buttocks and thighs with the belt in her right hand, screaming that she’d get me to stop crying just like her father taught her to be silent. I collapsed like I had behind the bleachers and cried loudly, hoping she would stop like the bullies had stopped, but she clung to my arm and held my tiny body up and hit me until she tired, and during that lapse I crawled into my closet and tucked my head down and tried to hide with my butt in the air, but she followed me and held the belt with both hands and hit my butt and thighs again and again until I cried so hard and for so long that I passed out.
I woke up some time later, after dark, and the light was on in my bedroom and the door was shut and Wendy’s father’s belt was draped over the doorknob. Beside it, on the wall, were momentos of other people in my life. There was a framed painting by Debbie of two deer walking in the woods that said, “Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don’t walk beside me, I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” Below it was a photograph of the stately oak tree outside of the convenience store by PawPaw’s house, blown up to fit inside an 8X10 frame. Below that was Aunt Janice’s shadow art that she had framed for me a few Christmas’s before, the one before I learned Santa Claus and Jesus weren’t real; it was comprised of my name written in tiny letters again and again to form the image of a boy flying a kite, and she had told me again and again to always remember my name, that I was a Partin and an important part in her family; I’ll never forget those words, because they sounded she kept reinforcing that I was named Jason Ian Partin and a part in this and a part in that. Those three framed pieces of art made me smile, and had been on my wall as long as I could remember. But, that evening, I didn’t see them and could only see he belt beside them.
I changed my pants because they were bloodied and I laid on my side and wished I were in Arkansas with Anne, and that made me sad. I eventually cried myself to sleep.
The next morning I put on clean clothes and Wendy acted as if nothing happened and I walked outside and caught the school bus and made it to school in time for Monday’s show-and-tell. When I got home that afternoon, the belt was gone and my bloody clothes had been washed and folded and placed back in my dresser. Later that week, Wendy took me to get my favorite snow ball at the neighborhood snowball stand. A few days later, after her new boyfriend, an cheerful but quiet engineer from Exxon named Mike, fixed her 10 speed bicycle and she was happy again and she bought me a bicycle so that I could ride with her to the 7-11 near Zachary’s public park and we could buy Coke slushies. I stood on the playground by the swing, near where she and Debbie and I used to throw a Frisbee after delivering the Yellow Pages, and she told me how hard it had been for her at work lately, and how my “asshole father” wasn’t paying alimony, whatever that was.
We got another slushie and picked up a bag of Raisnetttes and took them to Parkland Mental Hospital and Debbie asked how I was doing and I answered fine, like you’re supposed to, and life continued as usual.
Like most kids, my innate nature is to be happy, and I began to look forward to biking with Wendy to get and slushies and, after I got better biking, snowballs at the snowball stand farther away. But my favorite thing in the world was visiting Debbie and practicing magic tricks and eating Raisnettes with her and imagining myself as the special kid I knew I must be because I was a Partin, related to national heroes who were unafraid of even the most powerful men in America, a fierce fisherman and remarkable bike rider. And, I was the only kid I knew who had fake thumbs in their pocket and could make tiny handkerchiefs disappear in them; though I never showed it to anyone, because I didn’t want disclose the secret and I knew that if the big kids at school suspected I knew magic they would beat me until I told them; I’d find another way to make friends, I was sure.
A few months after the Blood Feud won an academy award, I showed up for show-and-tell with a photograph and what I thought was a great story to share, one so wonderful that even the kids in Mrs. White’s class would be impressed and begin to see what a special kid I was and how much I knew about how the world worked. I stood up and walked to the little stage Mrs. White used for show-and-tell to get us used to public speaking, and I proudly told everyone that I knew SpiderMan’s secret identity: he was a nigger named Richard.
At the time, most of my classmates would have watched public television after school, and The Electric Company had a daily skit with an actor in a Spiderman suit solving neighborhood crimes, like the episode where someone was steeling all the snowball cups, and Spiderman trapped him by placing ice cream cones in a line leading up to his web. Of course none of us knew that was an actor and we assumed it was real, just like wrestling. All of us could sing the SpiderMan theme song that concluded each episode of The Electric Company’s daily skit.
Where are you comin’ from?
No one knows who you are…
I thought they’d be happy to learn who Spiderman was, but I never go to show them the photograph because everyone started laughing and Mrs. White grunted with exasperation and grabbed me be the arm and drug me to the principals office, and I was banned from show-and-tell for the rest of the 5th grade, just like I had been banned from gym class, I felt.
No one asked about the photo. It had taken a while for me to get a copy from Uncle Kieth, and I had almost forgotten about him taking me to meet Spiderman at a Hollywood film set organized and staffed by Teamsters Local #5. Big Daddy’s brother, Doug Partin, was my and Kieth’s uncle and had taken over running #5 while Big Daddy was in prison, and we had access to famous actors staying in Baton Rouge and using Teamster trailers during filming. Jimmy Hoffa had began funding Hollywood films decades before, and Big Daddy had used those connections to help bring more films to Louisiana and Mississippi and hired Local #5 drivers to transport film sets and equipment and to house actors and filming crews. In 1983, a famous comedy was filmed in Baton Rouge, The Toy, starring Jackie Gleason as a rich southern man living in a Baton Rouge plantation home and paying a poor black man to be his son’s toy – given Jackie’s fame and other roles, that was a good choice by the producers. They made another great choice by having the famous comedian Richard Pryor portray The Toy, especially because Richard was well known for racially charged comedy that brought words like “nigger” into mainstream discussions. When Kieth took me to the set and knocked on Richard’s trailer, he had been preparing for the scene in which the rich man’s son makes him dress up as Spiderman and be a life-sized superhero toy for him. Richard took off his mask for the photo with Kieth, and I was in awe as I took the picture, pleased that I saw Spiderman without his mask and that my family was so famous that even superheroes fear them; Kieth was as big as Big Daddy, and poor Richard was looking up at him in fear as Kieth’s massive arm draped over his shoulders and partially hid his Spiderman costume. On the drive home, Kieth chuckled and said, “Man, that Richard’s a funny nigger!” A few months later, he had gotten around to printing the photo and showed it to me, and I took it to school hoping to redeem myself. I was unsuccessful, and even lost the photo evidence that Spiderman was, in fact, a funny African American named Richard Pryor. By the time The Toy was released that summer and everyone saw Richard Prior dressed as Spiderman, I was free from the fifth grade and had returned the photograph to Kieth and never mentioned that I had known about Richard all along.
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