Everyone who knew him called him Taco. I didn’t know him. I called him Pat.
It was 1997 when I met him. He was a holdover tenant at the duplex I purchased. Pat hadn’t paid rent in over a year, and I needed a place to live.
The process of evicting Pat was problematic because Pat was never sober. I figured him for a drunk and a loser. One day in October, I was able to catch him before he was pickled, and drove him to a storage business so he would have a place to stash the mountain of furniture and other stuff that was crammed into his side of the duplex.
It was a little awkward, but I tried to make small talk in the car on the way there. “So what do you do?” I asked, and then thought that was a stupid question. What he did was drink— every day, long and hard. “I mean, what have you done?”
“I’m a musician,” he said tersely.
“Oh, yeah? What do you play?”
“Winds?” I asked
“Saxophone,” he said more tersely than before, in a way that conveyed that the conversation was over.
I paid for the storage unit, and he signed for it. The plan was that I would be at the duplex the following day with a U-Haul truck to help him move his belongings.
That next morning, I knocked on the front door, but no one answered. I unlocked the door and let myself in. Pat was on the couch, passed out or sleeping it off, I couldn’t tell. Nothing was packed, or gathered to make the move easier.
I brought a friend to help and we began the long process of moving out all of Pat’s stuff, while Pat laid on the couch snoring. He did eventually wake up, grumbled something, and left on foot.
My friend and I took the first load to the storage place. By late afternoon we had finally emptied the house. “You know what?” I asked my friend. “Pat told me he was a musician—a saxophonist. Did you see a saxophone in there?” My friend said he hadn’t.
When we returned, Pat was lying in the middle of the floor. I nudged him with the toe of my shoe and told him that he had to leave. He stood uneasily. He walked up to me and gave me a shove, and continued to advance, though mightily off balance. It wouldn’t be a fair match, and I told him so. I told him that we wouldn’t fight. He grimaced and staggered out of the duplex, down the street and out of view as my friend, old Mrs. Bradley, who resided in the other side of the duplex, and I watched.
I asked Mrs. Bradley what his story was. Had he always been an alcoholic? She said no. “He had a girlfriend and her son living with him. He was very in love with her, and loved that little boy, too. And then she left him, and he’s been drinking ever since.” Wiping tears away, Mrs. Bradley said, “Pat is like a son to me,” and she went inside.
I felt rotten.
Pat did return a few months later. I saw him walk in to the front yard from the living room window, where I sat. Remembering that the last time I saw him he was drunk and offering to fight, I met him in the front yard to head off any trouble. He was sober and healthy looking, and nicely dressed in cowboy boots, jeans, a button-up shirt, a blazer, a scarf around his neck, and a cool looking wide-brimmed hat from under which long black hair hung to his shoulders. Pat looked like a musician. Pat looked like a guy ultimately at home on the stage or in the studio.
“What’s up, Pat?”
“I’ve just come to see Mrs. Bradley.”
“Oh, OK, no problem,” I said, feeling a little dickish, and went back inside.
A few months later I read in the newspaper that a man had been hit and killed by a driver on a poorly lit stretch of street on the East side. Later it was reported that the dead man’s name was Pat “Taco” Ryan. Another article appeared, by John Wooley, a few days later. It was titled, “Late saxophonist left a legacy of his music”:
Sometimes, life was a struggle for Ryan, as it often is for artists and others who, as (Brian) Thompson says, “always take that chance.” As (Jim) Karstein puts it, “like all of us, he fought personal demons in his life.” But, like most first-class musicians, what he’ll ultimately be remembered for is his dedication to his art, and for the beautiful notes he left behind to resonate in hearts and minds and souls.
“Pat wasn’t a stockbroker going out and playing the Warren Duck Club for two hours and then going back to the day job,” Thompson says. “There was no golden parachute for Pat. He never had a house; he never had a really nice car. He lived the artist’s life. He gave it all up for the music.”
Some of his stuff was still in the garage. I needed the space and was clearing it out when I found his yearbook. I thumbed through the pages of the yearbook, and read the comments that people had written.
He was truly a loved individual, and no doubt popular beyond belief. He had graduated from Tulsa Edison High School, as had I, but many years earlier in 1970, when I was not even a year old.
Though the article I had read in the paper mentioned it, it was there in the pages of the yearbook—a verified, and arresting fact. Pat “Taco” Ryan was voted most talented his senior year. I also found a framed photo. In it was a beautiful young woman with long fair hair, a little boy and Pat. They looked very happy.