A New Pitcher for the Parrots (part 1)

We’ve had a personnel change on the Parrots. It came as a big surprise a few weeks ago when Malik, our pitcher, told Josh that last season would be his last with us. He said his classes at Cal Tech were getting too demanding timewise. He said he was gonna miss playing with us a lot, but school has to come first. That’s why he’s in this country in the first place.

Although the pitcher in softball isn’t as important as the pitcher in baseball, you still need a good pitcher to win games, and Malik is a very good softball pitcher. He was apparently a very good cricket ‘bowler’ back home too; he says that’s how he developed his throwing arm.

Malik gave Josh a full 4 weeks notice to find someone for the next 10 game season, but good pitchers don’t grow on trees. At first Josh thought maybe he could promote from within. Dave was interested for a little while, but even he knew we needed an experienced pitcher on the mound. Maybe I can put it this way: the difference between softball and baseball is that, in baseball, a good pitcher can win the game for you, and, in softball, a bad pitcher can lose the game for you.

Josh wasn’t doing too well finding someone, and it was Adam who came to the rescue 10 days before this current season started. I’m allowed to tell you the story of how he found Ryan because both him and Ryan said it was cool for me to blog about it. So don’t worry: I’m not breaking anyone’s anonymity here.

I reckon the word ‘anonymity’ tipped y’all off: Adam found our new pitcher at an AA meeting.

It was apparently one of those meetings where the people present share something from their experiences or their feelings or stuff like that. There was this one young dude there Adam had never seen before, and the dude talked about how depressed he still was, even though he was thankful for being ‘clean and sober’. Then he started talking about things he missed from his life before alcohol and drugs screwed it up, and one of the things he says he enjoyed the most – and misses the most – was playing softball. He talked about being a pitcher and how he wished he could get back to playing.

How’s that for a coincidence?

Adam went up to the guy after the meeting and told him about the Parrots and how we needed a new pitcher. He couldn’t be sure how good the dude was – and we’re a team of good experienced players in a hard league – so he couldn’t promise him anything beyond a tryout at our next practice. The dude (I’ve already told you his name is Ryan, so I might as well start using it lol) was real excited for the chance.

Ryan’s big and solid, my height but more like 210 to my 185, with reddish brown hair and blue eyes. He came to our next practice, and seemed like a real nice guy, so we all wanted him to have a good tryout. Still, we had the team to think about, and we weren’t gonna take him on as a pitcher if he couldn’t pitch.

Ryan tried out by pitching to us in our regular batting order, which meant I was up 4th after Dave, Keaton and Josh. He looked a little rusty when he started out, and couldn’t find the zone, but then his stuff settled down. Dave and Josh both got hits off him, but he did get Keaton to swing and miss a bunch of times. I thought I’d go easy on him when it was my turn…and he threw three pretty unhittable strikes in a row. After that it was no more Mr. Nice Guy and I smoked the next couple balls he threw at me, but I was impressed. We all were by the time he’d thrown to all 9 of us. Knowing what we did about Ryan’s history (he didn’t make it a secret that Adam had met him at an AA meeting and that he’d only been sober a few months), there was some concern about Ryan being reliable enough to show up for games and practices. Adam then told us that people in ‘early sobriety’ are some of the most reliable and punctual people in the world, so we shouldn’t worry about that. Then we put it to a vote, and it turned out unanimous that Ryan was gonna be the Pasadena Parrots’ new pitcher.

He looked super happy when we told him, and said he couldn’t wait for our next practice. I thought it would be fun to get to know him some, so me and Keaton suggested we go grab something to eat. Adam said he’d tag along and treat us all to Mongolian barbecue. Nobody was saying no to that, so I got in the shitbox, Keaton got in the truck, and Adam and Ryan got into Adam’s Lexus and we headed to the Mongolian place all of us like on Colorado.

We were there for over two hours. Ryan’s got a story that sounds incredible, and it took a long time to tell. Some of it was really personal stuff, but he said he wanted us to know and that he didn’t want it to be a secret. Adam told him a few times that he didn’t need to talk about it to me and Keaton (or anybody), but he was down for it. He said he didn’t mind if we told the other guys on the team…and he even gave me permission to write about it like I’m doing now. I only hope I can do justice to it: Ryan’s story sounds like something out of a crazyass movie.

Ryan’s only just turned 23, and he’s already got one heck of a life story. He’s seen all kinds of shit that I didn’t even know existed, and he had me and Keaton so transfixed that we kept losing track of what they were cooking for us. (And, if I lose track of food, the story’s gotta be pretty dang interesting lol.)

I forgot to mention that the AA meeting Adam met Ryan at was a gay meeting (I didn’t know they had those), so, yeah, Ryan’s gay. He grew up in Orange County and he says his childhood was normal enough. He liked playing sports, although he knew he was gay, and he was as big a star on his high school’s football team as you can be if you’re a center or a right guard (those were his two positions.) The only problem he had was that his parents were super conservative and super anti-gay. They weren’t religious or anything; they were just anti-gay. So one day he was having a normal teenage fight with them and he just up and came out to them. Just like that. And just like that they threw him out of the house.

Lucky for him he had a really great best friend, and her family knew and liked him. They agreed to take him in so he could finish high school, but they didn’t want to keep him any longer than that. So, the day after he graduated, and with only the money he’d gotten as graduation presents, he had to set out into the world and see what he could make of himself.

All on his own, even though he was only 18.

“Fuck,” said Keaton. “I thought I got sent out on my own when I was done with high school, but my family had me all fixed up with a job and a union card…”

“…and a talent for bareknuckle fighting,” I added.

Ryan looked surprised at Keaton.

“I’ll tell you the story another time,” he said. “But I was never on my own like you were. I mean, I had to start over in a new city and get myself an apartment…but I had a family I could go back to if things didn’t work out.”

So Ryan got a job flipping burgers at In ‘n’ Out and got an apartment with some of the other guys who were working there. That’s when he started playing recreational league softball: two of the guys he was living with were on a team and they were looking for a pitcher. Ryan didn’t have too much softball experience (although he’d gone through little league and could play baseball), but he sounds like he was pretty much a natural and got the hang of it pretty quickly.

He says those softball games were the best time of the week for him. He also said that, even though he was just working for minimum wage in a burger place, it was a very happy time of his life. He said his parents threw him out so he could starve on the street…and there he was, a high school graduate holding down a job and living off what he was making. He was feeling good about himself, and even decided to start taking classes at Glendale Community College. (Glendale is where he ended up living and working. He wanted to get out of Orange County as soon as he could.)

That’s when all the bad shit started for him.

There was nothing wrong with GCC, and he started going to classes, but, only a couple weeks later, a man approached him on campus. Ok, so this dude was a total scuzzbucket, but Ryan says he talked a good game and was very convincing. The scuzzbuket ran an ‘escort agency’ (for dudes who wanted dudes), and said that guys with Ryan’s football-player looks were always in high demand…and how would he like to make some extra money?

The money sounded like a fortune for someone who was working at In ‘n’ Out and was having trouble affording books for school. He figured he had some street smarts since his parents kicked him out and that he could handle whatever kind of dude the ‘service’ threw at him. So he said yes…and became an ‘escort’.

First thing Ryan made super clear to us: the kind of ‘escort service’ he was working for wasn’t the kind of place you’d call up if you needed a date for a party. It was there to hook guys with money up with other guys who needed money for sex, pure and simple.

“Ride ‘em cowboy,” muttered Keaton.

“I’m sorry?,” Ryan asked.

“That’s what the women who were paying me to be a whore used to yell in the throes of passion,” Keaton explained. “So don’t feel bad…you’re not the only ‘escort’ (Keaton said the word with air quotes) sitting at the table.”

“Wow,” said Ryan. “I really do have to hear your story.”

“He only gives it out on a need to know basis,” I said with a smile and feeling a little one-down because my story was so boring. I got approached by an escort service once too, but I told the woman (this was a service for women) who was trying to recruit me that I wasn’t interested. Keaton was right: I just don’t have what it takes to exchange sex for money.

“So I was 20 years old and thought I was this streetsmart tough guy,” said Ryan, taking up his story again, “and I wasn’t. I wasn’t prepared for being a male escort. At least not in this town. See…it was the escort thing that got me into drugs.

“I mean…I drank and was smoking pot since I was in high school, but never so much that I had a problem with it. But they say it’s a ‘progressive disease’ in AA.” Instinctively I looked at Adam for confirmation. He nodded. “But suddenly I was being taken out by men who wanted me inebriated so I’d do whatever it is they wanted. Or they just wanted a boy to party with. So it was liquor one night, pot the next, coke the next, meth the night after that, pills the next…and then back around the cycle. But it was especially coke and meth and then I’d need valium to come down.”

I guess I looked puzzled, because Keaton added softly, “it’s a benzo.”

“And that’s how I started getting addicted to drugs. The men I was being paid to have sex with had other drugs too. Half the time I didn’t even know what I was taking…but, if I wanted a big tip at the end of the night, I had to go along. I think I enjoyed it at first…who doesn’t like to party?…but then it got very fucked up and twisted.” He paused and looked at Adam. “Should I tell them the next part of the story?”

“I think they can handle it,” Adam said. “But be forewarned,” he continued, turning to us, “there’s some stuff that may shock you’re good ole Southern boy sensibilities.”

“I’m hard to shock,” Keaton said. “Bubba…not so much.”

“Just so long as it doesn’t give me nightmares,” I said, both very interested and a little scared.

“It might,” said Ryan, “but here goes.”

Ok, so it really does get fucked up and twisted. Y’all should be warned too.

What happened was that, one day, the dude who ran the escort agency sold Ryan as a slave to some seriously fucked up rich dude. Y’all read that right: he fuckin sold him. Ryan didn’t know at first, and went to the dude’s house thinking it was just another job. Then the guy pulled a gun on him, tied him up, and shoved him in the closet for…Ryan didn’t know how long, since it was dark in there. Can you fuckin imagine that anyone would do shit like that?

When he finally let Ryan out of the closet, he said ‘do as you’re told and you can have the run of the house…disobey me and it’s back in the closet.’ Now, like I told you, Ryan’s built like a football player, so I was wondering why he didn’t just kick the dude’s ass and get the fuck outta that place. That’s the part of the story I still have trouble understanding. But it seems like his first stay in the closet started to break his spirit, and the gun and the whips and the other weapons the dude had scared him into obedience too. And it’s hard to throw a punch when you have your hands cuffed behind your back, which is how the sick fuck had Ryan most of the time.

And the sick fuck kept feeding Ryan drugs. He doesn’t even know everything he was taking, but he thinks that some of it may have been shit to make it easier to control him. That’s along with the coke and meth and benzos, which he used as rewards. If Ryan behaved, he got to snort some cocaine or shoot some meth or get a benzo to come down if he got too high.

Ok, so the other thing y’all gotta understand is that this sick fuck who Ryan had to call ‘master’ didn’t just want a sex slave. He wanted an actual slave who would do housework too. And he never let him out of the house: the doors all locked from the outside to keep him from escaping. On top of that, there was a cage (a fuckin cage!) in which Ryan got locked up when the sick fuck wasn’t in the house.

“How long did this go on?,” I was finally able to ask.

“Almost 2 years. I’m not sure exactly how long. I lost track of time.”

“Fuck, man.”

“And you never thought of escaping?,” Keaton asked. I could tell from the look on his face that he was having as much trouble as I was understanding how Ryan let himself be a prisoner in the dude’s house.

“You guys don’t understand,” Ryan said. “My ‘master’ was controlling my mind. With drugs and fear. Those are two pretty powerful ways of persuading someone…and, once he’d broken my will, it was easy keeping me under control. I won’t tell you most of the shit he had me do…”

“There’s more??,” I said.

“Oh, man…this is only the tip of the iceberg I’m telling you about.”

“There are some very sick gay guys out there,” Adam interjected. “And they do shit you two wouldn’t believe if we told you about it.”

“Yeah,” said Keaton. “Maybe bubba and I don’t need all the gory details. Knowing about the closet and the cage and the other shit is enough for me to get the picture.”

“The other thing he kept me in line with was the threat that I’d be homeless if I left him…he convinced me that I’d never get another job, especially as I was so obviously an addict, and that no one would ever take me in. So I had to stay with him to keep a roof over my head and the drugs I needed so I wouldn’t go into withdrawal and maybe die. If I left, I’d have nowhere to go but the street…with no money for drugs, let alone food. I think he had me more terrified of that threat than of the whip or being tied up in the closet again.”

He was going to give us more details, but Adam stopped him.

“Tell them how you got out,” he said.

“Finally one day my ‘master’ fucked up and forgot to lock my cage when he went to work. Somehow, when I got out of the cage and he wasn’t around I began to wish I was free again. All the doors to the outside were locked from the outside, but I finally threw a chair through a sliding glass door and just escaped. With no money, no possessions and nowhere to go. And needing drugs bad or I’d go into withdrawal.”

So then he was out on the street. He couldn’t go back to the escort agency that sold him, he didn’t think he could get a job looking like a total addict – and starved down to 160 pounds. (Remember how I said he was a big solid dude? I was having trouble imagining him 50 pounds lighter. He must have looked totally emaciated.) The only thing he could think of to do was to ‘hustle’ on the street to get money for drugs. He says he has no idea how he didn’t contract the HIV virus, given the kind of men he was sleeping with. Maybe Someone was looking out for him after all.

So there he was, sleeping on the street, unless he could find some dude to go home with who’d pay him for sex, sometimes only with drugs. And all he was was 22 years old.

“The only thing that kept me going was repeating ‘this can’t be my life’. That kinda became my mantra. Finally, though, I realized it was my life and I had enough. So I decided I would let myself go into withdrawal from all the drugs and hope that would kill me. I guess I could have gotten drugs to overdose on, but that would have taken money, and I was done being paid for sex. And at that time I didn’t even have money for food. I guess I could have started begging from strangers, but I still had some pride. Anything…even dying…seemed better than that.”

All I could do was say “fuck, man.”

“So I lay down on the ground and prepared to die a horrible death from drug withdrawal…although, looking back on it now, I’m not sure it would have worked. I did start to get the shakes and cold sweats and stuff, and my vision got blurry and I had trouble moving, and I figured the end was coming. Then…I don’t know what happened…but…”

“But what?,” I asked.

“I guess I got scared or changed my mind and didn’t want to die. Only I didn’t know how to save myself. So I just started yelling ‘help! help!’ wherever it was I was…and someone, I still don’t know who, must have walked by and called 911, since the next thing I knew there were cops and paramedics putting me into an ambulance. They took me to the hospital, where they stabilized me even if I didn’t have insurance…and told me I needed to get myself to rehab if I wanted to stay alive. I didn’t know anything about AA or NA” that’s Narcotics Anonymous “or the steps or rehab. I’d been living in a cage for two years, remember.

“That’s when one of the hospital social workers stepped in and saved my life,” Ryan continued. “I’ve known a lot of social workers since that happened, and, well, some are good, some aren’t so good…and then there’s this one who truly was my guardian angel.”

“She’s in the program,” Adam said, meaning AA, “and she doesn’t want to have her anonymity broken. Suffice it to say she’s a woman around my age who’s been sober for over 20 years and likes to help people who seem like hopeless cases.” (Ryan: “like me.”) “I’ve met her at meetings, and she’s a truly remarkable person.”

“What she did for me was way more than a hospital social worker ordinarily would do for a homeless patient without insurance that the paramedics picked up in drug withdrawal. She later said that she did it because she was in the program and that it was part of her step 12 work.”

I didn’t know what step 12 was; Adam explained that it has to do with helping other alcoholics get and stay sober.

So this social worker arranged for the hospital to keep Ryan a few days so the withdrawal thing wouldn’t happen again, even without insurance…while she arranged to get him MediCal so he could go to rehab. (MediCal is California’s medical insurance for people who can’t afford their own. I’ve only heard good things about it.)

Then the social worker arranged for Ryan to be transferred to a rehab, where he went through treatment and ‘got clean’ from all the drugs he was addicted to.

When he got out (after a month), he needed to find a place to live. The social worker came back into the picture and set him up at a ‘sober living’ near Silverlake. I didn’t know anything about sober livings, so I had to ask. Turns out they’re places where people who are sober can live by renting rooms for not too much money and be surrounded by other sober people. And be kept away from temptation, since, as Ryan told us, drugs are always within reach if you want them bad enough. Some sober livings are cooperatives, with everyone sharing the chores, and, sometimes, having meals and going to AA meetings together as well. The first place the social worker found for Ryan was very strict, almost like another rehab, but he said that’s what he needed. After 3 months there he moved to the place he is now in Eagle Rock, which is what’s on the other side from Pasadena of the ‘suicide bridge’ y’all know about from Travis’ story.

“I’ve got a nice single room I can afford from what I make bussing tables at a Mexican restaurant called Mi Casita up Fair Oaks a ways. I know it’s not much of a job, but I make enough to live on…”

“…and work is work,” interrupted Adam.

I was wondering how such an Irish-looking white boy fits in at Mi Casita, but the owners like to hire people who really need jobs, even if they can’t pay them a whole lot. Chuy’s brother Abel, who’s in the Mexican food business himself remember, says he knows the owners of Mi Casita and that they’re very good people. He asked them about Ryan and they said only good things about him, except that he should eat more. (I’m not sure what they mean by that. Ryan looks like he’s put the weight back and weighs what he said he weighed before the drugs had him way down to 160. But it’s nice that the owners of the restaurant care enough about Ryan to worry about how much he eats. Incidentally, he was packing away the Mongolian barbecue even while he was talking almost the whole time we were in the restaurant. He explained that he’s had a huge appetite since he got clean, probably because his sick fuck of a ‘master’ withheld food from him too.)

Right about the time he was getting ready to move to the other sober living, Ryan was investigating AA meetings in Pasadena, and went to the one where he met Adam. Adam actually heard about him before, since he knows the social worker who was such a big help to Ryan when he was in the hospital, and she told him some of Ryan’s story. He didn’t know that Ryan was the kid she’d told him about until later, though. Anyway…then Ryan started talking about himself to the group and he mentioned how much he’d like to play softball again. Y’all know the rest of the story.

We ate up and left the restaurant. I told Ryan I was looking forward to playing ball with him, and he said he was too. Me and Keaton exchanged warm handshakes with Ryan, then Adam gave him a ride back to Eagle Rock, and me and Keaton headed home.

2 thoughts on “A New Pitcher for the Parrots (part 1)

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