Gentle readers, today is Madonna’s 56th birthday. Below is a short story that first appeared on JMG on this day in 2006, a date which, as you’ll see, plays a role in the story.
Ricky Loved Madonna
Twenty years ago today,
August 16th 1986, I was a few months into a new job with AMC Theatres, a position that I would hold for seven years after having spent a few years
after college drifting around bartending and DJing. After
burning through three DJ gigs in about a year, I took the management job with AMC almost in desperation, happy to finally have a regular
paycheck. I bought my first brand new car. I had several dozen
underlings. I had a business card. I felt like a grown-up, almost.
Twenty years ago today,
it was a Saturday. As the assistant manager, I had to be at the theater
at 10am even though I had closed the midnight shows the night before,
not getting home until almost 4am. I stumbled through the
still-unfamiliar opening procedures. My mind was on Ricky. I took the
cash drawers out to the concession stand and the box office and turned
on the air conditioners and lights in all the auditoriums. The first
movie, a Disney cartoon, started at 11:30am and we had hundreds of
people in front of the box office before I even rolled up the mall
Twenty years ago today, the night before was a Friday. It was the opening night of the remake of The Fly starring Jeff Goldblum. My six-plex was jamming. The Fly sold out at every show, driving the overflow audiences into Top Gun and Aliens,
which were still doing decent business on their own. All six
auditoriums sold out by 8pm and I rushed to get that show’s money
counted before the first of the auditoriums began to let out and we had
to start the process all over again. I pushed into the counting room
inside the manager’s office and dumped several thousand in $20s onto
The intercom buzzed.
“Mr. J., there’s a man here to see you.”
In the lobby was my friend Todd. “Joe, I’m on my way to see Ricky. Can you come? He’s worse.”
looked out into the mall where hundreds of teenagers milled around in
front of closed storefronts. The Interstate Mall was on its last legs.
All that was left within view was the theater, a pinball arcade, an adult novelty
shop, and the driver’s license bureau, which was closed at that hour.
The teens roamed the broad unswept avenue of the mall in swirling,
shrieking packs, anxious for the late show to begin.
I shook my
head. “Todd, I’m the only one here. I have the late show and then the
midnights. The last movie doesn’t let out until almost 3am. I have to
lock up.” Todd nodded and made a move like he was going to hug me, then
realized that a dozen of my employees were watching. Awkwardly, he stuck
out his hand as if that’s what he’d intended all along. I shook it and
he left. I had never shaken Todd’s hand before.
Twenty years ago today,
one week earlier, Ricky went into the hospital. He’d had a seizure on
the bathroom floor of his sister’s condo. Todd and I went to the
hospital the next day and found him lying unconscious in his bed,
unattended, in a pool of feces. Todd staggered into the hallway and
tried to control his retching while I looked for a nurse. At the nurses’
station, the stout Jamaican woman behind the counter nodded curtly but
didn’t get out of her chair when I asked that Ricky receive some
attention. I went back to find Todd sitting out in the lounge.
“Joe, I can’t be here. I’m freaking out. Do you know we walked right in there without a mask on?”
“I think the mask is more for him than us….so if…”
“I have to go.”
At Todd’s insistence we stopped at the Burger King a few blocks away and washed our hands. Even
though we hadn’t touched Ricky or anything but the door of his hospital
room, we scrubbed the front and backs of our hands like we’d seen
surgeons do on television.
Twenty years ago today,
two weeks earlier, Todd and I dropped in at Ricky’s sister’s condo.
Ricky had been forced to move in with her. He’d lost his job at the
giant hotel near Disney where he’d been training to be a pastry chef.
For a long time he’d managed to keep his illness a secret, wearing long
shirts even in the hot kitchen so that nobody saw the purple lesions that
were marching inexorably from his elbows to his wrists. A lesion appeared
on the back of his hand and that one he covered with make-up, but when one appeared right on the tip of his nose, the head chef and head of
human resources had called him in on his day off to fire him. Surely he
understood, they told him, that they couldn’t have him handling food.
Ricky’s sister opened the door, she made a face. “He’s not
feeling well.” She’d already made it clear to Todd on his previous
visit that she did not like her brother’s “friends.” Todd said quickly,
“Oh, well, we just wanted to drop off a present for him.” I had
Madonna’s latest release, True Blue, on CD in a sparkly bag. We
knew that he’d gotten the vinyl album earlier in the summer, but since
he was such a big fan, we knew he’d like to have the CD version too.
sister led us into the bedroom where we found Ricky shrouded in blankets and watching
television. He was cranky and inattentive to us, but momentarily
brightened when we gave him the CD. He examined the cover. “It’s the
same as the album, just smaller.” He didn’t have a player, hardly anyone
did yet, so he laid the longbox
reverently on his nightstand, propped against the lamp. His sister
hovered in the doorway, smoking, anxious for our departure, and we soon
Twenty years ago today, three
months earlier, I met Ricky for the first time at a party thrown by
Todd. I’d heard from Todd that Ricky was “sick,” as we nervously called it back then, but he seemed fine to
me. We stood outside on the patio and watched guys jumping into the
Ricky said, “So what do you do, Joe?”
I said, “Well I just started working for AMC Theatres.”
Ricky screamed a little bit. “Which ONE?”
I stepped back. “Interstate Six, why?”
“Because I am in there ALL the time. I saw At Close Range about five times just to hear Madonna’s song in it!”
“She wasn’t in the movie, was she?”
“No, but I’m just a freak for her.” He paused, then added dramatically, “We have the same birthday!”
“Oh….really.” I began to look around for Todd.
Ricky began to get very animated and his words tumbled out. “Yes. Same day, same year.
I was born exactly at midnight and my mother always said I could have
August 15 or August 16 for my birthday – it was my choice – and for the
longest time I had it on August 15 cuz that’s Julia Child’s birthday and
she’s a chef and I wanted to be chef and so she was my idol when I was little. Such a fag, right? Anyway, when Madonna came out and I found out her
birthday, I was all…that’s IT. I’m August 16 from now on!”
continued professing his undying love for Madonna until I was finally
able to make a graceful escape. Later, Todd told me that Ricky had
dressed as Madonna for the previous Halloween and belonged to her
mail-order fan club and we laughed a little bit at his adorably nutty
Twenty years ago today, August 16th
1986, it was a Saturday. The theater had brisk business for the morning
show, selling out the Disney movie. After all the houses were rolling, I
pulled the money from the box office and sat alone in the office to
count it. I turned on the radio so I could hear Casey Kasem counting
down the Top 40.
Todd called. “Well, the hospital just told me Ricky died around midnight last night.”
“Oh, no. Did you get in to see him…before…..?”
“No, his sister and mother were there, so I just left without going in.”
“Right.” That’s how it often went back then.
hung up and I sat there finishing up my money counting. I didn’t know
how to feel. I really couldn’t call Ricky a friend. I had to count and
recount the money several times, I kept losing my place. Then I heard
Casey Kasem say, “Hitting number one today is Madonna with Papa Don’t Preach.“
I called Todd back. “So, did they give you a time of death for Ricky?”
“Right, but is that today or yesterday?”
today is his birthday and it’s Madonna’s birthday and I just heard that
she’s number one today…and…..it would be, you know, sorta nice if
it was today.”
“What the fuck is nice about dying on your BIRTHDAY?”
never talked about it again. I never did find out what day was listed
for Ricky’s death. As the years went on and Madonna’s fame increased,
the press began to note her birthday. And ever since that started, I
think of Ricky on August 16th. I never knew Ricky’s last name. He wasn’t
a close friend. But he has stuck with me over these two decades.
Twenty years ago today, Ricky, aged 28, died on his birthday. I will always hope that it was his August 16th birthday. Ricky loved Madonna.