During the earliest years of elementary school, Ricky Q was my second-best friend. Ricky was his nickname; teachers called him Frederick. Joey G lived nearer, right around the corner, so he was my best friend first. Ricky Q lived half a block away in the middle of his grandfather’s junkyard. The venue more than the distance inhibited a child like me who strove for the impeccable and immaculate, goals nagged into me by a compulsive obsessive mother who although quite friendly with Ricky Q’s Nana warned me against the dangers surrounding her house. But the treasures of the junkyard overwhelmed my own fastidiousness and fear of my mother’s wrath, and so, by fourth grade, Ricky Q and I played almost every day after school at the big family house amidst the old refrigerators, a sidelined spiral staircase, piles of bricks, and, especially, the old sports and playground equipment. As winter approached, we hid for warmth underneath a knit blanket Ricky borrowed from Nana, in an unwheeled DeSoto abandoned on its haunches in the corner of the yard. I can’t remember who first thought to open his fly beneath the blanket. It may well have been me. I had always been interested in the private parts of other men and boys. I thought I was discreet. But when my elder brother took me to the huge saltwater pool at Palisades Amusement Park, and he told me we would be getting into our swimsuits in a changing room almost as large as the pool itself, he said I’d be in my glory. I pretended not to understand, but I knew he was right. So maybe it was me in the DeSoto. Or maybe it was Ricky Q who knew me at least as well as my brother. Or maybe, best friends that we were by then, we arrived at the same idea at the same time. There wasn’t much to see or feel between each other’s legs. But it was fun enough to keep us busy most days that winter.
Sometime in the spring of our fourth grade, a Cub Scout pack was organized at our school. Ricky Q wasn’t interested in scouting, and neither was I, but my parents were eager for me to make new friends, some manly boy friends, different from Ricky Q, the mention of whose name always prompted my father to wave his right hand and mutter faggot. At the first Friday afternoon den meeting, though, the only new friend I made was a weeping third-grader who somehow lost the slide for his neckerchief. I gave him mine, hoping that, without it, I would no longer be allowed to scout. But my selfish gesture comforted the boy, whose mother embraced me and invited me to their house on Saturday. Ricky B was his nickname, but his official given name Eric was embroidered on his Cub Scout uniform. This too made him cry. Nonetheless, despite the regular outpourings of tears and the difference in our ages, we had a lot in common (TV and movies, especially comedies) and in uncommon (no sports. thank you). Ricky B had a huge collection of puppets and, in his basement, a Punch-and-Judy stage where we mounted improvised shows. Even without puppets on our hands, we put our heads through the curtain to imitate our favorite comics: Sid Caesar and Howie Morris, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Martin and Lewis, Groucho and Harpo, and, most of all, The Three Stooges. Ricky B bought at the local novelty shop a shiny bald-head wig to wear as Curly; I used my winter wool hat to replicate Moe’s bangs; Larry we didn’t really need. Ricky B was as smart and creative and silly as I, and we became best friends. We never even thought to look at each other’s dick, not even when the Bs took us to their beach club on Long Island. We changed in and out of our trunks in separate bathrooms.
Ricky Q and I were still pals even though, without cold weather to explain our retiring to the back seat of a junked automobile, we saw each other less frequently after school during the warm weather. But when the winds whipped up our fifth and sixth grade walks home from school, we were again blown together, when I didn’t have a date with Ricky Q, in the dead Plymouth that replaced the DeSoto behind his house. I mentioned once, when we were completely naked under Nana’s wool blanket, that his grandfather must love Groucho Marx since he only bought old Plymouths and DeSotos, but Ricky Q didn’t get the joke. He didn’t watch You Bet Your Life; he didn’t know who sponsored the show. By February of sixth grade, Ricky Q had a wad of curly hair surrounding his dick and, although our game was by then to get and keep each other as hard as possible for as long as possible, Ricky Q’s erection was much bolder than my bald one. One time, Ricky Q said he bet he was hard enough to stick his dick right into my asshole. I thought that was a weird thing to suggest, and so I stayed away from the junkyard for a while.
In the summer between third and fourth grades, my parents booked a two-week vacation for us in the Spaghetti Belt, a Little Italy on the other side of the Catskill Mountains from the far more glamorous Borscht Belt hotels like Grossinger’s, Brown’s and The Concord where big-name comics Myron Cohen, Morey Amsterdam, Milton Berle, George Gobel, and even Sid Caesar and Martin and Lewis headlined. The Villa Venezia, where I found myself that summer, had a Bingo Night, a Movie Night, a Pizza Night, and a Barbeque Night, but no stars performing in the community room. There wasn’t even a pool; instead, a sign on the premises invited guests to swim – at their own risk – back and forth to a wooden raft anchored in the middle of a pond. We were met, after my father had parked our Chevy into a makeshift lot beside the pond, by Mr. V, the owner-chef of Villa Venezia. He yelled for his son to help carry our luggage to our room in the Big House. The boy who arrived, shirtless and skinny, with straight black hair flopped across his left eye, was introduced to us by his father as Ricky who, we were told, would start fourth grade in the fall and was first in his class. Ricky was his nickname; his mother called him Richard. My mother remarked that Ricky V and I had a lot in common. Her perception turned out to be very right, but for the first week of our stay these commonalties were irrelevant. Ricky V, when he wasn’t fulfilling his father’s frequent demands, was inseparable from Jerry L, a fourth-grader from New Jersey whose family had been coming to Villa Venezia since its first season three years earlier. From my favored spot on a wooden recliner beneath a huge oak tree, where I read one of the several novels I had packed for the trip, I often looked up during the day to see Ricky V and Jerry L, their arms draped around each other’s naked shoulders, marching to or from the pond. At night, though, because we were all pretty much the same age, the three of us regularly sat cross-legged in a corner of the community room where we intertwined ourselves with mozzarella stretched to record lengths from our pizzas or wiped the little red markers off each other’s Bingo cards or imitated the love scenes from the week’s movie. After Jerry L and his family returned to Jersey on the Saturday in the middle of my stay at Villa Venezia, Ricky V and I continued the games as a couple, including our notorious recreation of the surf-strewn Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity. During most of each day, my arm was wrapped around Ricky V as we invented other games and wandered well beyond Villa Venezia on country roads and mountain paths. When my family’s time at the resort ended, and I was packed into the Chevy for the ride home, I hid my head in a book and cried silently all the way to the city line.
For seventh grade, Ricky Q and I moved to the new Junior High School about a mile from our block, but since I had been admitted to the Honors Program (through which I would complete grades seven to nine in only two years), Ricky Q, whose academic record was not stellar, and I rarely saw each other except on our walks to and from school. On the way home, I usually peeled off near the Little League Baseball Field to play with Ricky B at his house, but at least once each week Ricky Q suggested that, instead, the two of us should play in my bedroom. During a cold snap earlier in September, Ricky Q had beaten off until he came in the Plymouth. We had often traded stories of our wet dreams by then, but when Ricky Q demonstrated how those spoutings – and those feelings — could be reproduced at any time, even when awake, I was amazed. He urged me to try it – he said he’d help — but even the Plymouth seemed too public for this level of play. My mother was working by then, and I was a latchkey kid who had the house to myself until my brother got back from basketball practice or my parents came home from work. And so later that week, naked in my bed, Ricky Q guided my hand up and down the shaft of his dick until he let loose a torrent of spume that hit both our faces. Ricky Q fell back on the bed with a roar; I laughed hysterically. Then, Ricky Q said, it was my turn to become a real man. He licked his thumb and massaged the head of my cock as he slowly stroked me up and down. The tickle within was almost unbearable and I told Ricky Q I couldn’t stand it. He responded by taking my dick in his mouth and sucking it until I bucked like a bronco, and Ricky Q had to let go. When I calmed down, I searched for the suds I was used to from my wet dreams. Hadn’t I come? Where was the stuff? I asked Ricky Q. He said he swallowed it, and that it was good. A little salty, he said, but good. It was good for me too, I said, and we laughed.
“Officer” Joe Bolton, the host of the Three Stooges program on TV, announced that the comedians would be appearing on the Cerebral Palsy Telethon in early October. They would even take pledges over the phones, Bolton said. Ricky B and I decided to stay up all night at his house from the Saturday 10 PM get-go of the Telethon until we had a chance to talk to one or more of the trio. As it turned out, the Stooges didn’t make their appearance until Sunday morning when more kids would be watching. As soon as host Dennis James announced that the boys would be heading over to the phones for a while, we started dialing, me on the living room phone and Ricky B on his mother’s private line in her bedroom. Most of our calls were answered by non-celebrity volunteers who we hung up on before quickly redialing. I also hung up on Betty White, Kate Smith, and, twice, on Mike Wallace. When I heard Ricky B scream Larry! I ran into his mother’s bedroom and Ricky B and I got our faces as close together as possible on the handset. Larry Fine was asking how much we wanted to pledge. Ricky B answered, ten dollars, and I told Larry, we love you guys. Oh, you’re fans, said Larry. We’re crazy for you, I said. Ricky B told Larry that our favorite game was to pretend to be the Three Stooges. Who do you play, Larry asked. Curly, said Ricky B. Moe, said I. So who’s Larry? asked Larry. Another friend, I lied, but he’s not here now. Right, Larry said, and he asked where they should send the pledge invoice. Ricky B gave his address and his mother’s phone number, and we three stooges said our good-byes. As soon as we hung up, we grabbed a notebook and wrote out a complete transcript of our conversation with Larry Fine.
On the last Saturday in June, we arrived in my father’s Buick for our two-week stay at Villa Venezia. Ricky V was there, officially to help to carry our bags to our cabin overlooking the new kidney-shaped swimming pool. But before he could grab a suitcase, I grabbed him and we hugged like long-lost brothers. Girlfriends, my brother snickered. My brother was working at Villa Venezia that summer and took time out from his kitchen chores to greet my parents. I followed Ricky V around the rest of the day, helping him carry the bags of other arriving families. We ate lunch together with the rest of the hotel staff in the kitchen about an hour before Ricky V had to ring the big bell on the porch of the main house calling all guests to their huge mid-day meal. The staff made do with leftovers from the previous day’s menu. So, Ricky V turned to me and said, I hear one of your friends from the City is coming next Saturday. What? Mrs. V, who made all the bookings for the resort, had told him that a Mrs. B had called, identified herself as the mother of my best friend, and asked if there was a cabin available for her family for the week of the Fourth of July. Mrs. V had to juggle to arrange for a cabin adjacent to ours. I must have blanched or blushed or whatever I did when aghast in those days, prompting Ricky V to ask, Didn’t you know? NO! I ran to our cabin and demanded to know if my mother realized the Bs were coming to Villa Vanezia. My mother, who had been weepy a lot lately, even taking days off from work because, my father said, she couldn’t get it together, teared up and said, Yes, we wanted to keep it a surprise. I screamed that I wanted no surprises from her ever again. I ran to the front office and asked Mrs. V for some stationery. Hiding in a corner of the new multi-purpose casino hall, I wrote, feigning ignorance of his family’s vacation plans, Dear Ricky, Now that I’m going into ninth grade, I’ve been thinking what it means to grow up. I didn’t want to say this before because I didn’t want to hurt you, but I need to be honest and tell you I don’t find those childish games we still play fun any more. I’m maturing, you know? I’m in high school almost, but you are still a little kid. So maybe you should find some good friends your own age from now on. Late in the afternoon, after all the new guests had arrived, Ricky walked me to the Rexall Drug Store in Jeffersonville where I asked the postal agent the fastest way to get this letter to the City. Special Delivery, but it’s expensive. I emptied my pocket of most of the tips I had earned from helping Ricky V carry luggage, and sent Dear Ricky B on its way. Tuesday, Ricky V told me his mother had received a call from Mrs. B cancelling the reservation. My mother wondered if something she had said or done had offended Mrs. B. Maybe, I said, you should never have gotten involved in my business in the first place. My mother, who was half-dressed for dinner in a pleated yellow gown I loved, left our cabin, walked to the pool, and sat down crying in the shallow end of the kidney until my father led her back to our room. My father thought we should head back to the City the very next day, but I begged him to let us stay.
By the time we did return home, late the following Saturday, my mother was a mess. A nurse had been called to watch over her. A nervous breakdown, my father said. Your mother is going to have to go away for a while. And you’ll be staying at your grandfather’s house for the rest of the summer. But that’s miles from here. What am I going to do there? You’re going to be good, my father said. I could hear my mother whimpering from her room. I asked my father if I could stay at Ricky Q’s. His parents were always fond of me, and they were especially willing to go out of their way under the circumstances my father described to them over the phone. After dinner, we watched Saturday Night Wrestling before turning in for the night. It was a warm July night, and the Qs did not have air conditioning or even a fan in Ricky Q’s room, so we undressed and lay quietly until I saw Ricky Q’s dick grow tall and hard. He bent over and studied the new shoots of hair sprouting around my cock before he took me in his mouth. When I was stiff, he raised his head and suggested we suck each other. I copied on Ricky Qs erection the movements of tongue and lips I felt on my own. When I closed my eyes, I imagined I was making love to Ricky V, and that’s why, when my mouth filled with semen, I swallowed it and uttered a passionate, Ricky, as I came too.
Even after her recovery, my mother was too embarrassed, she said, ever to return to Villa Venezia. Although we wrote fairly regularly to each other, Ricky V and I didn’t see each other during the whole of our high school years. Because I had skipped Grade 8, I turned sixteen only in the middle of my twelfth grade year, but that meant I could get working papers and a job at Villa Venezia in the summer before college. But since city boys had to be eighteen to get a driver’s license while country boys were allowed to drive at sixteen, I took a Greyhound Bus to Monticello, where Ricky V picked me up in his yellow VW beetle. We hugged, and I felt his taut back beneath my right hand and the light stubble of whiskers on my still-pristine cheek. His brown eyes glistened as he announced that we were going to have a blast. And we did. Villa Venezia had tripled in size, providing us with plenty of silly guests and preposterous events for us to ridicule and imitate. When the laughs didn’t come naturally, we raided the hotel’s wine cellar or crashed the nightly pot parties of the older waiters in their back rooms. Ricky V left me alone some nights when he had a date with his high school sweetheart, but he never failed to report the next morning on how far they had gone in the back seat of the beetle. He was still a virgin, he explained (I said I was too), but they had made it to third base. Amy let him fondle her tits and make her come by fingering her clitoris as she sucked his dick. She’s got a friend who’ll do the same for you. So how about double-dating after we finish in the kitchen this Saturday night? Ricky V asked me as we manned the grill for Barbeque Night. Yeah, I said, sounds great. We met the girls outside the Jeffersonville Theatre and went in for the midnight showing of The Birds. Amy and Ricky V wanted to sit in the back row where they could make out, but I wanted to watch the movie and asked Marsha if she wouldn’t mind sitting closer to the screen. I bought plenty of popcorn and bon-bons and Coke, and Marsha and I got to know each other pretty well from the way we gasped or laughed or screamed and shook at various scenes. It was a terrific film, and we detailed every turn of its plot to Amy and Ricky V as he drove the car to a quiet edge of the Franciscan monastery in Callicoon. Ricky V passed around a joint he had wangled from the older boys and a bottle of Chianti from his father’s cellar. It wasn’t easy to undress in a beetle, let alone to arrange our bodies to come to climax without cramping, but soon from the back passenger seat, I could see Ricky V’s hands stretched beneath Amy as she moved her lips down and up Ricky V’s cock with a familiarity and certainty that reminded me of Ricky Q’s expert knowledge of how to extend my pleasure. I had never seen Ricky V naked before. His olive body was muscular, not from calisthenics, I knew, but just from working at the Villa; unlike Ricky Q or me, Ricky V was uncut, and Amy seemed to get a kick out of slipping her tongue beneath the foreskin. I was already hard when Marsha went down on me. It took me a while to find her clitoris, but her moan let me know when I had succeeded. I knew as well as Ricky V, of course, how to move inside a mouth, and it was some minutes before Ricky V warned Amy that he was about to come. Amy sat up and held her hands atop Ricky V’s whose fingers worked inside her vagina as he shot a load that hit the roof of the beetle; I came simultaneously, but had forgotten to warn Marsha who said, Shit, and spit semen out onto my belly. God, I’m sorry, I said, and played more rhythmically with her clitoris until she screamed, Jesus, and held me so tight I found bruises on my arms when I showered the next morning. When Ricky V had likewise satisfied Amy, he popped the lock of the front trunk and asked me to grab two big bath towels he had borrowed from the hotel. The girls dried and dressed themselves in the car, while Ricky V lead me to a statue of St. Francis overseeing a fountain where we bathed and laughed and readied ourselves to drive Amy and Marcia home. By the time Ricky V and I returned to Villa Venezia, it was time for us to serve breakfast to the guests.
I never saw Ricky B again although I know from Google that he and his wife founded and still direct a puppet theatre in Los Angeles. Ricky Q and I had a few more trysts until he transferred from Queensboro Community to a junior college in Orlando where his grandparents had bought a farm from the money a developer paid him for the junkyard. When I first heard about Disney World a few years later, I guessed that his grandfather had likely sold the Florida property to Walt for millions. Google doesn’t return anything about Ricky Q; maybe he pays for his privacy. Ricky V and I kept in touch irregularly by postcards and aerograms during our university years. He did pre-law at Cornell. When he started Fordham Law, he gave me a call, and I invited him to dinner at our place, Ricardo’s and mine, in Astoria. Ricardo – no one calls him Ricky – taught Spanish at the Catholic High School in Long Island City where, after we started dating, he persuaded me to apply for a Counseling position. We rented the apartment overlooking the East River with a view of Manhattan soon thereafter. When Ricky V arrived, I passed his offerings of a California bubbly and an Italian cheesecake over to Ricardo so that I could embrace my old friend. I gave him a kiss on each cheek. Oh, God, how I have always wanted to do that, I said. He laughed and turned and said, You must be Ricardo; I’m Richard. They shook hands. You’re Richard now? I asked. And you’re gay now? he responded. I’ve always been gay, I said. And I, Ricky V said, have always been Richard.
James Penha, a native New Yorker, has lived for the past quarter-century in Indonesia. He has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes in Fiction and in Poetry. Snakes and Angels, a collection of his adaptations of classic Indonesian folk tales, won the 2009 Cervena Barva Press fiction chapbook contest; No Bones to Carry, a volume of his poetry, earned the 2007 New Sins Press Editors’ Choice Award. Penha edits TheNewVerse.News , an online journal of current-events poetry.