We talk about basketball. She’s a Knicks fan. I ask her why she likes basketball players and she gets defensive. “Who said. Just because I dated Dennis Rodman?” I remind her that she has also salivated in print over Charles Barkley. “I have? Darn.” So she answers my question. “They have beautiful bodies, like ballet dancers. I love their long sinuous muscles. Football players have big fat necks, and baseball players always have fat asses.”
Her upstairs hall is lined with boxing photographs. “I like it in a metaphorical way. Boxing is really brutal and really horrible to watch, and on the other hand it’s man-against-man. Men always have to fight to prove their strength.” I ask her why she thinks that is, and she says, “Because they don’t have a vision.” She suggests that if all world leaders were women, there would be no war, and I tell her she’d feel differently if she’d lived under Margaret Thatcher for over a decade. “Maybe she’s a transsexual,” says Madonna.
Madonna has a photograph of Muhammad Ali on her wall. It is inscribed in black ink: To Madonna. From Muhammad. We are the greatest. “And,” says Madonna, “I couldn’t agree with him more.” They met for dinner earlier this year. They played a game around the table where they had to name people from the past who they would like to meet. Madonna thought it was funny that Ali chose leaders – Mohammed, Jesus, Abraham Lincoln – and then, as his final choice, Marilyn Monroe. (The ones that she remembers choosing are Anne Sexton – Madonna is mildly appalled that I haven’t read poetry – Frida Kahlo, Eve, and her mother.) I ask her whether she gave him anything in exchange for the photo. “He asked me to make a fist and hit him in the face,” she says. At first she said no way – hit Muhammad Ali! – but he insisted. So she made a fist and gently brought it up into his jaw. It was what he wanted, and it was what she did.
The Final Minutes:
Me: Have you played Truth or Dare since your movie came out?
Madonna: (contemptuously) Oh God, that’s such a boring question I’m not going to even answer it. Next!
Me: don’t be too condescending. You make a film structured around and named after this game and not it’s too “boring”?
Time has passed, and the sun has set. There are no lights on in the room, and Madonna is beginning to fade away into the dusk leaking in from Central Park. She lays her head on the arm of her chair, and encircles the side of the chair with her arms, like a child hugging a pillow. Her answers become quieter and quieter. It is obvious she has had enough, but this is not the way one might expect Madonna – the forthright, loud control queen – to deal with the situation. Eventually I suggest that we adjourn until next time. She nods, and then, rather curiously, begins asking me questions.
Madonna: What sign are you?
Me: What sign do you think I am?
Madonna: (loudly) I don’t think you’re any sign. What sign are you?
Madonna: (snappy) Just answer the damn question!
Madonna: (nods) That’s the sign my mother is.
Me: Which are you?
Me: What does that make you?
Madonna: Proud. Arrogant. Bossy. Pushy.
Me: And what am I supposed to be?
Madonna: Shy. Sensitive. Emotional. Are you close with your mother?
And Madonna interrogates me at some length about my family, past and present. It seems only fair to tell her (though I’m not telling you). And this episode makes what follows even stranger. My personal history roped in, Madonna walks me to her door, shakes my hand, says we’ll meet soon, then tells her press agent that she was most unhappy with today’s encounter and will not talk to me again.
She is prevailed upon to change her mind. Five days later, I am to meet her outside her apartment building, and if none of the “maniacs” – as those around Madonna call the keenest star-struck loiterers – are there, we will go and walk her dog, a young pit bull terrier called Papito, in Central Park. Her press agent Liz Rosenberg and I arrive at the appointed time, but Madonna has already left.
When she returns, Papito is sent upstairs – “he’s been being bad” – and we head back to the park to talk. “Let’s go and buy some marijuana,” shouts Madonna, sarcastically, as we stand at the crosswalk. On our way over, a turning car tries to barge in front of her and she shouts at the driver, “It says WALK! Duhhh!”