As I cross the street to Caffe Reggio, a homeless man I see almost every day congratulates me. I wonder how he could have found out about my book and my movie deal with Madonna. "Congratulations for what?" I ask him. "Happy graduation," he says, "I guess you'll be leaving the neighbourhood now."
I can't help but take stock of my life on graduation day, even if it's not my graduation day. I only attended one semester at NYU, although they say I attended but didn't pay for a second semester, and now I can't get a credit card. So I'm here, squeezed into Caffe Reggio, watching a little boy of about six suffering through an unsweetened hot chocolate with unsweetened whipped cream. His face is rippling with disappointment and doubt, as if he is being horribly tricked. "I think they gave me coffee," he tells his parents, who are oblivious to his brave little sips. I want to run over and dump sugar into the boy's cup when I suddenly realise I might never have children.
"You'll meet lots of men when the movie is made," people say to me. I close my eyes and picture the muscular crew Madonna will hire, grips and best boys walking around, building things and doing chin-ups.
I decide then and there to give myself a graduation present. I will sweeten my own hot chocolate. I will get out and do something that I have always thought I would need a man to do. I will buy a stereo system.
I go to the Wiz, a discount electronics store on lower Broadway, and rush up to a man whose name tag says Assistant Manager: Rich. "Rich," I say, "I would like to buy a stereo." Then I burst into tears.
It had been a year since I had regularly heard my music - since the man I was seeing decided he was gay and moved to Los Angeles. (At my first meeting with Madonna, she asked if I was dating anybody. I said I was but I thought he might be gay. "Does he have any Judy Garland CDs?" she asked me. He did.)
Before him, I listened to the stereo of a computer nerd who lived in a studio on 14th Street. He had to have a disc removed from his lower back, and, three months after I nursed him back to health, he decided he was not the same man he once was without his disk and he couldn't see me anymore. He had mostly Frank Sinatra CDs. And before him, I had tried desperately to like the jazz collection of the man the Adam character in my book is based on.
Recently, I had listened to a lot of Indian music and Lite FM from riding around in cabs and watched whatever was on MTV.
Which gingerly leads me to stereos. "Do you know what kind of stereo you want? Just a CD player, or a turntable, radio and receiver?" Rich asks me. "What's a receiver?" I cry. I thought I was going to throw up. "It's nothing to get upset about. Will you be needing a tape deck?" he asks, soothingly.
I thought of a book I love, High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby, in which Rob, the main character, is always making romantic compilation tapes for girls. If I got a stereo, someone could make me a compilation tape. I tell Rich I will definitely need the tape-deck feature.
He pulls out a Madonna CD and pops it in stereo after stereo. "She's making a movie out of my book," I tell him, trying to cheer myself up. He looks at me as if I am the most pathetic person making up a story like that, and says nothing.
All the stories sound the same. Double and triple CD capacity, remote control, detachable speakers, disc skip, repeat, time display. AB synchro dubbing, equaliser, black ones, white ones, silver ones, whatever.
Finally, I sort of decide on one. A simple CD player with a tape deck and two little speakers. I thought it could fit on a shelf. "And don't worry, we take all major credit cards," Rich says.
"How do you, you know, hook it up?" I whimper.
"Easy," he says, "You just need to buy speaker wire."
"Speaker wire!" I gasp. This was going too far. "I have to think about it," I tell him. "I just can't," I say, and flee. "It's nothing to be embarrassed about, Ma'am," he says. Not Miss, but Ma'am. I am so depressed, I have to lurk around Shakespeare & Co. and sign a dozen copies of my book. "Back again?" the sales boy says.
When I get home to my rent-controlled apartment, my sink and my refrigerator are broken and there is another bill in my mailbox from NYU.
Some women still need men for certain things. Unfortunately, in my mind, there are certain things I simply associate with men: stereos, taxes, killing things, sex. We can't all be Madonna. I am so amazed by her, greeting me at the door with her beautiful baby in her arms. She owns a record company and I can't even own a record player. I'll just have to wait for a stereo and a baby. I'm just not ready to graduate. At least I have my work. Until then, I'll go to the Kettle of Fish and put quarters in the juke box and wait for my movie to go into production