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Monica Takes Manhattan

Monica Lewinsky came to New York in search of a second act. And so far, she's made a better go of it than, say, Bill Clinton. She attends glamorous parties, goes on "half blind" dates, and has a nascent business designing purses. In fact, she seems to enjoy life as a one-name celebrity -- though she'd rather not discuss what she's famous for.


You might think Monica Lewinsky wouldn't want anyone to know where she lives. But if you happened to make your way to her West Village brick behemoth of a building, gain the elevator without arousing the suspicion of the surly gray-suited concierges, and ride it to a high floor -- but not the top -- you'd find a piece of construction paper taped on one apartment door. It's a crayon drawing of a girl with black hair, smiling, surrounded by tiny stars; over her head, spelled out in big black block letters by a neighbor's daughter, is the word MONICA.

This is the third month of the second year that Monica has lived in Manhattan, and she likes it very much, thank you. She enjoys yoga, shopping in SoHo, spending afternoons on Museum Mile, nosing around the 26th Street flea market, and cozying up with Sex and the City, though she doesn't much care for TV (considering), and anyway, her cable service was recently shut off because she forgot to pay the bill ("Oops," she titters). Also, she likes musicals such as Seussical and Rent and Les Miz, bingo nights at the downtown Tex-Mex bar Tortilla Flats, taking subways all by herself, hanging out with her mom and stepdad in their penthouse off Fifth Avenue, and supping at Alison on Dominick when she has a boyfriend, which she does not right now.

More than its lifestyle advantages, though, what New York offers Monica is a second act. Monica may still be Monica, just like it says on her apartment door, but today she runs her own company, The Real Monica Inc., which manufactures purses and totes "Made Especially for You, by Monica." Because she is Monica, she is also a sought-after guest at fashion shows, trendy restaurants, club openings, and VIP-list-only events: After spending so long as a virtual pariah, Monica pretty much goes where she's asked, from Manhattan File's "100 Hottest Bachelors" party to Vanity Fair's A-list Oscar party. She's partied at '21' with Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and engaged the likes of NBC's Dan Abrams and ABC's Chris Cuomo in a debate on media ethics over dinner at Tuscan Steak -- after all, she's a TV correspondent, too, reporting on U.S. trends for Britain's Channel 5. In one segment, she notes that "Manhattan must be the most stressed-out place on the planet," then relaxes with a facial and color hydrotherapy.

Last week, Monica also signed on to appear in an HBO documentary that will chronicle her role in the Clinton scandal. Now that she's no longer bound by her immunity agreement with the independent counsel, Monica says, she will finally set the record straight about such issues as who really wrote those talking points and other details of the year leading to the impeachment of the president -- a series of events she refers to with a sigh as "that whole thing."

"The other night, I was thinking about that whole thing," says Monica, now 27. "At first, I couldn't leave my house. I was there with the shades drawn, and outside were reporters and camera vans and people yelling my name and throwing things at my window. I was like this prisoner. Then one day, when everything had died down a bit, my mother let me go out on the balcony. It was this giant step. I started crying. She said, 'Don't you see, Monica, this is a big victory! Today you're on the balcony, in a month you might walk to the corner, and someday, in a couple of years, your life will almost be normal.' "

Her life in Manhattan may not exactly be normal, but New York has always been a haven for people with an infelicitous past. When reporters prowled Christopher Street in search of Monica's new home, her neighbors protectively directed them the wrong way. "Sometimes," Monica says, her famous mouth curling into a pretty, toothy grin, "I feel like the whole city is giving me a big hug."

New York is a big city, but when you're Monica, it can feel like a small town. Shopkeepers wave in greeting, people stop to introduce her to their dogs, and she gets extra whipped cream on her hot chocolate. Even at the toniest restaurants, maître d's kiss Monica on both cheeks and gasp over her outfit before whisking her to the best table; at the end of the meal, customers often send over a bottle of champagne or, perhaps, a piece of pie ("Well, if I have to . . . ," she jokes, digging in). And if a rude patron happens to ask if she's "really Monica," she just bats her eyelashes, puts on her sassiest smile, and purrs, "You know, I get that all the time!"

Here, she travels with a posse that includes Justin Bond -- a part-time drag queen who stars in the variety show Kiki & Herb -- and Victoria Leacock, a theater producer best known as the author of Signature Flowers, a book of flower drawings by celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. (Not long ago, the National Enquirer described Victoria as Monica's lesbian lover, to their considerable amusement.) These new pals accompany Monica to cool new places like Serena, where she chats with her friend Alan Cumming, or to Molly Ringwald's 33rd-birthday party in TriBeCa, or to Eugene, where Candace Bushnell rushes over to gush that Monica's her "idol." All of this led even the previously hostile New York Post to trade in its favorite Monica sobriquet, "Portly Pepperpot," for one far more affectionate: "It Girl."

While it's not surprising that Monica's been embraced by the downtown demimonde, always eager to capitalize on a new notorious face, even the most celebrity-hardened folks are gobsmacked in her presence. "She's dazzling," says writer Lise Hilboldt-Stolley, wife of Time Inc.'s Richard Stolley, the founding editor of People, who was amazed at the stir Monica caused -- "like the Beatles" -- at her Thanksgiving party. "It was such a pleasure to watch the most erudite and successful journalists, many of whom had covered her ordeal, slowly come to realize that they didn't know her at all. 'She's so smart,' they kept saying. 'She's so pretty.' But most of all, they were struck by her ability to spontaneously lift people's spirits -- even strangers' -- and to make them feel good. Spend two minutes with Monica and you understand exactly why the president became so smitten."

In fact, nothing short of the presence of her former paramour could make people on the streets of Manhattan stop and stare in the same way, gawking at the walking, talking girl who couldn't walk around or talk at all for so very, very long. Though Monica would prefer to put the past behind her, it still lives on in kneeling-Monica mousepads, Monica cigars, Monica stain remover, Monica's Guide to Dating, and even an Internet guide to the "Top 100 Monica Sites," which includes the Official Monica Anagram Page and a downloadable video game, "Cum on Monica." In February, David Letterman's Top Ten on "How boring was George W. Bush's speech?" had as its No. 1 answer "It was so boring, Monica got up from under the podium and left."

In other words, she's not likely to stop being a punch line anytime soon. Even in New York, her reception is not always positive. Not long ago, she was chased down the street by a group of men screaming epithets, and tabloids still report news like "Monica eats potato chips," "Monica's snuck out the kitchen door of Balthazar," and "Monica stuffs herself with crab cakes" ("I don't even eat seafood," she protests). Recently, a judge ruled that a professor who called a suny New Paltz student "Monica Lewinsky" could be guilty of harassment.

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