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Monica Takes Manhattan

As far as her own family is concerned, Monica remains very close to her mother and her stepfather, communications tycoon Peter Straus, even touring England with them last summer. Their picture is prominently displayed on Monica's bookcase, in a frame shaped like a giraffe ("They've got a cute thing about giraffes -- Peter gave my mom a giraffe brooch when that whole thing was going on, to remind her to look over the trees"). She also travels often to Los Angeles to visit her dad and her younger brother, whom she's very protective of and refuses to discuss at all. In January, she took a vacation with her stepmother in Utah. It was then that Clinton's deal with the independent prosecutor was announced. Neither of them had any idea it was coming, and they both broke down in tears.

The disclosure of these personal details should not in any way imply, however, that Monica is letting it all hang out. "There's one thing I need to be firm on: Please don't look in my closet," she says. "I don't know if someone will say to you, 'How can you possibly write about Monica Lewinsky and not look in her closet?' because of all the dress stuff -- but please don't."

What other celebrity has to beg a journalist not to rifle through her closet?

But Monica is not a celebrity. She is many other things: a global icon, a cautionary tale, the individual on whom America projected its feelings about sex and power and politics, but even she wouldn't call herself a celebrity, preferring the phrase "recognizable face." She's very much aware of the things she is called: liar, stalker, tart, thong-snapper. Because of her past, many of the plans she had made for her future are no longer viable. At one point, she had planned to go to graduate school for psychology, perhaps at John Jay College; more recently, she's pondered business school, starting her own ready-to-wear line, or trekking in Nepal.

But right now, Monica knows, there are few options for her other than being Monica. "It's not like I can just go and get a job somewhere," she explains. "People aren't jumping to hire me." It's a troublesome Catch-22: She's Monica, so she can't be your shrink, so she has to be Monica -- an identity she may not escape even in Nepal.

"One time, a relative of mine went on a trek in the jungles of the Amazon," explains Monica's mother, Mrs. Straus. "Even she, an anthropology professor, couldn't understand what the guides were saying. Then a couple of natives began a loud discussion. Amidst the cacophony, a sound rang out loud and clear: 'Monica Lewinsky.' We all tease Monica that this is taking the brand-name concept way too far."

But brand Monica hasn't always delivered on its promise. Among other foiled business plans was the unraveling of her much-publicized $1 million endorsement deal with Jenny Craig, which required her to lose 40 pounds in six months. Though Monica lost 31 pounds, Jenny Craig cut ties three months into the program after receiving negative press about its choice of her as a role model. And though she says she was never fired from the account, Monica ended up with only $300,000 and is now pondering legal action. "I have to be careful, though," she says. "They could come after me, and God knows I can't afford that."

The fact is, despite the money from this endorsement and the half-million she made from Monica's Story, Monica's not exactly rolling in it. When the scandal first broke, she turned down millions to pose for Penthouse and, according to one source, also spurned a $5 million offer from publisher Judith Regan to tell her story. (Regan Books later published Monica's Untold Story, a mean-spirited parody rumored to have been written by Regan herself. Regan did not return calls.)

Monica finally chose ABC for her first interview, though the network came under fire for agreeing to screen the interview only domestically, thereby allowing Monica to sell her story internationally for an estimated $1 million. Despite this cash infusion, Monica has run through much of her savings to cover her living expenses and a reported $1.5 million in legal bills, which she's paying off herself. "I'm okay for today, but not for tomorrow," Monica explains, disputing reports that she's bankrolled by her family. "My father and stepfather both have been so good to me, but I am determined to take responsibility for my financial obligations," she says. "It's part of moving on with my life." At this point, Monica is completely settled up with her second set of lawyers, Jacob Stein and Plato Cacheris, now counsel for alleged spy Robert Hanssen; presumably, the publicity-hungry William Ginsburg (who declined to comment) will have to wait.

Luckily, Monica doesn't have to pay for her new publicist, Juli Nadler, who follows me into Monica's home one winter evening by a half-hour, clearly stressed about what her sometimes indiscreet client may have already revealed.

"They left me out in the cold, those sons of bitches," she explains. (The car service was late.)

"Oh, you look like a goddess!" says Monica as Juli, a blonde in her mid-thirties, shows off an embroidered sweater Monica bought her.

"Stand up so I can get a look at you!" says Juli, sizing up Monica's turquoise halter dress. "Now, that's terrific!"

A lifelong New York City resident who sometimes wears her blue-tinted Ray-Bans indoors, Juli met Monica while she was working with Henri Bendel, the first store to carry Monica's bags. Monica, oddly enough, had never had a publicist -- at the height of her troubles, her mother would often field press calls -- so Juli, who also represents the newly opened restaurant DinerBar on 100th Street, took her on as a pro bono client. "I met Mon and her family and fell for them," she says. "This is a labor of love."

Indeed, Monica and Juli are now inseparable, but the two also have a complicated relationship, with Juli constantly admonishing Monica to speak more quietly and Monica treating Juli as a teenager would an overprotective mom. For example, while making chitchat about Puffy, Juli jokes: "Do you always pack heat when you go to dance clubs?"

"You know I can't go to dance clubs," snaps Monica.