Monica Takes Manhattan

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.

Let her critics snicker: Being Monica has its benefits, among them her new line of eponymous handbags. As she told Barbara Walters, she survived her ordeal in part by knitting, and she’s since turned her hobby into a business that she says is doing “really well,” though she won’t disclose sales figures. In her role as designer of the Real Monica bags, she flies frequently to check on her Louisiana manufacturers and spends days crisscrossing the garment district, hunting for the perfect tassel, the right leather button, and assorted other “thingamabobbies.” Currently sold at Henri Bendel, Fred Segal, and London’s the Cross as well as on, her hippie-ish, reversible totes (now including men’s messenger bags) are christened by Monica herself with names like Bohemian Ruby Tote and Notting Hill Carryall. She also writes the Website copy for the purses, like this blurb for the Midnight Storm Camoufler Purse: “Glistening like a midnight comet, this blackout is a welcome one, unlike your hard drive crashing prior to deadline or at twelve a.m.”

The bag business is based in her apartment, a nondescript one-bedroom duplex near Christopher Street. It’s a good size but not a great size, with a small bedroom loft on the second floor (sometimes she pretends to spit on you from up there). She’s decorated it all with large country-cute furniture, like a red damask couch and a white vanity so tall that a hole had to be cut in her ceiling to make it fit. Hulking in a corner as well is her gym-size elliptical trainer, which she says she uses three times a week.

The most notable thing about Monica’s quarters, however, is the roses, which are everywhere. About two dozen paintings of roses hang on her walls; she’s got rose tea sets, rose mugs, rose doormats, even plates with pictures of roses on little wooden stands. “This is the Rose Collection,” says Monica, with a sweep of her hand. “It’s kind of an eclectic mix of rose things. Because I love roses. I always have, the way they smell … I just – I love them!”

From the aromatic candles to the video of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Monica’s apartment is no different from those of many other single girls newly moved to the big city, the kind of women educated enough to hold their own at cocktail parties but also able to calibrate the attractiveness of the guys on Friends in terms of “totally cute” and “obtainable cute.” Her high-culture tastes run to T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and Shakespeare, whose plays grace her coffee table; her low ones include chick flicks, women’s magazines, and Bridget Jones’s Diary, which she considers “a culturally revolutionizing” book. Her CD collection features Jewel, Alanis Morissette, Edie Brickell, Natalie Merchant, the Indigo Girls – and a copy of Bill Clinton Jam Sessions: The Pres Blows, given to her by a friend as a joke and immediately thrown away when this reporter noticed it.

After all, this is the first time Monica’s had a working reporter in her home, and as she leads me on a tour, she’s very nervous, trying hard to seem self-possessed and mature but also given to using words like whatchamacallit and acting out her thoughts: “After living for a while in L.A., you’re like, ‘Hello, I’d like some snow, please.’ ” Though she always reads the Times and prides herself on keeping up with cultural trends, there is something in Monica that seems younger than her 27 years – “Maybe it’s because I was a 21-year-old intern for five years,” she says.

She no longer drinks as of last summer – during her troubles, she had a tendency to overdo it – but it is, after all, Saturday night, so she makes cranberry-and-seltzers in fancy green glass goblets. “Cheers,” she says with a wan smile. Then she gets down to it.

“What’s difficult for me is that people have formed opinions of me based on a year during which I wasn’t able to define myself,” she says, perched stiffly on her couch. “And that’s not a true reflection of who I am. So, while I don’t do much press, because I don’t want to become sound-bite city – see, sound-bite city? – it’s important to get across that most interesting people are multifaceted, that they’re sarcastic and sweet and caring and naïve and lots of other things at the same time.”

What becomes clear after the most perfunctory tour of Monica’s apartment, however, is her passion for projects. She seems to have a new one each day, like sewing a string of cloth roses onto a new tank top just for fun, or seeing what she can do with her BeDazzler, a staple gun that attaches rhinestones to jean jackets. When I asked if there was an activity she’d like to do together, she suggested a glaze-your-own-mug place, Our Name Is Mud.

With colored construction paper and pinking shears, Monica handmade dozens of invitations to her first party after the impeachment. Unfortunately, before she had mailed them, the independent counsel warned her not to make any plans she couldn’t break because she might be needed in Washington if Clinton was indicted. So Monica put away all of these invitations and made a batch of cancellation cards, sending them out to all her guests just in case they thought she had actually gone on with her party and left them off the list.

It’s her friends from Los Angeles and Portland’s Lewis & Clark College with whom Monica remains closest, though she’s made a bunch of new ones in New York who are both supportive and protective. In fact, last night, some of them came over for dinner, though someone else cooked: “I was sous-chef,” says Monica. “Which means I chopped. Which is very, very hard.” Afterward, she put on Guys and Dolls and led everyone in a rendition of the whole show. “Then we all played Monopoly and a game called Taboo,” which she’d just bought and which was extremely hard to find. “Did you ever notice that none of the toy stores in this city carry board games?” she says.

But while Monica may have made some new pals, it hasn’t always been easy to find a boyfriend. She’s had one serious relationship since she’s been in the city, with filmmaker Mick Reed, but as of right now, she’s available – “very available,” she says, laughing. A self-described “romantic at heart,” Monica even wrote a Valentine’s Day poem at the behest of a British magazine, “To My Darling Prufrock”:

See you at the Oyster Bar at 9 o’clock

(don’t forget your handkerchief you know how the sawdust gets to you)

the white flannel trousers will be fine

(the Dolce & Gabbana ones)

… and yes, rolled cuffs are still “in.”

Wearing the bracelet and shawl you gave me
And my mermaid dress

… and I may just sing to you!

In the real world, Monica mostly meets guys at parties or, a couple of times a month, gets set up by friends, who screen out the curiosity-seekers and weirdos. “I guess you could call them blind dates,” she says. “But they’re really only half blind.” She may be playing the field at the moment, but Monica is adamant it won’t be for long. “I want to get married and have kids – soon,” she says. “That’s probably the most important thing to me.”

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.

Though she’s often motherly and affable, Juli can be a hard-ass of the first degree when it comes to managing Monica’s publicity. When Ed Koch and Al D’Amato wanted to be photographed next to Monica at a recent party, Juli cried: “She doesn’t get photographed next to politicians!” On her recommendation, Monica will no longer speak to the press about her years at the White House, the Clintons, or Linda Tripp, as she did during the period that Juli refers to as “B.J.,” Before Juli. All that is being saved for the HBO special, which Juli played a key role in negotiating and for which Monica will receive an undisclosed sum.

Monica herself is smarter about the media than you’d think. She reads a lot of her own press, has opinions on the merits of every journalist who covered her trials, and knows enough to parry difficult questions with the rejoinder “This is supposed to be about my life in New York.” She’s even kept clips from various magazine articles, like her controversial “Stars and Stripes” spread in Vanity Fair: “Never know if your grandkids might want them,” she says with a look between a grimace and a grin.

In fact, it took an hour of negotiations to wrestle an answer out of her about the Clintons’ moving to New York. Finally, she agreed to say, “I’m not happy about them moving here, but I think the city’s big enough for the two of us.” Two?

There are times, of course, when past slights are very much on Monica’s mind. After a long, rainy day of schlepping around the garment district and losing our Town Car – “God,” complains Monica, “how hard is it to just park somewhere and say, ‘I’m on the corner of bloop-de-bloop and bloop-de-bloop’?” – we jump in a cab as Monica finishes a cell-phone call with her best friend from Washington, D.C.

“So,” she tells Juli in a loud whisper, “I just heard that there’s going to be this huge party for everyone who was ever on staff there. I’m like, ‘Hel-looo, where’s my invitation? Where are you hiding it? Oh, is it because – ’ “

“Want me to put that in the paper?” Juli says. “I could call George Rush? Or the W.H.” – that’s code for the White House – “and say I need to add you at the last minute. Did you tell her to say hi for you?”

“I was like, ‘Say hi to all my old friends,” jokes Monica.

Juli laughs. “When she says good-bye, she should say, ‘Monica says hel-looo.’ “

“Monica says hey,” says Monica, making the hey short and sweet.

“That’s it: ‘Monica says hey,’ ” says Juli. “That’s good.”

Monica looks out the window and ponders it all.

Most of the time, though, Monica displays surprisingly little bitterness about her past and its sometimes unfortunate aftermath. Indeed, she’s usually focused on being very, very nice. Monica overcompensates for every kindness shown to her, overtipping a nice cabdriver or complimenting a friendly waitress on her “cute blouse.”

She tries to stay “peaceful” by starting every morning at her cozy local café, a place with the menu on chalkboards and Melissa Etheridge on the stereo. And near the coffeepots, a Magic Markered sign: karma is a boomerang. Here Monica is a beloved member of the “Breakfast Club,” a pack of locals who meet every morning at eight for friendly conversation before work. With this clique, Monica attends neighborhood Little League games to root for the café-sponsored team. She visited the owner’s Lab in the kennel while he was away. She even sewed a patchwork sham for one of the café’s “ugly” heat pipes.

Though the wilder Monica – the one who snapped her thong at the president, had a fling with not only her high-school teacher but also his brother, and confides to me that she once considered getting a rose tattoo on her “tushie” – seems to have been left somewhere on the way to the grand jury, even now she sometimes revels in her ability to be just a little naughty. Does she feel like she got screwed? “Not in a good way!” Was she ever psyched to meet a famous person? “Well, there was this one time.” When a waiter reminds her coyly to be a good girl, she wisecracks, “I have been for a few years now.”

“You go, girl!” he says.

This is not to say, however, that there aren’t times when Monica can feel blue, frantic, not nice at all, or just blah, although the only time I saw her truly angry was when I asked about the whereabouts of the infamous dress, the one she told Barbara Walters she’d burn if she ever got it back. “I can’t even believe you would even ask me that!” she glowered. (The dress is currently in the possession of the independent counsel, who, Monica says later, can have it forever.)

What she lacks in bile, though, she makes up for with a prodigious moodiness, swinging up and down in the space of an afternoon and sometimes seeming like a different person from one day to the next. Things would set her off, and it wasn’t always clear what they were or how to bring her back to reality – except that for Monica, maybe reality, even her new glamorous one, wasn’t always such a great place to be.

This was particularly striking one night at Il Cantinori. When we set out, Monica seemed in good spirits, twirling around in a new green fur jacket and commenting on the “hotties” in her elevator. But once at the restaurant, she saw a gray-bobbed woman in her fifties staring at her from a few tables over. At first she tried to look away, but the woman kept staring, as if taking in a circus act; even as Monica reddened and fidgeted, she wouldn’t stop. Finally, Monica made a face like a snarling dog and growled, “Arrr!” Then she covered her face with her hands and didn’t speak for ten minutes.

At a party for the new society monthly Gotham at Harry Cipriani last week, Monica is in better spirits. With a flower in her hair and a sequined outfit that shows off a flesh-colored bustier bought specially for the occasion, she must feel like Cinderella at the ball. But to the dozens of photographers who snap to attention as she walks down the red carpet, she’s just the evening’s biggest “get.” “You look fabulous, Monica!” they shout as she turns this way and that for the cameras. “How are the bags, Monica? No, Monica, don’t go!”

“So, Monica,” asks a highly bejeweled party guest, “how are those bags?”

“Good, thanks,” Monica says cheerily.

“My friend just loves them,” the guest continues, gesturing at her overtanned 40-year-old companion, who stares at Monica with a greedy grin. “This is Fred. He’s a big real-estate tycoon.”

“Great!” says Monica, turning away.

But it’s no use, as her receiving line is endless. There are people who want to snap her picture (“I’m a photographer, and it would be great to have in my book”) and people who eagerly press their business cards in her hand (“I’m a highly in-demand personal shopper, and I’d love to work with your bags”). Mira Sorvino says hi, Ralph Destino Jr. gives her a peck on the cheek, and then the journalists approach, pens in hand, only to hear: “I’m sorry, I’m not doing any press tonight.”

But sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. Suddenly, Monica is rushed by two very drunk blonde women in their thirties, who tug at the bottom of her blazer and scream, “Omigod, omigod, omigod! We love you so much! We would have done the same thing in three seconds flat. You’re amaaazing!”

Monica politely extricates herself and walks away, a little shaken.

Much calmer is a recent afternoon she and Juli spend at the Museum of Modern Art with Monica’s aunt Debra Finerman, a smiley former journalist whom Monica considers her best friend. Through the many floors of moma they go, taking in the “Collection Highlights” alongside art students and women with Channel 13 bags and loads of tourists, none of whom notice Monica – they’re all looking at the art, after all.

Here is a Van Gogh. “Now, there’s someone else who got bad press,” laughs Debra. Here is a Gauguin. “I love this,” says Monica, transfixed. Here is an all-blue Yves Klein. “I made something like that in nursery school,” snickers Monica. And here is a Warhol Campbell’s soup can bearing the label pepper pot. “Oh!” says Monica, stopping short in her ankle-high black boots. “I didn’t know that pepperpot was a real word.”

We take a break in the museum café, where Juli and Monica order sausages – Juli’s on the Atkins diet, and Monica’s giving it a shot. “Guess who’s going to be on TV tonight?” Juli asks between bites.

“Who?” asks Debra.

Monica frowns.

“Monica!” declares Juli. “She’s going to be on E.T., ’cause she’s an Internet entrepreneur!”

“Wow, sweetie,” says Debra, touching Monica’s hand. “Now, that’s terrific!”

Monica looks at the floor.

After the snack, we head up to the sculpture exhibit. There’s a big white cube by Tom Friedman on the floor. It has a plastic fly on the top. Laughing, Monica pretends to try to blow it off. “Darn!”

“Whoa!” says a guard, pointing at a sign: “The fly is part of the work. Please do not try to disturb it.”

We all giggle and move on, and no one gives this incident a second thought – I certainly didn’t until I read a story a week or so later in a downtown paper, The Villager, by someone who had apparently followed us around all day. It was then picked up by the New York Post’s “Page Six”: “Lots of eyes were on Monica Lewinsky the other day as she made the rounds at moma. And Monica didn’t disappoint. When she noticed some dust on a sculpture and blew it off, one of the guards barked at her. Reports the weekly Villager, ‘I wonder why she would blow on anything in public, given, well, you know.’ “

It was a taste of what it must be like to go through life as Monica Lewinsky.

Monica Takes Manhattan