If the starr report were a novel, work of history, subject of moral philosophy, psychiatric case study or soap opera, WHAT KIND OF FOOTPRINT WOULD IT LEAVE?



A little white lie begat a lust for power and sex. But truth would have its day.

Let us face it. From a writer's point of view, the Starr report is a pretty juicy item. It has everything. Power, obsession, the possibility of downfall, and the odd sense that in the background, in some way that none of us has been able to yet explain, fate, in all its fascination for detail, is at work with its usual delight in misery and poetic justice.

But, if this were a work of fiction, or the basis for one, I think the most attractive aspect of it is the suggestion that something went wrong long ago, probably some small lapse, and that a lifetime has been spent trying to compensate for the seemingly small thing that was tragically lacking.

So, how would a novelist try to make sense of all of this? In approaching any subject, the novelist is interested in that beautiful moment when fate and character combine. Essentially, this is an attempt to find some coherence in the ambitions, desires, greed, obsessions and sacrifices that people find themselves unable to escape.

The novelist is interested not in the facts of experience as a nonfiction writer is, but in the truth. For the writer of fiction the two are not always the same.

When telling a story he has heard about, the novelist writes not what did happen so much as what should have happened. And when the novelist does this, he is making a display of what he believes, because the "should" of any story is a matter of filtering the possibilities of any story through a complicated set of expectations, fears, delights, terrors and a general sense of just what the human condition, such as it is, is all about. It is a trying, unwholesome occupation.

In confronting the Starr report, the novelist will operate in precisely the opposite fashion as a politician. For a politician many, if not all, truths are adjustable.

The politician's beliefs are endlessly subject to the brutality of consensus, a vicious master if there ever was one. The politician is not interested in truth so much as what is efficient. He wants to know what is going to get him elected.

This means that beliefs are checked at the door, and the sadness in this matter, I think, is that a politician often doesn't realize it is happening. And, concomitant with the fact that a politician's grasp on truth is somewhat slippery is the possibility of getting someplace not by making something clear, but just the reverse: The politician often wants to obscure. The politician wants to demonize his opposition. The novelist works the other side of the street: He wants to enhance.

So, how would a novelist treat the Starr report? First, I'd like to stress that what follows is a matter of being inspired by the president's difficulties, and it is not meant as any direct comment on him. As I say, what the novelist does is to find a truth that is valuable, no matter what he has to do to details he has run across.

So, let us imagine a young man who feels unloved. Perhaps he is poor, and he assumes that because of this he is not as good as other people. He is intimidated in the houses of friends who have more than he does. He is ashamed of himself, and he desperately wants to find a way of becoming something that he is not, richer, more fashionable, more attractive, more accomplished.

In the beginning he finds that what he should do is not tell the truth, but the reverse. A lie does wonders. He soon discovers that the item that really makes a lie work is power. With all the unstoppable attraction of the tides, he is on his way to becoming a politician. Words are no longer used to illuminate, but to conceal, and what was once a sincere effort to obtain love is now an obsessional desire to get power.

Still, this young man must pay a price to get what he needs. It costs him something in the most private aspect of who he is to lie, to pose, to look for the right position, or to do what is necessary to get power. He lives a lie and has an image of someone he is not.

If this was a tale about such a man, it would have to be done so that the reader feels empathy with such a fellow. After all, who has not told a lie to advance himself, or to appear a little "better" than he really is? Who has not told a lie in the service of love?

Still, in this tale, there is a pact. It is the abandonment of truth for power. Mostly, of course, such a deal works just fine, and I would say that many of our politicians operate under its unseemly license. But the truth of this tale is that sooner or later, as you acquire power, you obtain the ability to deceive, and sooner or later you are able to deceive yourself.

You tell yourself that you can get away with anything. And this is the truly dangerous moment, because it is the time when you lose fear and become a creature who is only a fiction. A made-up fabrication of a man who cannot distinguish what is true from what is not.

Now fate enters the picture. What form does it take? Someone innocent, loving, sophomorically ambitious? At once attractive because she can be controlled and yet having the youth that the man of this tale can only remember as misery and work and the attempt to obscure? It is a dance after this between character and fate: We have the sensation that the future has already been written.

Fate brings tragedy. Hegel says that the tragic character is one who acknowledges only one of the many bonds between himself and his family, the society he lives in, or a moral code.

In this case, it is obvious that all will be abandoned to the pursuit of power. Power is life's blood now. Without it our hero will be doomed, and he knows it. But, by hanging onto it, doom waits in the wings, too: Those bonds that have been ruptured produce vengeance. Truth, so long denied, makes itself apparent at last, just as we always suspected it would. After all, isn't that the nature of justice?

At the end of this tale, which, of course, must be made into a movie, what do we see? Is there some word or phrase that suggests the lost thing, the item that one has been trying to reclaim? Rose? What did he say? Rosebud? And what is that, thrown into the flames? Is it a sled? And what is the name on it after all?

Craig Nova is the author of nine novels, including "The Good Son," "Tornado Alley" and most recently "The Universal Donor," which Norton is publishing in paperback this month. His work has been translated into nine languages. He has received many prizes and awards, including an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He is currently at work on a new book and on a screen adaptation of "The Good Son."

At the outset of this tumultuous year, there was every indication that Kenneth Starr's inscrutable probe of Bill Clinton's multitude of alleged crimes would soon grind to a merciful close in much the same inconclusive way as most of the two dozen or so previous special-prosecutor investigations had done in the 20 years since this legal Frankenstein monster came into being.

Through an endless series of blunders, Starr had shown himself to be a comically inept Inspector Clouseau who could solve a case only if dumb luck came to his rescue.

All this came to an abrupt end in January when the news broke that Starr had at long last caught "Slick Willie" by his Achilles' heel - his weakness for sex. Suddenly Starr took on a wholly new image as he stood in his driveway each morning, beaming his beatific smile as he prattled platitudes about "the truth."

No longer was this the blundering Clouseau; now we had the primal fanatic Gregers Werle of Ibsen's "The Wild Duck" - the corrupted idealist who pursued "the truth" (about sexual misconduct, it might be added) until it inexorably led to the suicide of a 14-year-old blind girl.

But now the frantically released Starr report - or "referral," to use the formal term - takes us out of the realm of literary metaphor and dumps a squalid pollution squarely into the great stream of American history.

Make no mistake, the Starr "referral" will come to be viewed in history as the political equivalent of a nuclear strike, and its radioactive fallout will last far beyond our time. So we may be certain the "referral" will be the subject of the kind of letter-by-letter scholastic exegesis that is applied to documents such as, say, the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Because of what yet lies ahead to bring this crisis to some resolution acceptable to the American people, only a fool or a journalist would venture to predict the ultimate historical impact of this bizarre document. So, with the caveat that I have been both, I will intrepidly press ahead.

Before I had even gotten through the introduction to the Starr "referral" it was clear beyond any reasonable doubt that this was a case-study in legal entrapment, and no strategem, not even those that broached prosecutorial criminality, would be ruled out in pursuit of that end.

Now that Clinton's excruciating testimony has been made public - certainly in violation of the spirit if not the letter of grand-jury secrecy - no one can plausibly deny that this ordeal was designed to confront the president with the Hobson's choice of either admitting that he committed perjury in the Paula Jones case, or compounding that perjury in his testimony before the Starr grand jury.

But by the time I reached the "Narrative" portion of the "referral," I began to hear the voice of history whispering eerily into my ear, and it said: This reads like the transcripts of "examinations" carried out by the General Court of the Colony in the Salem witch trials.

Suddenly the "referral" began to take on a flesh-and-blood historical dimension; you could see an almost spectral resemblance between today's cast of hapless characters and those at Salem 300 years ago.

There was Bill Clinton as the doomed John Procter in the dock, struggling to stay upright even as his weak knees shook under the relentless onslaught of the disembodied voices of the inquisitors.

There was Kenneth Starr as the grimly fanatical judge-prosecutor, the Rev. Nicholas Noyes, cunningly laying traps, even using weird tests of bodily examination to discover telltale "marks" on suspected "witches," to force them either to admit their "guilt" - and of course name all the other witches they knew - or go to the gallows.

There was Linda Tripp as the conniving and treacherous Abigail Williams, ever eager to create yet more new evidence and betray friends in order to cling to her ephemeral moment of self-importance.

There was Monica Lewinsky as the pathetically neurotic Betty Parris, the damaged child of a dysfunctional family, unable to resist being manipulated by insidious forces in whatever form.

There was Webster Hubbell as the cranky old Giles Cory, who, as he was being pressed to death with rocks in an effort to force him to testify, kept murmuring, "more weight."

There was Susan McDougal as Rebecca Nurse, the serene tower of resolve, going to the gallows with dignity rather than lie before her God to save her neck.

There were Henry Hyde and Dan Burton, as two of the prosecutor-judges who suddenly found themselves or their families under suspicion of witchery.

And above all, there was the chorus of the American news media - including many of the most acclaimed shamans - as the gaggle of hysterical girls, ever ready to erupt into howls and swoons over the ominous looming presence of yet more "witches" that they alone could see and feel.

We now know that in due course the colony came to its senses, largely because such Yankee patriarchs as the respected Rev. Increase Mather at last stepped forward - as former Attorney General Elliot Richardson is now doing - to demand an end to the madness.

And as I labored to the end of Starr's "referral," so replete with pornography written in the dull clinical boiler-plate language of the law, I recalled the most chilling recorded episode from that sad chapter in American history, which still haunts us three centuries later. Old Sarah Good, an illiterate town beggar-woman, stood on the gallows, gazed defiantly at the Rev. Noyes and growled: "I am no more a witch than you are a wizard. If you take my life, God will give you blood to drink."

They took her life, but the people of the Colony remembered Sarah's last words when Noyes died, some years later, of internal hemorrhaging.

What God has in store for Kenneth Starr at the Last Judgment is beyond my ken. But I am confident that the day will come when this "referral" will inflict the everlasting punishment of history's judgment on the writer of the report to a far greater extent than its ostensible subject.

Ray Jenkins retired in 1992 as editorial page editor of the Evening Sun. He completed 20 years at the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser-Journal as its executive editor. He was President Jimmy Carter's deputy press secretary from 1977 to 1981. His book "Blind Vengeance," published last year, is a history of the 1989 mail-bomb murders of two political figures. A former Nieman Fellow and Pulitzer Prize winner, he has practiced law and written for newspapers for 40 years.

Ray Jenkins What footprint? I am tempted to say simply, "a slimy one," and leave it at that. But this clearly will not do, for the Starr report has not left a single footprint, but many - and these footprints have been tracked through the middle of our living rooms, classrooms, newsrooms, supermarkets and houses of worship.

These tracks have been made by Mr. Clinton, Mr. Starr, Ms. Lewinsky and by her erstwhile friend, Linda Tripp. More footprints still are to be made by members of Congress who will debate, most likely in typically partisan fashion, what ought to be done next. In the end, the footprints in this sordid story will have been of a variety of sizes, but each will have tracked its own peculiar kind of dirt.

Are there any moral lessons to be learned from a 445-page report that reads like a cross between Erica Jong, fresh from anatomy class, and something out of Nathanael West's "Miss Lonely Hearts"? What's to be said of a man who seems prone to falling repeatedly into the same well, and another man who derived his rules of legal engagement from Saint Augustine's just-war theory? There is sordidness here on every side, but is there illumination?

Let us begin with Mr. Clinton's moral perspective. He seems intent on stepping on the same moral rake over and over again. has yielded repeatedly to the same temptations that so many powerful American men often do. He is a man around whose head the black birds of temptation often have been quite plentiful, and apparently he unwisely, and fairly regularly, allowed some of them to land.

But the deepest moral questions about Mr. Clinton are to be found at the level of character, not action. Much of what we learn about the president's moral character is, at the same time, complex and disturbing. Think for a moment about the president's confession on national television, just moments after giving his grand jury testimony.

Mr. Clinton's few sentiments of contrition that evening were not believable. To understand why, we must think about the nature of Mr. Clinton's moral character.

Mr. Clinton is incapable, I think, of feeling genuine guilt, the kind of emotion one feels when one is genuinely disappointed in the self. Guilt is indispensable for the living of a moral life.

It is quite different from its companion, shame. Shame comes as the result of others finding fault with us. It is a judgment made from the outside.

Guilt, the genuine kind, is made on the inside. People incapable of guilt will act morally only when someone is watching. When they are convinced they will not be caught, then they see themselves as having carte blanche to commit immoral acts.

People incapable of genuine guilt are often quite dangerous. When those bereft of guilt are also highly intelligent, then they are particularly dangerous. They are dangerous in two principal ways. First, they know how to act so they look like they are guilty, even though they are not. This allows them to appear trustworthy and penitent to others. And secondly, those incapable of guilt rarely change, for there is nothing there at their moral centers, nothing that might be renovated.

I think President Clinton's expression of remorse the evening of his deposition seemed insincere because it was. If we could read a subtext that might have existed just below the surface of that speech, I think it would say something like this: I am very sorry I got caught. And the reason I am sorry is because of what you have found out about me. If I had not gotten caught, I would not be terribly bothered by it.

If we consider what the president said during his first presidential campaign about his drug use while at Oxford, it follows a similar kind of pattern. When the press finally cornered him about using marijuana, he gave an ambiguous answer that he had used it a few times, but he never inhaled.

Like the Lewinsky confession, this is an admission without a trace of genuine guilt. It does not seem like an apology because he is not genuinely sorry. Mr. Clinton's claim that the answers he gave in the Paula Jones deposition were technically accurate follow a similar kind of pattern. But the president and his advisers grossly miscalculated just how revealing this was of his moral character, for beneath this legal maneuver was a clear intention to deceive.

The president's more recent suggestion that we ought to get this behind us and focus on the business of the country is another piece in Mr. Clinton's moral profile. A genuinely guilty man, at least for some time, could not put immoral choices behind him, for the man who made these choices would be staring at him every morning through the bathroom steam.

The desire to so easily get something behind him suggests that something important is missing at the center of Mr. Clinton's moral being. These are the sentiments of a man who has jumped, but wishes us to think he has been pushed.

And what of the other actors in this $45 million drama? Is there anything to be said of Mr. Starr beyond the realization that he may well be a man who kills house flies at home with a 10-pound maul?

What are we to make of a man who spends years investigating a land deal, a suspicious suicide and other possible acts of malfeasance, finds nothing to report and resigns, who then returns and writes a 150,000-word document detailing the most intimate details - the where and the when - of the president of the United States' bodily fluids?

Ms. Lewinsky and Ms. Tripp fare no better in a moral analysis.

There are no tragic heroes here, but there is lots of hubris to go around. Iago taught us much about deception and its unsavory use with intimates. But suppose we say Ms. Tripp is a good Iago; who but saints would want her as a friend? And Ms. Lewinsky? What are we to make of her moral compass? Aristotle, 2,500 years ago, gave us a startlingly clear definition of moral 'u responsibility. One is morally blame-worthy, he suggests, when one intends to do wrong, knows it is wrong, and could have kept from doing it.

This analysis might be applied to having sex with a married man and to threatening blackmail later. Ms. Lewinsky told us recently through her spokeswoman that she is looking forward to the business of rebuilding her life. When I heard these words I could not help but think of the Three Little Pigs, particularly the one who built his house out of straw.

I wonder if he looked forward to the business of rebuilding his life, and whether he thought it smart to use better materials next time?

I am still waiting for Ms. Lewinsky to apologize for her role in pushing back any discussion of real, substantive moral dilemmas in this country, like affordable health care for everyone or building schools where American children regularly perform as well as those in other developed nations.

And then there are the rest of us, members of a culture with moral sensibilities that seem constructed from a few parts Calvinism, naive individual moral relativism mixed with a dash of professional wrestling, and the ethical decision-making capacities of the producers of "The Jerry Springer Show."

What does our fascination with the Starr report tell us about our own moral sensibilities? Perhaps we are adding our own slimy footprints to the mix, while simultaneously we complain about the mess tracked through the house. It is the social polity we are mucking up. John Locke said that people get the government they deserve. I hope he was wrong about that.

Stephen Vicchio is professor of philosophy at the College of Notre Dame in Baltimore. He was educated at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Yale and the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland, where he received his Ph.D. in ethics and the philosophy of religion. He is the author of several books, including biography, religious history, essays, philosophical texts and most recently a play, "Ivan and Adolf: The Last Man in Hell."


Stephen Vicchio In his apology to the American people, President Bill Clinton spoke of sin. There are many who believe that psychiatrists attempt to excuse sin by relabeling it "psychopathology." However, there is another side to that coin.

In the past, many whom we now consider to be depressed were mistakenly thought to be lazy and deserving of moral contempt. Historically, obesity, now considered a medical problem, was formerly the sin of gluttony, and the alcoholic treated with compassion today at the Betty Ford Clinic was simply "the bum in the gutter" not so many years ago. How, in our need to hold one another morally accountable, can we factor into the equation advancing knowledge from medicine and science suggesting that at least in some instances we may be dealing either with a mind in need of repair, or with a struggling human being in need of support, rather than with moral turpitude? What, if anything, does the Starr report have to say about this issue?

I have never evaluated President Bill Clinton clinically, nor would I be so presumptuous, even after having read the Starr report, as to suggest to him that he is in need of help. Perhaps he is not. Furthermore, given the unfortunate stigma that still exists when it comes to the issue of needing psychiatric assistance, he would likely not now want to add to his burden by taking on the label "mental health patient." Historically, it was not all that long ago that a former United States senator, Thomas Eagleton, was forced to resign as a vice-presidential candidate because he had been treated psychiatrically for depression.

Nevertheless, the psychiatric-medical community recognizes the fact that some fundamentally decent individuals may require professional assistance in dealing with their needs for sex and intimacy in a healthy fashion. Ordinarily such help is provided within the confidential framework of the doctor-patient relationship, rather than being the subject matter either of daily news headlines, or of the report of a special prosecutor.

Although I will avoid the use of potentially stigmatizing labels such as "sex addict," it is important to appreciate that sexual conduct (and in its broader sense the need for affection, companionship and intimacy) is the product, at least in part, of powerful biological forces.

It is a remarkable testimony to the power of a biological drive that so many are struggling so hard to lose weight when all that is necessary is to eat a little less. As I believe is demonstrated in the Starr report, some persons may struggle similarly with sexual temptations.

Making the moral argument that one should invariably be able to control oneself doesn't necessarily prove that one actually can. In addition, in a sense blinded by the intensity of desire, some persons fail to fully appreciate the extent to which they may be in need of assistance. Even as dignified a woman as Betty Ford failed to appreciate such realities until confronted privately by a loving family about her alcoholism.

The Starr report provides some insights into the psyche of President Clinton, even though some might argue that the methods used to obtain some of the information contained within it (for example, unauthorized phone recordings and the pressuring of witnesses) were objectionable. The report reveals evidence of a conflicted and struggling president making an effort to resist unacceptable sexual feelings. For example, in one instance, while hesitant to proceed further sexually, Mr. Clinton told Ms. Lewinsky that he "didn't want to get addicted to her" and that he didn't want her "to get addicted to him."

Before their first sexual contact, she had likely inadvertently played into his vulnerabilities by approaching him in a seductive manner, purposely raising her jacket in order to reveal the straps of her thong underwear to him. On Feb.19, 1996, President Clinton attempted to end his sexual relationship with her. Telling her that earlier in his life he had had hundreds of affairs (suggestive of a highly driven individual), he stated that since turning 40 he had been making a concerted effort to be faithful.

On Feb. 28, 1997, after an interval of approximately one year, Mr. Clinton once again had a sexual encounter with Ms. Lewinsky. He would subsequently testify, "I was very sick after ... I was pleased at the time that it had been nearly a year since any inappropriate contact had occurred ... I promised myself it was not going to happen again. I am responsible for it. I never should have started it back after I resolved not to in 1996."

On Aug. 16, 1997, Ms. Lewinsky unsuccessfully attempted to resume her sexual relationship with the president. However, becoming visibly upset, he told her, "I'm trying not to do this ... I'm trying to be good." According to former presidential adviser Dick Morris, the president had said in confidence to him, "Oh God, this is just awful ... you know, ever since the election I've tried to shut myself down. I've tried to shut my body down sexually, but sometimes I slipped up with this girl, I just slipped up."

So what, if anything, is there to be learned from the Starr report and from this entire sorry mess? There will be those who will make the moral argument that the president cheated and lied, as indeed he did, and that therefore he does not deserve to serve. I understand that argument. I simply disagree with it.

Sex is a powerful force that touches the lives of each of us. At this very moment there are countless individuals coping secretly with strong, and in some cases even atypical, sexual urges. Such persons, especially youngsters just beginning to experience emerging sexual feelings, need to appreciate that if they are having difficulties they ought not to be ashamed to speak out or to seek help.

Each of us as a human being has both strengths and psychological vulnerabilities. When private weaknesses become a matter of public awareness we can choose to punish. We can also choose to help.

Even a highly competent person of conscience and character can sometimes need understanding and professional assistance in managing the private aspects of his or her life in a healthy fashion. As demonstrated by the Starr report, this can be true even of a president.

Fred S. Berlin, M.D., Ph.D. is an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and an attending

physician at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. He is also the founder of the Johns Hopkins Sexual Disorders Clinic and the director of the National Institute for the Study, Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Trauma. That program has been designated by the U.S. Department of Justice as a national resource site.

Fred S. Berlin The Starr report is brilliant soap opera, despite the complete absence of anyone named Tawny, Cricket or Silver.

Make no mistake, though. It is a resounding failure as a work of fully realized drama, with its creeping, petty pace and fruitless Kremlinology - of extremities held and fondled, and semaphoric neckwear - stretching out tediously over weeks without resolution. But it is precisely this failure that makes for great daytime television.

And, also like the very best daytime television (and the very worst drama), the Starr report's dramatis personae display an unfailing inability to progress beyond the first two steps of Aristotle's tragic model, hamartia and perepeteia (tragic flaw, reversal of fortune) enacted over and over, ad extreme projectile nauseam, never reaching catharsis (well, maybe twice).

To say nothing of their unalloyed one-note personalities:

* The vindictive Special Prosecutor, whose ancient, slowly percolating vendetta has aged into a hate that is the kind of hate known only on television.

* The unreconstructed, devilishly handsome, ne'er-do-well President, from whom no woman is safe, beloved by viewers in spite of themselves.

* The Wronged Wife, formerly known as (and again, in future seasons, to be sure) the Power-Mad, Castrating Harridan.

* The Young Temptress With Big Hair, whose hapless victim or calculating tart status fuels many a laundry room debate.

* The large-featured jolie laide Daughter who develops before the nation's eyes.

* Her impossibly handsome Boy-friend. He's on the Stanford swim team and the network promises he'll be shirtless all summer, ladies! Ssssizzling!

Loaded with sex that's more obliquely indicated frictional oscillation than actual on-camera release, and set in a sleepy one-industry town where not much of anything happens beyond its own little intrigues, the Starr report has proven itself to be mesmerizing paint, indeed. And watching it dry has all the makings of a palpable afternoon hit.

To be sure, jobs and allegiances of characters will have to change somewhat to keep viewer interest, and key players will frequently sport different hair, or even manifest as their own identical, yet diametrically characterologically opposite, twin.

But all in all, very few adjustments will have to be made to have viewers across the nation tuning in to the ever-changing, ever-constant goings-on of the sleepy hamlet where something always seems to be happening.

That place known as ...

Starr Crossings

... Let's go there now.

It's been years since the conflagration of Bill and Monica's clandestine romance. Bill, now a doctor at the local medical center, dispenses health care to the citizenry of Starr Crossings, with the aid of his wise-cracking nurse, Cricket.

He still carries a torch for the former White House intern, who has hardened her heart - or so she thinks - and is now the proprietress of Lewinsky's, the most popular bar and grill in town. A hub of activity, folks can always be assured of a good meal there and the sharing of expositional confidences with Tawny, the raven-haired bartender.

Having overcome the indignity of her husband's infidelity through an empowering involvement in the condiments industry (as women so often do), Hillary sells her own line of gourmet mustards at her shop, Spread 'Em, right next door.

She and Bill, divorced and remarried numerous times in seasons past (their second wedding on the "Starr Crossings in Jamaica" episode received unprecedented ratings and three daytime Emmy nominations), have settled into an abiding mutual fondness. Just as well, really, since the sparks of sexual chemistry between Hillary and Chelsea's boyfriend, Silver, show signs of abating until someone's heart is broken.

Ken Starr, real estate developer and Starr Crossings' richest resident, forever threatens to evict both Monica and Hillary from their places of business, forcing them to resort to monthly lingerie and talent shows in order to raise the habitually overdue rent.

And now, an excerpt from the fourth season finale of "Starr Crossings":

Lewinsky's, INTERIOR.

MONICA, busing tables, begins to exit dining room. At the door to the kitchen, she wheels around.

MONICA: You know what I was thinking about before you came over here to deliver that plasma, Bill? That time you asked me if "fries came with that shake," remember? (laughs) Funny what just comes back to you, without even thinking about it. (aside) And what is gone forever.(beat) I suppose what I'm trying to tell you is that fries did come with that shake, Bill. They really did.

BILL: Monica, wait, I ...

MONICA exits through swinging doors


HILLARY is dusting jars, as CHELSEA and her boyfriend SILVER enter.

CHELSEA: Wasn't that the quickly retreating tear-stained face of Monica I just saw running into the kitchen of the restaurant next door where she hides her broken heart behind a hardened exterior? Hey, Mom, can I have the car tonight?

SILVER: Boy, cleaning out those gutters sure is hard work, Mrs. C. Guess I'd better take off this sweaty T-shirt.

HILLARY (her eyes never leaving Silver as he peels off his shirt): Guess you'd better. ... Chels, do me a favor, why don't you run this mustard over to the nursing home? You know how old folks just love to eat mustard.

CHELSEA (puzzled): Uh ... OK. Coming Silver?

HILLARY: Leave Silver here. I've got some more ... work for him to do.


KEN surveys a model of Starr Crossings Main Street. Almost all of the buildings have miniature "SR" flags on top, except for the tiny models of Lewinsky's Bar & Grill and Spread 'Em.

KEN (a sinister whisper): I'll get you out. All of you. If ... it's ... the last ... thing ... I ... do.


MONICA emerges immediately through the doors from the kitchen still swinging, her mind clearly racing.

MONICA: ... And that time you asked me if my feet hurt because I'd been "running around your mind all night?" (laughs) Gosh, that seems like a lifetime ago. Guess what, Bill. My feet did hurt, they really did.

BILL: Monica, wait, I ...

MONICA: While we're on the subject, Bill, I should answer another little question you asked me, oh, such a very long time ago. (laughs) I wonder if you'll even remember. You asked me if it hurt when I "fell from heaven." Remember that, Bill? Huh? Do you? Well, I guess you'll find out now.

MONICA draws a gun.

BILL: Monica, wait, I ...


David Rakoff a panelist on Slate magazine's Daily News Quiz, is a writer and actor living in New York. He has written for Outside, the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, Salon and "This American Life" on National Public Radio, among others. Rakoff has acted off-off-Broadway, appeared on ABC's "Cosby" show, and played modeling agent Rich Tuchman this past April on the television soap opera "As The World Turns."

David Rakoff

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