If Lewinsky feels strain, she doesn't show it; Ex-intern looks cool in rare appearances before reporters


WASHINGTON -- When the entire Senate is talking about you, it's hard not to listen. Perhaps that's why Monica Lewinsky's family kept C-SPAN blaring from their suite yesterday while the former intern whiled away the hours in her gilded refuge at the Mayflower Hotel.

Lewinsky stayed protected from prying eyes behind a heavy almond-colored door while in-house security patrolled her quiet floor at the luxury hotel in downtown Washington. The senators' fervent televised pleas regarding President Clinton's case slipped into the hallway.

But if the political circus surrounding Lewinsky has taken a toll, she did not show it openly yesterday. When she emerged around 10 a.m. for breakfast, the 25-year-old Beverly Hills native smiled placidly and gave a signature hair flip. Aware that news teams were staked out at all four exits -- they used anti-glare screens to shoot through glass doors from a distance -- Lewinsky emerged surrounded by security and swathed in camera-ready black.

Though guests stared, none approached table 25, where Lewinsky sat with her mother, aunt and stepfather and dined on a fruit plate with low-fat yogurt and oranges (more modest fare after Sunday morning's two pancakes). After a half-hour, she returned to her hotel-room refuge, a security guard using his body to block the elevator button showing her floor.

While Lewinsky kept mum, plenty of others could not resist commentary on her visit.

"I'm just upset I haven't seen her yet," said Jim Owen, 58, a California businessman staying at the hotel, after missing Lewinsky's breakfast appearance. "She brings out the naughty boy in every man. Every man has a naughty side. I've got one. I want to go back and say I saw her."

Even Lewinsky's stepfather, R. Peter Straus, could not stifle a comment revealing his frustration about how he has to stifle his comments. Hustling down Connecticut Avenue with a copy of the periodical Foreign Affairs tucked under his arm, he asked reporters to write about how Lewinsky is not allowed to talk publicly without the consent of Kenneth W. Starr, the independent counsel.

"Nobody has done that story," Straus said. "Why don't any one of you guys get Mr. Starr and do that story? Why are they still forbidding anybody to talk?"

Lewinsky sympathizers have sent more than a dozen encouraging faxes to her since she arrived at the hotel Saturday. Others simply want to get close to the action, including hair stylists and manicurists eager to use Lewinsky for their public relations campaigns.

"One was trying to snake her way in," said a Mayflower spokeswoman, Colleen Evans. "She said she was running about 10 minutes late for Ms. Lewinsky's manicure appointment and she told us, 'I'll be right in.' All different people were calling trying all different things to get through. We didn't let them."

All the attention caught some guests off guard. The Polish minister of defense thought cameras were for him as he left his car. A hotel staffer had to inform him of Lewinsky's visit.

Tourists seemed baffled as they were pointed out to other tourists who passed the hotel on a sightseeing trolley. When the New York Rangers hockey team checked in last night, they looked positively befuddled by all the camera crews.

But the hockey players were not going to let a celebrity encounter pass them by. "I've got a question for Monica," one team member said jauntily in the elevator. "Nothing you want to be quoted asking," coach John Muckler interrupted.

The hotel tried to go about business as usual. When Lewinsky lawyer Jacob Stein appeared for lunch in the hotel dining room with three guests (all of them Not Monica), he insisted his choice of restaurants was unrelated to Lewinsky. "I've got my own life," he said, before news crews surrounded him for an impromptu news conference in the middle of Connecticut Avenue.

The Mayflower is no stranger to celebrity. President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore have made appearances there. Virginia Kelley, Clinton's late mother, stayed in the $5,000-a-night presidential suite during her son's first inauguration -- the same room where Lewinsky spoke with House Republicans Sunday about her possible role as a witness in the Senate trial. And Paula Corbin Jones dined recently in the hotel's Cafe Promenade, just a few banquettes away from where Lewinsky sits at breakfast during her visit.

This is hardly a coincidence Lewinsky can enjoy. She was reportedly in tears at the thought of returning to Washington and cried herself to sleep the night before she came. Still, there are signs that she is rebounding. She reportedly has a 35-year-old lawyer-love interest who works at The Shooting Gallery, an independent film company. She appeared in Dulles airport Saturday in a baseball cap with the firm's letters, "TSG," emblazoned across the top.

For now, Lewinsky is doing her best to hide from the news. But the news surely is not hiding from her. As if all the reporters outside were not enough, the hotel amenities make her story inescapable. After all, in her parents' room, even the bathroom television gets CNN.

Pub Date: 1/26/99

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