Camp Lewinsky

Camp Lewinsky

Notes from different corners of the world.
Feb. 11 1998 3:30 AM

Camp Lewinsky

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       It's over. We can close up the millennium now, a good couple of years early. If the planets have not exactly achieved an eerie alignment, this planet has: O.J. Simpson has paid a visit to Camp Lewinsky.
       Not so improbable when you realize the geography. The house of Monica Lewinsky's father, where the 24-year-old former White House intern has been holed up for a week, is in the more nearly proletarian part of Brentwood, where people have houses instead of estates or compounds; it's just around a couple of corners from the most famous double-murder scene in contemporary history. Monday afternoon, O.J. drove by, ostensibly to pick up a friend of his son's but more likely to savor the satisfaction of a press crowd in Brentwood not caused by anything he did.
       It's a small crowd, as these swarms go, full of familiar faces from my last brush with Simpsonmania just over a year ago. On Tuesday at noon, when I followed O.J.'s lead and paid my own visit, there was a languorous quality to the scene: Bright midwinter sunshine had replaced the antics of El Niño, although one network producer had her car hood popped open, inviting her colleagues to help find the mysterious leak that was flooding her passenger compartment. Oh, God, car work in the street: This is what Brentwoodians dread, a taste of East L.A.
       "Nobody goes in," says a reporter friend about the house under inspection, a modest structure on a corner lot with a big tree and some recent improvements, two prim "no trespassing" signs on its lawn, and the big, real satellite dish on its roof (not your pizza-pan substitute cable). And, adds another reporter, they don't go out. No sightings, though there are rumors of a sneak-out on a rainy Friday to dine at a so-so Westwood steakhouse. So the Lewinskys may well be hunkering down inside, glued to the satellite feeds making a 46,000-mile round trip from the trucks down their block.
       I have missed some of the invasive highlights--the cars full of frat boys who cruised by on the weekend nights, pausing to yell "Monica sucks dick!" at the house. But what I haven't missed is the distinct impression that everybody here, like everybody in D.C., has closed the mental books on this case, concluding that Bill and Monica did have something more than, to use the ubiquitous Bill Ginsburg's term, a colleagues' relationship. Out here on a neighbor's lawn--not the actual lawn leading to the house, but the publicly owned strip of green that separates the sidewalk from the street--with the gentle snarl of weed-trimmers the only ambient noise, it's possible to notice some reasons to at least retain one's skepticism about the matter.
       Reason 1: Anything remotely resembling evidence that has been leaked during the past two weeks has dissipated as quickly as the morning fog. There turns out to have been no semen-stained dress, no Secret Service witness, no eyewitnessing by White House valet Bayani Nelvis. And, two words that would have constituted slam-dunk leaking have been conspicuously absent from any accounts of Monica's 20-hour involuntary tapefest with Linda Tripp. The words are "distinguishing characteristic." Maybe the president has self-curing Peyronie's.
       I get a rundown on the neighbors: The one down the block is nice, the one across the street brought cookies over to the Lewinsky house, but the guy near the end of the block is a jerk who puts his big trash receptacle in the parking space in front of his house to save it from occupation by the press. It gets moved. The house two over from the Lewinsky corner has its front door open. "They must trust us," says a producer friend.
       There are no fences demarcating people's yards or announcing their fears. The neighborhood, a reporter tells me, is mainly Persian-Jewish. Had it not been for the Ayatollah, these people would very likely be in a nice Tehran neighborhood right now worrying more about Saddam than Monica.
       Reason 2: Monica's mother, Marcia Lewis, wrote a book about the three tenors. In the publicity, and on the book jacket, she allows the reader to infer the possibility of a romantic entanglement between her and Plácido Domingo, an affair which is reliably reported not to have occurred.
       Where does a girl learn to fantasize about relationships with the rich and famous? A mother should know.
       There was a widely reported incident between Dr. Lewinsky's car and a press vehicle. The consensus of the newsies was that, although the doctor's new wife is reported to be complaining of back problems, the APTV vehicle, a Jetta, had a negligible impact. Which didn't stop the cops from handcuffing the blond woman who was driving the Jetta when it next came by the house. Shocked media hounds informed the cops that the blonde hadn't been driving at the time of the incident and, just like O.J., she was quickly uncuffed.
       Reason 3: Even serial adulterers don't get it on with every woman they know. Taking Paula Jones at her word, Bill Clinton's style is somewhat, shall we say, predatory. A guy who unzips for the nearly perfect stranger won't necessarily dig having an intern throw herself at him like a groupie at a Beastie Boys concert. Where's the thrill of the hunt?
       A cop car drives slowly by. It raises interest because of the blond woman sitting in the back seat, behind two officers in front. "Who's she?" the bored newsies ask each other. A crew member mutters darkly into a cell phone: "Something's gonna happen. There were three of them." Camp Lewinsky is a short-lived phenomenon. Perhaps by the time you're reading this, the reluctant witness will have flown back to D.C. for her rendezvous with Ken Starr (will she be taping him? will he be taping her?). In the brilliant February sunshine, the scene of reporters and producers meandering aimlessly back and forth along a sleepy residential street, waiting for a sighting of an oncological radiologist and his daughter, seems a world away from the nighttime video footage of a young girl besieged and perhaps endangered by cameras and microphones. Maybe if she just came out and said "hi," they'd all go away.
       Reason 4: Whenever everybody in Washington believes that something is true, start examining the evidence to the contrary.

Harry Shearer is the host of radio's Le Show, a screenwriter, a competent character actor, and provider of several of the voices on The Simpsons.