"My Dearest Monica, we might have been great together..."
Monica Lewinsky, the young woman who gained infamy by becoming then President Bill Clinton's illicit Oval Office sex kitten, is back in the news. Now forty and rapidly approaching a period of her life when most women (and men) are hitting high gear in both their careers and relationships, poor Monica just can't seem to shake the stigma of the Clintons, which according to her new Vanity Fair expo, has cost her both her ability to land a job and a husband. Funny how Slick Willy hasn't seemed to suffer from the blue-dress-"I did not have sex with that woman" scandal that dominated the news for more than a year back in '98/'99 even with his having been impeached. In fact, Bill, is considered a great statesman while Hillary prepares for her 2016 White House run. Go figure!
I feel badly for Monica. While she claims that her relationship with her boss was consensual, I have trouble swallowing the legitimacy of the whole affair. Let's face it, she was twenty-three and he was old enough to be her dad and then some. To put it as frankly as possible, it was a power trip for him to bang the young hot intern, and he knew it. Maybe the scandal proved to be a real pain in the rear end for the Clintons, but by some sort of oddball twist of political irony, it might have even served to make them more famous and desirable in the public eye.
Monica and her DNA stained blue dress certainly hasn't stopped the Clinton machine from conquering new territory in DC. If anything, it has made the power duo more alluring (One can picture Slick Willy gripping a cocktail at a Dem fundraiser while Pres. Obama leans into his ear, whispering, "Come on, Billy, tell me. What was she really like?")
Well, I'm sick of the Clintons getting all the glory. Sick of them sucking on the publicity tit that is Monica Lewinsky. Fact is, I have my own Monica story to expose after keeping it hidden for sixteen years. That's right people, I too have enjoyed a run-in with the Black Widow of the Beltway and it happened entirely by surprise.
It all went down in the Winter of '98, which as some of you might recall, was a killer. I was a very young novelist fresh out of writing school and who had just signed his first big quarter million dollar deal with Delacorte Press (Random House) for the publication of my first big novel, THE INNOCENT (back then it was called, As Catch Can). Being young and stupid and living within close proximity to NYC up in Albany, I would often find myself in the city on weekends, not only to play drums in my then editor's band, Straw Dogs, but also to, well, party like a rock star.
It was during one of these weekends that I found myself sitting on the floor of Penn Station on a late Sunday morning, trying to stave off the ill effects of a gargantuan hangover. Armed with coffee and a double Nathan Hot Dogs value meal, I awaited the train that would cart me back up north to Albany, where I looked forward to sleeping off my weekend for twenty four hours or more.
It was snowing outside. Correction, the entire East Coast was engulfed in a major Nor'easter, and the airports were shut down, which meant that many travelers who had planned on flying upstate were quickly snatching up train tickets. I'd prepaid for a seat in what was then called Amtrak Business Class, because at the time, I had money to burn, being the promising new Norman Mailer, minus the Pulitzer talent and audience. But hey, it was fun to pretend.
When the call came for my train I peeled myself up off he floor like a piece of chewed up old Juicy Fruit, and gladly barreled my way through the throngs of tourists until I found my train car down inside the steaming bowels of the station. As I located my seat inside a car that was mostly filled with Business Class passengers dressed in sharp clothing, not a single eye took notice of me, my black jeans, worn combat boots, leather coat, and Nathan's Hot Dogs. In fact, their eyes were glued to their respective copies of the New York Times Sunday Edition, which bore a headline that went something like, "CLINTON AND LEWINSKY KISSING IN AN OVAL OFFICE TREE!" Okay, I jest, but our president and his sex scandal was indeed the top news of the day. I myself might have taken a vested interest in it, were my head not ready to explode. But all I wanted was to crash in my seat, chow down my hot dogs, close my eyes, and pass out for the two hour ride north.
I wasn't seated against the window for more than a minute, the first of the two Nathan's Hot Dogs just inches from my open mouth, when a conductor interrupted me.
"Excuse me," he said. "But is this seat next to you taken?"
We both gazed down at the seat in question. The cushion didn't contain the ass end of a human being, but instead, my yellow cardboard Nathan's Hot Dog container, the already mustard-covered number two dog lying in wait.
I looked up at the tall, blue suited man and noticed two women standing directly behind him. Both women were tall, dressed expensively, and holding carry-on bags. They stared at me with wide, almost pleading dark eyes that never once blinked as the question about the empty seat lingered in the air like the aroma from my Penn Station lunch. The two women were none other than Monica Lewinsky and her mother.
I looked at them without saying a word, far longer than I should have. Because the conductor repeated the question about the seat. A little more emphatically this time.
I shook my head, dumped my first hot dog back into the container along with its partner, then picked the entire package up off the seat and gripped it in my hands. Sliding out of the seat, I faced Monica and her mom, and tried to work up a smile.
"Why don't you take both seats?" I said, knowing full well they were the only two seats left in Business Class, or perhaps the entire train.
But Monica shook her head. I recall she was wearing a black baseball cap, black acrylic stretch pants, and a snug fitting zippered jacket that accentuated her ample bosom. That very famous bosom that Bill so craved day in and day out. But I digress.
"I'll sit on the floor," Monica insisted, pointing to the empty space directly behind the two empty seats that might otherwise house a handicapped person and his wheelchair. "It's no problem," she added.
I stared down at the uneaten hot dogs and considered offering one up. But then raising my head, I peered at all the people reading their Clinton Scandal newspapers, all of them oblivious to the scene taking place only inches from their faces. History was being made here. How could they not see it unfolding? Here stood not only the major player in a sex scandal that was shaking the entire world, but so was her mother. How they could miss the obvious was beyond me and my sore head.
"Why don't you take both seats for you and your daughter?" I said again to Monica's mom, at which point, she shook her head in frustration, and issued a slight, if not tearful cry. Maybe all those people were glued to their newspapers, but they wouldn't be for long. Not if Monica and her mom continued loitering in the aisle.
"Please," she said. "Don't do this."
My heart sank for this attractive, middle aged woman who seemed so stoic yet so vulnerable and hurt. Peering down at my hot dogs, I slipped back into my seat, while Monica sat down on the carpeted floor behind me and her mom took the seat beside me.
Silence ensued while the train left the station and I, no longer hungry, slipped my hot dogs under the seat in front of me. After a time, as the train began winding its way along the banks of the iced over Hudson River and the snow fell on the tress of the Hudson Valley, Monica and her mom began conversing over the seat back. They were discussing someone "who would get theirs in due time." Someone who had no doubt played an integral role in the uncovering of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal. They spoke in hushed whispers and in a kind of mother/daughter code that, while not entirely understandable to me, wasn't completely Greek either. The two women were pissed off and I guess they had a right to be. A young life was in the process of being ruined.
After a time, Monica got up and quickly darted through the aisle to the bathroom, passing by all those travelers and their newspapers, her shapely but sizable posterior creating a slight wind that blew back the edges of the newspapers like an American Flag caught in a stiff breeze. I remember staring at her butt. Her very very very famous butt, and knowing how much Slick Willy must have enjoyed it. It was not the most unattractive sight I'd ever witnessed in my life. But then, hey, I harbor a particular fetish for meat-on-their-bones brunette girls. I'll go so far as to say that I might have even, for a split second or two, contemplated asking Monica for her phone number, knowing that she was, at present, not dating anyone. What the hell, I was young novelist on the rise and her face was plastered on every newspaper and cable news network on the planet. We might make a powerhouse team.
After Monica returned to her seat on the floor, her mom leaned into me.
Looking out the window, she said, "I've heard the Hudson Valley is like the new Hollywood."
I was taken aback by the comment.
"It is?" I said like a dummy, once more taking in the aroma of my hot dogs as they sat unattended only inches from my toes. "I mean, yah, lots movies being filmed here now. Where are you headed?"
"Rhinebeck," she said. "My boyfriend lives there. We need a little time to ourselves."
That bit about "a little time to ourselves" is as close as the woman came to acknowledging hers and her daughter's true identities, and despite a little more small talk, I didn't push her further. By then, all I wanted was to try and figure out a way to get Monica's phone number.
But then the train came to stop as we pulled into a station.
The Rhinecliff/Rhinebeck station.
The woman beside me exhaled a relieved breath and stood up. As she grabbed hold of her carry-on from out of the overhead rack, she issued me the nicest and most genuine of smiles.
"Thank you," she said. But I knew she wasn't thanking me for the seat so much as not blowing their cover.
That's when Monica stood and gazed at me. She looked so young and innocent in her cute baseball hat, her long dark hair pulled back tight in a ponytail. I wanted to say something to her. Something profound and promising. I wanted to ask her if she'd like to get together sometime, shoot the shit, have a beer or two. Maybe even have me ghost a tell-all book for her. I just couldn't get the words out. It was a total choke.
But then she did something I'll never forget: Before she turned to exit the car with her mother, she locked eyes with mine, and smiled.
"You're very sweet for giving up your seat," she said.
I wanted to tell her it wasn't mine to give up in the first place. But the words just wouldn't come.
She turned then and exited the train car. I watched them walk the concrete platform through the window, and for a brief moment, I thought she might turn and once more lock onto my eyes with hers as the train began to slowly roll forward. With the snow coming down in heavy flakes, it was like a scene out of Dr. Zhivago. I the broken hearted young revolutionary knowing that he was losing his young Lara forever and ever.
As the train took on speed, Monica never did look back. I pressed my right hand up against the glass and I watched her disappear from my life forever, and all that remained was the snow falling on the glass as it melted into tear-like streaks of water.
Maybe a half hour passed before I pulled my eyes away form the safety glass. Not a soul was stirring in Business Class. A few people had given up their newspapers for nap time. Some people were chatting it up, gossiping about current events, totally ignorant of what had just occurred right before their eyes. Or had I dreamt the whole thing and was only now waking up from a bizarre hungover dream?
But then I smelled just a hint of the perfume Monica's mom had been wearing and I realized they they had indeed been here for that brief time. I sat there for a while, missing them, until I remembered my Nathans. Reaching back down under the seat, I retrieved the yellow cardboard container and rested it in my lap. Picking up the first hot dog, I bit into it. It was cold, but not too cold. The hot dogs were still good. I finished every bit of them. Small reward for a young novelist who had just played a tiny role in modern political history, and had his heart broken in the process.