WASHINGTON -- So, you're stuck at the center of a White House sex scandal. What do you do?
If you're Monica Lewinsky, you take the back passages at the Watergate apartments and slip into shops connected to the swanky complex. You do not browse at the Yves St. Laurent boutique -- reporters are there looking for you -- but you do get yourself to the beauty shop to address your pressing personal maintenance issues, such as eyebrow waxing.
The Watergate is best known for scandal, of course, but it is also a good place to pick up a $2,215 Mongolian lamb jacket for apres ski. Or a $1,500 bottle of Hennessy cognac in fine French-leaded crystal. Or a frame for that picture of you and the president.
With the press stacked 10 deep outside her building, Lewinsky, 24, the former White House intern who allegedly had an affair with President Clinton, has been living in this Gucci prison since the crisis erupted. Now, as she prepares to leave Washington and go home to visit her father in California, the Watergate has found a new niche in history -- as a not-half-bad hiding place for a media refugee.
Of course, it really isn't the right place for Lewinsky, a Southern Californian who grew up with the buff and bodacious of Beverly Hills. Living here with her mother, Lewinsky is outnumbered by ageless society doyennes with shared tastes in handbags and face-lifts.
Still, even with its fustiness, the Watergate meets the first-class requirements of a high-profile scandal queen. Some of the 630 apartments go for $2 million. The adjoining Watergate Hotel offers room-service to residents of the apartments, and shops -- from a Valentino boutique to a liquor store -- make door-to-door deliveries.
Accustomed to intrigue, the Watergate is always welcoming, ever discreet.
At the Watergate Salon, where women change into robes just for a haircut, Lewinsky was a regular who came in to get her hair blown dry by stylists, a shop receptionist said. Lewinsky was said to use their professionals two weekends ago for an eyebrow waxing and thinning -- as if anticipating her appearance on the front page of every paper in the country soon after.
The shop is adorned with pictures of movie stars on the walls -- from Richard Burton to Cher. Visitors put their heads in the hands of experts like Turkish hair stylist Murat Kaya, who insists "I must make my client-people happy," fusses for two hours and then kisses them on both cheeks when he's done.
"Now she's famous," Kaya says of Lewinsky. "Maybe she's happy now. Who knows!"
Lewinsky and her mother, Marcia Lewis, sometimes showed up together at the salon. And according to this week's Time magazine, Lewinsky recommended her hairdresser to Linda Tripp, the friend who wore a body wire and taped her talking about Clinton.
All across this complex of shops, Lewinsky's routine errands have now taken on what seems like epic significance.
At Watergate Gallery, Dale Johnson remembers framing a picture of Lewinsky and Clinton -- a shot of the two of them at
what looked like an official function. Johnson remembers Lewinsky being more protective of this picture than the client who once brought in an original Monet.
"I remember she was very concerned about leaving it here," Johnson says of the Lewinsky photograph, which she framed last summer. "It was priceless to her. Although so many residents bring in pictures of themselves with the president, I don't know that it's such a big deal."
At the Watergate Valet, a dry cleaners, co-owner Trina Song cannot remember any tell-tale stains on the size-12 clothes Lewinsky dropped off -- although she has been asked repeatedly by reporters about such things.
"A month ago, she brought in a pile of clothes to clean -- casual clothes, a dress," she says. "I don't remember more. I know they're nice people. They don't complain too much."
Not since Watergate -- the break-in, not the address -- have so many reporters wanted to know so much about this famous three-building complex that curves along the Potomac River. Lewinsky's next-door neighbor is 1996 GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole, and she lives not far from an apartment owned by Democratic fund-raising-scandal figure Charlie Trie. Some journalists have held 24-hour vigils outside Lewinsky's ground-floor apartment, a two-level townhouse-style dwelling overlooking a fire lane.
The media horde
In fact, the media horde has been so constant that yesterday Dole sent a free batch of donuts to the crowd. Dole, who did a commercial for Dunkin' Donuts, gets five dozen free every Monday morning and frequently gives them away.
Such media-friendly gestures are rare at the Watergate these days. Instead, Watergate shop workers and residents are banding behind their young resident.