By Howard Kurtz
"I'm meshuggah. I'm nuts," says Monica Lewinsky.
"You're not meshuggah," says Linda Tripp.
"Yes, I am, Linda. I go I'm like not a normal person."
Everyone in America feels they know Monica. And with yesterday's release of the transcripts of her taped conversations with her former Pentagon pal, the portrait of Lewinsky often painted with her own hyperbolic words will seem even more vivid.
She has never spoken publicly (though she will, unwillingly, when the House releases the audiotapes, giving television a chance to turn this into a miniseries). But her life has been laid bare through the detritus of the Information Age e-mail, tape recordings, not-so-secret grand jury testimony. Detail by embarrassing detail, Lewinsky has been outfitted with a full-blown media image, and she hasn't even appeared on Larry King.
She comes across in the tapes as self-mocking and self-loathing, never straying far from her obsession with President Clinton, toying with this come-on line:
"Hey, baby, why don't you come over and show me those distinguishing characteristics?"
And sometimes seems promiscuous, as in this e-mail:
"i had a good time at the spa (i did it with the nutrition guy)!!!! Yeah!"
And occasionally slips into paranoia with Tripp:
"My mom's big fear is that he's going to send somebody out to kill me."
One chilling lesson from Kenneth Starr's latest document dump not that many in the media will pause to ponder it is the utter inability to protect one's identity in an era of prosecutorial and journalistic scrutiny. Hastily typed computer messages, late-night phone chats, bookstore receipts all can be retrieved and reassembled without the target's permission. The hard drive of your life is appropriated as public property.
How many Americans would want their random musings collected and collated in transcript form? To reveal to the world how much they worry about their appearance?
"Maybe if i come bug you later you'll make me feel better about looking so GROSS today," Lewinsky messages Tripp. "The highlight of my appearance today being the vlocano [sic] zit i have on my cheek. Hmmm . . . attractive!"
How many would disclose their family's dirty laundry?
"Once my parents were divorced, if i wanted something from my dad, i had to make up a story."
Or their desperate moments?
"Thank God for you! Oh Linda, i don't know what I am going to do. I just don't understand what went wrong, what happened? How could he do this to me? . . . Maybe he wanted to insure he could have variety and phone sex while he was on the road for those months? AAAAHHHHH!!!!! I am going to lose it!"
Or their worst arguments?
"I think you made some really hurtful statements. . . . You are right about my 'bad' habit of jumping down people's throat sometimes . . . I HOPE YOU KNOW HOW VERY MUCH I APPRECIATE YOUR FRIENDSHIP. . . . I hope that in the future, if there is a future, you let me know sooner when I do something that bothers you. . . . Of course, that is prefaced with me trying to not be a bitch."
Finally, last October, Tripp has had enough: "From now on, leave me alone. . . . I really am finished, Monica. Share this sick situation with one of your other friends, because, frankly, I'm past nauseated about the whole thing. LRT"
The new evidence underscores how government investigators can give the world a guided tour of your psyche, with or without your help. Beyond the serious business of perjury and obstruction-of-justice allegations, the tapes sound like a bad David Mamet play, replete with everyday banalities: how Lewinsky made pumpkin soup, how she went for her favorite doughnuts, how she can't stand her diet anymore, how she bought a "rad red" sweater, how she regards Matt Lauer of "Today" as "the cute one."
Relevant or not, Lewinsky's smallest thoughts and profanities are being reprinted, broadcast, downloaded, annotated and regurgitated into history's database.
If Lewinsky comes off as a Beverly Hills neurotic, it is because of her continuing obsession with the president, whom she refers to only by nickname:
"Nice that the Big Creep didn't even try to call me on V-day," she tells Tripp.
And Lewinsky is her own harshest critic, describing herself as a "married man magnet." Before a job interview with U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson, she says: "I am the most nervous because I'm afraid I'm going to sound like an idiot, he's going to say to [White House aide John] Podesta I sounded like an idiot, and the creep is going to hear that I sounded like an idiot, and that then the creep is going to think I'm a big idiot."
Endless, circuitous conversations are devoted to Lewinsky's attempts to see Clinton again and persuade him to return her to the White House. She rehearses a letter she wants to write to the president, even asking what passages should be in bold or italics:
"I try and catch myself because I don't think he would like to be called Boo-Boo."
"Oh, not on paper," Tripp says.
"‚'Dear Boo-Boo.' I know he called what's her face, Pooky."
"What's her face? Gennifer Flowers."
Ironically, in light of the fact that her own words were being secretly recorded, Lewinsky made a tape she wanted to send to Clinton and played it, starting and stopping, for Tripp:
"Hi Handsome. I couldn't bear the thought of sitting down and writing you another note, so I thought I'd tape it. . . . I quickly sneak over, and then we can have a nice little visit for, you know, 15 minutes, a half-hour, whatever you want. But I would really, really, really, really, really like that and appreciate it."
Lewinsky explains to Tripp: "There is nothing that beats the voice, you know."
"You're you're so good at it," Tripp says. "No wonder he likes phone sex with you. . . . You're just like a little Marilyn Monroe vixen. I know, in my wildest dreams, I could never have phone sex."
"Oh yes you could."
One striking footnote occurs on Page 4,608 of Starr's Volume 3. Steve Lange, executive producer of the program "Extra," writes to an unnamed Lewinsky friend, probably her lawyer William Ginsburg: "Our intention is to give you the opportunity to tell the country about the real Monica. Who is Monica Lewinsky? What is she like? Has she changed since this story made headlines? Does she have a support group? . . . We will be caring and understanding to Monica's plight."
That was eight months ago. It's highly unlikely that Lewinsky now views the media as caring and understanding.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company