By Linton Weeks
At a suburban Gap in Upper Montclair, N.J., yesterday, media buyer Simon Cote, 24, cruised the racks while his mother returned a turtleneck. "It's just pathetic," he said. "It's embarrassing."
His mother, school social worker Susan Cote, chimed in. "I can't believe we're publicly discussing things" -- and here she listed some of those unsavory details. "Don't we have anything better to talk about? I'm wondering what happened to discretion."
Even inside the Beltway, some people have no patience for the frenzy. "It reminds me of the O.J. Simpson trial," said J.R. Dukes, 20, a salesclerk at the Let's Talk phone store in Fashion Centre at Pentagon City. "Every time you turn on the TV, it's there. I don't like how they just put all this business out there."
"I've read enough," Silver Spring resident Diane Litten said while leaving the Carlyle Hotel after having tea with two friends. The White House was in sight, but she had only one emotion: "Disgust."
Ray Suarez, host of National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation," devoted the first hour of his Thursday show last week to President Clinton's current troubles. Listeners from around the country called in to say they found the allegations about, analysis of and antagonism toward the president distasteful.
"There was a sort of exhaustion," Suarez said later, adding that NPR's computer bulletin board had received hundreds of messages on the subject. "There seems to be resentment of NPR for covering the story at all," he said.
One example: "What are we doing to the institution of the presidency with a special prosecutor wiretapping claims of a 24-year-old groupie? Come on; seizing items of clothing? How can the executive branch of the government or private citizens function with this level of intrigue? How dare we let our country be distracted from real and serious matters of state to engage in voyeurism?" wrote Adrienne Albrecht.
And another: "I am soooo sick of hearing about Bill Clinton's private life!" wrote Patricia Hutt.
Suarez was slightly baffled by listeners' reactions. If a special prosecutor instructs someone to secretly tape conversations concerning the president, he asked, "we're not supposed to cover it? I'm not sure what they want. Do they want us to be silent on the whole matter?"
Not silent, but maybe not so graphic.
Aleta Melton, 53, who sells gas and worms in her husband's Airport Grocery and Bait Shop in Grenada, Miss., said: "There's a lot of energy spent by the media -- and everybody really -- over nothing." Grenada is the home town of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who will deliver the Republican rebuttal to Clinton's State of the Union address tomorrow night.
"There are more important things going on than to have to deal with the man who had an extramarital affair," she added. "He's going to have to answer to that, to the Lord. I don't think we have to hash over every little thing he did."
Like many others, Melton is weary of the rumors, intimations and innuendo. "Leave him alone," she said. "This is a personal thing. Why harp on it?"
At Pappacino's Coffee House in Portland, Ore., a favorite hangout of students at Lewis and Clark College -- Monica Lewinsky's alma mater -- shift manager Melinda Allen, 23, said she was trying not to pay attention to the story anymore. "I'm personally tired of it. It seems to be going on and on and on. Why can't they just drop it?
"If he did it, okay. He wasn't a faithful husband," she added. "But that wouldn't make any impact on his decisions as a president . . . or would it?"
Staff writers Paula Span and David Streitfeld contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company