As Rita Jenrette walked down the steps to her Washington press conference yesterday, she heard the sound of one man clapping.

"Thank you," she said.

Fresh from her triumphant Day One press conference in New York, Rita Jenrette had packed up her Peek-A-Boo show and taken it on the road to Day Two.

Rita Jenrette, The Abscam Amour, Rita Jenrette, soon to be ex-wife of the ex-congressman, John, Rita Jenrette, wearing a white blazer and a light purple knit dress cinched at the waist, with a small pearl button at the top and an oval neck opened far enough to reveal, from a sideways glance, what they call "an ample bosom," Lovely Rita, destined to become another Elizabeth Ray, another Fanne Foxe, another name and number on the bathroom wall of history?

Rita Jenrette, a woman who needs no introduction.

Many reporters were already at the Hyatt Regency, covering the National Governors Association conference, and who wouldn't skip a committee meeting for a chance to cover a real political expose? Abscam Wife Bares All.

There were maybe 40 reporters and 20 more hangers-on waiting for her, and the first question on all their lips was: "Can you give me a copy of the magazine?"

Playboy, of course.

Free, of course.

Eight full-color pictures of the naughty-naughty variety. Mucho hoohah.

In the main, the reporters were kind, treating the event as the circus it obviously was. And Rits was sharp, having prepped for it like the "Congressional Spouse" she obvioulsy was. But she admitted to a being "a little hostile," especially to the woman reporters. "The woman are much less understanding than the men," she said. "Women do that to women; Gloria Steinem called it 'the trashing of women.'"

When one woman reporter asked her, seeing how Rita had declared herself "a feminist," how posing nude would help "The Women's Movement," Rita became visibly angry. "Why don't you answer that?" Rita asked the reporter.

"No, you answer it, you did it," the reporter said.

"It's an absurd question," Rita said, leaving it unanswered.

After admitting she had been "defensive" at the start of the press conference, Rita said, "No, this isn't fun. I wanted to quit the whole tour yesterday [Monday] in New York. But I was told I had a contractual obligation to Playboy to continue." She looked at the reporters, members of the Washington press corps, which she knew "could be brutal," and said, "You can ridicule me. You can judge me. It's not pleasant."

Yet, through it all, she was smiling. Even at the end, when she posed for photographers -- exclusive clothed photographs -- holding a copy of Playboy to her chest, opening the magazine to one of the few photographs that could be printed in a family newspaper. Smiling. Beaming.

"It was embarrassing to do that," Rita later said.

"Just meeting my contractual agreement," Rita added.

Other than revealing herself, Rita revealed little else.

"I didn't tell one-tenth of what I know," Rita said.

No, the other nine-tenths were not forthcoming. Not for sale. (At least not yet, anyway.)

She was "a good wife," yes.

She "flatly refused to pose" at first, but said she did it at her husband's suggestion, to help defray some of his legal costs -- although now she plans on keeping the money she received for posing nude, a sum she would not reveal. Part of the contractual agreement, you understand.

Yes, she and John actually made love on the steps of the Capitol -- just a few blocks from the scene of the press conference.

Now, she plans to pursue a career in "acting and singing"; she plans to live "the life of a single woman in New York City"; she is "happy"; she has "no regrets"; she has her "self-esteem."

No, she says, she will not go on "The Gong Show." She has limits.

From here, the Rita Jenrette Peek-A-Boo show goes to Chicago, Houston, Toronto and Los Angeles. More free copies. More glossy lipstick. More smiles. More questions. More hoo-hah.

Part of the contractual agreement.

The Rubicon was crossed the moment she removed her blouse.

Of course, Rita knows that whatever it is she is accomplishing -- and she spoke of "explaining what it is to be a Congressional Spouse" -- could have been accomplished without taking off her clothes, that the more clothing she takes off, the more people will treat her as an object, an amusement, someone not to be taken seriously. This much she admitted yesterday.

And it's not like she's out here to get sympathy. "I don't think I'm a sympathetic person," she said. "John is. John can cry on cue. You can feel sympathy for him; his wife left him. Not for me."

What she'd rather think about herself and her public is this:

"I'd rather think you're cheering me on."

But she couldn't write that into her contractual agreement.