The tell-all tale

Mar 10, 1999 at 12:00 am

Wednesday night, and even if 70 million other people are watching their televisions too, I still feel like I have to hide in the closet.

It’s not that there’s anything inherently shameful about watching "20/20" (not usually, anyway), but since it’s the one where Bahbwa interviews Monica (we’re all on a first-names-only basis, now, right?), it’s kind of like going to a peep show. "Like when was the last time you did that?" asks the Lizard, busting the closet door open. "Hey, what’s the TV doing in here?"

I wince at the bright hall light, and explain that even though it feels salacious, voyeuristic and otherwise icky, I just have to watch.

"Well, turn up the volume," says the Lizard, grabbing a slice of pizza and shoving itself into the closet with me and the television. "Hey, that Lewinsky chick is kind of a babe. All I’ve heard for the past year is how dumpy she is. But you know, she’s not half bad."

Monica giggles and describes the president’s kissing abilities. ("Come on, isn’t that what we’ve all been wondering about?" says the Lizard, nudging me in the ribs. "Maybe you have," I nudge back.)

Bahbwa, like an apple pie-baking grandmother, clucks her disapproval, and asks Monica to explain phone sex, presumably for the benefit of the five Americans who haven’t yet heard of 1-900 numbers, Nicholson Baker’s book Vox or, possibly, telephones.

"I love how Bahbwa tries to drag out the gory details, but then doesn’t actually let them be said," says the Lizard, squishing closer to the TV screen. "It makes them seem so much naughtier. What I wouldn’t give to see the outtakes from this!"

On one hand, it feels slimy to hear, on national TV, the details of someone else’s sex life. ("Hey, it’s a historic sex life," says the Lizard. "How can it be historic if it doesn’t change anything?" I ask.)

But on the other hand, if I don’t watch, how will I know if I think it’s slimy or not? And on the other hand, what difference does it make what Monica has to say? And on the other hand, what more entertaining diversions do I have on a cold March evening between paychecks?

"You ran outta hands awhile back," notes the Lizard. "Admit it. You’re as voyeuristic as that guy peeking in our front window right now. Come out of the closet about it, and we’ll all be happier. Not to mention it’ll be less stuffy in here."

It’s a commercial break, so I drag myself, the TV and the Lizard out of the closet. The guy peeking in the window knocks on the door – turns out he’s a friend of the Lizard’s. He’s really into Monica. When he read about the group of Australian drag queens who dressed up like her, he bought a plane ticket just to go and see.

"Look at those perfect eyebrows! And those straight teeth!" he notes.

The Lizard nods. "I think she’s had her makeup freshened since the last segment."

"But what makes her so attractive?" I ask. "Is it her, or is it her celebrity status as someone who slurped the president’s Popsicle?"

The Lizard looks at me scoldingly. "Come on. It’s neither. Did you hear what she said about phone sex? Did you hear what she said about how she felt at the beginning of the affair?" A big grin spreads across its face. "She said she was having fun! Fun, fun, fun!"

The whole thing, come to think of it, has provided countless hours of fun for everyone.

It’s contagious. First, Monica and Bill were having fun. Then, presumably, Linda Tripp had fun with her tape recorder. ("She must’ve been thinking Whoo-hoo, I’m gonna get rich!" says the Lizard.)

Then, Kenneth Starr and his gang had fun playing big, important investigators. The president’s spin doctors had fun thinking up ways around the issue. The House committee and Senate had fun for weeks, playing trial.

Right-wingers had fun denouncing the president. Left-wingers had fun denouncing Republican zealotry. Even people who claimed they didn’t care had fun talking about how much they really, really didn’t care.

Comedians, late night talk-show hosts and the media, of course, had fun all along. And now Monica, with her tell-all biography fresh on the shelves and a telegenic new look ("How long before she gets her own talk show?" asks the Lizard. "Or runs for president?"), seems to be having fun once again, too.

"Um, the only ones not having fun seem to be Hillary and Chelsea," I point out.

"Yeah, but think how much fun they’ll have throwing the White House china at Bill’s head!" chuckles the Lizard.

Fun is, ultimately, rather like the whole drawn-out Zippergate saga. It makes everyone feel good, but it’s ultimately meaningless. It’s sometimes at someone else’s expense. It has a definite shelf life.

"Yeah, yeah," says the Lizard. "I’m bored with Monica. Can we change the channel now?"