Monica Lewinsky is late for her book-signing - more than fashionably late - and people who've been parboiling under a California sun for several hours want to know why.
Finally, the verdict comes from her chief of security. "She's a young girl in a fragile state," he says with Freudian finality. The security man, the same one who guarded the Duchess of York when she came to Los Angeles, amplifies his explanation. "All you press who yell things at her even when you're not allowed, you are the reason she's taking so long," he declares.
So it went this week at what was billed as Ms. Lewinsky's only book-signing in the United States. The return of the former Beverly Hills ingenue to her old neighborhood, Brentano's bookstore in Century City, Calif. - OK, the Century City mall - was part tension, part titillation.
While the press muttered about how controlled the access is to the nation's celebrity-of-the-moment, hundreds of others lined up to see the author of "Monica's Story" either out of fascination or their own form of capitalism.
"$200," announces an unshaven man, balancing three boxes of books on his shoulder. "That's how much I'll get tonight on the Internet for each one of these that she signs."
Collector's item, of some sort
Another man, Jim Dunsford, figures he should add "Monica's Story" to his bookshelf for both value and history. "I've got Elvis," he says of his collection. "She'll be famous because she got away with it. She got her fame and her money, and it didn't really matter how she did it. It doesn't seem to matter anymore how anyone does it, just as long as they can make a lot of money from it."
Further back in line, a few patrons say they're untroubled by how Monica arrived at her moment in the sun. "I admire her," offers Maxine Silverstone. She was a young girl who got herself into trouble, says the matron.
Now, she's learning from her mistakes and moving on, "just like all the rest of us have to do." Ms. Silverstone suggests that Monica has learned the "ultimate lesson" of our time: If you just tell the truth, everyone will love you.
Not everyone is as forgiving, though. Tracey, a mother of four who's driven an hour down from Ventura County, says simply: "She should have known better." But she has no qualms about supporting the merchandising of Monica. "It's history," she says.
Of course, none of this is to suggest that everyone will actually read this version of history. "Read the book?" laughs another woman. "I don't think so. I'm a collector." In fact, virtually nobody in the snaking line of "collectors" appears to be cracking the book at all.
By 1:30 p.m., Lewinsky is more than an hour late for her scheduled appearance, and the crowd is getting impatient. The media, in particular, don't like the security chief's explanation for her tardiness. "Whoaaah," mutters a photographer at the suggestion that the press is to blame because of its intrusive questions. "Who called who, here?"
Another says on behalf of the crowd: "Chill, Monica. Your 15 minutes of fame are nearly up."
Those nasty reporters
When she finally does begin to sign books, the press access is even more restricted than during another celebrity moment in Los Angeles - the visit of Prince Edward last year. Perhaps her handlers realize that the real-life Monica is beginning to get in the way of Monica, the product.
Whatever it is, eight at a time, photographers are hustled into the small roped off area in the rear of the bookstore, whereupon Lewinsky stops signing books and poses.
"Shoot now!" bark her handlers, and photographers get 30 seconds to capture the moment before being hustled back outside.
Beyond that, having decided that Lewinsky is not going to talk, her staff kicks all reporters out of the bookstore, even though they'd been promised access three hours before.
As the signing winds on, book purchasers are earnestly promised that Lewinksy will "stay to sign every book."
But, alas. Come 4 p.m., Monica is all signed out. In front of 49 sunburned patrons, the book-signing is over and they leave, their books not transformed into collectors items, but mere $20 purchases.
"We should've known," says one woman who decides to return the two books she's bought. "She never did think about anyone else. It always was just about Monica and what she wanted, wasn't it?"