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Sex! Lies! A congressman! A missing intern! What more could we ask for?

Monica was good. But Chandra is better.

C’mon—admit it. You’re having lots of lazy, sleazy fun this summer trading Chandra theories with your friends and colleagues over chips and beer. The whodunit disappearance of intern Chandra Levy and her tawdry little affair with boyfriend Congressman Gary Condit would be the parlor game of the year if anybody actually had a parlor anymore.

And it’s scarcely confined to the District. Travel anywhere in the country this summer and mention that you’re from Washington and guess what you’ll be asked about. (Hint: It’s not “Taxation without representation.”)

By now, we’ve all been thoroughly debased in this Chandra orgy, led, as usual, by our insatiable bottom-feeding media tastemakers—CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, the National Enquirer/Globe/Star, the New York tabloids, and, remarkably enough, the Washington Post. (And now, the Washington City Paper. Chandra did, after all, check out our Web site just before she disappeared, according to police. Our cover story that week was about therapies for men who batter women.) Oh sure, the TV pundits somberly remind us at the top of every hour that we must not lose sight of the fact that an innocent young woman is missing and quite likely dead—right before they breathlessly report the latest on Chandra and Gary’s hot-oil massages. And this just in! Condit had another girlfriend—a stewardess! And another one—an 18-year-old former intern, who had a baby during the time she was consorting with the congressman!

If this were a Law & Order episode, it would already be over: When the prime suspect evades police questioning and ‘fesses up to a key part of the story only on the third interview, you know you’ve got your man. Except, of course, the police keep insisting that Condit is not a suspect. He’s a serial philanderer, an adulterer, and a skunk, but he’s not a suspect. And he did take his own custom-made lie detector test, after all, which Condit’s lawyer declares completely clears his client.

Condit is scarcely cleared in the court of public opinion, however. Nor, for that matter, is sweet, innocent Chandra. Inquiring minds still have a few questions about this summer potboiler that have yet to be satisfactorily dissected on Nightline.

Could someone please explain, for example, how a supposedly bright graduate student could have been so foolish? We’re not supposed to blame the victim, but it’s awfully hard not to wonder what on earth Chandra was thinking. Did she really believe that a married congressman old enough to be her father—who practically hid her under a burqua, he was so afraid of being discovered with her—actually intended to ditch his wife and destroy his political career to marry her?

What did the two of them talk about during those romantically surreptitious dinners in out-of-the-way suburban Thai restaurants? Campaign-finance reform? The California energy crisis? Ridin’ Harleys? What does a veteran congressman actually have in common with a green intern? Is blind worship really such a turn-on? What do you say to a doormat?

And what’s this Democratic jones for bubbleheaded, big-haired Jewish interns, anyway?

Condit was supposed to be the powerful one in the relationship. But Chandra held the ace: the congressman’s abject fear of disclosure. It could have made for a potent threat. Did Chandra—fearful of being dumped, or having stumbled upon evidence of another of Condit’s affairs, or testing positive on a home pregnancy test, or simply eager to accelerate that five-year waiting period before Condit would marry her—decide to try to use it? Did she stroll over to Condit’s Adams Morgan love nest—she apparently had a key—intending to confront him on the eve of her trip to California, only to find—surprise!—that his wife was on one of her rare visits to the capital? Did something happen between the two of them?

What about that reportedly long-suffering wife? What exactly is this chronic ailment she’s reported to have? And how long before she tires of the drip-drip-drip of daily humiliations of her husband’s affairs and decides to dish on Dateline?

Which brings us to the other grown-ups in this whole sordid affair: Chandra’s parents. What were they thinking? Let’s not forget that they seemed to have known something about their daughter’s foolish romance since at least last December, to judge from the evidence of a family video, on which Daddy can be heard ribbing Chandra about her congressman boyfriend. Hello?! Didn’t the Levy elders think to warn their naive daughter that maybe, just maybe, a married congressman 29 years her senior might not have her best interests at heart?

Then there was the helpful intervention of Chandra’s aunt, Linda Zamsky, to whom Chandra confided details of her May-December affair. Aunt Linda’s advice to Chandra? Arrange the congressman’s shirts by color and build him a terrarium—the two surefire pathways to a man’s heart.

Nearly three months into the Summer of Chandra, reports are finally trickling out of Condit’s home district in California that his once-hearty voter support is beginning to wither in the media heat. Don’t be too sure. Chances are, many voters in his district want Condit as far away from their own daughters as possible. Best to keep him 3,000 miles away in Sodom, D.C. CP

The Girl Next Door

Chandra Levy was my neighbor. Then John Walsh moved in.

By Laura Lang

I never knew Chandra Levy. I can’t say for sure that I ever saw her face—before, of course, it was plastered on fliers in businesses and apartment buildings all over the city, including mine.

My building, as it happens, is the Newport, where Levy most recently lived—and where I still do. Since early May, when Levy’s parents first notified D.C. police that their daughter was missing, the building’s façade has become backdrop to countless newscasts, and this stretch of 21st Street NW is now a parking lot for every media organization from here to Asia.

Take one recent Thursday morning, for instance. Still bleary-eyed from sleep after a late night of work, I head out of my place a little after 9 a.m. to move my car before the street cleaners come.

I’ve been gone no more than 45 minutes, but by the time I return to my building, I can hardly recognize it. Two Winnebagos and a couple of smaller trucks occupy most of the street space. Beefy guys in shorts string cords and cables across the road to a generator parked on the other side. A woman wearing a cute knee-length dress and holding a clipboard leads a gaggle of interns up and down the street, past a truck dedicated to doling out snacks, such as fruit cups and Dunkin’ Munchkins. I’ve seen plenty of media feeding frenzies, but this is truly remarkable.

“I thought maybe it was a movie crew and they just happened to pick this building,” agrees Mike Lague, a 31-year-old postdoctoral researcher at George Washington University, who also lives in the Newport. We stand on the driveway to watch the spectacle.

It’s not a movie crew, as it turns out, but something close: a shoot for America’s Most Wanted, which will air a segment on Levy’s disappearance in its next broadcast. I find this out when I ask one of the beefiest guys. I think he assumes I’m some sort of TV-crew groupie, and he tries to impress me, explaining that John Walsh will be on the “set” soon.

He’s referring to the sidewalk, and it does look transformed. Cameras stand next to folding directors’ chairs; crew members whiz around readying the spot. They act as if they owned the place, and they nearly have passers-by persuaded they do, having successfully gotten them to to walk on the other sidewalk.

Preparations are interrupted briefly when a caravan of cars drives by: a couple of black Suburbans flanking a sleek black sedan. Some of the crew members look up excitedly, weighing whether they should get some footage of the approaching vehicles.

“Oh, it’s just a guy in a turban,” someone finally says, disappointed.

A little after 11 a.m., Walsh arrives, wearing a gray suit that matches his silver hair. Pancake makeup covers his face—so much of it that I wonder how it’s not visible on TV. Crew members gather around. A camera crew from Entertainment Tonight and another from somewhere in Japan circle Walsh, getting interviews and pictures.

I finally grow bored 30 minutes later, after several takes of Walsh’s theorizing about a serial killer in the area and his brief interview with police spokesperson Sgt. Joe Gentile. The filming apparently goes on for hours. Not that it surprises many in the building.

“I knew there was going to be trouble when I saw the snack truck,” says one Newport employee.

Had Levy’s parents not notified authorities of Chandra’s disappearance, few in the Newport might have realized she was missing.

Residents and building employees say they didn’t see her around much anyway. The Newport—like many large buildings in D.C.—is a place where it’s easy to keep to yourself. Made up of 156 condos, the 10-floor building is home to about 200 people, more than half of whom rent their apartments. Age and ethnicity vary, but to judge from my own morning and evening trips in and out of the building, there’s a heavy proportion of young, working singles—men and women in their 20s and 30s who work or go to school and have busy lives.

A condo association meets regularly in the office of the building manager, located on the top floor. There are few other communal activities, even fewer rooms in which to hold them. A pool sits on the roof of the building, where some take quick dips after work or lounge on the weekend. And there’s a lobby on the main floor, right next to a check-in desk staffed 24 hours a day, but most people just pass through.

Not even laundry is the social activity that it is in many buildings. The Newport has small laundry rooms located on each floor, rather than one big one—which limits interaction significantly. The building is staffed by friendly, efficient people who often strike up conversations with residents, but it’s the sort of place where you could disappear if you wanted to—and maybe even if you didn’t want to—and escape notice.

The neighborhood isn’t much different. Located adjacent to Dupont Circle and only blocks away from the office buildings of Farragut North, the building stands in a sort of netherworld that’s not quite downtown but not really residential, either. During the day, people swarm the area on their way to and from work. On weekend nights, groups of young people bounce through as they head to Lulu’s or Soho Tea & Coffee. Things quiet down considerably on weekday evenings, once most people have made it to their homes.

“Me and my friends call this the Bermuda Triangle,” says one resident.

I live on the eighth floor of the Newport, five floors above Levy’s place. On a weekday evening, I decide to take a trip downstairs, just to check out the door to Levy’s infamous apartment. I’ve been told it’s covered with police tape and the leftover traces of fingerprinting dust.

When I step off the elevator, I see the door right away, but it’s covered with nothing and shows no evidence of barred entry. In fact, the door stands unlatched and slightly ajar. I can hear music and voices coming from inside.

I stand motionless for a few seconds, not quite sure what to do. As far as I know, Levy’s apartment is still vacant, its only visitors the landlord and returning police. But clearly, there are people inside, and from the sound of it, they aren’t there to investigate a missing-person case.

I finally knock, and I half-expect Levy to come to the door and have some perfectly reasonable explanation as to why she’s been gone for weeks. Perhaps she’ll giggle and pass off the media frenzy as a product of her worrisome parents.

Instead, a tall, thin guy in his 20s opens the door. I explain who I am and what I’m doing, but he’s distracted by a female voice that calls from inside. “Now is a really bad time,” he says, shrugging sheepishly and suggesting I come back later.

The next night, I return. He seems less than excited to see me, but he invites me inside for a beer. He’s a newcomer to the area, so his eagerness to meet people momentarily outweighs his resistance to talk about the apartment. He does not want me to use his name, but he offers a few comments about his situation.

In town for a summer job, he says he rented the apartment at the last minute. He didn’t know it was Levy’s former place until he showed up to move in.

“[My landlords] said, ‘We have something to tell you,’” he recalls. “‘The air conditioner’s not working.’ I said, ‘Whatever.’ And then they said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s Chandra Levy’s apartment.’”

He shakes his head as he says this. We’re seated at the breakfast bar in his studio apartment. It’s a bright unit with cream-colored carpet and newish gray kitchen cabinets. The place is nicely decorated—albeit a bit feminine—with a matching cream-colored futon, a white stereo cabinet, and a glass-topped coffee table. A mattress is nestled in an alcove on the back wall of the apartment. It’s the same stuff that was there when he moved in, presumably the same furniture and dishes and bed used by Levy—which disturbs the new tenant.

“Like, it’s kinda creepy to open the cabinet and see this,” he says, pulling out a mug and setting it in front of me. “Know Your Odds Chart,” it reads on one side. Below that, it says:

Odds of meeting a single man

1 in 23

Odds of meeting a cute, single man

1 in 529

Odds of meeting a cute, single, smart man

1 in 3,245,873

Odds of meeting the above when you look your best

1 in 9,729,528

It’s the sort of mug a young, single woman—like Levy—might find amusing. It’s also the sort of thing one female friend might give to another, as some sort of cheesy joke. It’s just a mug, but as it sits there in the middle of the breakfast bar, it seems such a sad sign of a lonely young woman’s yearning.

Although, given the revelations about Levy’s relationship with Rep. Gary Condit, she might not have been so concerned about hunting out eligible bachelors. “Yeah, that’s ironic,” says the apartment’s new tenant.

He can’t shed much more light on Levy’s life. He would just like to get on with his own. He figures he’ll stay at the Newport, at least through the summer.

“Aside from sleepless nights, it’s a nice apartment,” he shrugs. CP

‘It all circles around him’

Police look harder at Rep. Gary Condit

By Jason Cherkis

The search for missing intern Chandra Levy has slowly evolved during the past weeks into a search for a crime scene. While Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Charles Ramsey refuses to call Levy’s lover, Rep. Gary Condit, a suspect, detectives and evidence technicians have sharpened their focus on the congressman’s life, extending far beyond searching his apartment and his assistant’s little red Ford. Law enforcement officials say that searches have been conducted in recent days at “bunches” of locations connected to Condit, including at least four separate undisclosed-to-the-media searches.

“It all circles around him,” says a law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We know a lot more.”

But still not much.

When six investigators—including members of the FBI and MPD—arrived at Condit’s apartment at 11:15 p.m. on July 10, they found it “immaculate” and “sterile.” According to officials, there were no pictures on the walls, no knotted ties or sex toys under his queen-sized bed (with striped sheets), and not a dish in the kitchen sink.

“It’s not what you would consider a congressman’s apartment to look like at all,” says one official. “It looked like a college dorm….I’m sure stuff was removed.”

Everything in the apartment had a bland-motel feel: white walls, tan carpeting, a small dining-room table, some magazines—and nothing personal in between. A tiny television sat by Condit’s bed.

There was no Chandra ephemera anywhere. Still, according to three police officials, investigators recovered several spots of “suspected blood.” There were drops—some almost microscopic—found in the bathroom and on some living-room blinds. One official sašs the spray was consistent with “blunt-force trauma,” but not enough suspected blood for a homicide. Another says, “It wasn’t enough for a broken nose.”

The official also says that “something of forensic value” was found in the kitchen and on a man’s hat. All the suspected blood that was taken from the congressman’s apartment has since been transported to the labs at FBI headquarters for testing. “It was your pretty run-of-the-mill scene,” says the official. “Nothing jumped out at us.”

Another official says of the purported blood: “It could have been mambo sauce. It could have been Cluck-U-Chicken wings. Who knows?”

Detectives working the Levy case requested the services of the evidence technicians for at least four other locations, but by the end of last weekend, officials say, nothing significant was found. And the most important evidence hasn’t been located. “That would be her body,” says one frustrated officer connected to the case. “I think she’s down in the Keys drinking mai tais.”

Throughout last week, the District was dotted with clusters of satellite trucks and media vans at key Chandra-related locales. Out of those trucks and vans came cameras. Behind those cameras stood cameramen, and behind those cameramen stood bored reporters. All those reporters had phones. And all those phones seemed to be dialing up the MPD’s mobile crime lab.

Two days after evidence technicians searched Condit’s apartment, the phones are still ringing at their office, located in the corner of a cavernous parking garage at 1501 South Capitol St. SW. The techs have grown to hate those damn phones.

Eventually, the phones go ignored. As the Levy case’s lead technician, John Allie, fills out FBI testing-request forms, the other techs escape outside to smoke cigarettes in their makeshift lounge. They pile onto thrift-store couches and chairs. One tech bench-presses in a small, jury-rigged gym.

They know who’s on the end of those phone calls: reporters, all seeking Condit dirt—or a crash course in forensic science. One network reporter called up posing as a college student who was “working on her thesis,” complains veteran tech Maureen Walsh. They have had enough of the phones. And enough other problems to deal with: a staff depleted by injuries and redeployment, a lack of supplies (such as paper), a computer system that’s been down for a month and a half, and the task of investigating a high=profile missing-person case that the world seems hooked on.

So far, very few items have filled Levy’s file, Mobile Crime Lab No. 01-5385. Her case is stored in a file cabinet labeled “Misc.” There remains no crime scene—and no crime. How do you investigate a case with no crime scene?

By their very nature—they deal mostly with the dead—evidence techs are not starfuckers. They do not care for the press attention or the fact that the case might involve a congressman and what seems like the entire CNN staff. “One dead person is not more important than another. Circumstances don’t make any difference,” Walsh says.

The techs know that missing-person cases are among the most difficult to crack. With no body, every office, every apartment, every car tied to Levy is a potential crime scene. A tech feels like “a kid in a candy shop,” Walsh says of each stop on their search for Levy evidence. “If you don’t know what it is, it’s open season.”

Each of the scenes gets treated the same as a scene of a homicide. The technicians look for red flags—would-be murder weapons, blood pooled under recently cleaned carpeting, the rearrangement of furniture, the smell of bleach. “Trace evidence can be very difficult to eliminate,” Walsh explains. “I always joke that if a man did it, it’ll not be cleaned up thoroughly.”

During a recent case, Walsh says, she and her partner, Joe Anderson, spent roughly 18 hours taking apart a missing woman’s house. During their search, the two noticed a small, white, Clorox-scented stain underneath a sofa. When they pulled up the carpeting, they found a substantial amount of blood. On their way home that day, they stopped by a set of railroad tracks along Fairlawn Avenue SE, a longtime dumping ground for murdered bodies. Sure enough, Walsh says, they found their victim.

Of course, techs don’t have a body in the Levy case. And that makes the officers want to ignore those phones a little longer. “The overall feeling is that we don’t have anything substantial,” Walsh says.

That feeling has led the police to make some moves that look suspiciously like public relations. They have searched dozens of abandoned buildings around Condit’s and Levy’s apartments, combed through the fields and streams of Rock Creek Park, and posted ridiculously fake-looking pictures of what the intern might look like with different hairstyles. Goose chases, all. In between, officials have battled Condit’s camp over the true value of the polygraph test arranged by Condit’s lawyer.

But no Levy, dead or alive. There are only the photographs, e-mails, phone records, and those swabs of suspected blood. “We are investigating a black hole,” says MPD Executive Assistant Chief Terrance Gainer.

Nearly three months after Levy disappeared, investigators are looking at nothing and everything. As one law enforcement official says, “There’s no sign of a crime. There’s nothing to solve right now.”

But the official is sure of one thing, at least: “[Condit] is going to get fucked. He fucked the wrong girl.” CP

The Neighbors, the Hangers-On, and the Creepy Woods

Outtakes from the search for Chandra Levy

By Garance Franke-Ruta

“Have you heard about the squeaky bed?

While 13 TV-news cameras train their sights on Democratic California Rep. Gary Condit’s condo building on the night of July 10, waiting for the congressman to come home so the police can search his apartment, 15 of Condit’s neighbors gather on the stoop of 2611 Adams Mill Road, clutching cigarettes and red plastic cups filled with beer.

Exhausted by the crescendoing media frenzy, recent police interviews, and frequent phone calls from reporters who’d somehow learned even their nicknames, the neighbors plunk themselves on the steps and dish about the press and the problems in their small building.

“The stoop is the roof deck we don’t have,” explains Troy, a young, goateed fellow with dark hair, about the impromptu gathering. “This experience has brought us all together,” adds one of his companions, who, like most of the group, declines to give her name. Building residents carrying briefcases and sacks of groceries arrive and introduce themselves to neighbors they’ve never met, before joining them for a drink.

Condit’s neighbors are a young group. Though it’s a condo building, about half the 40-odd residents are renters. One neighbor with long brown hair giggles frequently, revealing braces with each flash of her smile. When the TV cameras turn to her, she titters and holds aloft a hand-lettered sign that says, “HI MOM.” The condominium association president, a blonde with a shaggy haircut, waves at the cameras, while a young man sporting heavily tattooed legs and a blond soul patch quips that this is “the new Survivor.”

“If someone gets discovered out of this, everyone has to share the proceeds,” he jokes to his neighbors.

When the haggard but smiling congressman finally arrives home, around 8:40 p.m., Troy, who lives on the second floor, bounds up the steps to open the door, walks him down the hall toward the elevator, and then returns to shoo reporters away. Around 10 p.m., a torrential downpour forces the party to move inside, whence the neighbors rush out onto a balcony above the building’s back entrance to watch the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) detectives arriving at 11:15 p.m. to search Condit’s place.

Shortly after midnight, three of the neighbors come back out. “I’ll rent you my apartment for two weeks,” offers one. “You can have all the access you want!”

“What have you got for me?” demands another young man, who earlier suggested that the female reporters should all be topless. Adding to the carnival atmosphere outside Condit’s building, the neighbors now appear to be drunk.

The most unexpected revelation of the evening has to do with Condit’s squeaky bed. “The walls are thin, and the neighbors below have heard it,” one man confides.

The Dumpster

I do not go through Condit’s trash. Not that I don’t have the opportunity to do so.

On July 9, I notice a back door ajar at Condit’s place. So I open it. It is the building’s dumpster. The police are floating a theory this week that Chandra Levy’s body might have been disposed of in a dumpster. This dumpster is small, like many in the alleys behind buildings near Condit’s apartment. It belongs to Bowie Inc., a private D.C. trash-hauling company that services many of the condo and co-op buildings in Adams Morgan.

I look at the dumpster and decide that this is where I will draw the line. I am a reporter, not a private investigator. I shut the door again—this time securely.

A week of observation has led me to the conclusion that if you offered a TV cameraman the same opportunity, he most likely would open the dumpster and shoot it. If not jump right in.

Here is one verbatim conversation between a cameraman and a Condit neighbor, after the two wrestled over the front door. The neighbor was trying to close the door, and the cameraman was trying to keep it open and enter the building:

Neighbor: “Jackass.”

Cameraman: “Punk.”

Neighbor: “Bitch.”

The Waste Haulers

Charles Wallace is lifting trash bags into the back of his Bowie Inc. dump truck when I catch up with him in the alley between Calvert Street and Adams Mill Road. He hauls Condit’s trash, too.

I have a forensic question: Police examined Condit’s apartment for clues to a possible crime. But if a crime occurred there, how could anyone have disposed of the body? The dumpster in his building looks too small to hide a body. Maybe if the dumpster were gigantic—like a construction dumpster in a public lot—but there weren’t any dumpsters like that in the area. Besides, it doesn’t make sense to hide a body in a condo-building dumpster, where neighbors pile their trash neatly and the container is low enough to look into. Surely someone would have noticed something amiss there, or in the surrounding alleys.

Not true, says Wallace. “If they put it in a big black bag, it’s possible,” he says, gesturing toward a hefty sack he is about to swing into the truck’s compressor. “By the time you find out, it be at the dump.”

His co-worker, Ricardo Shaw, disagrees. The smell would alert you to something unusual, he says. “Depending on how heavy it is,” he adds.

It’s a debate the trash haulers have been waging among themselves for some weeks now. Warren, who declines to give his last name, patrols the city as a beat cop for the MPD, working the midnight shift. By day, he empties boxes of bottles and newspapers into the Bowie recycling truck that services Condit’s building. And he’s sure he’d be able to spot a body in a truck, if ever one came in. “Once they empty it, you’d see if there’s a body in there,” he says. “The reality is, once you empty it, there’s no way you could hide a body, especially an adult body.”

The comment infuriates Rudy, an older man who works maintenance for a nearby Calvert Street building. He has dragged his big plastic can out to meet the waste haulers, and he thumps the now-empty tub in anger. “Everybody in the world know you can put a body in there and smash it up,” he says. Then he drags his can back behind some fences.

The dump truck’s compressor frequently rips through plastic bags while smashing their contents into a foul ooze. That makes Warren confident that he’d notice something. “If you missed it on the way in,” he says, “when you undumped it, you’d see the blood on the truck.”

The Building

The condo building at 2611 Adams Mill Road consists of 34 inexpensive one- and two-bedroom apartments. Condit lives on the fourth floor, in a tiny, 660-square-foot one-bedroom with an assessed value of $115,500. Comparable apartments in posher Adams Morgan buildings—such as the Wyoming—routinely go for $200,000 or more, and one-bedrooms for sale in Levy’s downtown D.C. building hit the market at up to $140,000.

Adams Morgan locals are baffled by Condit’s choice of residence in the capital. “It’s the biggest neighborhood gossip,” says union organizer and Adams Morgan resident Julie Eisenberg. “First, it’s, like, ‘He can’t live in this building.’ We were laughing at that. We expect a congressman to live in the Ontario.” Gen. Douglas MacArthur used to live in the Ontario, just a few blocks from 2611 Adams Mill Road, and the building remains a genteel residence to this day.

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But some prominent people have lived in 2611 in the past, says Ganzie Dent, a UPS man who has hauled packages to the four-story building’s residents for the last 14 years. Rory Kennedy, the youngest of Robert Kennedy’s 11 children, was one. “Ted—her uncle—sent her a package before she got married,” recalls Dent. Otherwise, he says, “It’s usually a quiet building. People keep to themselves.”

And few stay as long as Condit, who has used the building as his primary D.C. residence since joining Congress, in 1989. “The turnover rate, I’d say, is about every three years,” says Dent. “People in these condos don’t really stay very long. They come and go.”

“I don’t know why he’s living in this lousy neighborhood anyway,” says an older female Adams Morgan resident sporting a yellow baseball cap, teal shirt, and purple windbreaker. “I guess he wanted to be obscure….I was here when these apartments were new. They’re little, rinky-dinky rooms.”

Neighbor Steve lives across Adams Mill Road from Condit and stops to tell me that the blinds on Condit’s apartment, which faces the street, were always drawn, day and night, even before the whole Chandra Levy thing. “He’s living in what’s essentially a bachelor pad,” says Steve. “It seems kind of fishy.”

The postal carrier who has delivered Condit’s mail for the past four years says he gets nothing unusual. No motorcycle magazines. No copies of Soldier of Fortune. Just the usual “miscellaneous regular bills,” plus Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report. And, of course, the Victoria’s Secret catalog. “All the men ’round here get that,” she says.

One thing Condit doesn’t seem to get any more is the New York Times, notes Eva Medina, who has lived on the first floor of his building for 12 years. Medina used to trip over it every morning on the stoop and bring it inside for the congressman, but she hasn’t seen it in weeks. And she used to see him get picked up every morning for work, too, in a white van. “Now for three, four months, no see New York Times. I don’t know if he’s living there,” she says. “I don’t see for long time. I don’t know where he is.”

The Pack

On July 6, CNN becomes the first network to establish a daylong stakeout at the Condit residence. Rae Smith, Sarah Ruth, and Elizabeth Zossa are on the scene, part of the 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. encampment. “We’re waiting for the police raid,” says Ruth. “We’re going to have exclusive photos when that happens.”

They’re in for a wait. Condit’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, will not make his public offer to open the congressman’s apartment to a police search for another three days.

The three women discuss the case. They sit on portable chairs, enjoying a perfect summer day.

“What do you think about this whole theory about there being a serial killer?” asks Ruth. “I don’t like that theory.”

“Me either,” says Smith, looking up from The Tenth Insight: Holding the Vision by James Redfield, author of The Celestine Prophecy.

They trade war stories and discuss moments when they felt vulnerable on the street: a man who grabbed a friend’s briefcase while she was getting into her car, some creepy guy following Smith out of a nightclub.

Two CNN cameras are on the scene, but other than that, the sidewalk is clear.

“Monica was truly a national phenomenon,” Smith explains. “This is more for people interested in politics.”

“National Enquirer was here, and Inside Edition,” says Ruth. “That tells you the level we’re working on.”

By July 9, the media pack is in full howl—and broadly mainstream. At Lowell’s press conference outside the offices of his Manatt, Phelps & Phillips law firm—right next to the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame and Museum—I count 11 TV cameras, four still cameras, nine microphones, and three boom mikes. Smith is at the front of the pack, reading Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff until the show begins and Lowell announces Condit’s next chess move.

A reporter asks whether Condit would be willing to give police a DNA sample. It’s not part of Lowell’s original offer, but he concedes it’s possible.

The media horde scatters within minutes of Lowell’s return to his office. Some of the crews head across town, to stake out Levy family attorney Billy Martin outside CNN on 1st Street NE, where he is appearing on Larry King Live. Thirteen men juggle nine cameras. One female reporter waits off to the side of the pack.

“We’re taking this up to Monica level,” declares one network news cameraman. “Every day, it keeps getting worse and worse.”

“We don’t need any more information,” says his producer. “We have all we need to keep going for a month. All we need is more pictures.”

The Building, Redux

Brian Post points to an unusual depression in the mulch outside Condit’s apartment building. Could this be the clue thousands of journalists—not to mention the police—have been searching for? Post, a landscaper and president of Star Nurseries, has noticed a number of suspicious changes in the small patch of land his company cares for outside the building.

“I had a mandeville here, a tropical vine,” he says, pointing to the ground. “Somebody took that, and about half a dozen flowers, out of here. I don’t know who took them, because they don’t live when you uproot them.”

Post stands up and wipes the sweat from his face and shaved head. He points to three other indentations where he planted hostas earlier in the summer. A variegated liriope is also missing.

But maybe the real suspect is standing before me. When there are no suspects, everyone is a suspect. Even someone just reporting garden-variety plant theft.

“The lady missing, we did the Newport condos, too,” says Post, referring to Levy’s apartment building, at 1260 21st St. NW. “That’s where she was residing, but I don’t think we ever seen her.”

Nearly every person who came into contact with or had a tangential connection to Levy has by now been interviewed by police. These are the more than 100 people Condit attorney Lowell keeps referring to in his impassioned pleas for the media to focus on parties other than his client. Condit’s neighbors. Levy’s neighbors. His staff. Her co-workers. His ex-girlfriends. Her friends. Some have been interviewed multiple times, had their criminal records pulled, been subjected to the media glare. No one has been declared a suspect. Many more besides Condit have been treated as one.

The Woods

The National Zoo’s business entrance intersects with Adams Mill Road two blocks from Condit’s apartment. Two roads head in different directions. A sign posted over the fenced-off road to the left reads: “U.S. Property. Speed Limit 15. No Trespassing.” I take that road.

I’m not sure where it goes. It runs along the edge of the community garden of Walter C. Pierce Community Park. Thick, ivy-encrusted woods lie to the right. The community garden, in a ravine thick with corn and obscured from above by overgrown fences, rises to my left. The leaves rustle. The underbrush shivers and crackles with the sound of twigs snapping. Something is moving through the brush. And no one can see me walking here. Not that anyone’s looking.

“Dangerous for pedestrians,” Bob Hoage, spokesperson for the National Zoo, calls the road. Only service vehicles use it. The rest of the time, it’s empty. And kind of creepy.

Nearby Rock Creek Park is filled with lonely roads like this.

I keep walking, past barbed-wire fences that separate the National Zoo from Rock Creek Park, until I see the glistening brown of Rock Creek and enter the pure woods, where the underbrush is thinner. Below me, I spy the jogging path that borders the creek. This is where Levy used to take walks. Thousands of female runners in the District have done loops up and down this trail. From P Street in Dupont Circle up toward the zoo, or west, deeper into the park. You can take paths from here all the way to the Klingle Mansion, a site police say Levy looked up on the Internet the last day before she went missing.

I stick to the main road, which ends at the Amazonia exhibit of the National Zoo.

Levy is no more here than she is at Condit’s place up the street. If she is swimming with the fishes, it is not with the black doradids or giant pacu fish in Amazonia. The tiny monkeys on the second floor of the exhibit have nothing to add but high-pitched chirrups.

I look, but Levy is not hiding in the brown pelican tank. Nor is she with the California sea lions. And there’s nothing visible in the Mexican wolf exhibit, not even a wolf. “It could be camouflaged or sleeping,” a passing woman explains to her child. “It’s mighty hot out here.”

Then again, if Levy were hidden away on the grounds of the National Zoo, the police might not know it. “There have been no MPD dogs here sniffing for the body of Chandra Levy on the 163 acres of the National Zoo,” says Hoage.

(A week after my short walk, the MPD sends police recruits to conduct a grid search of Rock Creek Park. As of press time, a police search of abandoned properties in Northwest D.C. had yet to bear fruit. The zoo remains unsearched.)

The Congressional Office

A news photographer snaps my picture as I enter Condit’s suite in the Rayburn House Office Building. “It’s the hair that got them,” the receptionist says, looking at my long brown hair. Not nearly as curly as Levy’s, but in the same family of ungovernable mop. The receptionist watches a small, ceiling-mounted television, tuned to a Fox News report on Condit.

A row of medallions on the back wall of the reception area bears the seals of the Army, Navy, and Coast Guard. A trophy case sports a plaque congratulating Condit for protecting America’s children from “unfunded mandates.”

A pretty blonde leads three representatives of the Hillman Cheese Co. from a meeting room to the front door.

The receptionist refers all questions—from what legislation Condit is working on these days to how the staff is holding up—to Marina Ein, Condit’s high-powered public relations representative.

Ein returns calls but begs off from questions about the 18th District’s legislative business. “I’d love to talk to you about that,” she says. “But today I’m too busy dealing with questions about the lie-detector test to talk.”

Three flags hang limp outside Condit’s office. The Stars and Stripes. The flag of the State of California. And a black POW/MIA banner that reads “You are not forgotten.”

The Interns

Politiki on “Dollar Bud Night” looks like a scene from Sex and the City. Except that the tanned sexpots in tight pants and revealing halter tops look young and fresh—rather than hard and jaded—as they flip straightened, highlighted hair behind pearl-adorned ears. The cheap beer lures a crowd of young congressional staffers and interns to the Capitol Hill bar on Thursday evenings.

But start asking questions about Chandra Levy and the interns sound as if they were trying out for Crossfire. Or maybe CNN’s stab at catching 20-something viewers on Saturday night, Take 5. Kate Guerra, a 21-year-old intern with the Republican National Committee, says she’s “intrigued” by the Chandra Levy story. But she doesn’t think Condit had a role in Levy’s disappearance. “It’s too obvious. It would come back to him.” Her drinking partner for the evening, 21-year-old Nancy Kate Ryder, a Senate intern from Memphis with bared shoulders and long brown hair, disagrees. “He had a part in it.”

Shannon Stafford and Caroline Hoenk, also both 21, can’t agree, either. They intern at Empower America, Hoenk working directly with Reagan-administration Education Secretary and moralist William Bennett. Condit may have had something to do with Levy’s disappearance, says Hoenk, but “only in the respect that she may have been in a poor mental state.”

“I disagree,” says Stafford. “I don’t think he got rid of her, but I think he knows more—just because it took so long for him to admit his relationship. I think he may know more than he’s telling.”

They do agree that Condit probably won’t resign. “The people in his District still seem to support him,” notes Hoenk. That doesn’t mean she thinks it’s right. “I don’t believe you can separate your personal and public life so much. The two spheres overlap. Especially with Dr. Bennett—because he deals with a lot of social issues, he constantly wants to know, ‘What was today’s [Chandra Levy] news?’”

Few of the interns and junior staffers interviewed, most of whom are Republicans, think Condit should resign. But it’s only July 12, four days before Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), will call on him to do so. Says one young staffer, explaining his reluctance to speak up: “I’m young. I have a long life ahead of me. I don’t want to say anything now that could catch up with me.”

Bob Kearley, a 23-year-old fundraiser for the National Republican Congressional Committee—which may fund Condit’s likely GOP challenger—is less hesitant to condemn the straying representative. “I think he’s really taking advantage of people that age and with that sense of inferiority,” he muses. “It was really amazing to see how much attention a person like him can get. It gives interns a bad name.”

“Welcome to real life,” says his drinking companion, who declines to give his name. “That’s why a lot of representatives prefer to have male staffers.”

Condit’s Neighborhood Bar

Up until the Condit-Levy brouhaha, the biggest issue on Adams Mill Road was rumble strips installed to slow traffic on the curvy thoroughfare. Pro- and anti-rumble-strip coalitions formed. They argued with each other on the street and shouted friendly insults at each other across tables at the Adams Mill Bar and Grill, near the corner of 18th Street and Columbia Road.

On July 10, Andrew Miscuk, an advisory neighborhood commissioner for the area, holds his regular Tuesday office hours at the bar. “I’ve gotten more complaints over the past two weeks because of press crews than probably any other issue,” he says of the double-parked satellite-transmission trucks. “They go out there—they park their vehicles wherever they want.”

The crush of media—and the week of constant shots of Condit’s front door—has attracted hordes of gawkers and curiosity seekers. A blond woman wearing a Washington Sports Club athletic bra and shorts jogs by the Condit apartment each night, stopping to get the latest. One evening, she completes her run by eating a large order of McDonald’s french fries, a diet Coke, and a box of animal crackers from a paper bag she’s laid out on the sidewalk. “Are they going to drag the Potomac?” she asks, to no one in particular.

Some neighbors find her presence disconcerting—Levy was last seen canceling her membership at the Washington Sports Club. The jogger has swung by on other nights, too, muttering to herself and talking to cameramen for hours. “My gut instinct tells me he’s relatively, relatively, relatively guilty,” she says of Condit.

Pat Carr and Gina Greyeyes have come all the way from their hotel in Dupont Circle to take pictures. In town for the American Federation of Teachers meeting, Carr hails from Tuba City, Ariz., and Greyeyes from Dennehotso, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation. “We’re just here taking in some of the historic and current sites of the Capitol,” says Carr. The story is having a strong impact back on the reservation, he explains: “Nobody’s herding sheep anymore. They used to run in to watch Days of Our Lives at 2:30; now they watch the news.” John Johnson, a pastor from St. Louis, also stops by for a photo. “Everybody think he’s a rat,” he says of Condit. “It’s dominating the news in the Midwest.”

à Even the “FReepers” are getting into the act. Kristinn Taylor, with the Web site www.freerepublic.com—a conservative forum widely involved in Clinton-era conspiracy mongering—also comes by to take a picture for the site.

Meanwhile, many in Adams Morgan remain convinced that Levy is nowhere in their neighborhood. “She’s either where she wants to be, or they have yet to find the body,” says Miscuk, who has watched police canvas the area several times since May.

Opinions such as Miscuk’s are unlikely to dissuade the gawkers any time soon. “It’s like a Columbo episode right now,” says Taylor. “I keep waiting for [MPD Executive Assistant Chief Terrance] Gainer to say, ‘Congressman, just one more thing.’” CP

Background Music

By Jason Cherkis

Chandra’s Song

No Joe Schmo From Idaho

MSNBC

In this age of media packaging, even tragedies need songs. When the riots broke out in Los Angeles following the innocent verdicts in the Rodney King beating trial, Tom Petty rushed to his studio and recorded the dirge “Peace in L.A.” When Princess Di perished in a car crash, Elton John wiped away cable television’s tears with “Candle in the Wind ’97.” And who can forget the touching Columbine song, “Friend of Mine”? Written by two brothers who were students at the Colorado high school, the lyrics hit the kind of heavy rotation Britney Spears would strip for—”Columbine, flower bloom/ Columbine there’s hope for you/Columbine, friend of mine.”

As “Friend of Mine” suggests, tragedy songs often have the feel of nursery rhymes—repetitive, simple, a little bit Jesusy, and, of course, without guitar solos. By their very nature, they are written quickly, so forgive them their low production values. They are supposed to heal the mourners, ease the talk-show transitions, and lend a certain gravitas to the occasion. I mean, someone cared enough to write a friggin’ song! How many people do you know who died (or vanished) and got their own tragedy theme songs?

Almost everyone, it seems. Recognizing the Hallmarkian value of enveloping tragedy with tunes, cable news networks now routinely bathe every bathetic saga in a ballad. But I’m sorry—corporate cable giants still don’t rock.

Take Chandra Levy’s song on MSNBC. It’s creepier than the facts of her case.

Over a trailer that sums up Levy’s life and the ominous subtitle “The Search for Chandra,” the music goes equal parts John Tesh and Philip Glass. Repetitive downbeat piano works up a minor-key march. Then a synth swells. Then comes the fadeout. It could have been stolen from a Lifetime movie. But after a few listens, you realize that the roots of “Chandra’s Song” lie in “Tubular Bells,” the theme from The Exorcist. Sure, that movie was filmed in Georgetown, but come on—there is no evidence that Levy ever projectile-vomited in her mother’s direction, or that her beau, Rep. Gary Condit, ever summoned a priest to bless their secret trysts.

Mark O’Connor, MSNBC’s media flack, insists that “Chandra’s Song” isn’t a total gross-out. “It’s all part of the story that you are conveying, be it a plane crash or a school shooting,” he explains. “You look at it like the opening of a sitcom, a drama.”

But that piano, Mark—that eerie piano. Maybe feeling a little heat, maybe just pissed that the song has not gone No. 1 in Condit Country, O’Connor blames the tune on a music-generating computer program. “There’s no Joe Schmo from Idaho who wrote that,” he says. “We have a library of themes that we are able to choose from.” CP

Who’s That Girl?

Southeast residents aren’t losing any sleep over the disappearance of Chandra Levy.

By Sarah Godfrey

On Saturday afternoons, Southeast’s Anacostia Park is bustling with activity. Picnicking families keep a watchful eye on young children swinging on a nearby jungle gym. Older kids fill the outdoor roller rink and pack the basketball courts, while young professionals stroll and flirt. Old folks fan themselves in lawn chairs shaded by the bridge overhead. Even on the day after Rep. Gary Condit’s blockbuster admission to police of a romantic relationship with Chandra Levy, the missing intern is the last thing on anyone’s mind here.

“Who cares? Who the fuck cares?” snaps James, 27, annoyed that his leisurely afternoon has been interrupted by a Levy pop quiz.

“You need to be writing about P.G. [Prince George’s County] police killing people—that’s important,” says another young man.

District residents east of the Anacostia River have largely escaped the Chandra frenzy that is transfixing their Northwest neighbors. Although most of political Washington is obsessed with the case, the story appears to hold less fascination for the city’s black majority population.

Part of the lack of interest in the Levy case can be explained by an inherent distrust of the media. Many blacks believe they are routinely portrayed so poorly and inaccurately that anything the press gets hysterical about simply smacks of hype.

It’s not important. It’s just the latest big story,” says 26-year-old cabdriver Michael Lee. “It happens every few years—O.J., Elián, Clinton, Election 2000, and now Chandra.” Lee thinks the story is irrelevant to African-Americans. “First, race has a lot to do with it—she’s not one of us. If she were, there would be no story. Second of all, black people have better things to do. We’re working, going to school, raising kids…We don’t have time to sit around and follow this.”

Lee also resents the fact that someone from a privileged background, such as Levy, would trifle with an opportunity that many never get. “It’s just the same old case of a stupid-ass young woman who screws a rich, important guy and gets caught up,” he says. “I’m tired of seeing these college-educated women, like her and Monica, have so much and just throw it away.”

It’s not hard to find African-Americans in Anacostia who freely admit that they know nothing of the Chandra Levy story.

“I haven’t heard anything about this,” says a 19-year-old student at the University of the District of Columbia, even after she is given a detailed account of the story.

The response is similar among many people in retail strips along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, Good Hope Road, and Pennsylvania Avenue in Southeast. “We’re in here working from 9 in the morning until 9 at night, sometimes later,” says Wilbert Scott, owner of Scott’s Beauty Center on Pennsylvania Avenue SE, explaining the preoccupations that have kept him from following the story closely.

Although it takes a while for Scott to recall who Chandra Levy is, his younger employees immediately recognize the intern’s name.

“I’m waiting to see if they’ll find her,” says cashier Marcy Bacchus, 30. “It’s very sad—she’s such a pretty girl.” Bacchus says that as a result of seeing Levy’s picture plastered everywhere, she now gives women with long, dark, curly hair a closer look. “I always look twice when I see anyone who looks like her.”

Bryan McDuffie, a 35-year-old conference coordinator, knows the details of the Levy case and says he has noticed popular comedians beginning to work the mystery into their acts. “I won’t go as far as saying I don’t care, but personally, I think that if she was black, the media coverage would be completely different,” says McDuffie. “If this was a black woman, they’d say she was a prostitute who ran off with her pimp or a drug addict.” CP

A Summer of Chandra Glossary

By Jason Cherkis and Garance Franke-Ruta

“A good friend” = Rep. Gary Condit’s girlfriend, Chandra Levy

“My guy” = Rep. Gary Condit

Harrison Ford = Rep. Gary Condit

William H. Macy = Rep. Gary Condit

“Pronounced SHAHN-dra” = Chandra Levy, the other woman

Anne Marie Smith = The other other woman

Otis Thomas’ daughter = The other other other woman

Hot-oil massages and cookie-dough ice cream = Foreplay

Knotted ties under the bed = Cleaning lady’s week off

Double-clasped gold bracelet = A nice piece of jewelry from “My guy”

Incognito = Hat, sunglasses, and a dash into a waiting cab

Dining out = Thai food in the ‘burbs

Dining in = Hot-oil massages and cookie-dough ice cream

Secret pager music = Setting the mood

Harley-Davidson = Midlife crisis

Color-coordinating his suits = Quarter-life crisis

Linda Zamsky = Linda Tripp without the tape recorder

$54 = Triple chai

“Not a suspect” = A suspect

“Sources” = Porter Novelli, Marina Ein, or the Metropolitan Police Department

Timeline = Partially accurate approximation of what a congressman may have been doing at any given time

Sex and the Single JAP

Monica and Chandra smash an ugly stereotype.

By Elissa Silverman

Monica! Monica! Monica! That is a name the country is finally ready to forget. At least I hope. But, for me, it wasn’t the first name that bothered me so much as the last. Lewinsky. It was ever so quickly noted by several sources that Monica Lewinsky was Jewish. That’s the part that made it semi-personal for people like me. Kind of like the Rosenberg spies or the “Son of Sam” Berkowitz. To some it might not make sense. Others know exactly what I am talking about.

—From the “Ask Yenta” Web site archives

Pshaw!

We’ve come a long way from Denise Gondelman, baby! We’re no longer Norman Mailer’s cerebral, middle-class “Jewish girl” in The Time of Her Time, who needs coaching and reassurance from an Irishman like Sergius O’Shaugnessy to achieve sexual satisfaction. And who, of course, loses her fresh-as-a-summer-breeze innocence in the process.

Yes, Monica and Chandra have changed all of that. Both Jewish young women came east for internships in Washington. Both were college-educated and ambitious. And both ended up willingly entangled in sexual escapades with powerful, older, unmistakably goyishe men.

So it’s time to change your schtick, Woody Allen and Mel Brooks and Jackie Mason. Oh, and let’s not forget the most self-hating comic of them all: Joan Rivers. Monica and Chandra—with their Jewish, upper-middle-class California upbringings, complete with oncologist fathers and gardeners and hours clocked at Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s—take a blowtorch to the stereotype of Jewish American Princesses being frigid in bed and uncomfortable with sex.

Finally.

At last, we’ve truly assimilated. In fact, America seems downright entranced with our sexual exploits and indiscretions. First Middle America embraced bagels, and then Seinfeld and klezmer and Joe Lieberman. Now we’ve seamlessly insinuated ourselves into our country’s political sex scandal obsession. Bimbo dyed blondes like Donna Rice and Gennifer Flowers have been pushed aside, of late, in favor of Semitic, thick-haired brunettes like Monica and Chandra.

God bless America.

Is it good for the Jews? Some say so. Though many within the Jewish community have expressed embarrassment at these tabloid gems, others see liberation. In January 1998, Lewinsky’s sexual relationship with President Bill Clinton made headlines right as then–Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat were meeting at the White House. But Clinton was too preoccupied by the stained blue dress to force Netanyahu to give up land for peace in the Middle East.

The peace process has since gone down a very long road to nowhere.

According to the right-wingers’ warped logic at the time, if l’affaire Lewinsky had forced Clinton to resign, that would have been even better: He would have been replaced with an even more pro-Israel president, Al Gore. Some Likud leaders even labeled Lewinsky a modern-day Queen Esther, who, through her beauty and smarts, persuaded King Ahasueras to save the Jews from Haman’s evil plot of genocide.

We honor Esther on the Jewish holiday of Purim. History will likely not be so kind to Monica and Chandra. CP

Ask Larry

The infamous Hustler publisher offers advice to women who dare to date politicians.

By Jason Cherkis

Donna Rice curled up on Gary Hart’s lap aboard his boat, Monkey Business, was our first taste, the firing up of the first joint in the first made-for-TV sex scandal. It was Washington’s version of the Summer of Love, its Monterey Pop. Innocence…almost. Nobody—except Gary—got hurt. The Beltway Boys, who missed the ’60s, tripped out on ’round-the-clock talk shows, Gail Sheehy psychobabble, and Barbara Walters soft-serve interviews.

Everyone did it. Nobody wanted to get caught. Only rarely, if ever, did that happen. And only, it seems, if you frolicked in the Tidal Basin, as Rep. Wilbur Mills and Fanne Fox did, or hired a mistress who couldn’t type as your secretary—as Wayne Hays did with Elizabeth Ray. Before the 24-hour cable outlets entered the scene, easy lovin’ ruled the Capitol roost, and nobody cared if the women got slapped around in the press. They were just tools, props, and pinups; the cover of Playboy was their career peak.

In 1998, politicos and media created their own Woodstock of scandal—a nearly two-year lovefest. The opening acts were Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) with his out-of-wedlock child, Rep. Helen Chenoweth’s (R-Idaho) affair with a married man, the exposure of Rep. Henry Hyde’s (R-Ill.) extramarital affair (three decades past), and Bob Livingston’s (R-La.) enjoyment of multiple sex partners in addition to his wife. The main event, the headliner, the Hendrix “Star-Spangled Banner” of this show was Monica and Bill: the blowjobs and blue dresses and cigars and that bittersweet ending.

But in the end, everything turned out peace and love. Even Newt got a little illicit nooky. Past the partisan feedback, it was still sweet kisses and secret pager numbers.

Until now. Sex-scandal Washington has reached its Altamont at last in the saga of Rep. Gary “Gimme Shelter” Condit (D-Calif.) and the missing mistress intern, Chandra Levy. The Hell’s Angels wannabe was messing with a woman now disappeared. You can almost hear Mick pleading to the assembled media hordes blitzed on the bad acid of sex scandal, lie detectors, and cadaver dogs: “Who’s fighting? What for?”

You can see that apocalypse in Condit’s in-the-face-of-all-this-shit smile. It’s that plastic politician grin—fake and full of polished, whitened teeth. It’s the county-picnic smile for babies and housewives. It’s the grin you give at 4 a.m. campaign-trail diner visits. Except behind this particular smile, you know that Condit knows he’s screwed. He’s not flashing it at the end of some sweet deal, but using it as a shield against dozens of TV cameras and a lot of questions about the stewardess, the minister’s daughter, and one missing intern. Girls, girls, girls.

Condit’s smile is one that Larry Flynt knows all too well. As the publisher of Hustler magazine, he led a crusade in 1998 against the members of Congress who tried to torch Clinton’s presidency over Monica. Flynt threatened to out many a political diddler, and it was his dirt that forced then–House Speaker designate Livingston to resign.

So, last week, as the band played on (and on and on), the Washington City Paper asked Flynt for his advice to women who want to date a congressman (and not disappear):

Why do you think women are attracted to politicians twice their age?

Nothing surprises me. You got all those guys on the Hill with enormous egos. The greatest aphrodisiac is power. I really think that the atmosphere of Washington breeds this type

of behavior.

So D.C. is the ideal place?

We did an article a couple of years ago. We found that per capita there were more escort services in Washington, D.C., than any other city in the nation. They were servicing congressmen. That sort of breeds the atmosphere that leads to trouble.

After Monica’s drubbing, why do women still covet these guys?

Embarrassment is for the man, not the woman. They see themselves as being a part of his life. When [congressmen] decide to drop one and go to another one, that’s when all the bitterness seems to emerge. It’s just one big merry-go-round. But still, some of the young interns will buy anything. A lot of these girls are treated like two-bit hookers. They are so immature, they don’t know the difference.

What advice do you have for these congressional groupies?

There’s definitely no future in any woman that wants a relationship with a congressman. A hard dick has no conscience. That’s exactly what these congressmen and legislators are. They can’t get enough. Unless someone blows their cover, they are going to keep going for gold.

No one has talked about the Levys’ role in this. Does parenting have anything to do with this phenomenon?

I think the parents have a lot to do with it. What kind of parents raise a child to marry someone twice their age? Come on. That’s beyond a possibility. The parents do a lousy job and then everyone else gets blamed: Me, the congressman, the senator. I just think it’s unfair in some ways.

What’s the key to keeping these relationships going?

If she’s getting jealous, throwing fits, it’s usually at that point they’ll dump the girl.

Any other advice to women thinking about finding themselves a good-looking congressman?

Forget it. That spells nothing but heartache and trouble. CP