"That lady who just walked by is part of the Monica Lewinsky thing." Johanna is sitting across from Heather and me in the booth. Noticing the blank look on my face, she adds, "You know. The agent. Linda Tripp's friend."
"With those two men."
I catch the woman's profile as she turns and heads for a table around the corner. "Goldberg," I say. "Something Goldberg."
It's Aug. 14, 1999, around 8:15 p.m., and we're having dinner at the Empire Hotel across from Lincoln Center. Heather has flown in from L.A. to audition for a part that calls for an angry actress named Heather who works in a biker bar. A real stretch. She's always a little nonchalant when it comes to celebrities -- she's hung out at Kevin Costner's, had cocktails with Al Pacino, gotten kicked out of "Zorro" with Garry Shandling and been called the funniest woman in New York by Bill Maher -- so when we mention that Jerry Orbach walked in front of our car on 56th Street on our way to the hotel, she tells us she waited on him once when she was bartending at Hi-Life up on 83rd and Amsterdam. No big deal.
Of literary agent Goldberg, Heather -- who told us last February that Monica Lewinsky was her role model -- will only say, "Goldberg is a toilet swirl to Armageddon."
"But wouldn't Michael Moore love to know she's here," I say. "I wonder who the other two are."
Dinner arrives. I've stuffed myself on the bread and the lobster bisque and the second crab cake is too much. Johanna is having a problem with too much lamb. Heather isn't feeling well -- she's nauseated to begin with, and on top of that, Northeast Airlines lost her luggage at JFK and kept her waiting for two hours, so she's also got a touch of airport rage.
One of the men from Goldberg's table walks past our booth on his way to the men's room.
"You know who that is?" I announce. "I can't believe it."
"It's Matt Drudge. I didn't recognize him without the hat." When journalists go looking for the poster boy on how lazy and complacent the profession has become, Drudge is the one who gets the invite. Steve Brill put him on the cover of Content and was accused of doing a puff piece.
When Drudge passes us on his way back to his table, I say, "We didn't recognize you without your hat."
"I took it off." He stops to talk with us. "It was making grooves in my head."
"Tell Mrs. Goldberg she looks like Angela Lansbury," Johanna says.
"This is Lucianne's favorite place," he says. "And you know who we've got with us?" his eyes flash like a first grader's at show and tell. "The one who broke the Gingrich story -- Richard Gooding from Star magazine."
"Wow," we say.
"He broke the Dick Morris story, too."
Drudge is delighted to share this with us. "Come by our table and say hello," he says and disappears.
Johanna says, "We should go over and introduce ourselves." Heather says, "Both of you go. I'm not going. That woman is the devil."
The vote is two to one, so we don't go. An hour later we're still sitting there when they get up to leave. Matt -- we're on a first name basis now -- stops to introduce everyone. Johanna shakes Lucianne's hand, I shake Lucianne's hand. Johanna shakes Matt's hand, I shake Matt's hand. Heather just sits there. She's not going to touch any of them.
"Now that I've had time to think," I say to Drudge, "are you the one who convinced Christopher Hitchens to file that affidavit on Sidney Blumenthal?"
It's a stab in the dark, something a Beltway insider might ask, and Drudge doesn't miss a beat. "Don't I wish," he says.
Introducing Richard Gooding, Drudge beams like a proud parent as he announces, "This man has caused more damage than the two of us combined."
Heather stares straight ahead and makes a slow, exaggerated, sign of the cross. In the name of the father -- heaven help us.
Drudge notices. "You're awfully quiet," he says. And with that, they're gone.
After they've left, I think of the question I should have asked Gooding: "How much of your stuff on Gingrich comes from Larry Flynt?"
On Sunday back in Hartford, Fox is doing repeats, so we catch the last part of Drudge's Saturday interview with Gooding. We've missed most of it, and wind up having to suffer through an interview with a senator from New Hampshire who feels betrayed by the Republican Party.
On Monday morning, Brian Lamb is interviewing -- would you believe -- Richard Gooding on C-Span. It looks like another repeat. After a few callers express their outrage that C-Span would stoop so low as to host a reporter from Star magazine, Brian Lamb asks Gooding, "How much of your information on Gingrich comes from Larry Flynt?"