Monica Lewinsky's return to the public eye after a decade of near-invisibility brings back memories for my old friend Dan Cirucci, who once shared a table with her in Philadelphia.

It was April 6, 1998, and reports of the former White House intern's intimate relationship with then-President Bill Clinton had the media in a frenzy.  "She was trying to be as natural and normal as possible," says Cirucci, a blogger and public relations professional who lives in Cherry Hill. "I felt sorry for her. I wanted to give her a hug."

Lewinsky, then 24, was in town with her attorney, William Ginsburg. He was speaking to the Philadelphia Bar Association, and Cirucci was its director of communications.  "I was next to her on the escalator, and there were I don't know how many TV crews and still cameras waiting at the bottom," Cirucci recalls. "I said, 'Monica, how do you deal with this?'

"She told me she had been in a drama class in college, and that one of the first things she learned was how to make her face go blank. Then she turned to me on the escalator, and did that."

During lunch at Brasserie Perrier on Walnut Street with Ginsburg and a bar association bigwig,  "I sat next to her and tried to make small talk," Cirucci says. "Everyone was looking at us. She recommended a chardonnay that I should try, and when Mr. Ginsburg got up and left the table for a few moments, we touched upon what was going on.

"Two things became very clear to me. I think she still had great affection for Bill Clinton,"  says Cirucci, adding that he regarded the then-president as a phony long before the lies that disgraced his office and got him impeached.

"Monica also was very bitter. She felt betrayed by Linda Tripp," he continues, referring to the confidante whose taped and later, leaked conversations with Lewinsky rocked Washington and the world.

"She told me, 'people who I thought were my friends betrayed me.' It was clear she was referring to Tripp and (Lucianne) Goldberg, as she did not speak ill of the President. She was scared. She was worried. She was afraid she would wind up shackled and jailed like Susan McDougal" -- the former Clinton business associate then doing time for her role in the Whitewater scandal.

"She hadn't yet spoken to the special prosecutor," says Cirucci. "She said,  'I don't know what's going to happen.' I looked her right in the eye and said, 'I think you know what you have to do.' She didn't say anything."

Lately, however, Lewinsky is having quite a bit to say about the relationship and the infamy that have circumscribed, if not defined, her life thus far.

"She's still alive and functioning, and I give her a lot of credit," Cirucci says. "If I were to run into her now, I'd give her that hug."

--KEVIN RIORDAN

UPDATED 11:10 AM