“Shotttts!” A post-collegiate guy with a red baby face and beefy arms busting out of a Polo shirt orders a round for his friends and his new friends, two pretty ladies, one blond and one brunette, at the bar — one of the bars — at the Ocean Drive, otherwise known as the O.D., Sea Isle City’s preeminent den of heterosexually charged iniquity. It’s early by Sea Isle standards, around 11 p.m., because the Jell-o Shot Guy has only just now started doing his rounds, but having attended the earlier No Shower Happy Hour, which started at four, and having put back a few since then, Polo Shirt Guy at this point feels comfortable enough to throw his arms around these nice young ladies — nurses, back in the city — lean his beery heft on their tiny shoulders, and ask: “Can you two make out?”
A few minutes later, the two nurses are clicking woozily around the slippery floor of the O.D.’s bathroom, reapplying lip gloss and readjusting their tube tops after their porn-movie-worthy kiss at the bar. “We don’t do stuff like that in real life, either of us,” the brunette tells me.
“What happens down the Shore stays down the Shore,” laughs the blonde.
Ah, the Jersey Shore. For many, it conjures thoughts of water ice on the Boardwalk, Lucy the Elephant and sand castles. But to the 20-somethings who, come June, cram in 13 to a house, it’s dominated by two things: a) drinking; and b) sex. Usually in that order.
“Dude. I worked as a bartender in Avalon for two summers, and I still have sand in my crotch from all the beach sex I had,” says A.J. Daulerio, an editor for Thrillist.com who comes from Bucks County. “It’s like The Real World Las Vegas, only with Mr. Greengenes.*”
The Shore is like The Real World, if you can imagine all of the seasons going at once. It’s like Spring Break: Daytona Beach except three entire months long, like a low-budget Laguna Beach-goes-to-Cabo. In fact, the binge drinking and the bikinis and the dramatic hookups of the Jersey Shore’s MTV generation are so MTV-worthy that the network did, in fact, tape True Life: I’m a Jersey Shore Girl a couple of years ago, although Pat, a 28-year-old consultant from Manayunk who has rented a house with his friends in Avalon every summer since they graduated from their Catholic high school, doesn’t think that accurately represented his Shore. “That was in Seaside Heights, a totally different place,” he says over his third beer at Avalon’s bar-cum-nightclub the Princeton. He launches into an explanation of the subtle differences between Shore havens, which he tells through different kinds of sportswear but which really have to do with class and race. I won’t repeat it, not just because it would enforce negative stereotypes but because it would be kind of like giving you a lecture about different kinds of Eskimos. Reader, believe me: The Jersey coastline may in fact be a veritable mosaic of different cultures, but now, in the summer of 2006, in nearly every town from way up in Keansburg down to Cape May, there is a bar. That bar is playing Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie,” and it is packed with mostly people in their 20s. They may be wearing different kinds of footwear, some more expensive than others, but the sticky floor they are standing on is, in a sense, the same sticky floor, and their aims are also the same: a) drinking; b) sex.
People say there are many reasons why the Shore turns them into total hedonists, several of them porny-sounding: the hot sun, the pounding surf, the fact that everyone walks around almost naked.
“It’s like an orgy,” says one self-proclaimed Shore Whore who doesn’t want her parents, who have a house in Margate, to know that she’s had sex “on the floor of a share house with like, five other people sleeping in the room,” as well as “actually under the Boardwalk, against one of those pillar things.”
“People go nuts,” says John, a Philadelphia-based lawyer who spends summer weekends bartending at a well-known meat market. His name has been changed, as others’ have, for reasons you’ll soon understand. “One night this hot girl comes up to me and writes her number down on a napkin,” John says, leaning over the bar covered with the residue of thousands — perhaps millions — of Washington Apple shots. “Then she comes back a little while later and she’s like, ‘Actually, here’s my address. Come by when you’re done with work.’ So at like three in the morning I go over to her house and knock on the door. This guy answers, and I’m like, ‘Is Michelle here?’ He says, ‘Yeah, she’s upstairs, third door on the right.’ I go up and knock, and no one answers, so I open the door and she’s getting totally plowed by some other guy. I go downstairs, and the guy who answered the door sorta slaps me on the shoulder and goes, ‘Yep, you’re about 10 minutes too late, dude.’”
Steve, a graphic designer in Center City, violated his “What happens in Margate stays in Margate” rule to tell his own Penthouse Forum-worthy tale: “One night at Tomatoes, I was hooking up with three different girls in the same bar. One girl was in the booth, one girl was on the other side of the bar, and one was in the other room — it’s a big place — so I left with one girl and went to Memories down the street, and we make out in the bathroom. Then one of the other girls calls me and so I leave Memories, meet her at Tomatoes, and go back to her place. Then I’m walking home at like 3 a.m., and who stumbles out of the bar at Tomatoes? The third girl. So I took her back to my place. I still have no idea how I pulled it off. I know I couldn’t have done it anywhere but the Shore.”
It’s stories like these that make some suspect there might be deeper powers at work than just booze and bikinis — that the Shore possesses a Sedona-like libido-encouraging quality and can heal even the most romantically challenged. “We have a friend called T-Bone,” says Tom, in a low and important voice at one Shore bar. “T-Bone didn’t hook up with anyone for seven years. It was the longest dry spell in history. And then he came down here and immediately he was juggling two girls — text-messaging them and trying to keep them separate at the bar. All of a sudden, he was the man. We were like, ‘GO T-BONE!’”
Later that evening at the Princeton, after the lights go down and the music comes up, Tom points out a shadowy figure across the dance floor. He is obscured by a ring of women booty-dancing to Sean Paul, but it’s clear who he is. T-Bone. The Man himself.
While T-Bone’s transformation into the Wilt Chamberlain of the Shore was impressive, it wasn’t exactly miraculous. Psychologists and those who market package vacations say that when people go on vacation — even if it’s just an hour away — they often change not just their location, but their personalities; they reinvent themselves and indulge in their fantasies. Away from the real real world, a high-school dork can recast himself as The Man, and a shy office worker can become a Shore Whore. “Once you get through the expressway, you lose all your inhibitions,” says Megan, a 27-year-old sales associate who stays away from Shore towns where she’s going to know people from “the real world.”
For 20-somethings, stuck in the ever-widening chasm between being a grown-up and being a kid, the Shore is a reprieve from the adult parts of their lives, from the career and life decisions and the pressure and the entry-level jobs where acting “professional” is important. Tom, back at the Shore bar, bans conversation from “back over the bridge” among his high-school friends. For them, the Shore is a place where they can act like the horny teenagers they once were. Only now they can buy their own alcohol, and the girls will let them touch their boobs.
While Tom and his friends regress, those who aren’t surrounded by childhood friends get to try on completely new identities. Sometimes literally. “I used to go to Ventura’s with a buddy of mine, and we used to make up doctor names,” says Steve, the graphic designer. “He’d be Dr. Stein, I’d be Dr. Rosenberg. Dr. Stein had a Jag, and Dr. Rosenberg had a Porsche 911. We scored every time.”
This, of course, is only effective if you’re sure your Shore personality won’t ever collide with your real-world personality. It would be uncomfortable, for instance, telling someone who’s known you as Charlize that your name is actually Amy, and he’s just going to feel a little pressure as you insert the catheter.
Karen, who drunkenly hooked up one weekend with a guy from her office, found herself cursing her Shore personality on Monday. “I was sure to use the most obscure stairwells, and only left my desk when it was absolutely necessary. I finally did run into him about halfway through the week. It was mighty awkward.”
This is why it’s best to keep what happens down the Shore down the Shore. Also, it’s more fun. “Every Monday morning I look at myself in the mirror and seriously question if I live a double life,” says Megan. “I envision all the ridiculous things that happened the weekend before, and I just try to keep a straight face.”