Slipping into my embossed leather mini I tried not to spill the diet cherry Pepsi and rum in my left hand. The 16 oz. red plastic Solo cup in my grasp, a staple of my adolescent years has continued to be ubiquitous as I move into adulthood. It finds me in Manasquan, NJ at the end of a lively summer season, surrounded by like-minded friends from college and beyond, rushing to assume my Friday evening identity: the colorful, fun loving, dance craving, hair thrashing, maniac I have become. The exclamation point is my find of the month: a pair of zebra print/snake skin/patent leather t-strap stilettos. I take another sip from my Solo cup, and, as Aviici’s “Seek Bromance” blasts on repeat in our living room, and blow my reflection a glossy kiss before I grab my housemates and bound outside to find the night.
The Summer of 2011 will be marked with the unexpected need to explore, exploit and consume the culture and life styles of the distinguished beach communities of Manasquan, Belmar, Sea Girt, Long Branch and Point Pleasant. Or it’s more common name “The Shore”. My usual summer plans consist of Yacht trips through Bodrum’s waters or Turkish delights with chai in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, But my travel buddies are all bound to their male counterparts, who are likewise tethered to the continent. After a brief, inspirational and refreshing chat with a friend in Philly, I threw all caution to the wind and put down a deposit on my first-ever Jersey Shore beach house. A virgin to shore culture, or any other cultures within New Jersey, I believed this summer to be nothing less than saturated with tanning oil and debauchery with new friends, old friends, sunshine, seashore, house music (lots of house music), fist pumping, bronzed babes, iron men, shellfish, and shot glasses accompanied by expected doses of carelessness and recklessness that are featured on MTV’s culture-defining “Jersey Shore.” Thankfully, it’s simply a sub-culture populated by the demographic known as “juiceheads”, “gorillas”, and “guidos or guidettes” and are avoidable. To a point.
One of those places where it’s hard to avoid it is the Mecca of Jersey Shore bars: Djais, The Original Jersey Shore Dance Club (and don’t you dare dispute its title). “You’re going to love it!” My friends gushed as our cab pulled up. “Just keep an open mind and have fun!” they encouraged, sensing my apprehension. We marched in through a herd of well-heeled fluorescent flashes into the darkness where cold, synthesized mist swallowed us. The booming music felt like it “EVACUATION!” as my friends shrieked “SHOTS!” sending one my way. We threw them back as Steve Aoki’s “Turbulence” shook the floors.
The DJs at Djais exclusively spin dance music, from ‘90’s freestyle to their unofficial theme song, “Penguin” by Aviici. Microwave love ripened across the floors and along the bars as flocks of party-rockers dispersed towards trailing pheromones of the opposite sex. I closed my eyes to get a second wind and opened them to see what would be a textbook definition of an attractive male: Tall, dark, handsome and on the leaner side. (If your biceps are bigger than my face I probably won’t strike a conversation with you. I find the arm width highly unnecessary but, am aware that males probably do think the same of my six inch heels.) As he generously re-filled my drinks, I took note of his amenable stats: 30 years old, financier, homeowner, likes dogs and enjoys to cook. It all seemed quite pedestrian, belying the extravagance around us.
I agreed to visit his shore/frat-house blocks away. As we settled into the living room, I noted his wide-eyed drooling housemates, with my undergraduate instincts kicking in. I did my best to enjoy my beer and the company as I suffered through “conversations” such as: Hi, so, I work in Manhattan too. I just completed my MBA. I’m also a top rank college wrestler. Do you want to see my room? I just got these awesome new boxers….
Enter second housemate: I coach high school football now. I work with charity too. I’m a pretty good guy. I’ve got some great bed time stories I can share with you. Do you like to snuggle?” With my host nowhere to be found I excused to the nearest bath room, securing an evacuation cab As I fled through the front door I received a text message from my Djais admirer: “Are you coming back for the after-party?”
Sitting in direct opposition to Djais is The Parker House in Sea Girt, which features many pairs of denim cutoffs accompanied by variations of Sperry top-siders coupled with a more conservative set of dance moves. The interactive Tommy Hilfiger catalogue had good beers, good music and a nice flow of energy. It let you come to the party rather than it have it bludgeon you. As I sipped on my Landshark, I suspiciously eyed a pair of jorts approaching me. Introducing myself with only a smile, I was eager to hear what intriguing opening line this living Ken doll (down to the expertly coifed hair) would offer.
“Lost are we?” he said, seemingly attempting to penetrate my soul with his intense blue eyes and a smile that he brandished more as a weapon. “Excuse me?” I responded. “Well it seems an exotic little lady like you is too much party for this place,” he quipped. Partially humored, I replied, “Is that a blessing or a curse?” Bearing his pearly whites as he laughed, he said, “I haven’t figured that out yet! I think I’ve seen you on the surfer’s beach though. You go there often?”
“No, I doubt that was me. I can’t swim let alone surf,” I assured him.
“Oh no? You seem pretty athletic to me. I lifeguard there,” he proudly declared.
“Oh yeah? You seem fit but you don’t come with all those muscles I usually see on lifeguards,” I teased.
“Well I don’t need to be a show off. Me and my lady, we’re quite fond of each other.”
Immediately put off, I retorted with, “You and your lady, huh? Well, I’m sure she’d be proud to hear you’re talking her up so much.”
“Yep, I wear her close to my heart every day.” He undid his plaid button down with contrasting gingham interior and bared a finely waxed, crispy, bronzed chest emblazoned with the tattoo, “The Sea calls my name.” My life flashed before me as I fast-forwarded to intimate nights together, romping in mischief as I had to shimmy off his fashionably sleek denim that clung too tightly to his bottoms and pictured myself being unable to focus while staring down at the bold letters inked across his chest, all the more emphasized without clothes on. In such a scenario, I was sure that unlike the Sea, I certainly would not be calling his name.
Osprey a drinking establishment within walking distance proves that proximity breeds comfort: it quickly became one of our favorite bars and we some of the staff’s favorite costumers. The Osprey is famous for housing two worlds: the Band Room AND the Boom Boom Room. The former for rock, the latter for house, all of it loud. Because of these options, you’ll get a nice mix of season veterans and new faces, making each new weekend a different adventure.
After ordering a few pickle-back shots for my friends and I, an overzealous dance fiend knocked the glass out of my hand and clear across the bar. Whirling around to dish a few verbal lashes, I noticed the perpetrator staring in confusion with a sense of wrongdoing, like a puppy about to be punished. “I’m so sorry. . . let me buy you a new one,” he offered with both arms up at his sides in a sign of surrender. “But,” I stammered, “What happened to your shirt?” I was clearly too amused to be annoyed and genuinely intrigued by this five foot five, stocky male now seemingly burlesque-ish with his chest glistening from sweat and his button down flared out, removed of all buttons. “Well,” he started, with half a grin, “I kept trying to keep myself buttoned by all the women in here keep ripping it off!”
“Right,” I replied, “How unfortunate for you…. “
“But I don’t even CARE. I just wanna DANCE,” He exclaimed with such fervor in his face that I wouldn’t have dared question his passion for the art. “Listen, um, I just wanted to say I’ve been watching you this summer. I just wasn’t sure you’d talk to me.”
Warmed by this miniature man’s sincerity and charming awkwardness I let out a gentle laugh and said, “Well why wouldn’t I have talked to you?”
“I wasn’t sure what kind of guys you were into. See, I love Filipino women. I love the Philippines and the Filipino culture and I think Filipino women are beautiful.”
“But I’m not Filipino...” I informed him, now slightly confused at which one of us was actually confused.
“Well I still love Filipino women. Would you like to go out for dinner? We can try Filipino food. I even know of a restaurant where....”
Unfortunately, I hadn’t stayed to listen to the mysteries of awe-inspiring Filipino females. But I did sincerely hope that the living, breathing, Asian-loving dance machine found someone who shared his spirit.
And that is the commonality that keeps this all going: people just trying to find their connection. We all come here to congregate along the beaches, on the dance floors, at the bars, on porches and with a sense of community and camaraderie. Regardless of who we are, we inhale the dry ice they funnel through ceiling vents, suck down glasses of grape vodka and sodas like they’re a love potion, and get high off the dance beats of annihilated DJs. Because here at the Jersey shore we are all equals. Now, as the air thins and crisps, I go off longing for the hard-earned acceptance that the Jersey Shore afforded me, anxiously awaiting for it to open its arms to me anew.
(Image courtesy of BelmarBenny.com)