I spent my summer vacation witnessing pop cultural history in the making: I took a trip to Seaside Heights to stand outside of the Jersey Shore house in hopes of a Snooki sighting. But before I knew it, I was signing a release form, interacting with the cast, and learning how our reality TV sausage gets made — just in time for the final season of the hit MTV show.
My Seaside Heights excursion was planned through the kind of meticulous research that a court of law might consider "stalking." I studied the cast's patterns of behavior and estimated their filming schedule by reading the local papers and scrutinizing daily candids that would pop up on paparazzi websites. I was able to ascertain the days and hours that they work at the Shore Store (for example, they don't film on Wednesdays); a source who works in liquor promotions in the area told me that they film at the Aztec bar and restaurant on the boardwalk on Monday nights and the infamous Karma on Friday nights.
I figured that the late night club scene would be too packed with all the skeezers who are willing to be denigrated as "grenades" on national television just to get a few precious seconds of air time. Plus, I didn't want to have to fight with the swarms of looky-loos or endure loud shitty house music in a bar crammed asses-to-elbows in the middle of a heat wave and risk staining my clothing with other people's bronzer sweat just for a peek at the top of Pauly D's blowout. If I was going to do this, I wanted a face-to-face, up-close-and-personal interaction. You know, something I could really write home about. (Or write on a blog about.) For that I would need daylight, which could prove tricky for a bunch of people who live in an oceanfront property but notoriously spend their time in tanning beds instead of on the beach.
After evaluating my findings and predicting their whereabouts for the week, I decided that Tuesday, July 3 would be optimal for the most cast sightings as they were supposed to film a shift at the Shore Store and Ronnie and Deena had scheduled court dates to answer for a citizen's criminal complaint for a bar brawl and an arrest for public intoxication, respectively. I knew that the majority of them would have to leave the house at some point before the sun set.
I was ready.
It's not hard to find the Jersey Shore house on Ocean Terrace between Kearney Avenue and Freemont Avenue. Although the infamous Italian flag that had been on the garage door had been painted over, there was no missing the house: due to the police barricades that prevented anyone from walking on that side of the street, the cops who were tasked with keeping traffic moving, and the small crowd assembled across the street of about ten civilians and one paparazzo.
Save for the motel on the corner, the production company rented all of the property on that side of the block. To the right of the house, what looked like a parking lot had been turned into production HQ of sorts. There was a tent for security detail (I counted at least four men, in addition to at least two uniformed police officers), two additional tents possibly for camera equipment, a trailer for the crew, and a Porta-Potty presumably for long-suffering producers and cameramen. To the left of the house is a two-family residence that might be where a pregnant Snooki had reportedly been living.
I arrived at this scene around 12:30 pm — with my mom, husband, and baby in tow, like this was some kind of family activity — in hopes of catching some of the cast leaving for their 1 pm shift at the Shore Store. I spotted Danny, who owns the Shore Store, and is featured on the show as the cast's boss, hauling merchandise in and out of the upper level of that residence.
Hanging out with the crowd of fans across the street, I learned that they, too, were stalkers. Except they were teenagers on vacation with their parents and not 33-year-old married mothers who dragged her family 20 miles up the Garden State Parkway from their own beach town for a pipe dream of finding out, once and for all, what The Situation smells like. We formed a sort of camaraderie, me and these kids, joined in our asinine pursuit while we baked in the 90-degree heat on the sidewalk.
The leader of the stalkers was teenage boy wearing a sleeveless pink T-shirt that read "I'm the sweetest bitch you'll ever meet" that he'd bought the day before from the Shore Store for $25. He was not the sweetest bitch I'd ever met, he was just kind of an average bitch. But he was definitely the head bitch in charge of his sizable following of teenage girls, some of whom he'd already known, and some he'd picked up in his travels on the boardwalk. He talked a lot of shit on everyone that wasn't in earshot, and acted like he was the authority on all things Jersey Shore, even though every declarative statement he made sounded like a question.
"Roger is smart?" Pink Shirt said of JWOWW's boyfriend. "But like, smart in the way that he knows how to treat a girl? Jionni…he's just, you know, intelligent. He just seems to really have his shit together? And I think that's good for Snooki? I guess they're both smart? But like, different?"
It was, without a doubt, the stupidest conversation about intelligence that I'd ever heard in my life. Also, I felt like Pink Shirt was being really unfair to Roger and it annoyed me that I cared.
All this was over the course of about five minutes after I first arrived; then a camera crew across the street began to scramble into place and we knew we were about to catch them filming a scene. A SUV — with another camera crew riding along — pulled up to the house. Much to our chagrin, nobody famous emerged from the car. It was just a man in a business suit with some files under his arm. I immediately knew that he must've been either Deena's or Ronnie's lawyer coming to take one of them to court. The cameras filmed him knocking on the door, and then Deena came out, looking completely respectable, with nary a butt tan line in sight. The crowd cheered. My mother recited her customary "she looks thinner in person" line that she says about every famous person, including Madonna.
They got in the car and drove off, kinda; they just stopped on the next block and didn't go anywhere for several minutes. It's my theory that they were checking the footage to make sure that they didn't need to reshoot the exit. (I could be wrong, it's just a theory.)
One of the young girls behind me shouted out, "OMG, I'm so happy, Deena is my favorite!"
Liar, I thought. Let's face it, Deena is the bottom of the barrel of Jersey Shore sightings. I needed some classics like Snooki or The Situation to make this all feel worth it.
I didn't need to wait long. By the time the brief Deena excitement had worn off, another camera crew was situating themselves at the foot of the stairs. They must've been alerted somehow that JWOWW and Pauly D were about to walk out the front door and go to work.
Next came Sammi and Ronnie (who are totally back together, BTW). Pushing my baby stroller, I felt like the grand marshall of the stalker parade as we (slowly) chased after them (at a reasonable distance). Passing cars started honking their horns obnoxiously and screaming something sexual over and over again about Sammi. Everyone else around just seemed really giddy, my husband and I included. We followed Ron and Sam up to the boardwalk and toward the Shore Store, which is when security guards intervened and diverted us over to the very long line of fans hoping to get into the store.
The production company had set up a tent on the boardwalk at which you had to show I.D. proving you are 18 (unless you were with your guardian) and sign a release form. The line was very long, but we waited about 25 minutes. In the meantime, a production assistant came up to us — multiple times — and gave us instructions on how to "act" for the "reality" show.
I signed a release form that I didn't read, they took down my information from my license, and then I held up the large number on the back of the release form while they took my picture, like an alternate-universe mugshot, and then they stamped my hand. I waited in another line for about five more minutes and got another set of instructions on how to act, and that we weren't allowed to take pictures once inside the store.
"When you go in the store, [the cast] can help you shop, they can answer your questions about the shirts, but you have to act like you haven't seen them on TV and that you don't know they're famous. Okay?"
The deck of the Jersey Shore house — where the infamous hot tub is located — is actually on the roof of the Shore Store. I looked up and saw The Situation standing at the railing, staring out over everyone on the boardwalk, unsmiling, and occasionally throwing us some kind of gang sign with his fingers that I suppose was meant to be a greeting of sorts. Mostly though, he looked off into the ocean, brooding, while a camera filmed him.
"He looks really sad and serious," my husband said. "I'd love to know what he's thinking about."
"He's probably thinking about how everybody hates him?" said Pink Shirt. "I fucking hate him!"
And then he and all his girlfriends cackled as they kicked up a hate fest:
"Yeah, he's fucking disgusting!"
"He's a joke!"
"Oh my God, he's the worst. I'm so happy no one in the house likes him. He deserves to be hated!"
They were basically screaming these things. He was right there. He could totally hear all of it. In that moment, I genuinely felt really bad for The Situation. He may have displayed some despicable behavior in the past few years, but he's a human being and he was standing right in front of our faces. Have some fucking manners and trash him privately — or, uh, on a blog — where he can't hear you.
The line snaked in front of the store, and a crabby woman with a north Jersey accent made raspy and deep by decades of cigarettes chimed in.
"They kicked us out of a restaurant the other day so them assholes could eat!" she said, jabbing her thumb up toward The Situation.
Her teenage son who was holding a pizza box, said, "They're nobodies!"
My husband and I looked at each other and laughed.
"If they're nobodies then what's this line of people, and all these security guards, and these cameras? Hello! They're famous!" I said.
"Yeah, if you hate them so much, why are sitting on the one bench right outside their store instead of all the other benches on this entire boardwalk that are empty?" my husband asked.
"And who eats pizza on the beach in 95-degree weather?"
Except we didn't say these things loudly to these people. Instead, we muttered to each other under our breath because we talk shit privately because, like I said, that's the polite thing to do. We were brought up right.
Finally it was our turn.
It was so quiet in the store—but the weird thing is that it seemed to be out of reverence. Pink Shirt and all his girlfriends were silently staring at Ronnie, Pauly, Sammi and Danny, the store owner, who were behind the counter, elevated a few heads above us on some kind of platform that made it seem as though they were on a stage. JWOWW was off in the corner, looking completely over it. Of the ten or so fans who had just signed release forms and had previously been so bubbly and excited, nobody was talking to the cast. Including me.
This whole time, I thought I was going to meet some celebrities, but it finally dawned on me that I had just agreed to be on a reality show. And it was a completely contrived circumstance in which I actually had to "act" — act like this was no big deal, like they weren't famous, like I didn't wait outside their home with a bunch of teenagers and then follow them down the street and around the corner to this…this set. It wasn't a store, it was a set, with lights and camera and unfortunately very little action.
Pauly was telling some boring story to Danny and Ronnie about a tattoo that he got that hurt for days afterward. I realized that he wasn't just shooting the shit but performing for the camera that was focused on him.
I got really flustered when Pauly looked at me so I asked, "Where are the onesies?"
The question confused him, so he turned to Danny who told me that they were right next to my face. I hurriedly grabbed a blank one off the rack and thrust it at my husband.
I think Pauly made the onesie for me. I'm not sure. I found it difficult to "act" normal because the situation was so surreal. I just decided to focus on my daughter's face while hiding behind my husband. He was talking to Sammi, trying to choose which shirt he should get. I knew he was going to choke under pressure. He does the same thing when it's our turn to order at the ice cream parlor before he's had a chance to read all the flavors. He always ends up getting something disgusting, which is exactly what happened at the Shore Store.
"Give me the one that says 'Don't fall in love at the Jersey Shore,'" he said. It was written in the colors of the Italian flag.
"Rahn, I need 'Don't fall in love at the Jersey shore.' I can't reach it."
Ron grabbed it silently from the stack, put it in the machine and made my husband his gross shirt and then handed it back to Sam, all without even the slightest acknowledgement that the shirt was based on a thing that he famously said on television about the girl who rang us up.
"Aww. She's beautiful. I love her eyes," Sammi said about my baby. It turns out that Sammi really is a sweetheart. And she was very dutiful, going above and beyond with helping my husband pick out a T-shirt color and everything.
I thought, "Wow, this girl is so nice to be dedicating herself to this shitty retail job when she's a millionaire," before I remembered that she was just playing the part of a T-shirt shop sales girl for TV. They were faking, we were faking. Each batch of ten customers that came in the store was just a different take of the same scene.
I can kind of see, now, what season one exile Angelina meant when she told the cast, "All a youse are fake."
What really struck me was just how easily we were roped into this farce. I guess we could've broken character and started talking about how much we like the show or asked them what The Situation thinks about when he stares out at the ocean, but instead we behaved like sheep for the reality television producers' slaughter. The best way I can describe it is that it was like we were playing "store" except that I actually had to use real money ($40 for a T-shirt and onesie).
My only complaint is that I didn't get to see Snooki. But I'm happy that I went since this is reportedly the last season and they wrapped filming later that week. However, if these casting flyers that were pasted up around the boardwalk of Seaside are any indication, a new chapter might be on the horizon. Good news for people who are drawn to trash.