By Araceli Cruz
By Tessa Stuart
By Anna Merlan
By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Village Voice staff
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
Craig Austin calls his 18-man hot tub a big bowl of cute boy soup. The Toms River resident hosts some of the Jersey Shores hottest homos in a summertime series of bacchanals. Nearly all of the ingredients in his man-stew are Italian-American, heavy on the particular, fist-pumping subset known as Guidoand many of them are on the down-low.
The 20 miles of shoreline starting at Belmar, just south of Asbury Park, and ending in Seaside Heights has long been known as the Guido Riviera, and now MTVs surprise hit The Jersey Shore has made Seaside Heights notorious. Central to the shows success is The Situation & Co.s blend of the homophobic and homoerotic, mixed together like a potent Long Island Iced Tea. Ronnies fucking faggot boardwalk rants, The Situations gay-for-pay media plays, and Pauly Ds shirtless photos (showcased on dicks-out website GuysWithiPhones.com) have all shaken the cocktail. But long before Snooki and her housemates, homosex has been alive and well on the Jersey Shore. Each summer, itinerant Guidos decamp for Seaside, bringing their horndog, down-low sexuality with them.
Start with the seasonal juiceheads, whose bodies are worked out well past the point that most women find attractive. These neckless wondersboardwalk blowfish, in local parlancecan be appreciated only by other blowfish. At L.A. Fitness, the local bodybuilding Mecca in this gym-crowded town, Theyre definitely checking each other out, Austin says.
For more proof, go to GayOrJersey.blogspot.com, which displays (ostensibly straight) vanity shots from sites like NJGuido.com alongside shirtless homos. I dare you to tell them apart.
Austins hot tub provides a bubbly cauldron for the two groups to, um, intersect. On a recent guided tour, he proudly points out a patch underneath Seasides boardwalk between a frozen-custard stand and an old-time photos booth. There used to be a bathroom right there, he says. Three decades ago, a teenage Austin drilled peepholes between the stalls. Hes been facilitating stealth Guido hookups ever since. He proudly adds, That bathroom eventually became a spot in Damrons, the venerable travel guide for on-the-prowl gay men.
Today, Damrons has been eclipsed by online hookup sites like Craigslist, Manhunt, and Adam4Adam, which facilitate anonymous quickie sex. And now theres Austins latest obsession, Grindr, an iPhone hookup app that locates nearby men on a proximity-based grid. At the first light, I installed Grindr, he recalls of the drive home from an Apple store, new iPhone in hand. By the second light, I had a boy on his way to my house.
Back at his secluded ranch, Austin maps a queer corollary to MTVs Jersey Shore. His outsize hot tub sits on a 1,000-square-foot deck alongside a tiki bar and plenty of nooks and crannies. If you build it, they will come has been Austins mantra. We get a lot of Guido types, he says of his summer sex parties. They work in Seaside. Theyre bouncers at the clubs.
Austins parties thrive because of his respect for that Ocean County institution, the back door. Of one down-low guest, he recalls, The first summer he came, it was late at night. He snuck in wearing a baseball hat pulled all the way down. He would figure out who he wanted to have sex with and then fuck the guy, but somewhere private. The next summer, he was comfortable enough to bartend the tiki bar. That was OK because he was working, Austin says, even though he wasnt getting paid. By the following summer, he was initiating orgies behind the tiki bar.
Since 2001, when Austin started his parties, he has seen guys become more comfortable with their dual sexuality as they grow older. Unfortunately for them, the Guido scene is firmly time-date-stamped with an expiration year of 30. As for the now-established gay resort town of Asbury Park, it may be only a few miles north of Seaside, but thats too long a psychic drive for these guys. Its only 30 minutes away, Austin says, but its really worlds apart. Its hard to keep your baseball hat on in the pool at Paradise, a reference to Shep Pettibones gayola hotel-disco-funplex.
At least one of Austins regulars is testing the waters of Asbury Park: Dino, a self-described horny 25-year-old, could have been ordered straight from Jersey Shore Central Casting. A grad student who lives in the Bronx, he is out to his second-generation Italian family, with whom he summers with in Seaside, but nobody talks about it, he says. Its never mentioned. Thats the mentality still for Italian familieshomosexuality isnt OK.
Dino is very much in the closet with his Seaside volleyball buddies, and although he does troll Asbury at night, he doesnt care for that scene. If complicated, Dino doesnt seem particularly tortured. Hes more bifurcated, right down to his wardrobe. I would never wear this on the boardwalk in Seaside, he says of the neon-green American Eagle polo that hugs his tight physique. Its too gay. And I dont see any reason to flaunt being gay in a place where its not accepted.