Craig Austin calls his 18-man hot tub “a big bowl of cute boy soup.” The Tom’s River resident hosts some of the Jersey Shore’s 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 Guido—and 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 MTV’s surprise hit The Jersey Shore has made Seaside Heights notorious. Central to the show’s success is The Situation & Co.’s blend of the homophobic and homoerotic, mixed together like a potent Long Island Iced Tea. Ronnie’s “fucking faggot” boardwalk rants, The Situation’s gay-for-pay media plays, and Pauly D’s 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 wonders—“boardwalk blowfish,” in local parlance—can be appreciated only by other blowfish. At L.A. Fitness, the local bodybuilding Mecca in this gym-crowded town, “They’re 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.
Austin’s 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 Seaside’s 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. He’s been facilitating stealth Guido hookups ever since. He proudly adds, “That bathroom eventually became a spot in Damron’s,” the venerable travel guide for on-the-prowl gay men.
Today, Damron’s has been eclipsed by online hookup sites like Craigslist, Manhunt, and Adam4Adam, which facilitate anonymous quickie sex. And now there’s Austin’s 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 MTV’s 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 Austin’s mantra. “We get a lot of Guido types,” he says of his summer sex parties. “They work in Seaside. They’re bouncers at the clubs.”
Austin’s 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 wasn’t 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 that’s too long a psychic drive for these guys. “It’s only 30 minutes away,” Austin says, “but it’s really worlds apart. It’s hard to keep your baseball hat on in the pool at Paradise,” a reference to Shep Pettibone’s gayola hotel-disco-funplex.
At least one of Austin’s 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. “It’s never mentioned. That’s the mentality still for Italian families—homosexuality isn’t OK.”
Dino is very much in the closet with his Seaside volleyball buddies, and although he does troll Asbury at night, he doesn’t care for that scene. If complicated, Dino doesn’t seem particularly tortured. He’s 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. “It’s too gay. And I don’t see any reason to flaunt being gay in a place where it’s not accepted.”
Austin’s roommate, Ian Hartman, reveals that bedding down-low Guidos is “never going to happen if they’re with their friends. When they’re in a group, they have their straight role on. You need to break them off from the pack.” He also lets potential tricks know his discretion is assured: “That’s all they’re looking for, really. Convenience and discretion. If you’re too gay, they run the other way, but a guy with a place is primary. It’s better than doing it in a car.”
Or in a video store. On a Saturday night in April, Austin and I venture to a downtown Tom’s River strip mall, where an adult video store is nestled between a pizza joint and a liquor store, although its neon “Peek-a-View” sign is hardly subtle. But who uses the front door? Austin pulls around to an isolated dirt lot. It’s almost the “Golden Hour,” after Seaside’s big clubs like Bamboo and Karma close. After last call, all the single ladies exit the clubs in packs, upping the already disproportionate boy-girl ratio. “A lot of guys are standing around with their dicks in their hands,” says Austin. “Some of them come to the Peek-a-View.”
Yes, they do. He winds through the dark, sleazy warren of video machines to the front where tokens are purchased. A dozen guys have already assembled, some fitting the low-slung baseball-cap formula. Austin points out a glory hole. According to Hartman, two Guido types frequent the Peek-a-View: “A lot of them are just looking to get blown. If they get fucked, they’re gay, so they keep it on a blowjob level. That’s the younger guys. Having a little orgy is nothing: ‘It was dark’—blame the alcohol. I’m not his guy, but if he wants to get fucked, I can sniff that a mile away.”
Peek-a-View’s front room is carpeted in worn faux-leopard skin. A big-haired, teenage Guidette presides over the register. Her incessant telephone dramas provide a whiny soundtrack to the furtive backroom hookups.
Above her, a black sign in DayGlo-pink advertises a sale on Jersey Shore XXX, a straight porn parody. (Inevitably, there’s a gay porn version as well: Jersey Score, starring “The Stimulation” and “Pauly G.”) Austin grabs the Jersey Shore XXX video, scanning its back cover.
The girls are dead ringers, but the guys aren’t nearly as hot: “Not to worry,” Austin smiles. “They’ll be here soon enough.”