Kaitlyn: We went to Ocean Grove, otherwise known as “Ocean Grave,” because it was the only Airbnb available on the Jersey Shore for less than one million dollars a night and it seemed to be a five-minute walk from the ocean and from Bruce Springsteen notable landmark the Stone Pony. The Airbnb was decorated with chenille throw-pillows and biology textbooks and it had a porch, so that worked for us. It was on the second floor of a two-story Victorian home surrounded by literally thousands of two-story Victorian homes, all of which had second-story porches, leading me to wonder: Why don’t all homes with first-story porches simply also have a second-story porch?
The town’s colloquial name comes—rudely—from the average age of its residents, which is old. It is also a dry town, because it was built as a “religious resort” during the Methodist camp meeting movement in the late 1800s. We did not trouble ourselves to learn much about this before arriving, but I recently Googled a charming gazebo we looked at for a minute after ice-cream lunch and learned that it was actually a well, named “Beersheba” after a well dug by Abraham of Old Testament fame. It has a water fountain in the middle of it because of the temperance movement and it was the site of a 1904 speech by the I guess feminist icon Carrie Nation, who also has a colloquial name: “Hatchet Granny.” Basically, she was famous for walking into bars and destroying them with a hatchet. According to Wikipedia, she called herself “a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus,” she was arrested at least 30 times, and she paid her legal fees by selling souvenir pins engraved with her slogan, “Death to Rum.”
Anyway, startling things happened one after the other in Ocean Grove. For instance, when we stepped off the train, we overheard a group of friends bickering over whether to call an Uber; a girl turned to a boy who was arguing that it was not so expensive and sneered quite meanly, “Okay, Jason Bezos.” When we got to the boardwalk we heard some Christian rock music, saw two unrelated people in All Time Low t-shirts, and wandered around in search of a pink drink to sip at sunset. Every glamorous “three money” (as Katie calls them) restaurant on the boardwalk had an hour-long wait, and we were starting to despair, not really understanding this boardwalk’s whole vibe, until Google Maps led us to the front door of a totally empty bar called “Beach Bar,” at which literally every drink for sale was the color of Pepto-Bismol and tasted like a candy heart. We did not question it. We watched the sunset.
Are we going to sound terrible? Like we believe that everywhere outside of New York City exists solely for us to feel confused by?
Well, we got drunk at dinner because we shared two shrimp cocktails, a bowl of broccoli, a basket of dinner rolls, and one free piece of caramel cheesecake. I know I was drunk early because after we sang “Happy Birthday” to Stephanie I glared at everyone else in the sidewalk seating area and said as loud as I could: “I guess this isn’t the kind of place where people join in when they hear ‘Happy Birthday’…” We went to a bar that sold t-shirts with eyeballs on the back and Stephanie bought one for each of us as party favors. Then we drank a series of rum-and-diets—our signature drink—until we were ready to talk to some strangers in the street. One of them had a nose ring just like Katie’s, he was wearing jeans with the knees ripped out, and he said “ACAB” to me, I’m not sure why. They offered to buy us green tea shots at a nearby Irish bar, which of course appealed to me because that’s what Scheana refuses to drink during the girls’ trip to the Hamptons where Stassi is sad about Patrick. I also said this as loudly as I could.
Once at the Irish bar, our escorts abandoned us immediately. This made sense for them as we kept accidentally mentioning our boyfriends and nothing we were saying really made sense. We did not buy anything at the bar, we just danced around to pop-punk songs and barreled toward catastrophe. (According to Wikipedia, Carrie Nation was happy about President William McKinley’s assassination because she suspected that he secretly enjoyed alcohol, and drinkers get “what they deserve.”)
In our defense, this is the kind of bar that has a large yard simply for the purpose of making people pee in one of those Port-a-Potty trailers with many stalls, and it was full of people I recognized from being a freshman in college in 2011. The drinks come with free mini pizzas. You might remember that we didn’t eat enough dinner!
Tamar and I went to the Port-a-Potty trailer, and as we left it she noticed that there was a metal tray with a tiny stray piece of free pizza sitting on the edge of someone’s picnic table. She took it and ate it in one bite and while you might think this is just something that happens in bars sometimes it actually kicked off a sequence from a Mary-Kate and Ashley movie. A security guard in a green hoodie yelled “She has to go!” I grabbed Tamar’s hand and we ran! She stepped on my flip-flop and I lunged basically into the arms of a man I recognized from being a freshman in college in 2011! A different security guard moved towards us! We pivoted 90 degrees and ran and ran! We were in New York Minute, and the man was Eugene Levy! When we got outside, we realized the eyeball t-shirts were in the bathroom. So, I RAN past a bouncer and back to the Port-a-Potty trailer, where I waited for each stall to open and explained to so many women, I’m not in line, I just need to see inside that stall! I have to say, I was really enjoying the moment. I was full of hope over a simple thing! There were no t-shirts, though, so we gave up and went back to our Airbnb having learned a few lessons about following boys to an Irish bar because they’ve promised you something you don’t actually want or need. It was girl culture on the sidewalk. Tamar texted Alex, “I’m a menace!” And we were like: That was the position of the people in charge of that establishment. But she’s not a menace—she’d packed us a lard bread with prosciutto in it, which we ate before bed so that we wouldn’t be hungover. We also had Oreos, which she had also packed, and I fell asleep without brushing my teeth.
The next day, we were chastened, and so we started to notice things. We saw the same enormous white dog over and over, always when we were coming around a corner. We started to find the town’s absolutely insistent mermaid motif less whimsical than scary, possibly an echo of Christian sexual repression. (The mermaid on the wall in our Airbnb had an extremely well-defined human butt and thighs, and her tail started below her knees.) We realized that woman after woman—working in her yard, cleaning up tables in front of the crepe shop—was asking us, “How was the water, girls?” in just the same way. The water was freezing.
Because we were having such a good time, we started to put some pressure on the theory that we were in the expository moments of a horror movie about body snatchers, or a CW show about girls who grow up too fast. After dinner, we walked down the boardwalk until there were no more restaurants and no more lights, eating fried Oreos and talking about Annie Sullivan, then headed back to our Airbnb in the dark and absolute quiet. I said, there are ladders in the front yards of all of these houses that go right up to the second-story porches? Tamar said not to say that right now. Then I yelled at everyone because a man in jeans and a black polo shirt sprinted past us on the otherwise deserted street, not looking side-to-side, not following anyone, running absolutely for his life, and Tamar and Katie and Stephanie just kept talking about something from TikTok. They said, “What? We saw him.” I calmed down because it seemed like I was being attention-seeking, or worse—leaning too hard into a bit.
But the next morning, while we were walking to get coffee, Stephanie admitted that the sprinting man had been totally disturbing and not a normal sight. She had kept it from me for my own protection! I am a loser and so I self-soothed by singing a little bit of “NYC,” the song from Annie, about our home, to which we would soon be returning. The barista happened to put our coffees down just as I was doing the part that goes “Too hot!” in a Depression-era orphan voice, so, ultimately, we weren’t the only people in Ocean Grove who had a startling experience. (The coffee was the perfect temperature and I made a show of sipping it right away.)
In the end, in our defense, I think we careened through town without hurting anyone’s feelings much at all.