Last week, exactly one year to the day I moved to Florida, I moved back to my hometown of Toms River, New Jersey. The six days since my return have proved unexpectedly trying. As with any personal upheaval, there is an adjustment period, a resetting of inner clocks, of social tics and societal mores. This is to be expected. Like the boy reared by wolves adapting to the structures and rigors of civilized society, one must gradually accept and work with the realities presented to him or her. Toms River, however, makes acclimatizing tough. Moving back to Toms River, New Jersey is more akin to a civilized human being being flung into the lupine anarchy of a pack of wolves. Metaphorically and literally speaking, one could very well be eaten alive. This exacerbation is due to the peculiar nature of Toms River and the people who people it. The consciousness produced by the locality is unlike any I have encountered in the wide world, and I feel it my duty to attempt to provide a guide to readjusting to the Toms River Lifestyle for those that shall come after me, those who are damned to this fate, too.
Phase 1: Monumental Choices and Existential Quandaries
First, you will be faced with choices. These choices will affect every aspect of your Toms River life, the waking and sleeping, the quotidian and the fantastical. There are five main choices to be made, and everyone will choose differently, but these are your choices to make, and you must make them wisely. You must.
Choice 1: What Gym Are You Going to Sign Up For?
Since there are more gyms in Toms River than there is internet to list, familiarize yourself with the main fitness centers. These are: Toms River Fitness, LA Fitness, Purple Gym, KS Fitness, Retro Fitness on 37, Retro Fitness kind of in Brick, That Gym Across the Street From Hemingway’s, and Oxogym. Each gym has its pros and cons both, and you must gauge which gym will best allow you to either:
(A): Look hyper fuckable at Ortley and Bamboo
(B): Complain about how you never get to the gym
Choice 2: What Theme Are You Going to Centralize Your Tattoo Sleeve Around?
Everyone who’s anyone in Toms River has a sleeve of tattoos. What you have to ask yourself is: what inane, bankrupt symbolism do I want to cover my armpits and elbowpits and inner wrist with? Strong options are: the state of New Jersey, the letters NJ, the team symbol of the New York Football Giants, nautical shit, heretical Biblical passages, and the mascot for the New Jersey Devils.
Choice 3: What Prescription Pill Are You Going to Become Addicted To?
If you’re born before the year 1993 and are still living in Toms River, chances are that you’re also living in your parents’ house wishing you weren’t living in your parents’ house, working a job that you wish you weren’t working, bored to the point of being bored but not to the point of ameliorating that being bored, attempting to diagnose a spiritual stasis that is un-diagnosable because of the extent of subtle spiritual stasis being endured, going to the gym way more than you should be going to the gym, or complaining about how you never get to the gym as much as you want to, spending way more time than is advisable considering what tattoos to get. You are most likely dating someone from Toms River that is doing most if not all of these things as well. You and your significant other sense something is not right. You exchange forlorn glances of capitulation over dinners scant on conversation. You stumble out of the billionth movie at whatever movie theater, movies you see out of sheer having nothing else to do and you ask yourselves, how do we cope? In Toms River, there is only one true remedy. You know it. Your significant other knows it. Choose, or die.
Choice 4: How Are You Going to Get Into Bamboo For Free?
Alyssa Florio’s brother can get you on the list if you text her nicely.
Choice 5: What Are You Going to Tell People You Are Doing With Your Life to Provide the Illusion That You Are Doing Something With Your Life?
This is incredibly subjective. In the event that you can’t formulate an answer to this question, experience has shown an effective placation is a rehashing of the earlier choices.
WHOEVER YOU RAN INTO: Oh, hey, you! Haven’t seen you in forever, what are you up to nowadays?
YOU: Oh, you know, been going to the gym. Thinking about getting some more tattoos. Trying to get into Bamboo for free. We should hang out. Great seeing you.
Phase 2: Conversationally Speaking
As the above example demonstrates, your survival is contingent on a diverse and thorough understanding of the social dynamics and jargon of Toms River. Luckily, there are three topics of conversation that can get you out of even the squirreliest of TR conversation traps. Once touched upon, these conversational linchpins will send your unwanted exchange into immediate autopilot, providing you an opportunity to either regather your thoughts or escape unharmed. Use them sparingly. Use them wisely.
Topic 1: How Much The New Traffic Lights by OCC “Fucking Suck”
Recently, two new traffic lights were added to the streets adjacent to the Ocean County College parking lot. No quotation marks necessary: they fucking suck. They are needlessly long. They have given rise to a confusing amount of collateral signage and linage. Even the geese that populate the Ocean County College Arborium despise these traffic lights. Use this to your advantage.
Topic 2: How “Diesel” and “Shredded” Nick Lepore is Now
Again, no quotation marks necessary: Nick Lepore is now as diesel as he is shredded. For whatever reason, the populace of Toms River is obsessed with this fact, and will spring it upon you at random in even the slightest of conversational lulls. The best way to stay abreast of how diesel Nick Lepore is now is to friend him on Facebook and/or hire him as your personal trainer.
Topic 3: Klaslo Leaks
Klaslo Leaks is a Gossip Girl-esque Toms River Gossip multimedia outlet run by Megan Klaslo. Every major happening in Toms River is disseminated to everyone in Megan Klaslo’s phone via mass text. Be careful though, one always wants to read Klaslo Leaks, but one never wants to be a Klaslo Leak (KLed).
Phase 3: Surrender, Death, Rebirth
You are ready. There is no escape. Accept the fact. Surrender. Feel the end of the lives you could have lived. Wake from your dreams dreamt into this prolonged, waking nightmare. Be reborn as a citizen of Toms River. Become what you were always meant to become. Become.