By William Patrick Tandy
For 15 years, I published a submission-based zine called Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore!, a warts-and-all celebration that chronicled the ups and downs of city life through essays, anecdotes, poetry, and other artwork. Despite its place-specific focus, Smile, Hon’s recurring themes – life, love, death, both comical and tragic in equal measure – proved universal enough in nature to resonate with audiences that had never so much as set foot in Charm City. Contributors included a wide array of voices – teachers, artists, postal employees, murder police, petty criminals, and more, few among them “writers” in any practiced sense – making for a heady brew of heartfelt barstool storytelling.
To be sure, there is no money to be made from such a venture; indeed, in later years, I was fortunate enough to break even (sometimes) on the production costs. Instead, I found reward in publishing the work of someone who might later acknowledge the zine for having inspired them to put pen to paper for the first time since high school.
After roughly 30 issues, the essentially one-man operation ran out of steam. Topically, perhaps it was inevitable. “I have no business talking about this city,” I wrote in my introduction to the first issue. “After all, I’m not from around here.”
But the Jersey Shore is a different story. Having set the stage for my formative years, it occupies more real estate within my psyche than anywhere else. It hasn’t always been an easy road, this love-hate thing. Jersey, for me, is like that aunt or uncle you always bitch about; the familial bond grants you license to do so…but god help the sorry motherfucker who utters one cross word about them within earshot. Good or bad, at the end of the day, they’re family, and you know you’ve gotta treat ’em accordingly.
As with family, I knew that a zine about the Jersey Shore would require just the right treatment. (Don’t drink that cheap stuff, Uncle Joe, that’s just what we set out for the party-crashers. Here, try this – from my private stash.) I consume as much digital media as the next person, but its impermanent nature felt too fleeting, too disposable for the purpose – in a word, wrong. I still favor print, and respect the efforts necessary to produce it (attention to detail is that much more critical when there are no easy do-overs). Still, portability was key. It had to be something you could easily throw into your bag along with the towels, sunscreen, and other essentials before hitting the sands. Beach reading.
But what to call it? Preferably something short and punchy – but most importantly, something that spoke to the place, something whose very mention would invariably conjure images of sugary white sand, laughing gulls, salt water taffy, jug-handle turns, sun-warmed creosote, inscrutable agate type advertising enough local ordinances to fill a 1L elective…
Tell me you’re about the Jersey Shore without telling me you’re about the Jersey Shore.