In ninth grade, she ran afoul of the older girls in her high school, who hated her, she thinks, for the crime of being so popular. "They made up a rumor that I had got it in the ass by one of the seniors. They were calling me Stinkin' Incan for the longest time. I was like, 'I've never even had sex, he didn't put it in my butt!' Then they wrote 'Nicole's a slut' on the walls and made my life a living hell. I think that's why I'm such a strong person today."
In 11th grade, at prom, she lost her virginity. "When I saw him again in class, he ignored me. I was like, 'Cool. This is what life is? Great.' I definitely regret my first time. It sucked."
After graduation, she went to community college to become a veterinary tech. But what she really wanted to become, and always had wanted to become, was a household name. She didn't know why. She just did. So when she read on Face-book about open auditions for an MTV reality show called Is She Really Going Out With Him? she grabbed her then-boyfriend, made the cut, appeared in an episode, loved everything about it, read about another MTV open audition, this one held at the Jersey Shore, where she just happened to be that day, went on a bar crawl, downed a few Long Island iced teas, and wound up in the basement of another joint, trying out for Jersey Shore. "I was wearing leggings and a fur coat and I walked in like I was hot shit, because I always think I'm hot shit, and I had my big pouf, and they were like, 'What is that?' – because I was so out of this world. I've always been crazy and outrageous and spontaneous. I've never really cared what anybody thought about me."
The producers were thrilled.
"The minute Nicole walked into the room and began talking, we fell in love with her," says Salsano. "She was very wide-eyed, and she was very pure in what she was looking for at the Shore. She said she was destined to find a guido to marry, live in a McMansion, have a couple of kids and be all set: 'Come on, what else am I going to do?' It was not a joke. She was totally serious. She's one of the most honest people I've met in my entire life."
And so that's how she got to where she is today.
Well, let's not forget about the drinking. The drinking has been instrumental in her rise, too. She says she started when she was 16, the same year she threw a party at her house where booze was involved and a boy who got drunk there died in a car crash. She was charged with prohibited sale of alcoholic beverages and paid a fine. The incident was sealed due to her status as a minor, but last year, someone told RadarOnline about it. Polizzi has never spoken openly about what happened, until now.
"I definitely want to clear that up," she says. "People think I served him alcohol. I didn't supply any alcohol. Everyone brought it themselves. His name was Mike, the guy that passed away, and he brought his own beer, and we were all having fun. Then he got drunk and into a fistfight with one of his friends, and my boyfriend, Tommy, told him he was too drunk to drive and drove him home. That's when he got in his car and drove and crashed. The next day at school, everyone was like, 'Oh, my God, our friend died.' It was a very bad week. I had to go to see investigators, because they wanted to charge me for his death. It was so bad. I have the worst luck ever, I swear to God. I was like, "What the hell, I didn't do anything.' I got charged for selling alcohol at my house, but it was a friend who did that. She only sold it to one person. Her parents would have killed her, so I took the heat. She owes me, big-time. Then after the show came out, what happened came out publicly. Maybe his mother did that, because obviously she's going to get pissed when she sees me partying on TV and she's like, "Yo, my son died at her house from partying.' I totally understand that. But Tommy and I tried our best. Mike made a bad decision. Anyway, after the party, my parents started to get really strict with me. I was like, 'All right, maybe we shouldn't drink until we're 21.' But it didn't stop. I never got into a car or drove with anyone who was drunk. But I still went to parties and did those experiences." And it's those experiences, as much as anything else, that really got her to where she is today.
Today, she is signing copies of A Shore Thing at the Greensboro Barnes & Noble, sitting between Bible and Science Fiction/Fantasy, next to her friend (and occasional Jersey Shore guest and hot-tub make-out partner) Caitlin Ryder. Fans come up, most of them young girls.
"Could you write 'Happy birthday'?"
"Do you do shout-outs on Twitter?"
She glances down, then over. "Ryder, can you be on nipple patrol?"
"Sure, I'll be on the lookout for those pervs staring at your boobs."
"I have a headache," Polizzi says some 200 signed books later. She used to sign them "Snooki" but has recently switched to "Nicole Snooki," doubling her workload. "My hand hurts," she says.
A guy walks past.
"I would do that."
"What, you wouldn't? Did I say that too loud?"
Another girl. "Hi, Snooki. Wow. Oh, my gosh."
"Oh, why are you shaking?"
"Snooki, you are my idol."
"But I feel bad. Oh, don't cry, girl. Why is she shaking?" she asks Ryder.
"She's happy. She loves you."
"I just don't get it," Polizzi says later. "I just don't get how people are so fascinated by me. I'll never get it."
Nor will The New York Times. No big surprise there, of course, but in a profile of Polizzi, the paper found itself so frustrated by its inability to get her that it decided to trash her instead. It went after her intellect, concluding that "trying to hold a conversation with Snooki is a little like getting down on your hands and knees with a child." It went after her looks, describing her as "not conventionally attractive . . . busty and short-waisted with small legs; sort of like a turnip turned on its tip." It called her manner of dress "atrocious," and, in summary, said, "Like a rare, unstable gas, she is not likely to last much beyond the moment." Deliciously amusing stuff, but it misses the point. The point is, people find Polizzi fascinating largely because of those things and because she has the confidence to not be apologetic about them. This also explains why she is the breakout star of the show. All the others are recognizable both in appearance and in attitude. But Polizzi stands apart. Sometimes it's weird and unsettling, like in her whole talk about the death of her friend and how being investigated for it was such "bad luck." Plainly, she's got issues. But like an arcade Wack-A-Mole, she will not go down easily.
Back in her hotel room, Polizzi has decided she wants a cigarette.
"There's three smoke detectors right there," says Monti, her handler. "You could get fined $500."
"OK, well, I'll pay it. I want a cigarette."
Calmer heads prevail, however, and soon enough, she's outside smoking her cigarette and telling more about her life and times. She is afraid of the dark and would prefer to sleep with a TV on all night; while filming Jersey Shore that's not possible, of course. Sometimes during moments of stress, she'll sit down in front of her computer and spill her guts into the webcam lens, replicating in private the debriefing sessions that occur in public on Jersey Shore; afterward, she'll watch these webcam moments and think, "Damn, I'm entertaining!" The most soothing word in her vocabulary is "cuddle." She often has nightmares about the end of the world: "Just, like, a fire starting," she says, "and it keeps going, and everyone burns."
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