'Scuse our French, but fuck it. This year we feel like bringing back a few bad habits. If we can stand it, that is.

Photograph: Beth Levendis

Photograph: Beth Levendis


When I was a kid, my scheming parents relegated our family TV set to a musty, lonely room in the back of the apartment. And while some of their hard-fought pedagogical battles rolled off my back (sorry, guys, I still don't balance my checkbook), I never rid myself of the association between television and a kind of grim isolation. I can count on one hand the number of times I've switched on the set in the past decade. Nice work, Mom and Dad. Of course, this has put me at a social disadvantage—a person can get pretty lost in the world when she catches references to neither Saved by the Bell nor Gossip Girl. So I decided to self-educate with a daily dose of prime time.

To start, I immersed myself in the wonders and atrocities of reality TV. While I balked and clucked at the seriousness with which Top Chef contestants discussed the sweetness of a lemon meringue, I was spellbound by the backstabbing peacocks on The Real Housewives of Atlanta and their busty O.C. counterparts. By night two, I was ignoring my roommates so the Law & Order detectives could disappoint me with their transparent contrivances (I still watched five episodes in a row and then had nightmares). Later, I sacrificed a little bit more of my soul to the formulaic Secret Millionaire. Forty-three minutes lost to people with a false sense of charitable satisfaction; two dinners' worth of chocolate-covered pretzels gained.

The hours of telly exposure made me oddly antsy and anxious—I was constantly bored, yet couldn't tear myself away. I lost friend time (even during commercials, I remained inexplicably rapt—as if something good was going to happen), ate continuously and stayed up way later than I meant to. Then I read about a University of Chicago study that found a link between television watching and unhappiness. That confirmed my hunch (and ended my experiment): It's not just childhood associations that make me a tubephobe.

—Kate Lowenstein




Wanna know why I went veg 15 years ago? Because it really pissed off my dad. As a teenage girl in a strict household run by a foodie, becoming a vegetarian was a way to rebel without actually being rebellious. And it stuck. Half my life later, I was still eating like my eighth-grade self; it was time to grow up.

I started with Thanksgiving turkey—and found that gravy was my savior. When I piled on the condiments, I almost didn't notice the way the bird lingers in your mouth as you chew it. I ate cautiously and was happily surprised that I didn't want to hurl, or flush it down with furious gulps of Martinelli's.

Inspired, I charged ahead to my ultimate goal—a Shake Shack burger. I brushed off friends' concerns that I was moving too quickly, because it was immensely satisfying, and neither the turkey nor the beef caused any trouble, uh, later on. The gloves were off. Pepperoni (yum), chicken burgers (pretty good), filet mignon (ugh), sausage (yes, please), bacon (my love, I have returned!) and SPAM (a thousand times no) all found their way down my gullet.

I've learned a few things so far: (a) I prefer salted, cured, seasoned meats to a hunk of animal (straight-up flesh is still unpleasantly chewy); and (b) I don't have a good reason to be a strict vegetarian anymore, though my diet will probably lean in that direction because it's inexpensive and I'm used to it. As a bonus, this change will make dinner parties easier—I'll never have to worry about what kind of broth is in the soup, or whether anchovy paste is in the Caesar dressing. But maybe I won't tell my dad; I hate that he was right about my vegetarianism being "just a phase."

—Heather Moore




In the sixth grade, I took great pleasure in scrambled porn and the dirty ads in the backs of alt weeklies. But in high school, I got a ridiculous boyfriend who liked to jerk off in front of his friends while watching his brother's skin flicks. Suddenly, porn wasn't so hot, and not just 'cause all of the chicks had perms.

Now an adult, I wanted to give it a second chance by watching Pornhub ( nightly for a week. It was fun at first—an excuse to compulsively masturbate. But the luster faded quickly. "Adorable Hot Busty Blonde De-Virginizes Her Ass," for example. The subject tee-heed and whined like a baby. I wanted to hit her—and not in a sexual way. I soldiered on, but by the time some Vanilla Ice look-alike started wedging his tongue into her butt, I was convinced I'd never have sex again.This happened repeatedly: After the initial get-off, my head wandered and I started questioning the economics of Pornhub: How do these nekkid folks make a living? Surely their rent isn't paid on Fleshlight banner ads. "Asian Teen with Big Perfect Tits Gets Cream-Pied," meanwhile, made me sad; it stars a gal who doesn't look a day over 15, riding a dude with the same enthusiasm I'm guessing she musters toward her trig homework.

The hottest stuff I unearthed was filmed by amateurs. "Mature Woman and the Neighbor Boy" was one of my faves; once you get past the mom jeans, the mauling is pure and animalistic. Of course, 33 minutes into the video, you see a flash of denim pant leg and you remember it isn't just you and this couple; there's someone behind that camera and suddenly, it's business as usual.

The porn immersion messed with my head. During morning commutes, I'd find my eyes scanning the subway car, convinced that everyone riding within spitting distance probably has a video on Pornhub. Then again, maybe that was just a pervy fantasy: If this experiment taught me anything, it's that I like real sex with boy-next-door types.

—Ashlea Halpern