David Usborne: New York Stories

This is Singles City. Nearly half of all homes contain just one person
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The Independent Online

Last week I had lunch with a pal I used know years back in Brussels. A senior diplomat these days, he has been posted to New York, and we needed to catch up. "So when did you arrive here exactly?" I ask between mouthfuls of moist risotto. "It'll be a year next month," he replies.

You see? That's how long it takes so-called friends to manage a two-hour, two-course meal together. Busy, busy, busy.

But busy doing what, I'd like to know. Well, of course, there are our jobs. But not all of us are on Wall Street, working from the pre-dawn hours until after supper. Looking after the children, perhaps. Come off it. Have you ever seen a place with fewer children than this adult-saturated island?

I exaggerate a little. My apartment, in the Gramercy Park neighbourhood, fairly rattles every morning at 11 when the private kindergarten at the back of the building lets the tots out to play (except it's summer now, so the mornings have turned oddly silent). But families are a bit rare here.

Last week the US Census Bureau revealed that of the nearly 740,000 households in Manhattan, 48 per cent are occupied by singles living alone. That is quite something. In other words, huge numbers here have nobody to worry about when they get home other than themselves and, possibly, their apartment-bound cat or pooch.

This amazing statistic makes me think several things. No wonder, for example, that the average Manhattan apartment is smaller than Ronnie Corbett's trousers and has a kitchen that really shouldn't be described as such. (Single people don't cook.) And no wonder they say New York is such a lonely town.

Oh, so that's what everybody is doing all the time in this town: hurtling around the clubs, restaurants, bars, internet websites, supermarket vegetable sections and even doctors' waiting rooms, desperately searching for mates so they don't have to be single any more. (I hear the swanky new Whole Foods supermarket on Union Square is the latest best place for casual pick-ups.)

Who has time for culture and old friendships with such urgent work to be undertaken? No one.

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If you have already run the gamut of takeaway menus stuffed under your door, then the next option is to eat out. New Yorkers go to restaurants a lot - we have 20,000 of them to choose from. But who knew, until last week, that between 30 and 60 per cent of them use trans fats in their cooking?

I believe these have to do with the oil that makes chips and fried wonton taste really, really good; and they are very, very bad for you - so bad that the Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is asking every chef in town to stop using them. They said his smoking ban in restaurants would never hold, but it has. If this becomes a trans-fat-free isle we should probably all be grateful to him, again.

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It's ethnicity, stupid, if you're a politician in New York. What a boob when Bloomberg said the other morning that he was trying to lose weight for the campaign by swearing off Chinese food. The Chinatown precincts on voting day will not be Bloomberg territory. But then Bloomberg, nominally a Republican, is miles ahead in the polls. Only a cynic would say his lead has anything to do with his massive wealth, or the fact that in the past year he has personally donated $140m (£80m) to no fewer than 843 different organisations, from homelessness centres to research labs. The majority, of course, are here in the city.