Laurie Penny: My New York date was going really well. Until...

Notebook: Every café is lousy with writers waiting for love to blow in over a macchiato
  • @PennyRed

Romance in New York City is a blood sport. In most bookshops, there are entire shelves of fiction, memoir and poetry dedicated to the mating rituals of the young and preposterous in the five boroughs. The problems are well-rehearsed: the dearth of eligible men, the irresistibility of ineligible ones, the fact that brilliant women eventually leave with your heart, your job, or both.

Of course, the real reason that there are all those books is the same reason there's all that angst: there are simply too many writers in this city. Every café is lousy with them, hunched behind their laptops with suspiciously well-groomed hair, waiting for the love of their lives to blow in over a macchiato.

I wanted nothing to do with it. But after a little too much Scotch one night in Brooklyn, I accepted a friend's challenge: for once in my life, I was to forego picking up strangers at squat parties and go on what she called a "real date".

I whined at first. "Dating", to my mind, is something invented by Hollywood. It's not the proper, British way of doing things, which is to get drunk at a party, fall into bed with someone you fancy, and decide in the morning whether you actually have anything in common. That seems like the logical order of business to me. Wild sex with an otherwise tiresome stranger will never be a total loss, but a girl doesn't want to confess her verbatim recall of every episode of Firefly before satisfaction is assured.

Nonetheless, with some trepidation, I resurrected an old internet profile, selected a likely stranger, and sent a nice note.

For all their pioneer bravado, Americans are fond of rules and rituals. Taking someone for a posh face-to-face dinner and worrying about the socio-economic implications of splitting the bill while being grilled about your family, fertility and career prospects sounds to me like the least erotic thing possible, save going to have a colonoscopy together, which at least would get some of the formalities out the way. But in the spirit of trying everything once, I did my hair, went to the appointed café and ordered a macchiato.

This "date" started badly before it had even begun, because there was only coffee. I am a British girl: I need at least two gins inside me before I'll share any other fluids, even with a boy who arrives with a shy smile and a truly excellent jumper.

His first unfortunate decision was to eat an egg mayonnaise sandwich, an activity that I find unsettling even when people don't have the misfortune to get bits of cress in their teeth. I told him that I was going to read my novel and that he was to inform me when he had finished his sandwich so that the "date" could start again from the top.

After that, to my surprise, the boy in the jumper and I spent the next three hours discussing the gender politics of Doctor Who and quoting bits of Firefly at one another. When the café closed, we planned to meet again. This time, though, we'll do it the British way.

The great police dilemma

The possibility of a police strike over pensions has caused a rift between those on the young left who believe that all workers opposing cuts should have our support, and those who can't quite get the faces of Ian Tomlinson, Mark Duggan and Alfie Meadows out of their minds.

I, too, have heard Metropolitan Police officers complain about overtime while they cuffed protesters for the crime of taking a stand against enforced austerity – but the interesting thing was that they didn't stop, not for a second.

Sympathy with the police is often what divides white, middle-class protesters from their less privileged peers. Some young people grow up learning to ask directions from friendly bobbies; for others the uniform has only meant violence and intimidation. But as cops across the world employ a more equal-opportunity approach to the cracking of anti-capitalist skulls, attitudes are changing. Here, in New York, the death of Trayvon Martin has sparked a resurgence in the Occupy movement as people took to the streets to denounce police aggression against anyone young, poor and angry – particularly if they happen to be non-white.

Not all cuts are equal. I, for example, have no desire to expend substantial effort fighting cuts to Britain's nuclear defence budgets, despite the fact that it is a major employer. Of course, police cuts are making room for the booming private security industry. Given the choice, I would rather be beaten in the street by a publicly owned police force than by members of the mercenary firms drafted in to take over Lincolnshire police and the Olympic security detail – but has it really come to that?