“With technology tracking us everywhere we go, “cosplay” may be our best defense against surveillance” Annalee Newitz
Dear Violet, 06/03/2055
I hope you are well and happy. I wish I’d emigrated to New Zealand when you did. Americans can’t get asylum anywhere! So I’m in the same little house at the edge of Detroit where you and I grew up. It is much safer in this part of the country. Florida is practically gone and is almost an island. People left Florida in droves, mostly old folks like you and me, and migrated to nearby states, which are unhappy because care costs go up and taxes go down. So there are border issues in the USA now like we’re foreign countries. And don’t get me started on Hurricanes and oil rig explosions. I heard rumors that people were setting them on fire on purpose, either for insurance money or just because they hated the oil companies.
I moved in with Mum to take care of her when she got sick. At least there’s no rent to pay. I miss her so much, but she was so ill, and eighty-nine is a long life, especially these days.
I decided to write to you like they did in the olden days. It’s June, so I’m sending it in a Christmas Card and hope this gets to you by then. Ha. I might need to sell plasma to buy postage. (just kidding, sweetie, you’re worth it.)
You wouldn’t believe all the Eyecams up everywhere. I remember when they were mostly at busy intersections or banks and such. Crime became terrible when criminals realized that when the power goes, so do lights, security systems, alarms, etc. There are more power failures. Everybody and their brother have Eyecams everywhere, inside and out. They are battery-operated or solar. Most are broken, but thieves never know how to tell the busted cams from the working ones, so they’re more careful.
Mom taught me to keep a can of Hornet Spray next to my recliner, bed, and bathroom. I just can’t deal with guns; the aerosol shoots up to thirty feet! I made a mannequin with sticks and a soccer ball and practice aiming at the eyes. I’m getting really good at it, but I’d do better if I had more cans, and I bet I could enter the Olympic Hornet Spray Team if they had one, ha!
The cameras are bad enough. Now we have Neighborhood Enforcement Officers! They bicycle around every block once a week now! Last week, I looked out my window, and one of the NEOs put a PINK ticket on Gladys’s front door. She’s had several white ones, those are warnings, but a pink is bad news. NEO takes action within ten days! A pink is because she never replaced her lawn with a garden. Two days later, fourteen volunteers fixed it for her! Eight of them brought plants and seeds. I can't wait to see how it all turns out. Gardens must be seventy percent food, too. You’d be surprised at how many flowers are edible! Nasturtiums are a favorite because they keep the bugs away by sheltering spiders and are pretty! Tolerating the taste takes some getting used to, though.
So many enforced rules. Like I said, the white ones are warnings. I’ve gotten a few of those, and if you go a colored one, they add huge fines to your property tax bill. We get a blue for using more than our allotted amount of water. We use our grey water for everything; washing clothes, cleaning, flushing toilets, and watering the plants. I keep a rain barrel full, but I can only have one, and it can’t be over fifty gallons. Green tickets are for adding too much sewage into the system. I know it’s gross, but people only flush once a week and use grey water for that too. Purple tickets are given if you use too much electricity, so people use candles, old oil lamps, and such. This means there have been more house fires lately. Purple tickets are for leaving your lights on more than an hour after sundown. It's miserable in the winter when the days are short. Keeping warm is tricky, too, since they outlawed gas furnaces. Most of us couldn’t afford to replace them with electricity, so we use space heaters. I stay in my bedroom most of the winter with my heater and read or knit or crochet if it’s not too cold for my old hands. I keep one running in the basement, so the pipes don’t freeze.
Remember those huge houses people built back in the 1980s and 1990s!? We used to call them McMansions. Most of them are now what they call ‘communal living spaces.’ As rents grew higher and jobs and pay dwindled, family members chipped in and buy them. It was odd to see a ten thousand square foot home with only a few people in it. Most of the homeowners worked long hours to pay for everything. These days there are three and four generations, sometimes twenty people living in them! I know there are at least five or six bathrooms in them because I was a cleaner. Coms (as we call them now) are given extra water, sewage, and such than if they lived alone or in twos or threes. Care centers and retirement homes lobbied against this because they were losing business! Tax breaks and extra rations are what the families want so now they keep their grannies with them.
I just had to go out and chase chickens out of my veg sprouts! Urban farming is also well-established, so there are chickens, geese, rabbits, and all sorts of critters running amok around here! Nearly everyone has chickens, and there aren’t many predators except for packs of wild dogs, feral cats, and, of course, people. There are no wolves, wildcats, or coyotes like in the rural areas. At least not yet. The local militia guys patrol the perimeter of the city and keep them out. I never thought I’d live to see the day when wolf packs ran wild through the suburbs! I’ve heard that it’s like the wild west out there now.
I have three chickens because I can’t afford to feed more. They do get by well-eating bugs in the garden once it’s established. And I know this sounds strange, but I keep mine inside during the coldest days. I can’t bring myself to kill one and eat it, so I trade them for apples or hand-knit socks with carnivores when they get too old to lay. Those folks eat really well because so many of us won’t kill anything! I cherish my chicken eggs now that they’re two in a carton for twenty dollars! Roosters are rare because they’re so noisy and mean!
All the new appliances have built-in surveillance, audio, and video. They’re in dishwashers, washers/dryers, and fridges! We fix and patch our old ones as long as we can, like Cuba used to. A grey ticket for disabling surveillance, and they come in at a thousand-dollar fine, no warning, and they take the tv/holo set away.
I found lots of stuff in the basement and attic. Three oil lamps, an old washtub with a hand crank wringer, boxes of canning jars, cotton and wool fabric, and yarn! It’s all bamboo now, and it’s okay but expensive, so people have gone back to hand-me-downs. Patchwork clothes and quilts are popular again. Mom’s treadle sewing machine works great as long as my knees hold out, ha, ha. She kept everything after the riots. Everyone carries a gun of some sort, but I’ll stick with my hornet spray.
My goodness, I’d better write smaller because my paper pad is filling up fast. Happily, Mom saved every pencil she ever owned, even when the only thing left was the eraser! I get pretty good trades for them at our swap meets!
I wonder if I can trade chickens or fabric squares for postage because I've enjoyed writing this. I feel like I'm talking with you so it really helps with the lonelies. I feel like someone is with me, ya’ know?