Dry Futures: An Ideas Competition

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PREMISE

“…WITH NATIONAL GUARD TROOPS DEPLOYED TO PROTECT DWINDLING WATER RESERVES…”

“As death tolls rise in the interior region of the state, the Governor has instituted martial law in several more count– ,” the voice of the news announcer breaks in and out, glitching as the digital glass wall is flooded with pop-ups. “I’m so lonely,” croons a simu-girl, her lithe form gyrating on badly-rendered sheets. “…with National Guard troops deployed to protect dwindling water reserves…” “…I see you’re close by, do you want to play?”

An error message, a flash of black: the gradual emptying of all pixels like sand falling through the slit of an hourglass. The images disappear as the digi-walls shut down. The blood-red light of the waning day floods the room like a spotlight in an interrogation chamber, accusing the constellations of dust and dried skin of conspiring with the heat. Now that car exhaust has been all but eliminated, the sunsets are not as spectacular as they once were.

Dry Futures

A dusty glass rattles on the lucite table and the floorboards shudder. Another earthquake? Beyond the now-transparent walls, you see the prone body of the broken city folding into the hip of the mountains. A shimmer of variegated light hovers somewhere above the intersection of Santa Monica and Highland: just another water-line break. The clattering of the washing machine depleted of liquid confirms the situation. Even the new efficient models require some water.

You should’ve known better than to put the load in now, so close to the end of the month. A waste of water points – .37 to be exact. The red LED numbers on the copper plate mounted near the door and on the tablet resting in your lap don’t do justice to the loss.

You wait for it.

There, in the distance: a wail steadily increasing in pitch and volume until it seemingly materializes in the blue-red lights that pass into the room, that glide across your face, that refract as they pass through the glass walls into millions of little bean-like shapes that trace figures on the furniture. The lights disappear; the siren stretches out before stabilizing. You try to harness the sound to locate the disaster in relation to your own body. Yes, the line must have broken somewhere in Hollywood.

IF THE WATER WAS COMING FROM THE WEST – AND IT ALMOST CERTAINLY WAS – THEN IT WILL BE UNDRINKABLE, CONTAMINATED WITH FECAL MATTER. MANY COULD GET SICK.

You can picture the dusty crowds standing beneath the spray, holding up gallon buckets to capture the excess of infrastructural failure. If the water was coming from the west – and it almost certainly was – then it will be undrinkable, contaminated with fecal matter. Many could get sick. Soon, the police will arrive, batons raised. You think about turning on your vis-helmet and watching the feed from their body cams, where it seems like it’s your own arm sending the hard plastic crashing down on the parched flesh. You feel sick.

It’s almost time to go.

You order a cab on your tablet. Two minutes later, it’s arrived and you get up from the couch and lock the door with your fingerprint. Inside the car, the curved glass dome runs an ad for the newest reality show: a group of young people partying inside a mid-century house set in a lush garden of palms and lawn. Must be in Brentwood. You pay for the images to disappear – a hefty cost of .56 points – but it feels worth it at the moment. The glass goes clear and you can see the empty homes roll by, the dried grass and the cracked sidewalks. At the intersection of Sunset and La Brea, a stray dog is illuminated by the blue glow of an LED street light, lapping up the last droplets from a broken water sack. You can practically see the liquid passing behind protruding ribs, moving through dried-out organs nearly visible beneath its thin skin.

Dry Futures

As the car moves silently down the road, autonomously avoiding potholes and piles of rubble, the occasional patch of green weeds in the fissures of the asphalt signals that you’re near the border wall. It had been almost five years since they first barricaded the underpass with corrugated tin sheets. You hold up your student ID to the scanner and the gate inches open. The car moves along noiselessly, passing under the arcade of arching trees and Kudzu vines. The windows fog over from the rapid increase in humidity.

You get out of the car and walk up the steps from the sidewalk into the campus. Still beholden in some way to a political inheritance from the last century, the Academy doesn’t water its gardens even though it’s in the Zone. Barren patches of dirt are all that remain of the old quad. You walk up the balustrade of Building 3, beneath the Art Deco entrance way and into the air-conditioned interior. You shiver, but with pleasure.

YOU IMAGINE WHAT SCHOOL USED TO BE LIKE, BEFORE THE IMPOSITION OF NECESSITY, WHEN ARCHITECTURAL FORM WAS STILL TETHERED IN SOME WAY TO EXPRESSION.

The teacher speaks solemnly. You imagine what school used to be like, before the imposition of necessity, when architectural form was still tethered in some way to expression.

Now that the hot of December is coming to a close, millions will attempt the dangerous passage across the Nevada deserts on foot, abandoned by society and with paltry resources. The cold nights of the single winter month means many will freeze. Meanwhile, those that have remained in the city – apart from those in Zone 1 – face broken infrastructure and profound resource scarcity. There is no shortage of empty homes, let alone materials like concrete and timber. But without water, the dry powder is useless and the wood becomes kindling. Still, with so many looking for work, and the need so great, your teacher’s imperative rings with urgency. What to do?

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