In our last issue we discussed the choice of "city mouse vs. country mouse". In this article, we'll take a closer look at using the faceless obscurity of the masses to "hide in plain view" in major urban areas. Consider yourself warned at the outset: this strategy is not for those who dislike some of the gritty truths of city living. To hide in plain view in these environs is to adopt at least some of those gritty truths as your cloak--something not everyone might want to do, or can pull off successfully. Because this is a big topic with several important considerations, I'll address hiding in plain view in the next few UUSA articles. Before getting into the housing issue specifically, I'd like to address the lifestyle in general.
Let's dispel a few notions about what this is most likely going to entail. First, with a few exceptions, plan on forgetting the house, or the nice apartment complexes with pools, clubhouses, and the like. Nix the late-model car with the custom paint job, too. A social life? You may need to readjust your concept of what that is.
Hiding in plain sight means blending in to your surroundings so well that even if the thought police were to come looking for you, they'd have a difficult time finding you. Achieving that level of invisibility comes from not just staying out of the thought police's databases, but also--and perhaps more importantly--from being unremarkable to your neighbors. This can be the most challenging aspect of the life for freedom-loving individuals--we seem to stand out whether we want to or not--but you can minimize that with some attention to various habits.
The lifestyle of lying low isn't necessarily hiding out in a dark, roach-infested basement apartment, only venturing out at night and only frequenting the kinds of places where no one asks any questions. If that kind of higher-stress vigilance is what you think it'll take for you to stay suitably hidden, then go for it. But most of us, even those who don't submit to the annual rape on April 15, don't need that kind of change to drop out successfully. Remember, it's about blending in where you are, not becoming a detective-novel stereotype.
If you're going to hide, you need to make your living quarters as secure, and private, as possible. That means no credit check! That certainly eliminates mortgages and renting an apartment from any of the bigger, yuppie-filled complexes. Look in the local newspaper for apartments to rent, focusing on the ads that seem to be for smaller buildings or single units. It might be that those owners are less nosy than the companies... but it might not. If they do require an application, credit check, and all that, perhaps you can get a friend to do all the dirty work for you, so that your name stays out of the legal stuff. This will only work if the owner isn't too hands-on; if he's the sort who comes checking he will almost certainly notice that the person who signed the lease doesn't look like the person living there.
If you can, see about securing a living arrangement through a trusted friend. Often times these can be had at much lower cost, and without paperwork. The catch is that if the thought police come looking for you, they may check out your friend--not a nice way to say thanks for the hospitality. Perhaps the friend-of-a-friend system can work for you, provided no information about your "eccentricities" gets exchanged--that would defeat the purpose of distancing yourself from friends. In many metropolitan areas, subletting is fairly common; perhaps that will offer a way to get into the nicer places without the credit check.
Other options are available. Check the ads for folks looking to share an apartment--generally you won't need to submit paperwork for such situations. The downside of such an arrangement is that it cuts into your privacy quite a bit--no setting up your collection of books from Loompanics in the living room! In areas where housing costs are high, many homeowners advertise to rent out a spare bedroom, small apartment over the garage, or similar space. In these scenarios your privacy will generally be respected, but you may not be as free as you'd like to make messes in the kitchen at 3 a.m. Then again, you might--I've known it to go both ways. If you can appear harmless and typical enough, often an agreement can be reached with a handshake. If you fit the age range, offering a cover story of being a student at the local university is usually very good cover for these kinds of living arrangements--but you will have to remember to make your living space and hours appear consistent with that story. If you don't fit the age range, you can still work this angle successfully by saying you "studied at the school of Hard Knocks" earlier in life and are trying to improve your situation now.
If your preferred city has a university, here's a great idea: see about house-sitting for professors going away on sabbatical and the like. Such arrangements can be made without checking references or requiring contracts. If you do this often enough and establish a good reputation, you can build an ersatz underground railroad for yourself among various cities and their universities. Another benefit is that such living situations are likely to be much nicer than other low-cost options available. The Caretaker's Gazette lists these and other house-sitting opportunities; check also the classified ads in your target cities, and if you know anyone on campus, have them check around for you. Many times opportunities come up quickly and aren't advertised, so it can really pay to have a discreet network working for you.
Wherever you live, to do it low-profile means that you should try to blend in to your surroundings. Many times that can mean nothing more than minding your own business and not causing trouble. Perhaps the greatest advantage about city living is that people can get all pushed up against one another yet ignore their neighbors. If you don't do anything to bring attention to yourself, chances are good that you won't be noticed. No loud parties, no stereo blasting Leslie Fish, no going out in a tuxedo if you're living in the dirt-poor section of town. If you're in a blue-collar neighborhood, then dress and speak accordingly; similarly if you're house-sitting for college faculty.
Make sure your habits don't distinguish you from others around you. If you have lots of packages shipped to you, it would be well worth it to set up a PO Box (again, under different name/papers if possible) to receive those, rather than having the neighbors sign for your Laissez Faire and rocketry material packages, and set them to wondering about your habits. If the neighborhood is one where people don't own PCs, take steps to conceal yours. At the very least, it could be a tempting target for thieves, and at the most, it might bring prolonged, unwanted attention of worse kinds your way. If your food tastes run to the exotic/expensive, it may be worth it to disguise that, too, if they would be remarkable in your neighborhood--dump the trash from such items somewhere away from your living space. Speaking of trash, don't count on trash bags to hide your activities. Light-colored ones can reveal their contents quite readily, all can get ripped with minimal effort and reveal what's inside, and if you're in certain areas, dumpster-diving may be a popular avocation. (And need I mention that once your trash is on the curb or in a dumpster to be picked up, it's fair game for the thought police to go through? Just one good reason to get into the habit of burning all sensitive documents.)
The best strategy for blending in is to try to avoid contact with your neighbors as much as possible. Don't make eye contact with people if you can avoid it. If necessary, adjust your body language to send "Don't bother me" signals--without also sending "Loner wacko nut-case" signals. If you can't avoid interaction with a neighbor, respond politely but also a bit formally; that will usually discourage other attempts to get chummy.
If you're going the shared living space route, then you will need to interact with others to some degree, but planning and being ever-mindful of what you're saying and to whom can remove much of the security risk. To keep the possibility of security breaches to a minimum, be civil when engaged in conversation, but not overly warm or open. If you're invited to a block party or the like, putting in a short appearance can help further the image you're projecting, but be careful not to say or do anything to contradict it. For Life's sake, don't be so stupid as to ingest something mind-altering and risk blowing everything with one mind-dulled sentence! It's possible to give the appearance of drinking without actually imbibing--a skill worth cultivating, in my opinion. Save those recreational activities for the privacy of your or a trusted friend's home.
If you do interact with those around you, it's possible to do so in such a way that you actually reveal very little, yet folks will think they've gotten to know you. As DLT mentioned in his City Mouse, Country Mouse article, the fewer things you fabricate, the better... and keep the truths you do share consistent with the environment and as general as possible. People will do an astonishing job of filling in the details for you on their own.
As I already mentioned, the anonymity of city life is to your advantage, and can work well for you when you're out and about town, too--more on that in an upcoming issue. It also has its negatives, some of which can be big enough to turn some people off of city life. For example, if you successfully build the shields I've described, you really oughtn't expect your neighbors to be, well, neighborly... no jump-start of the car when the battery's uncooperative, no watching your place while you're away, no network of readily available support in an emergency.
In some of the scenarios you might find yourself in, other issues may arise. For example, your low-rent apartment may make you the unwilling ear-witness to child or spousal abuse. That could be enough to make even the staunchest anarchist consider calling the local LEOs. Doing so could blow your situation all to pieces, however. So... do you intervene yourself? That would similarly bring all kinds of unwanted attention, to put it mildly, to you. Yet to hear someone subject another to that kind of force--even just occasionally--and do nothing wears on the soul.
Similarly, big city life typically puts one in contact with the fringes of society--the homeless, the poor, the "illegal aliens" who are all struggling to get by in various ways. For many who see such raw suffering, the desire to help can be very powerful. Yet again, helping can focus unwelcome attention to yourself, and thus destroy all your hard-won anonymity. These are tough situations to be in, but if you're considering being a city mouse, you must realistically consider the possibility of being in such predicaments, and devise ways of handling them.
Next time: Hiding in plain view--transportation
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