Three Aggregations
Dennis James Sweeney

The Cheeto Sect

There is a sect identifying itself as Buddhist that believes in taking more direct action to relieve suffering while at the same time constructing a rich, if perplexing, social commentary. Every member of the sect is dead. This is because membership entails studying for a period of up to seventeen years the teachings of the master who founded the sect, teachings which, due to their own principals, are themselves considered imperfect and pre-doctrinal. When the potential member is judged by his peers to have traveled the journey of the master's teachings and nearly arrived at the knowledge that the master himself did not have a chance to put down in ink, he puts his things in order and readies himself to join the sect. His final act, it must be emphasized, is not one of consummation or of adherence to what he has learned. Instead it is the last step of knowledge, the one taken first by the theretofore imperfect master himself. In it, his disciples have judged, is enlightenment. The step is the placement of a bag of Cheetos in one hand and the positioning of the near-member in a public place like the side of a highway, a shopping mall parking lot, or next to boxes stacked in front of a computer store. The very-soon-to-be monk eats half of the bag of Cheetos, always held at arm's length, and when the halfway point, which he has trained to identify with precision, is reached, he stops eating and remains, statue-like, until he starves to death. The unwritten rules of the act stipulate that in the case of rain, the almost-monk may stick out his tongue and glean whatever drops possible, it being allowed that such an act is merely another exercise in the imperfection that precedes total membership and synonymous death. But he mostly simply stands and waits, in a contemporary sort of meditation, until starvation comes to him and he is left rigid, battered by the elements, a new member of the envied sect.
Motorists and shoppers sometimes notice these statue-men and make up explanations for their children so as to avoid elucidating what they do not understand. Passers-by often feel strangely unsettled by the picture the dying near-monks provide. Not so much by the eye-deep agony of slow starvation or the dogged persistence of a man in killing himself. More by the half-empty bag of Cheetos he holds out just within reach, his savior literally at hand, yet rejected, or forgotten, in what the passers-by see as an alarming and perverse exhibitionism of the will.

Real-World Camp

There is a camp parents send their kids to known as Real-World Camp. It convenes downtown, underneath a short tree surrounded by grated steel benches. The kids often show up with bags full of clothing and toiletries and are told by the counselors to throw them in the farthest corner of the bench. The kids do so. Their parents leave and the counselors inform them that they will spend the entire week underneath the tree, with occasional excursions to find a toilet, to see what they can come by in the way of food, and, in rare cases, to stretch their legs. The counselors then sit and settle in, the kids still scattered about chattering excitedly, confused and elated all at once at the circumstances of their togetherness.
By the end of the week the campers are largely wordless, staring outward with a manifest absence from the dull scene they compose. Boredom, the initial complaint among them, has ceased to be an element, switched off while the minutes floated achingly along. The campers speak, when they do, with leisure, as if they had all the time in the universe, neither asking for a response nor expecting one. They have settled into their bodies. They eat rarely, because they use so little energy. The world takes place outside and past them. They inhabit their skin firmly, but with no sense of moment.
When their parents come to pick them up the campers are unaffected, but hoist their bags onto their shoulders and go through the motions asked of them. Their school friends are impressed by their toughness and blasé. The campers are not impressed with anything. They continue to attend class, continue to study, but do it all with a lack of hurry that makes them seem almost dead. Their teachers want to complain, but they can find no concrete charge with which to pin the kids down. Upon more self-searching the teachers find that what really bothers them is their resignedness, the presentation of themselves as blank slates upon which to be spit, written, splattered with food. The campers do not put up a fight, and the teachers are unsettled by this. They are robots, it seems, humans who have freely given up their souls to some passer-by who asked for it.

The Uber-Organic Farm

There is a farm in Tatanka County, Vermont that has pioneered what it calls uber-organic farming. Having found the "organic" restrictions specified by the USDA inadequate, the farm's owners have created their own set of rules and adhere to them with the utmost strictness. The rules attempt to eliminate not only first-hand contact of the food with unnatural substances, but also second-hand and, to the extent that it is possible, third-hand. Such that the workers on the farm are highly regulated in their habits: they may not use non-biodegradable soaps and shampoos; they may not wear clothing made from synthetic material; they may not themselves eat food produced inorganically. They must change shoes before their day of work so as to leave all contamination from the less fastidious world at the door and, due to the peculiarities of the owners, they may not curse around the vegetables. When the food is ripe, the workers must pick it gingerly, belying any past involvement with violent television shows or anger beyond what is reasonable for a person who lives naturally to have. The food must be sorted into organic baskets and transported in vehicles whose impact on the natural environment is a net positive. The farm specifies, perhaps Draconically, that only customers who live a certifiably organic lifestyle can buy their produce. None of which is to mention the first-of-its-kind biodome built over the farm to assure that the air that makes its way to the plants is one-hundred percent natural. Needless to say, the farm went bankrupt in a month. Its margins were negative numbers and the farm's start-up costs, what with the unprecedented biodome, were already nearly impossible to recover from. Neither would supermarkets stock their vegetables, citing the logistical nightmare of screening customers for their lifestyle and noting that the demographic of organic buyers itself was small enough. The farm now sits in ruins in northern Tatanka. Visitors can find it easily: just look for the rusting half-sphere rising unflappably from the edge of the Vermont woods.