Hello and welcome back to our trek through Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff, former actor Sean Penn’s first novel. Our first foray into this Don Quixote of bad literature can be found here in case you want to catch up. For the rest of you, welcome back to Planet Penn.
Station Four: The Scottsdale Program
In a flurry of exposition, we learn that the United States government is hiring mercenary organizations, including the graduates of the Papua Academy for Urban and Guerrilla Warfare, with the goal of murdering elderly Americans. Scottsdale, Arizona is rife with them, and proponents of the Program believe “the extermination of high-flatulence populations would lower levels of ozone-depleting methane” (28). The Program eventually morphs into a business interest, “an air-grab wherein air-polluting companies could expand production with a zero-sum exacerbation of environmental impact” (28). Bob Honey is mixed up in this somehow, but we are steered in a wholly different direction before we’re allowed to learn more. Bob is visited at his home by investigative journalist Spurley Cultier. Spurley has read the sheriff’s blotter (the previously discussed Prelude to the novel) and has decided to figure out what Bob’s deal is. Spurley answers more questions than he asks and, after saying he’ll return in a week, leaves. From what I could tell, the meeting was entirely pointless, as Spurley learned nothing about Bob he didn’t already know. Perhaps to counter this opinion, we’re told “Spurley Cultier may have materialized as a facilitator to Bob’s rebirth of being. Voluntary value-added to algorithms of the new norm” (32). With this Wiseauian exchange done, Bob’s thoughts turn to his former lover, Anne. What is it about that name that has such a hold on navel-gazing authors?
“She may have been young. she may have been too young [italics Penn’s]. But Bob never bothered himself with those distinctions. Anne had alopecia and wore an astonishing wig” (33). We further learn of Anne: “Effervescence lived in her every cellular expression, and she had spizzerinctum to spare […] What a magical vagina, Bob thought, after exploring it for hours. Hairless but magical” (34). It’s important to clarify that A.) Bob and Anne have sex within hours of meeting and B.) Penn skips through all their initial conversation, making it seem like Bob just gets his bones jumped sometimes without warning. The chapter ends with a diatribe against millennials, “a generation bent to uninvent the wheel of love, and so willfully inattentive to control computations or surveillance.” (35) Bob and Anne drift apart, and to deal with the loss Bob takes hit contracts on elderly Scottsdale residents given to him by his New Guinea mercenary friends. Well well, fellow readers, it seems the first chapter’s killings have some grounding after all.
Station Five: Big Cock
With a name like that, there’s no way this station could disappoint. In the previous station, Anne had texted Bob a pic of “a twelve-inch and girthy black dildo, which appeared to have been discarded on a city sidewalk beside a casino poker chip and some publicly planted greenery. It [the picture] came with a simple note, ‘Greetings from Las Vegas! I’m with the girls!'” (35). The entire focus of this chapter is Bob’s quest to find that dildo, give it a viking funeral, and cook hot dogs over the pyre. “From the fifteen stations of love, he’ll start with that large black dildo ditched street-side those many months earlier […] He claws out a hole in the ground, and sticks the dildo’s base into it. With an X-Acto knife,he slices a small sliver peehole into its tippy-top, then inserts the bottom of a white birthday candle into the peehole, lights it, and slightly adjusts its direction toward the North Star” (41). As hoped, Penn has certainly upped the ante set by station three.
Three observations: 1) the fact that a large black dildo was sitting on a Las Vegas sidewalk for several months is criminally glossed over. 2) I don’t know what the “fifteen stations of love” are, but considering this novel has the same number of chapters, I felt a Google search was in order. All I got back were articles about the stations of the cross (of which there can be fifteen, if the Resurrection is included). I am now fervently hoping that a parallel is drawn between Jesus Christ and murderous, likely statutory rapist Bob Honey. 3) It is unclear when exactly the affair with Anne and subsequent dildo immolation take place; Bob meets the Guinea mercs in 2003 and is killing the elderly as part of the Scottsdale Project as late as 2016.
After returning from the desert, Bob remembers a bout with insomnia his younger self had after returning from “overseas”—presumably Baghdad—in 2003. Younger Bob tries watching the news. “…media sources created a chaos of overload. A marketed, manipulated assault on retention. History books did the same. All heirs to Herodotus, father of Greek historians nicknamed the Father of Lies, ” (42). After musing on the nature of global news and commentary, Bob decides “Orientalism is most probably a topic best observed by Orientals” (43). Young Bob closes the chapter by putting himself to bed: “He wouldn’t need worry the [sic] incoming tremors transmitted by his ex-wife’s ice cream truck and its tedious trickling of cold cunt soup” (43-44). That last sentence, for a multitude of reasons, is my favorite so far in the novel.
Station Six: A Portrait of Entropy
This station, as the title may suggest, is a bit slower and more reigned in than the absurd ecstasy of Big Cock. We do, however, get a couple of important bits of information. Spurley Cultier returns at the top of the chapter, and as previously his conversation with Bob feels disjointed and odd: “‘The trip [to Baghdad] related to septic tanks,’ Bob says. ‘Honey Inc.’ ‘Honey, Inc.?’ asks Spurley. ‘Yes,’ says Bob. ‘With a ‘C’. Inc.- Incorporated,'” (48). Bob goes on to elaborate on his hearing, and what it allows him to do. “‘I take walks, and on my walks I often pass her [neighbor Helen Mayo] home. She has a yapping dog, you know. A Chihuahua. Over the years I’ve been able to surmise a series of stairwell connections to corridors, connecting rooms front and others back. The measurements of floors to ceiling. The echos of Chihuahua yaps bouncing off porcelain. All of these collected echo-placements and levels of sound draw pictures in my head,'” (49). To Spurley’s credit and my surprise, the journalist is dubious of this claim, and believes Bob is lying. He jots notes, which of course Bob can “read”: “His auditory augmentation of reality systems renders words in the rear of his retina with visual vibrations” (50). Spurley’s notes indicate that he neither trusts nor particularly likes Bob. It took us a third of the book, dear readers, but we may finally have found a relatable character in this wordy morass.
Bob promptly kicks Spurley of his house (politely) and takes a contract on an elderly care park in Thousand Oaks. I feel it’s important to note that Thousand Oaks is in California, not Arizona. Has the Scottsdale Project expanded to other states? Has Bob gone rogue, taking contracts willy-nilly from cryptic messages on his phone that may or may not be real? Are none of America’s elderly safe??? Furthermore, the contract Bob receives does not specify a specific person, just the location of the retirement home he is to hit. Bob himself decides on the target, an aged, tutu toting aerobics instructor. “It is common for Bob in the observation phase to muse on the company’s selection process. In this case certainly aerobics may itself be a brand, and the tutu individualism of its instructor [Penn’s italics] might as well associate her with said brand” (52). To clarify, Bob was only given the name of the retirement home in Thousand Oaks, and the aerobics class happened to be going on when he arrived. If the instructor was the intended target of Bob’s malicious mallet, why not specify that? Is Bob supposed to just guess his target? Is he supposed to murder everyone in the home (he does not)? Curiouser and curiouser, dear readers. Personally I can’t decide if I’d rather this mean that Bob is imagining circumstances that permit him to beat people to death, or that Penn’s sloppy writing easily lends itself to plot holes.
Join me next week for the third of our five part exploration of one man’s ego. I admit I’m genuinely excited to see how all of this fits together, if at all, and whether or not the author has anything up his sleeve that can top “dildo viking funeral”.