Bunny Hoover, “Dwayne’s homosexual son,” is busy getting ready for work. He plays piano at the lounge of the Holiday Inn, and his shift is starting soon. Bunny lives alone in a “flophouse”—the old Fairchild Hotel located in the “most dangerous part of Midland City.” Bunny is “pale” and “unhealthy,” and he spends most of his time avoiding people.
Bunny’s reclusive and antisocial behavior raises the question of if he struggles with mental health issues as well. If that’s the case, this further reflects the frequency with which mental illness is present in American society.
Bunny can handle his job at the Holiday Inn because “he isn’t really there.” He can leave his body as he sits at the piano “by means of Transcendental Meditation.” Bunny prepares for his shift by practicing his mediation. He slows his heart and breathing and clears his mind, then he brushes his hair with a brush his mother, Celia, gave him when he made the rank of Cadet Colonel in military school long ago.
Bunny’s use of “Transcendental Meditation,” is the only way he can effectively cope with his negative emotions and what is implied to be depression. In the absence of any other form of meaningful assistance, Bunny must take care of himself.
Bunny had been sent to military school when he was just ten years old, after he told Dwayne “that he wished he was a woman instead of a man.” Military schools are institutions “devoted to homicide and absolutely humorless obedience,” and this is where Bunny spent the latter part of his childhood. “Listen:” Bunny spent eight years “of uninterrupted sports, buggery and Fascism” at the school, and each time Bunny came home, he was adorned with new medals and accolades. “Buggery,” Vonnegut clarifies, consists “of sticking one’s penis in somebody else’s asshole or mouth.”
Dwayne sends Bunny to military school in what appears to be an attempt to “cure” him of his homosexuality. Ironically, the very thing that Dwayne wants to avoid (Bunny having sex with men) is tolerated and even encouraged at the school. The school simply calls it “buggery” and considers it something different entirely. This difference in words with the same basic meaning again reflects the arbitrary nature of language.
Each time Bunny came home with more medals, Celia would be so proud, and then she should would tell Bunny that Dwayne was “a monster.” Of course, Dwayne was not a monster, “it was all in her head,” but Bunny didn’t know this. Bunny never knew until she “knocked herself off with Drāno” that his mother was “crazy as a bedbug.” Vonnegut again interrupts the story. “My mother was, too,” Vonnegut writes.
Both Celia and Vonnegut’s mother couldn’t “stand to have [their] picture taken.” Whenever anyone aimed a camera at them, they would fall to their knees and conceal their faces with their hands. “It was a scary and pitiful thing to see,” Vonnegut writes.
Vonnegut’s story about his own mother’s struggle with mental illness makes his message even more powerful. The image of Vonnegut’s mother cowering in fear over a camera commands increased attention and reminds readers that this is a problem that affects real people, not merely characters in a book.
Luckily, Celia had taught Bunny how to play the piano because his military training was “useless.” The military ultimately kicked him out because of his sexuality and “didn’t want to put up with such love affairs.” Now, Bunny lives at the old Fairchild Hotel on “Skid Row” in Midland City. Every neighborhood in America has a Skid Row—“a place where people who don’t have any friends or relatives or property or usefulness or ambition are supposed to go.”
Bunny’s relegation to Skid Row with the rest of Midland City’s poor is another reflection of America’s unequal distribution of wealth. Furthermore, Bunny’s dismissal from the military because they don’t “want to put up with” his homosexuality again underscores the arbitrary nature of language. In the military, homosexual acts are tolerated and even encouraged in the form of “buggery,” which they consider completely different and therefore acceptable.
People who live on Skid Row are “treated with disgust,” and it is the police department’s main objective to keep people from Skid Row out of nicer parts of town. People living on Skid Row can do whatever they please—if they do it on Skid Row. They are to “stay there and not bother anybody anywhere else—until they are murdered for thrills, or until they are frozen to death by the wintertime.”
Again, the treatment of those on Skid Row emphasizes the despicable treatment of the poor in America. Like the mentally ill, the poor are marginalized and ignored with little care to whether they live or die.