Last weekend my partner and I were returning home from Allie’s Donuts when we noticed a strange billboard on 95 North just after Jefferson Boulevard and the Cranston line. Despite some pretty stiff competition, it is probably the strangest billboard in Cranston right now, mostly because it’s so vague. NaomisVacation.com: This FREE Book Will FREE You! There are no context clues, but the color palette suggests maybe the Ethiopian flag or the Rasta colors of Jamaica. A time share scheme, perhaps? Some sort of travel deals website, maybe?
The book is a homophobic Christian adventure story, originally self-published in 2012 by someone named Bo Lee. Available in both English and Korean, the 131-page caper is morally queasy, structurally lacking, and—worst of all—really boring.
I am going to spoil the plot now.
Naomi is the daughter of the best and wealthiest heart surgeon in the United States. She weighs 110 pounds, has an IQ of 150, and eats off of gold dinner plates. She describes her life as simple. Her parents give her $10,000 to visit her boyfriend Tim, a great surgeon who is off doing missionary medical work. Naomi herself is in medical school, with aspirations of becoming a great (if slightly more modest) doctor at a local hospital whose air conditioning system was purchased by her boyfriend’s father, who is also a famous and wealthy surgeon.
Naomi has given $9,800 of her $10,000 travel fund to charity, leaving her with just $200 for a month-long visit to a rainy country that I thought was in southeast Asia but which on page 53 you learn is actually in Africa. The vacation doesn’t go as planned because Tim is a workaholic and so they spend the whole time attending to children with AIDS. Naomi is helpful both as a medical practitioner and as a janitor. (Tim: “I was flabbergasted when you grabbed a mop and cleaned the floor. You did a pretty good job for someone who has had no experience, especially with that enormous fat stubborn mop trying to go in all different directions instead of where you intended to lead it.”)
None of this matters because the book doesn’t start until Naomi is heading back to the airport, anyway. Short on funds, she decides to share a cab with another American, one Victor Romano from Atlanta, Georgia. Victor is seen ominously holding hands with another man, something that offends their devoutly Christian cab driver, whose name is Cosmo.
Cosmo and Victor have a very jovial philosophical discussion about homosexuality. (“Cosmo’s credentials weren’t the real issue. Nobody could argue with him but just listen and listen well!”) Victor is impressed with the cab driver. (“You’re a highly educated intelligent person whose modern vehicle has just passed through mountains where uncivilized groups refuse to be exposed to the new era and so live like in a stone age.”) Then a mudslide comes along and kills Cosmo.
Naomi, who has barely spoken, is then visited by her dead grandmother, who gives her a six-point list for how to deal with homosexuals:
1. PRAY FOR THEM
2. LOVE THEM
3. EDUCATE THEM
4. DO NOT LEGALIZE HOMOSEXUALITY
6. EXPERIENCE THE FINAL DAY
“The end of the earth will not be caused by human war or disease or nuclear weapons,” says the grandmother, “but by homosexuality.” With those words, grandma disappears and Naomi wakes up from her two-day coma.
Left alone with no cab driver, Naomi and Victor wander the jungle where they encounter monkeys, snakes, and a naked indigenous child named Coona. Naomi is extremely modest, but Victor accidentally catches a glimpse of her bathing and this compels him not to be gay anymore, because it turns out that he was only gay in the first place because he was raised by a loveless uncle (also gay) who lived in a big mansion but made all of his money through gambling and deception and not through being a great and famous heart surgeon.
The real question, though: why is there a billboard in Cranston for an eight-year old self-published novel by an author who seems to have no online presence?
The book only has five ratings on Goodreads, all of which are from the past month or so. (Sample review: “This book is very unpleasant to read and is in need of some serious editing.”) One reviewer mentioned finding this on a billboard so I reached out to ask him where. US-290 in Austin, he says. The plot thickens.
There are some genuinely weird expressions in the novel that make me guess that the book was written in Korean first and just badly translated. (“Uncertainty is biting our butt right now”; “With a cowboy hat, she could be voted this year’s Miss Cowgirl.”) A judge is imagined reading a newspaper “on his morning toilet seat.” It reads like one of those leaflets you find stapled to a telephone pole, stretched out to 131 pages.
A quick Google reveals that this mysterious billboard also showed up recently in Albuquerque (I-25), Little Rock, Oklahoma City, Cheyenne, and Charleston, West Virginia. One Reddit commenter mentioned that one of the billboards is owned by a church, although the Cranston billboard has no such affiliation. (Also: Cranston?!)
Either way, Lamar’s pricing structure for these billboards starts at $750/month, and someone is paying to pique interest in a homophobic (and also specifically transphobic) tract that reads like a first draft of a bad Hollywood plot treatment from the McCarthy era. (“[AIDS-stricken child] Tawanda came towards her with her arms full of flowers, so many that it looked like flowers were walking all over her.”)
It’s stupid and, like many stupid things, it’s also disconcerting, mostly because the billboard aims to catch people off guard and seeks to lure women with disposable incomes into the apocalyptic fight against homosexuality.