Domestically Disturbed

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Topher Payne: My battle for a good night’s sleep

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

It’s four in the morning. I wake up agitated. It’s too quiet. I realize the air-conditioning isn’t running.

The bedspread is on the floor, and the sheets are soaked with sweat. The room even smells hot. 
Confounded by this, I check the thermostat. It’s 86 degrees, which would be perfect if I was at a barbecue, but not really ideal for a night’s sleep. There’s air coming out of the vents. Warm air, mocking me. I throw on boxers and look at my husband snoring contentedly. I have no idea how he sleeps through stuff like this.

I’ve always been the person who wakes up at the slightest provocation, bolting up to seek the source of sound. My father used to go to work at five every morning, and I’d jump out of bed when I heard him in the kitchen. I couldn’t keep myself in the bed, knowing there was something going on in the house which required investigation. I’d find Dad at the kitchen table, eating Raisin Bran in his postal uniform.

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Topher Payne: Walk it out

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

My cousin Gail was given to acts of generosity which would instantaneously backfire — if she gave you the shirt off her back, she would immediately be arrested for indecent exposure.

She allowed a recovering addict to stay at her place for a while, and he set her trailer on fire. She rescued a litter of Boston Terriers someone had left in a box on the highway, and they all turned out to have rabies.

Her day job was as a rural route school bus driver for the county, and they let her take the bus home at the end of the day. I have no idea if this is standard practice for school bus drivers, or if maybe she’d worked something out, but she used it as her primary vehicle. She took that bus to the Kroger.

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Topher Payne: Beach babies

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

My husband, Preppy, has a core group of girlfriends of more than a decade — the sort of close-knit posse one rarely encounters outside of sitcoms. Although life has scattered them in various directions, there is a weeklong reunion on Alabama’s Orange Beach each summer. Attendance is mandatory.

Over the years, significant others were added to the mix, some of whom were lucky enough to meet with the group’s approval and become spouses. Less fortunate souls who failed to pass the test were sent away, never to be seen or heard from again. Make no mistake: Preppy’s girlfriends are a warm and loving group, but they’ve got standards, and they do not compromise.

I used to stress about these trips — justifiably, at first, until I got my stamp of approval — because these people are very good at vacationing, and I am not. I have marveled at their ability to cast aside life’s responsibilities, savoring every breath of freedom, drinking and dancing and singing and drinking ‘til sunrise. I do not do these things. I’m not a killjoy, but I’m not what one would call carefree.

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Topher Payne: I’m so sorry (sorry you caught me, that is)

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

I had a boyfriend who caught me cheating once. He didn’t catch me in the act: They missed each other by less than 10 minutes, like something out of a British bedroom farce. Only in those stories, the damning evidence is an errant silk stocking or an overlooked handkerchief.

In my less classy story, boyfriend walked into bedroom, then walked back out, looked me in the eye and said, “Tell me why it smells like sex in there.”

Any hope I had of an elaborate cover-up was ruined by the look on my face.

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Topher Payne: Seems like old times

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

It’s after midnight in Washington, D.C., and I’m at Trio Restaurant with my best friend from high school, Kerstin. I haven’t seen her in a decade. We’re friends on Facebook, but keeping up with old friends via social media is like keeping up with the exploits of Amanda Bynes. You get the headlines, occasional in-depth reports, but you just can’t make sense of the whole story.

We look, sound, and interact exactly as we did at age 15. When you’re a teenager, you assume you’re going to grow up and become a completely different person. At some point your life will reach that point in the movie where there’s a clever transition and the child actor is replaced by the adult actor.

But then 20 years go by, and you realize the grownup version of you is still being played by you. This is horrifyingly bad casting — like Lohan-as-Liz-Taylor bad. You do not have the mind of an adult, and have no business being in charge of things.

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Topher Payne: Tag. You’re it.

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

I came out to the customer care lady at the cable company. I’d called because I decided I wanted to watch “The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio,” and my cable box, confused that anyone would wish to see this film, froze up completely.

So I called the help number on my screen, and the representative addressed me by my husband’s name.

I said, “No, this is Topher, his husband. I’m authorized on the account.”

She replied, “Oh, yes, I see. You’re the other Mr. Payne. What can I do for you?”

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It gets better, right here at home

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

My husband Preppy is the big boss in Georgia for a well-known clothing line — I’ll protect his anonymity by not mentioning which one. Let’s just say Sarah Jessica Parker really likes their khakis.

Because Preppy represents the brand wherever he travels, it’s of great importance that he stay current, wearing whatever is on display in stores. If something is inadvertently ripped or stained, he must replace it with a duplicate.

This is beyond my comprehension. My job does not require well-maintained clothes. I’m a writer. My job literally does not require clothes. If I took the notion, I could do my job entirely nude. I don’t, of course, because I do not enjoy being naked for extended periods of time unless I’m engaged in an activity which explicitly requires it — like showering, or some but not all sexual acts.

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Topher Payne: Playing possum

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

For the last three and a half years, my husband Preppy and I have shared our home with Daisy, a Jack Russell beagle. The breed is called Jackabees by some, but not by us. Not everything needs to be a damn portmanteau, people. Sometimes we can just expend the effort and utter multiple words. Preppy has a very healthy relationship with Daisy, in that he treats her like a dog.

Me? I’m not quite so adamant about labels like “human” and “dog.” I don’t have a pet as much as a cohort — someone to sit on the couch and watch “Mad Men” with while we eat a whole bunch of carrots. When we are alone, I turn on my favorite music from high school and we dance. When I see Daisy eating a sock, I take her picture and put it on Instagram.

When Preppy gets up to go to work, she moves from the end of the bed to his pillow. I wake up to her staring at me. I have no idea how long she lies there waiting. Preppy finds that unsettling. I think it is conclusive evidence that I am Daisy’s favorite person in the whole world. She is totally my best friend.

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Topher Payne: You’ve got male

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

When I was 19, I managed to land a job in Atlanta, and I moved here without even visiting first. I just found an apartment online that I could afford, got approved, packed up my stuff and came for the keys. Had I visited the city beforehand, I would have realized why apartments were so cheap by Gwinnett Place Mall.

But even in Duluth, I was still totally connected to the hot and happening Atlanta gay scene, thanks to the 1990s uniter of the masses, America Online.

For the Millennials reading this, allow me to explain the process of trolling for strangers online during the Clinton administration. Disable your call waiting, dial into America Online, if it’s peak hours you might have to try a couple different numbers, then sign in as one of your six optional usernames, which America Online specifically offers for purposes of anonymous cyber sex.

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Topher Payne: Friend of the court

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

SCALIA: When did it become unconstitutional to prohibit gays from marrying? Was it always unconstitutional?

OLSON: When we as a culture determined that sexual orientation is a characteristic of individuals that they cannot control, and that that -

SCALIA: I see. When did that happen? When did that happen?

OLSON: There’s no specific date in time. This is an evolutionary cycle.

SCALIA: Well, how am I supposed to know how to decide a case, then, if you can’t give me a date when the Constitution changes.

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Topher Payne: Clearing the air

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

Part of my trip planning whenever I go out of town for more than a few days includes a stop at the discount tobacco store for a carton of American Spirit Perique Rich Robust — they’re the ones that come in the black pack, which inarguably makes them classier.

When I get ‘em by the carton it works out to around $5.50 a pack. I smoke roughly a pack a day. Yes, I’m fully aware I’m spending two grand a year on cigarettes, I can do math. So let’s just bring those eyebrows back to a neutral place, thanks.

Those same cigarettes are $9 to $12 in other cities, so I plan ahead. Last time I was in Manhattan, whenever someone asked me for a cigarette, I’d offer them two for a dollar. And they went for it! They paid!