Domestically Disturbed

article placeholder

Topher Payne: A going-away party, reminding us to embrace the time we’re here

Playwright and writer Topher PayneBryan posted a message on his Facebook wall last week, with a question:  “What would you do if doc says you may only have a few days left?”

The inquiry was not theoretical, or meant to inspire discussions of ideology. It was a scheduling question. That morning, he was informed by medical professionals that he should prepare for the ending of what any of us would call a life. Just because your vitals can still be measured as functioning does not mean you are living. I don’t know what you’d call that. Existing, I guess. But frankly, even that’s debatable.

Bryan and I are the same age: 32. The idea that he should even be considering what his final acts will be is monumentally unfair. But cancer isn’t terribly concerned with fairness. We met because of the disease. I meet a lot of people that way, kind of like how guys who’ve dated the same horrible ex have something to chat about.

article placeholder

Topher Payne: Discovering a gift from my Mama, two decades later

Playwright and writer Topher PayneJesus and I celebrate our birthdays 12 days apart, which bugged the heck out of me as a child. My sister’s birthday hit in September, unfettered by other distractions. Me, not so much.

I got presents wrapped in Christmas paper. There’d be a card attached that read, “Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday,” which would have been fine if it was a car or something, but a Magic 8 Ball simply cannot be called two gifts. And then, around age 10, my mother got the bright idea to combine my birthday party with my friend Alex, because his birthday was at the beginning of the month, and “everyone gets so busy around the holidays.”

It was hard enough being the opening act for Jesus. Now I’d been demoted to playing on a double-bill. I felt like an aging cabaret star, slowly losing all the choice timeslots. I hadn’t even hit puberty, and I was already turning into a late-career Ann Jillian. “Who’s Ann Jillian?” you ask, proving my point.

article placeholder

Topher Payne: The story of our settlement and first Thanksgiving

Playwright and writer Topher PayneFour years ago this week, Preppy and I closed on our house. Two days later, someone broke in, trashed the place, and made off with a good portion of our electronics.

At the time, we blamed hooligans, but seeing as we never had trouble with the criminal element in the years that followed, I have decided that the real culprit was probably our 60 year-old schizophrenic neighbor, Crazypants. She was just trying to scare us off, like an old coot on Scooby Doo trying to make everybody think the amusement park is haunted.

We were still a little shaken from the experience the following week, so I decided we needed an event on which to focus that would give us happy home memories as quickly as possible. I announced we would be hosting an Old Fashioned Thanksgiving.

article placeholder

Topher Payne: Tim Allen’s last grunt

Playwright and writer Topher PayneWhen I was growing up, it was part of a beautiful ritual: Sister and I would get home from school and do homework, Mama would come home and start supper, then Daddy would arrive, put on his gray sweatsuit and sneakers, and we’d all pile up on the big sectional sofa with TV trays to watch our shows. A household favorite was “Home Improvement,” starring Tim Allen.

Tim loved classic cars and home renovation, just like my Daddy. The kids were the same age as Sister and me, so we could relate on that level, and even at age 11 I found Jonathan Taylor Thomas appealing in a way I couldn’t quite define.

Tim was forever trumpeting the virtues of machismo, teaching his sons how to be “manly men,” but none of them ultimately embraced his macho manifesto. Despite this, the viewer never lost the sense that Tim was attempting to forge a connection with each of them. Over the years, the writers were savvy enough to create a series that wasn’t really about a father imposing his values on his offspring. It was about how raising a family can dramatically change one’s perspective.

article placeholder

Topher Payne: For your fridge

Playwright and writer Topher PayneGoing through an old box of keepsakes last week, I found a card from my grandmother I received at boarding school. She’d enclosed an Ann Landers clipping with advice on how to make friends. She’d circled “Be confident, but humble.” I’m still working on it.

Grandmama was an Ask Ann junkie. For the uninitiated, Ann Landers was a helmet-haired syndicated columnist who dished out advice for half a century. She was opinionated, socially progressive, and not shy about taboo subjects.

The avocado-colored refrigerator in Grandmama’s kitchen always had clippings from “Ask Ann,” sometimes with a paragraph circled for quick reference. This was the 1980s equivalent of sharing on your Facebook wall.

article placeholder

Topher Payne: Where the Wild Things Are

Playwright and writer Topher PayneI was a prissy little fat kid in a small Mississippi town, whose only defense against the hostility of my peers was a premature flair with cutting remarks. Consequently, I spent a good portion of my childhood learning to embrace the pleasure of my own company.

This is how I ended up spending entire summers at the county library, curled up in the stacks, reading books not intended for children. The children’s section was of no interest to me. Even at age nine, the precocious adventures of Ramona Quimby felt cloying and contrived, and the Narnia series seemed ripped off from stories I’d already heard in Sunday School.

When I wasn’t clear on what exactly was happening in a book, I would cross-reference in the World Book Encyclopedia, which led to an inconsistent but shockingly detailed knowledge base on subjects like menstruation, spousal abuse, and thanks to “Flowers in the Attic,” arsenic and incest.

article placeholder

Topher Payne: Something for everyone

Playwright and writer Topher PayneThe in-laws came to town for the opening of my play – we’ve all discovered that getting together for theatrical events is way more fun than weddings and funerals — and the next night, we took in a very different kind of production: The Stone Mountain Lasershow Spectacular… in Mountainvision!

Okay, y’all. Seriously. Do you have any idea how many people go to this thing? There were more people there than at the last Scissor Sisters concert I attended. I tried to focus on the laser-rendered narratives of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and “Sweet Home Alabama,” but my attention kept drifting to the people around me. Particularly when laser Martin Luther King appeared on the side of the mountain, and the man behind us booed.

He actually booed Laser MLK. Preppy shot me Look #32: “I am begging you not to use this as an opportunity to cause a scene.” Out of respect for him, the family, and the dignity Laser MLK would likely have supported, I maintained my composure.

article placeholder

Topher Payne: Yes, you should

Playwright and writer Topher PayneEventually the process of electing the next president will begin 20 minutes after swearing in the latest one. A quick Oath of Office, Aretha Franklin sings a little something, and we hit the campaign trail again for the next four years.

America has become the most tragic slut at the bar: Once we give in and spend a night with the trick who’s been wooing us, we immediately begin looking for the next one. I truly thought 2008 was as bad as it would get: John McCain tossing aside all the ideals and beliefs that had once made him the most popular Republican among Democrats, the vitriolic attacks on Hillary Clinton, the implosion of John Edwards, and the herpes infection that was the Palin family. Barack Obama managed to jostle my waning enthusiasm, with a message of hope, change, and reconciliation.

But look at us now. I chose to help elect a president who does not support federal recognition of my marriage, but would let me fight in one of our ongoing wars, if I wanted to. I suppose that is progress, but it’s still pretty twisted if you think about it for too long.

article placeholder

Daisy the dog: The journey to our family proves every dog has her day

Daisy the dogThe house in Mississippi where I spent the first four weeks of my life was run by dogs. There may have been a person’s name on the mortgage, but there was only one of her and over 80 of us, so who do you think was really calling the shots? I found out later that our person was what is known as an “animal hoarder.” I was not aware of this at the time. I just thought it was a party that had gotten a little out of hand.

Pandemonium broke out when the men with cages arrived. At least a dozen dogs all thought they were pack leader, so there were a lot of conflicting instructions.

Meanwhile, my mother trotted happily toward the men—she was friendly in the extreme, and not terribly bright, which explains why she had borne six litters of puppies.
My father lifted me by the neck and pulled me through the chaos to the kitchen pantry.