Topher Payne’s ‘crazy’ neighbor reaches out

Playwright and writer Topher PayneWe haven’t actually spoken to our schizophrenic next-door neighbor in about six months, save for one afternoon when I was in the back yard, on the phone with my sister. I made the mistake of looking in the direction of Crazypants’ house, which prompted her to scream, “Don’t you look over here!”

I was theoretically happy to oblige, but it’s incredibly difficult to not look in a particular direction when one is standing in one’s own back yard. Go on, try it. It is a challenge.

For the past two years, Crazypants has been convinced that we are sneaking into her home and disabling her security system, garbage disposal, and other home electronics. It’s a blind faith usually reserved for religious fanatics — the difference being when something bad happens, she doesn’t think it’s part of God’s master plan, she thinks it’s a couple of gays with too much time on their hands.

After multiple interactions with the police, we built a privacy fence in the back yard. We did this in accordance with the old expression, “Good fences make good neighbors, and cuckoo bonkers old ladies make really awful neighbors.”

It’s a curious experience, having someone think you’re a criminal mastermind, capable of sneaking into houses and dismantling a toaster while escaping detection. Nothing about my household really screams badass. My husband is cute as a box of baby ducks, and I just don’t think of myself as a threatening person.

God gave me a rather oversized body, but any looming danger that might impose is diffused by my lumbering gait and the fact that I basically talk like Lauren Bacall. There are plenty of people who find me alarming, perhaps irritating, but no one clutches their purse when I get on a train.

Last Saturday, I woke up at the crack of noon to the sound of power tools next door. I peered out my bedroom window to find a dozen Habitat for Humanity volunteers at Crazypants’ house. They were extending the fence we built all the way from the back yard to the street.

I became instantly incensed, because you just KNOW that woman told Habitat for Freakin’ Humanity that we’re dangerous evil geniuses. So now all these volunteers think I like to scare old ladies. I’ll bet Rosalynn Carter found out too. I hope she took it with a grain of salt. Rosalynn Carter seems like she’d give the benefit of the doubt, which is another reason she’s a national treasure.

The volunteers left without finishing on the first day. When I went out to check the mail I saw Crazypants at the property line, inspecting their work. I decided the time had come to have a follow-up conversation. I crossed the yard.

“I would like to speak with you, if you don’t mind,” I said, mustering my Mississippi gentility.

“I do mind! Get away from me!”

“Wait, listen to me,” I said. “I promise, we have never done anything to your house. We never would.”

“I didn’t say it was both of you. It’s all you, Turner.”

She thinks my name is Turner, by the way, which may be part of the problem. It’s possible she believes I’m currently controlling several channels on her television, and she can’t watch Tyler Perry shows because they’re on Turner Broadcasting. I’ve never corrected her, because her not knowing my actual name makes it more unlikely she’ll find out about this column.

“Come on! If someone was messing with your property,” I said, grasping, “and I knew who it was, I would tell them to stop.”

She arched an eyebrow.

“Oh really? You would?”

She was sincerely asking. There was actual hope in her eyes. I saw my chance, and whether it was right or wrong, I took it.

“Yes ma’am. If it meant that you’d be a good neighbor to us, I would be more than happy to tell them to stop. If I knew.”

I was outside with the dog today, letting her play in the leaves. I looked deliberately in the direction of my neighbor’s house. I waved. She waved back, forced a smile, and didn’t say a word. I walked back inside, delighted that we’ve finally reached an understanding.


Topher Payne is an Atlanta-based playwright, and the author of the book “Necessary Luxuries: Notes on a Semi-Fabulous Life.” Find out more at