Topher Payne: Welcome to the Club

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

This morning I was looking for our dental insurance card in Preppy’s wallet, and re-discovered something I’d forgotten, something that filled me with great joy: he has a Sam’s Club card. In addition tomy husbands’ love and health insurance, my marriage entitles me to access to the land of bulk discount transcendence.

I don’t know why we haven’t taken advantage of this more often. I love bulk shopping. I could be buying boxes of two thousand Otter Pops. I don’t currently eat Otter Pops, but I think if I had a whole bunch, I would.

Before I moved to Atlanta, I spent a summer in Florida working as an intern. Internships, for the uninitiated, are a clever little ruse used by companies as a legal form of slavery. In
exchange for a room and one hundred nineteen dollars a week, I was expected to be on call 24/7, as the company demanded.

They say it’s a learning experience, and there is truth in that: I learned a myriad of
preparations for Ramen Noodles, and that Country Time Lemonade is a great mixer for cheap vodka.

On the upside, I wasn’t alone in my indentured servitude. Another intern arrived a month after me, and I was assigned the task of driving to Orlando to fetch him. He was from some tiny British hamlet with cobblestone streets and Ye Olde Taverns on every corner. His name was something unbearably English, like Beverly or Scone or something. And I was the first American he’d ever met.

I’d never represented my countrymen in such a manner. I wanted to make a good first impression, so I did what my mother would do. I baked cookies. He sat silently in the car, taking in the sights and munching on the cookies as I drove up the Interstate. I resisted the urge to pepper him with questions, assuming he needed a moment to adjust to our great land and its divergent customs.

“There’s too much butter in these cookies,” he said at last. And here, we had our first example of a cultural difference. In his tiny Dickensian hamlet, this was likely considered an act of charity:
Informing the person who prepared your food how they might improve it to your liking in the future.

But in the American South, critiquing a gift is completely unacceptable, even if it brings out painful memories or an allergic reaction of some kind. I tried to figure out how to put that tactfully, to save him future embarrassment.

“How do I open this window? Your car positively reeks of cigarettes.”

Or, perhaps this guy was just a jerk.

Playing the radio led to a diatribe on the inferiority of American pop music, with the apparent exception of Tina Turner, whom he adored.

“But she hates America, you know,” Beverly Scone informed me. “She says it in all her European concerts, so Americans don’t know about it. You Americans think you know everything that’s going on in the world, but you don’t.”

I was really starting to despise Beverly Scone, which was clearly just fine with him, as he had arrived fully prepared to despise America. We spent the next three hours in the car, arguing over the warped picture of our country he’d apparently derived from watching
“Baywatch”, “ER”, and “The X Files.”

He asked how many guns I owned, if any of my friends’ parents were still married, if I used drugs, and if I was a homosexual. The gay question (which I figured was answered when I baked cookies for the bastard), was the result of his uncle and aunt visiting New York once and stumbling upon Gay Pride. I concede that must have been a startling experience.

Back in Gainesville, I had to make a stop at Sam’s Club to pick up supplies for our employer. And as Beverly stood in the grocery section of Sam’s, staring at the boxes of five hundred frozen cream puffs and thirty pounds of Colby-Jack cheese cubes, he was overcome. It was like
Jodie Foster in “Contact,” you know? “No words, so beautiful…”

I saw an expression of awe spread across Beverly Scone’s face, as he realized that should he ever want to fill the trunk of his car with mashed potatoes, or make sausage patties for his entire village, this ountry has a place where you can make that happen. It made me feel
patriotic. America: We never, ever fail at excess