Topher Payne: When good enough isn’t good enough

These businesses exist purely as bait, drawing in the riffraff so they won’t venture over to the location a couple miles away. The bait locations are the secret shame of these companies.

They all smell like a freezer that needs a new box of baking soda, and the employees approach their duties with a grim detachment otherwise seen only in maximum security prisons and table reads of Nicolas Cage movies.

This is not the scenario we’d hoped for when we bought the place five years ago. In our minds, we were the arrival of the mythic gays. We signaled a bright future of gentrification and block parties.

We were so cocky in those heady days, certain our tribe would follow. They’d make it happen through the same hive mind that tells us which female pop star to propel to iconic status, or that we’re all going to wear bow ties this year.

“Hey boys,” the Hive Mind would tell our tribe. “The hot new ‘burb is on the bad side of Memorial Drive.”

Our tribe did not follow. Thus far, the closest my neighborhood has come to a block party was when all the news vans showed up because of that negligent homicide at the 24-hour daycare. We all got to be on TV!

There will be no selling this place. We live between a paranoid schizophrenic and a man who raises pit bulls. Our house, valued in the six figures when we purchased it, is now worth around $35. When a prostitute began operating out of the foreclosed property three doors down, I was relieved someone was keeping an eye on the place.

We don’t hate the house itself, so much as the situation surrounding it. Home ownership turned out to be comparable to marrying Dean Cain in a Lifetime movie. It looks everything you ever dreamed until you make that commitment, and then he just starts beating the shit out of you.

We have a long list of things we’d love to do to the place. I have 3D animations of our painted house, with a patio and landscaped yard — the landscaping equivalent of slash fiction. But it’s hard to maintain enthusiasm for a long-term project when your gladiola plantings are interrupted by a car backfiring. Not gunshots. It’s always a car backfiring, and I will entertain no arguments to the contrary.

Even if sometimes it’s a car backfiring several times, followed by screaming, followed by sirens. That’s just a car backfiring, which startled a nice old lady so badly she screamed and fainted, propelling her overly cautious personal assistant to call an ambulance. Manufacturing explanations such as these fill a good bit of my downtime, leaving little opportunity for landscaping.

We keep the place clean. Our yard is tidy. But in all other respects, our attitudes have begun to mirror the employees of Bad Wal-Mart.

But there’s still a small part of me that holds out hope for our Lifetime movie marriage. Our happy ending won’t be a great escape, dashing away in the middle of the night in a bad wig and a pair of sunglasses. Ours would be one of those quieter resolutions, where the monster is subdued and gets some real good therapy.

Deciding to push beyond what is expected requires a leap of faith. While I’m not foolish enough to make resolutions for the coming year, I feel safe declaring an intention: This is the year we recommit to making home what we always wanted it to be.

Maybe it’ll send a message in our neglected neighborhood that good enough isn’t good enough. Maybe this will change things. Maybe this is how we represent our tribe.


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