Topher Payne: You’ve got male

Then go to AOL Communities, select the category Gay and Lesbian, scroll through the chat rooms until you find Atlanta M4M. But if there’s 36 people in that room, you have to go to Atlanta M4M 2 or 3, while still monitoring the other more populated rooms so you can jump in there the moment someone leaves, because everybody wants to be in the flagship location of this bizarre bifurcated boy bonanza.

Once you’re in chat, all you have to do is give age/sex/location, have a conversation with 36 people while you quickly review all of their text profiles, invite the ones you like to a private chat, add them to your buddy list, and then you can send each other pictures and possibly arrange to have some sort of sex at a location to be determined later.

Makes you really appreciate the iPhone app for Grindr, don’t it?

I was a Mississippi boy living alone in (or at least near) a big city. A seemingly endless buffet of Atlanta gays had been divided into groups of 36 for my perusal. There were so many interesting people to see naked!

Atlanta M4M introduced me to this one super-tall guy who looked just like Ben Affleck if he’d made bad life choices. He worked at the Waffle House at 85 and Pleasant Hill. This was back when The Waffle was still cash only, and he had discovered his manager wasn’t tracking the tea and coffee, because you can make like 50 gallons for a nickel.

So if someone ordered coffee or tea, a buck each, he wouldn’t write it on the ticket, and he’d pocket the cash. On an overnight shift, high turnover, that’s an extra hundred bucks, easy. He always had this giant wad of singles — it was like dating a stripper, if there was a club in town with really lenient standards.

After Waffle House Ben Affleck had stayed over four or five times, I suggested the possibility of, you know, going to a movie or something, and suddenly he’s all, “Whoa, man, slow down. I’m not lookin’ for a boyfriend, okay?” And the rejection of such a simple request threw everything into sharp relief.

I was the guy who’d picked my apartment based entirely upon pictures I saw on a website, which led to me living off Pleasant Hill Road between a Chick-fil-A and a K-Mart. This served as conclusive evidence that I had no semblance of standards when shopping online.

But I was drunk with the heady possibilities offered by the internet, this magical place where strangers offered approval via a series of momentary, pre-packaged encounters. So it took me a while to notice the long-term effects, like a yearlong lease on an apartment I hated, or the fact that not only had I elected to have multiple sexual encounters with a sweet tea-scamming Waffle House employee, I had wanted to take the relationship to the next level.

And he’d turned me down.

Once you learn from a mistake, it becomes a lesson.

A life of feverish, hurried, desperate encounters — grabbing wildly at anything offered —makes sense if you’ve been given two days to live, but otherwise, there is a great deal to be gained from slowing the hell down and letting some of the crap float by untouched. 

When you’re willing to settle for less, it turns out that’s exactly what life gives you.


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