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Topher Payne: Is McDonald’s supersizing the importance of gender roles?

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

I go to McDonald’s. I can’t say I’m proud of it, but I’m a sucker for cheap and convenient, which was a real problem back when I was dating. I’m fully aware of the hidden costs of scarfing down a McChicken and a McDiet McCoke while sitting in McTraffic, and that price will be paid by the size of my ass. But we all do what we have to do.

I had birthday parties at McDonald’s as a (fat) child. I survived in New York on $10 a day eating nothing but food served under those magical golden arches, and other than the mild chest pains, I was really grateful for them. Their MSG runs deep in my veins.

So I’m at the drive-thru, offering up my handful of quarters for my meal (because you can do that there), and the woman at the window is taking another order, apparently for a Happy Meal. First, she asks, “Apples or fries?” which I think is pretty neat, if fundamentally flawed. Who eats apples with a cheeseburger? That’s not a logical culinary combo.

It’s the sort of haphazard three in the morning meal that would be thrown together by a drunk dude based upon what happens to be in his kitchen: “Let’s see, I’ll have a cheeseburger, some apple sticks, this can of water chestnuts and half a jar of olives.” While the logic of the meal escapes me, I can appreciate what they’re going for. Obviously, things have changed since I was a kid.

Or perhaps they haven’t, because the drive-through employee’s next question is one I’ve heard for thirty years: “Girl toy or boy toy?” The rational assumption here is that one of the Happy Meal toys has a penis, and one has a vagina – because that would be the difference between boys and girls.

Now, I’m not a parent, but if I were I would take real issue with serving my child a meal that includes a My Little Pony with a cervix. And then my kid would have all these questions, and I’d say, “Hush, child, stop your incessant questions regarding your toy’s genitals. Daddy’s watching his stories. Now finish your apple slices and freshen my martini.”

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Topher Payne: Seems like old times

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

It’s after midnight in Washington, D.C., and I’m at Trio Restaurant with my best friend from high school, Kerstin. I haven’t seen her in a decade. We’re friends on Facebook, but keeping up with old friends via social media is like keeping up with the exploits of Amanda Bynes. You get the headlines, occasional in-depth reports, but you just can’t make sense of the whole story.

We look, sound, and interact exactly as we did at age 15. When you’re a teenager, you assume you’re going to grow up and become a completely different person. At some point your life will reach that point in the movie where there’s a clever transition and the child actor is replaced by the adult actor.

But then 20 years go by, and you realize the grownup version of you is still being played by you. This is horrifyingly bad casting — like Lohan-as-Liz-Taylor bad. You do not have the mind of an adult, and have no business being in charge of things.

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Topher Payne: Tag. You’re it.

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

I came out to the customer care lady at the cable company. I’d called because I decided I wanted to watch “The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio,” and my cable box, confused that anyone would wish to see this film, froze up completely.

So I called the help number on my screen, and the representative addressed me by my husband’s name.

I said, “No, this is Topher, his husband. I’m authorized on the account.”

She replied, “Oh, yes, I see. You’re the other Mr. Payne. What can I do for you?”

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Topher Payne: You’ve got male

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

When I was 19, I managed to land a job in Atlanta, and I moved here without even visiting first. I just found an apartment online that I could afford, got approved, packed up my stuff and came for the keys. Had I visited the city beforehand, I would have realized why apartments were so cheap by Gwinnett Place Mall.

But even in Duluth, I was still totally connected to the hot and happening Atlanta gay scene, thanks to the 1990s uniter of the masses, America Online.

For the Millennials reading this, allow me to explain the process of trolling for strangers online during the Clinton administration. Disable your call waiting, dial into America Online, if it’s peak hours you might have to try a couple different numbers, then sign in as one of your six optional usernames, which America Online specifically offers for purposes of anonymous cyber sex.

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Topher Payne: Friend of the court

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

SCALIA: When did it become unconstitutional to prohibit gays from marrying? Was it always unconstitutional?

OLSON: When we as a culture determined that sexual orientation is a characteristic of individuals that they cannot control, and that that -

SCALIA: I see. When did that happen? When did that happen?

OLSON: There’s no specific date in time. This is an evolutionary cycle.

SCALIA: Well, how am I supposed to know how to decide a case, then, if you can’t give me a date when the Constitution changes.

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Friend of the court

Topher Payne goes to the Supreme Court in this week's Domestically Disturbed

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Topher Payne: Clearing the air

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

Part of my trip planning whenever I go out of town for more than a few days includes a stop at the discount tobacco store for a carton of American Spirit Perique Rich Robust — they’re the ones that come in the black pack, which inarguably makes them classier.

When I get ‘em by the carton it works out to around $5.50 a pack. I smoke roughly a pack a day. Yes, I’m fully aware I’m spending two grand a year on cigarettes, I can do math. So let’s just bring those eyebrows back to a neutral place, thanks.

Those same cigarettes are $9 to $12 in other cities, so I plan ahead. Last time I was in Manhattan, whenever someone asked me for a cigarette, I’d offer them two for a dollar. And they went for it! They paid!

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Topher Payne: If you see something, say something

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

I’m on a Delta flight from New York to Atlanta, awaiting takeoff. I have the aisle seat. In the middle, a baby-faced guy who I’m pretty sure is a Mormon, or at least he dresses like one.

At the window, a fiftyish businessman type, brandishing a copy of an Ann Coulter book called “Mugged.” Ugh. I just cannot stand Ann Coulter. That woman is not a conservative, she’s a provocateur. Ann Coulter is like one of those performance artists who work with body fluids — there’s no meaning behind the action, they just want everyone to notice their poop on a wall.

So already, I’m not a fan of Window Seat, as I watch him tapping out very important texts on his Blackberry.