Topher Payne’s ‘Domestically Disturbed’

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.

The flight attendant announces it’s time to discontinue the use of all portable electronic devices. Window Seat ignores this, continuing with his urgent communiques. I do my best to ignore it, in part because it’s not affecting me personally, but mostly because I want him to be shamed by the flight attendant.

The plane taxis down the runway, and comes to a stop in preparation for takeoff. A flight attendant makes her way down the aisle, and Window Seat stashes his Blackberry between his polyester-encased thighs.

As soon as she passes, he’s got the damn thing out again. The passengers across the aisle notice this as well. There are now five people actively watching him continue texting, rooting for him to get caught. I can’t take it anymore.

“Hey, pal, I think she said it’s time to turn those off.”

Notice how I said “I think,” acknowledging the possibility that any one of us could somehow miss the instruction to discontinue the use of all portable electronic devices until we have reached our cruising altitude, even though this is common knowledge to anyone with a brain stem.

Window Seat stares at me like I’ve got a bird on my head. I give The Mormon raised eyebrows and a little shrug, the universal signal for, “Well, I tried.”

Another flight attendant passes by, and Window Seat once again stashes the phone in his crotch. This is beyond the pale. There are rules. I have absolutely no idea whether my iPad could actually interfere with Delta’s navigation system, but I operate under the belief that this is not my call to make.

The Mormon decides to get involved. He gently suggests that Window Seat shut off the Blackberry. Window Seat narrows his eyes in defiance.

“Why don’t you mind your own business, faggot?”

Oh, hell no. First of all, calling this nice clean-cut young man a faggot when there’s a giant man with a red pompadour on the aisle holding a copy of a Montgomery Clift biography speaks to Window Seat’s inability to read his surroundings. Secondly, I still haven’t forgiven him for the Ann Coulter book.

So I sit for a moment, plotting. Then I whip out my iPad and press play on a particularly thrilling moment in “The Bourne Legacy.” No headphones, full volume. I’m sharing the movie for all around me to enjoy. A flight attendant is on me in two seconds.

“Sir! I need you to turn that off RIGHT NOW,” she says.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I say. “I thought this row had different rules. Because that guy’s texting.”

She smirks at me as I calmly put my iPad away, then turns her attention to Window Seat.

“No. Everyone has to shut off all devices. Right now. Sir, I need to see you turn off your phone.”

Window Seat produces the Blackberry from his lap and powers it off. The flight attendant gives my shoulder a light squeeze as she walks away. A few moments later, I hear laughter erupt from the service area in the back of the plane.

Window Seat, meanwhile, gives me the stink eye for the next two hours. Not that I really notice. I’m engrossed in the movie I’m watching on my approved electronic device, as soon as I’m given permission to use it, and enjoying the extra cookies I got at snack time. Because The Mormon gave me his.


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