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|Topher Payne: Shopping in the Girls section. Please don’t call security.|
|Written by Topher Payne|
|Friday, 31 August 2012 00:00|
I’m working as a teaching artist at a high school this fall, costuming a production of “The Women.” I’m spending my evenings and weekends putting together 1930s ensembles for 25 adolescent girls. Roughly half of them are a size zero. It’s alarming. Their skirts look like they were made for Cabbage Patch dolls. I said so. None of them knew what a Cabbage Patch doll was.
If you’re a large adult male who loves having to defend your actions to complete strangers, I suggest spending your free time browsing the Girls section at various discount clothing stores. You will be provided with the opportunity to explain yourself repeatedly, while holding tiny little blouses in your fumbling hands. Your explanation about a high school play may be greeted with an arched eyebrow if you, like me, do not look like the sort of person who would ever be allowed any responsibility of any kind, especially around minors.
In my case, it isn’t because I look dangerous. It’s because I look mildly befuddled at all times, and tend to get shaky when challenged. I’m the sort of person you’d think twice before handing something fragile, like a vase, or a soufflé, or a child’s education.
I got the gig from my friend Shelly, who used to bring me in to work on shows at the public school where she was teaching. Then she got a job at a fancy private school, and was kind enough to bring me along, like how Andy Richter made the move when Conan went from NBC to TBS.
But because this is a fancy private school, the hiring practices are much more involved. I can’t just be the random guy in paint-splattered pants wandering the halls. This school insisted I assume the role of an actual staff member. Filling out the paperwork made me realize I’m only marginally fit to live in society.
Regarding the criminal background check: “Okay, you should know I changed my name when my husband and I got married, and the IRS and Social Security office found that really confusing, so sometimes it looks like I’ve only been alive for the last three years.”
Regarding the credit check: “Here’s the thing. I’m a writer. And I’ve had cancer. So, um, I don’t pass credit checks. For anything. I once got rejected for a membership at a video store because of my credit.”
Regarding my education: “I really, really meant to finish high school. But, you know how things just keep getting moved down the priority list? I do have an honorary diploma from an arts school in California.”
Regarding the Staff Online Reputation Policy: “You should probably know that I professionally impersonate Dixie Carter, so if the kids Google me that’s gonna come up.”
I remember being 12 years old and realizing I had already engaged in enough odd behavior to take me out of the running for president of the United States. Even if I turned it around and handled myself perfectly from that point forward, I’d already delivered a book report on “Not Without My Daughter” while wearing a burka, and I’d never make it through the primaries with that story following me.
When I was 14, I gave up any thought of becoming a Methodist minister when I discovered how much I liked kissing other boys — although, fun side note, the boy I liked kissing became a gay Episcopal priest — and I abandoned my dream of being a teacher at 16 when I just couldn’t stand another day of high school. That, incidentally, was why I wanted to be a teacher. I hoped to be the sort of teacher who compelled kids like me not to quit school.
But amazingly, despite my being a total HR nightmare, the fancy private school added me to their staff. And now I’m working with young people. It’s not teaching in the traditional sense, but that’s fitting because I don’t do traditional very well. I take a tremendous amount of pride in having lunch in the faculty dining room. And I smile real big when I explain to the saleslady, “No, really. I’m a teacher. Do you have this in a size zero?”
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 www.topherpayne.com
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