James Payne




As a child, as I’d wait for Mom to get back from her second-shift admin position,
I’d watch Saturday Night Live, SNL, “Live from New York…” and laugh at jokes like:
Ohio is a farm and Ohio is a cow and James Payne is a Dodge Ram
swooping a cornstalk named Betty to go on a hayride, snort Oxy and husband
seven brats before he turns sixteen, downing Buds in some country called “America,”
an unpopulated, diabetic parasite sucking tax slurpees off New York City’s cracked teet:
“Live from New York, it’s Cultural Imperialism!” direct to our administrative district,
occasionally written by “Ohio grads,” I mean, Oberlin or Kenyon – who went to school
on little slices of New York City superimposed over Ohio’s backwoods soil, on
full “merit,” or full parents, or “I didn’t get Ivy, so I guess it’s this.”

And, as a child, when I first came to New York, bussing with my Kingdom Hall’s
congregation to visit Bethel, the Brooklyn Heights headquarters of the Jehovah’s
Witnesses, where I fooled myself into believing I could ever see the Statue of Liberty,
quote unquote apostates followed my single-parent family out of HQ, down the street,
trailing us for blocks, “New York City blocks,” and into a fast-food restaurant,
haranguing my mother, informing her that she was abusing her children by raising them
in a cult. A cult. I’ve always been in one or another in Columbus, Ohio. You have to be.

Now, as an adult, when I meet artists and writers and musicians and trust funds and
online memes on visits to New York City, they harangue me:

“What’s living in Ohio like?”
“I mean, what’s that even like?”
“What do you even do there?”
“Like, for fun. What’s there to do for fun?”
“What’s keeping you there anyway?”
“Why don’t you just leave? Just move here already.”

Well, everyone in Ohio is either 22 and moving, or 32 and staying, and I’m 27
and I don’t know, I don’t know – I know: I live in Ohio because of
why you live in this part of Brownsville and not that part of Manhattan, or
why you take the train one hour, three transfers, twice a day, or
why you went into debt for this MFA instead of that state-funded one, or
why you’d rather move his backdrops for free, than shoot weddings photos for money,
which is all to say: fuck off; which is all to say: reality.