I first encountered the work of Michael Browning in the pages of Tropic, the Miami Herald’s Sunday magazine. It was a piece about what a handful his 2-year-old was, normally a subject a young, unmarried, fearful-of-parenthood female reader would avoid like gum surgery. Intrigued by the headline — “The Life and Crimes of Matthew No” — I started reading. Within a minute, I was giggling. In a few more, guffawing. It was an early lesson that in the hands of a gifted writer, any topic can be entertaining. Even toddlers. Even gum surgery.
I don’t know if Browning ever wrote about that, but I learned to look for his byline on the KRT wire. For years, he reported from Beijing, then came back to Florida and found good stories everywhere. In 1999, seeing the inevitable in Miami, he moved to the Palm Beach Post, where my friend Carolyn works. She forwarded my fan letter to him, and he let me know that Matthew No turned out just fine:
Good old Matthew. We all give hostages to Fortune and Fate when we have children. They could end up drunkards, drug addicts, smushed by oncoming trucks, Knockers-Uppers of 14-year-olds. But to my amazement, he grew up to be a very decent sweet young fellow with a good work ethic and a gift for drawing and a love of art. I’m proud and relieved.
So am I. The picture he painted of the kid at 2 was truly terrifying. In a funny-terrifying way.
You know where this is going, however, don’t you? Michael Browning died this week, too young. The obit has links to several of his best pieces. A former colleague at the WashPost has rounded up a few more. I recommend every one.