Tuesday, October 27, 2009

RIP Professor Ray B. Browne

You probably never heard of Ray Browne. Chances are though that you've heard or read him quoted before.

I learned yesterday that Ray Browne died last week. I read it in the Anniston Star - a paper from the not-too-far-away town of Anniston, AL. I was saddened to read of his death but even more saddened by the shitty AP article the Anniston Star published instead of a proper obituary. The article didn't even mention that Ray was from Alabama or that his first work in the field of popular culture was done here. Not just "here" in Alabama, but "here" in rural east Alabama - where hardly anything of note ever happens. I'm guessing no one at the Anniston Star even knew who he was. Probably just had some empty space left on the obituary page and pulled something off the wire.

Here's another - much better - obituary that was published in the Toledo Blade. And, unlike the Anniston Star, the Toledo Blade doesn't require a subscription to read it. But I'll put the text here anyway for those of you too lazy to click. Go ahead. Read it. Then I'll tell you what this has to do with Spenardo del Sur.

RAY B. BROWNE, 1922-2009
BGSU professor began popular culture center

BOWLING GREEN - Ray B. Browne, 87, who created an academic discipline and a national movement by studying the stuff of everyday life - whether comic books, fast food, pop tunes, or situation comedies - died Thursday in his home of congestive heart failure.

"He's the father of popular culture studies," said Gary Hoppenstand, a professor of American studies at Michigan State University, and a popular culture graduate student at Bowling Green State University and protege of Mr. Browne's.
"He's done more to affect studies in the humanities than any other individual the last 30 or 40 years."

Mr. Browne began the Center for the Study of Popular Culture in 1968 at BGSU. The Popular Culture Library followed.

In 1973, despite detractors, he began a distinct department of popular culture. His history of the popular culture movement's early struggle is called Against Academia.

"Ray opened the windows of the academy, just opened them up," said Michael Marsden, one of the department's first faculty members, now dean and academic vice president of St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wis. "We have the people's culture being studied, and we're learning how complex and wonderful and significant it is."

The BGSU department was the first of its kind.

"Today there is a course in popular culture studies in every major and minor university in the country," said Mr. Hoppenstand, also editor of the Journal of Popular Culture Studies, founded by Mr. Browne in 1967.

Mr. Browne's expertise landed him in the popular culture. Reporters from all media, worldwide, sought him out to decode the latest pop phenom or the enduring - detective novels, soap operas.

"My dad was very much a populist," his daughter, Alicia Browne, said. "While he loved Dickens and Melville and Shakespeare, he thought it was far too hoity-toity to think that only those few people created anything of value."

"He might not personally have liked it, but if someone is reading it, if someone is singing it, or saying it, he believed there was value to it, or at least we should understand it," she said. "[He was] endlessly curious about anything."
He arrived in 1967 at the BGSU English department intending to bring the study of popular culture to the academy.

He retired in 1992 and was a distinguished university professor emeritus. He worked until recently and had agreed to write the foreword to an anthology being edited by BGSU popular culture faculty, said Jeremy Wallach, an associate professor in popular culture. The book will be dedicated to him. "He has a very robust legacy," Mr. Wallach said.

Mr. Browne was born Jan. 15, 1922, in Millport, Ala. The Depression ruined his father, a banker, and the family was poor. With the help of an older sister, he went to the University of Alabama and received a bachelor's degree. He served in Europe during World War II in an Army artillery unit.

Afterward, he studied at universities in Birmingham and Nottingham, England. He received a master's degree in Victorian literature from Columbia University in New York City. He taught at the University of Nebraska before he attended the University of California at Los Angeles, from which he received a doctorate in English and folklore.

He taught at the University of Maryland and Purdue University.

Surviving are his wife, Maxine "Pat" Browne, whom he married Aug. 25, 1965, sons, Glenn and Kevin, daughter, Alicia Browne, and three granddaughters.
Visitation will be from 6 p.m. to 8 pm. Tuesday in the Holman Funeral Home, Ozark, Ala. Graveside services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Woodlawn Memory Gardens in Ozark. Bowling Green arrangements are by the Dunn Funeral Home.

The family suggests tributes to the Browne Popular Culture Library at BGSU.

Back in the early 1950s, Ray Browne traipsed across Alabama, collecting and recording rural folklore from rural folks. One person he interviewed during his travels was my grandmother.

About five years ago, when I first started going through the things left in my grandmother's house, I found the following letter from Ray Browne sent in the summer of 1953:

Dear Mrs. Mitchum,

Thank you very much for your answer to my article in the paper about folklore.

I don't know at this time exactly when I shall be up to see you but surely intend to come in the next few weeks. I would appreciate your thinking about this old material at your leisure during the next few weeks, and I will surely see you before too long.

Very truly yours,

Ray Browne

He did come to visit her. Over a dozen stories she told him that day were eventually published in his book "A Night with the Hants and Other Alabama Folk Experiences." (By the way, Amazon still has one copy in stock if anyone is wondering what to get me for Christmas...)

I can just imagine the two of them in the kitchen, Ray with his tape recorder and grandma with her endless stories. That kitchen is now the East Wing of Frankencoop - home to twenty of my chickens. So you see, this was relevant after all.
(Though sometimes I think I can make any subject come back around to my chickens.)

In other news, I am oh-so-pleased to announce that I have a new computer! Well, new to me anyway. My friend, Dean, and his wife in San Francisco donated their Mac Powerbook G4 to me when they bought a new laptop. It feels great to have one foot back in the 21st century again. I'm looking forward to finally being able to post photos again. That clunky old Windows 98 dinosaur is going back into storage, hopefully never to be used again (except maybe for target practice).

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Lie Bot, what is the saddest thing?

Today, Gramma Guthrie decided she wanted to visit her husband in the old folks home. I first found out about it when I heard her tell her daughter on the phone "Jackie said she'd take me to visit Grampa Guthrie." Her daughter didn't seem to protest so I figured Well, I guess that means we're going to town.

It's been really hard on her, living apart from her husband of almost 60 years. He can't be cared for at home and the family can't afford to put them both together in the old folks home. Since she can't drive herself anymore, she's dependent on family members to take her when it fits their schedule.

So I put Gramma Guthrie's walker in the back seat of her oldladymobile and we drove forty minutes to the assisted living center where her husband has been living for about six months.

I hadn't seen Grampa Guthrie for almost a year and hardly recognized him when we walked into his room. This once large and imposing man seemed so weak and frail.

Gramma Guthrie sat by his side and they held hands. They touched their foreheads together and both started crying. "I told you I'd be back," she told him. "Even if I had to crawl here."

He thanked me for bringing her. I said "You heard her. She would've crawled here if I didn't bring her. I don't need to tell you how stubborn she is."

He told her that she probably wouldn't have to come too many more times because he wasn't likely to last much longer. She assured him she wouldn't be around much longer either. Could it get any sadder?

I gave them a little alone time and wandered the halls, talking to a few of the inmates - just soaking up the Cuckoo's Nest vibe. I got high-fived by a drooling tard sitting in a rocking chair in the middle of a busy hallway, talked to a man in a hospital bed who (I think) wanted me to look at his foot (if that's not what he wanted, I feel really dumb), ran into a nurse I'd worked with in community service (she was in for bounced checks - think about that next time your bank slaps you with a $20 NSF fee), sat in on a brief gossip session and contemplated the posted schedule of events that included lots of Bible study and Christian music. A number of residents could be seen through the open doors of their rooms, laying silently in their beds and staring at the ceiling.

I half expected to see a big, mute Indian propping up one of the walls. I wanted to pull a McMurphy and take 'em all on a wild and crazy field trip.

I'm inclined to believe Gramma Guthrie when she tells me that I shouldn't get old. It looks like it sucks ass.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What in the FUCK?!

This afternoon I was writing a blog post in my head. It was going to be about the 88-year-old lady I've been spending a couple days a week with. For the sake of story-telling, I'll call her Gramma Guthrie.

Gramma Guthrie's brother-in-law unexpectedly died this morning so I spent the day helping her contact relatives and then drove her to her sister's house where mourning family had gathered around the new widow.

The house was full people I'd never met before, except for the widow whom I'd met only briefly last week when she and another sister dropped by Gramma Guthrie's house. I suspect the visit was in part to check out the woman who'd been hired to take care of their older sister.

Being such a small town, I also know one of Gramma Guthrie's brothers - though I didn't see him this afternoon. He was the local farmer that, in 2006, lent me his incubator and gave me a bucket of eggs with which to start my very own flock of chickens. Four of those original chickens (Betty, Biddie, Buddy and Cheepacabra) as well as two generations of descendants are still here.

(In another funny small town twist: It was another sister that called 911 when I wrecked my truck in front of her house last December.)

I was going to write a post about how I tried my best to blend in with the couch while the dead man's children and grandchildren grieved around me. The great-grandchildren, oblivious to the circumstances, ran freely through the house creating happy distractions for those who weren't expecting to face mortality head-on today. I'm not really a "kid person" but I really do think children are necessary at times like this.

I averted my gaze from crying women and men discussing financial matters. I listened intently as the widow recounted the evening before when she and her husband each ate an apple in the very room we were sitting in and she fell asleep in her chair and he covered her with a blanket and when she woke up she saw him in his chair and knew something was terribly wrong because his dentures had fallen out.

I was also going to write about how it turned out that the hospital nurse that was there all night and was so kind to the family turned out to be the very same woman who's marrying Gramma Guthrie's grandson this month.

I was going to write about this and a whole lot more but that all changed when I got home a couple minutes after 4pm. The first thing I noticed as I pulled into the driveway was that a couple of the resident crows were hanging out in the driveway with some of the cats. Cats and crows do not generally hang out together.

I then noticed the non-moving white lump about the size of a chicken. Fuck.

Nothing ruins my day like an unexpectedly dead chicken. At least it was white. That meant it was a factory farm refugee. There's about half a dozen factory farm hens that I can't tell apart from each other. Maybe it was one of them.

No. This one has spurs on her legs like a rooster. Shit. That means it's Diamanda - the squawkiest of all the chickens. I liked her. She'd been here for over a year and a half.

She hadn't been dead long. She was still warm. Ants had only begun to congregate around her lower intestine that was splayed across the driveway. Her head was covered in blood but I couldn't see any other injuries. Twenty other chickens milled around Frankencoop 100 feet away. What the fuck happened?

Her neck was broken. One eye had popped out of it's socket, thankfully still hidden behind its bulging lid. Earlier this year, one of my cats got run over by a car and his eye also popped out - though it did not stay behind the lid. You don't really forget a sight like that. It slowly dawned on me that someone had run over Diamanda in my own driveway.

But who? I hadn't been expecting anyone. There's maybe two dozen people who might drop by unannounced.

Unlike cats or dogs, chickens don't have the sense to get out of the way of a moving vehicle. They like to hunker down in the shade under a parked vehicle but won't get up when you start it up. This is how my very first factory farm refugee, Lemon, died - and she was the smartest damn chicken I ever met.

So, giving my fellow man the benefit of the doubt, I can see how Diamanda might just not have gotten out of the way of an approaching vehicle and the driver might not have even seen her. Often a dozen chickens will block the long driveway up the hill to my house, refusing to move out of the way. (A bit of food thrown from the car window will send the birds running out of the way so I always try to keep a little something handy to "pay the toll.")

Accidents happen, I tell myself.

As I approach the house, I see another clump of white in the grass. I quickly realize it's only some paper and so I ignore it while I carry Diamanda's carcass into the house past the horde of yowling cats. I liked her but I'm still gonna eat her. If it makes you feel any better, I probably won't enjoy it very much. I'd much rather have the company of what was a very lively hen and the couple hundred eggs she would've given me.

After some kitchen prep, I went outside to get a headcount of the birds (all present and accounted for) and locked up the remaining 20 Frankencoop chickens. Back at the house, I threw a little feed to the five chickens that sleep under my porch. There's three long-term resident hens: Murray, Miss Lillian and Annie. The newfound hen, Serendipity, lives there now but doesn't seem too happy so I may move her to Frankencoop. My young rooster, Pasha, recently moved in when he discovered a bunch of unserviced hens were living there.

After ascertaining that all the other birds were okay, I went to pick up the paper that had apparently blown into where the long driveway dead-ends into the yard. That's when I had my truly WHAT THE FUCK moment.

It wasn't just any kind of paper. It was toilet paper. And it wasn't just any kind of toilet paper. It was USED toilet paper. USED TOILET PAPER SMEARED WITH GODDAMNED DIARRHEA! I know it was goddamned diarrhea
because the toilet paper was laying on the ground next to a pile of the shit (pun definitely intended).

I'm still willing to give my fellow man the benefit of the doubt and I understand that sometimes you gotta go when ya gotta go. I can totally sympathize with the realization that you are about to shit your pants and looking around and seeing you're completely out of sight from God and everybody and just dropping your drawers and letting loose with the Hershey squirts.

I can even identify with the relief of finding toilet paper in your car with which to wipe your sorry, splattered ass after such a horrifying experience.


Please tell me what kind of inbred motherfucker just tosses shit-soaked toilet paper in someone's driveway? Trust me, if it was my ass and your driveway, I would've wadded that toilet paper up and stuffed it in my pocket before just dropping it in your yard. Seriously, dude.

If not for the toilet paper, I would've probably never even noticed the shit. Even if I did, I would've just blamed it on the chickens or cats. But not when there's a pile of fucking toilet paper next to it!

I have seen a lot of fucked up shit in my time and can be forgiving of a tremendous amount of trespasses, but this crosses the line. Grind your cigarette butt out in my garden? I'll pick it up when your back is turned and silently curse your name but this is the kind of thing that gets you blacklisted from my life.

So I steamed over this while butchering poor Diamanda. The more I thought about it, the madder I got. I thought about the finite number of people who could've possibly done this. This certainly wasn't the work of a Boomhauer Brother. Contrary to what I may have written about them, they are much classier than this. It certainly wasn't any of my neighbor-cousins. The mail lady would never do anything like that. No way was it the nice Jamacian Jehovah Witness lady that's stops by once a month to drop off the newest copy of The Watchtower.

As I crossed off all the potential visitors in my mind, there was only one I couldn't completely exonerate: An obnoxious drunken hillbilly that I've never written about simply because he's never done anything of note except be drunk every single time I've seen him - whether it's 10am or 10pm. I guess I'll just call him Drunky McDrunkerson.

I hate to accuse Drunky McDrunkerson of shitting in my driveway because that's a pretty heinous thing to accuse somebody of. But fuck if I can think of anyone else that would be capable of doing such a thing. I can totally see him, drunk as fuck, driving up my driveway to talk about hiring me for some job that will never actually materialize, realizing he's about to shit his pants, dropping trou in my driveway, wiping his ass with toilet paper fortuitously found rolling around on the truck floor and absent-mindedly tossing it my yard. I can see him driving off and running over Diamanda without even realizing it. I can see him not remembering any of this tomorrow.

Jesus. Why do I even know people like this?

yeah, that's right. I live in rural Alabama.