Study Guide

Tom Browning in Tales of the Madman Underground

By John Barnes

Tom Browning

One of Karl's numerous bosses from his five jobs, Karl helps Mr. Browning out with his upholstery business, mostly moving furniture and helping him rebuild collapsed couch frames. Not exactly the most interesting job, but when you're working with a guy like Browning, things get more than interesting pretty fast.

Browning is an old dude with "sludge-gray hair" (10.25) and an affinity for clip-on bow ties. (He has a different one for every day of the week.) Oh, and he drives a hearse, which always creates weird situations when he's making pickups or deliveries since people typically think his hearse is in front of someone's house because the occupant died. This usually makes Browning freak out, usually with a lot of profanity. "I can't seem to make them ashamed, so instead I always cuss a blue streak so that the mothers will grab their little brats up and drag 'em off into the house" (10.75), he tells Karl.

Aside from being a businessman who isn't afraid to tell it like it is, Browning also has kind of a strange attitude about women. For one thing, he has a crush on Rose Carson, an old lady he's upholstering a couch for, whom he's known for years. The couch was a gift from her husband and is falling apart, but even though it will cost him extra in expenses, Browning is building a new frame without telling her. "I don't want her to know her husband bought a lousy cheap couch, because it was an anniversary gift, the last one she ever got from him" (13.6), he explains.

That's the nice side. The not-so-nice side is that Browning is kind of a pervert. He says a lot of nasty things about Darla's body and checks out the girls (and, unbeknownst to him, Larry) when he gives Karl a ride to school in the rain Friday morning. You could call him a dirty old man if you wanted to, but he also has a nice side and is pretty interesting to work for.