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Best Social-Media object Lesson

The death of Owl Meat Gravy

We had never met Owl Meat Gravy, but we had come to feel like we knew him. When the poster with the eccentric handle first started dropping pithy word bombs in the comment threads of the City Paper web site and at other local media sites, we took notice, and as @OwlMeatGravy trickled his way into our Twitter feeds, we found ourselves chuckling at his microbursts of acerbic humor and trading bon (or bon enough) mots back and forth. We named him one of Baltimore’s most entertaining tweeps in last year’s Top 10 issue, and in truth, we got to like him. But we didn’t know his real name or what he looked like or what he did in the seemingly scant hours he wasn’t online, and while he interacted (sometimes offline) with people we did actually know—particularly Sun staffer/former CP contributor Richard Gorelick—we sometimes got the uneasy feeling that some of the folks we saw him banter with online or who followed our feeds out of nowhere were sock puppets for his own mysterious ends. In fact, as dumb as it sounds now, we sometimes questioned whether he himself was “real,” or rather if this blazingly bright and absurd persona was just a digital front for some sad, sour milquetoast grumbling into his beer in some Baltimore corner bar. And then, in mid-August, he died—IRL, as they say. And as the subsequent chatter unfolded online, it turned out that plenty of people knew Bob Swank (the name of the man behind Owl Meat Gravy), and attested that he lived up to the handle’s dash, but it also turned out that many knew him only the way we did—as a mercurial and inscrutable presence online. And while it’s sad that Swank is dead, we never really knew him, did we? As little sense as it makes, it’s Owl Meat Gravy we mourn and miss.

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