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Boomer: The man who wants to be a dog

boomer

Dogs crave attention. Humans crave attention. So it’s only logical to assume that, being both, Boomer the dog, also known as Gary Matthews of Pittsburgh, requires large doses of it.

He got some from ABCNews.com last week. Although there haven’t been any major developments in his life or legal case, the website ran a lengthy feature on the 48-year-old retired technology worker man who eats dog food, wears a collar, barks at cars and wants to have his name legally changed to Boomer the Dog.

Matthews petitioned a court in 2010, but his request for a name change was denied. He appealed that ruling, and lost again in 2011 – a development he laments on his website, Boomerthedog.com:

boomernocostume“I believe that everyone should be able to choose the name that they would like. We didn’t get a choice when we were born, we were given names. Since we can build the identities that we choose to carry on in life with, why can’t we choose a name that goes along with it, recognized by everyone, even on official ID?”

The original judge ruled that the request for a name change was frivolous, but Matthews said plenty of other cases have been approved, including, a man in Oregon who had his named changed to Captain Awesome, and a man who legally changed his name to that of his band and is now known as the Dan Miller Experience.

Matthews — who was featured in June on the National Geographic Channel program “Taboo,” in an episode called, “Extreme Anthropomorphism: Boomer the Dog”– wears a costume made out of shredded paper and considers himself a furry. He can often be seen wandering around Pittsburgh, his hometown.

“When I go out, I get the feeling and I wave to people as a dog,” he said. “I go to local festivals because kids like the costume. That’s my way of reaching out to people and spreading the word that I can be myself in life. They see that you can have fun in adulthood. But I am kind of a loner dog.”

“Sometimes I sleep in my dog house, which is up in the attic –  I built it myself,” he added.

He enjoys Milk Bones and eats dog food (canned), but not all the time. “I eat regular human food, too, like pizza,” he told ABC.

Matthews said he got the name from the television series about a stray dog called “Here’s Boomer,” which ran from 1979 to 1982.

But he traces his obsession with dogs to long before that.

“It’s been a long process,” he said. “It started when I saw “The Shaggy DA” in 1976 when I was 11 years old. I went with my Dad to see it. I was already a dog freak and collecting pictures of dogs. I saw this movie and there was something different about it — the dad transforms into a big sheep dog. I had never seen that idea played out anywhere.”

“I started playing dog and getting into it,” said Matthews. “It was like a kid thing. Sometimes, I would bark or maybe get into a big box and peek out with my paws over the side of it like a dog would do. In a couple of years, I really got into it. … Maybe I was looking for a personality to have.”

Matthews said he lives off a trust fund left to him by his parents.

“Going public with being a dog isn’t just about the name change,” he said. “That’s only the most recent thing that I’m focusing on, because really, being a dog is about everything — it’s the way that I live.”

Matthews said he often got teased when acting like a dog as a child. “I got flak for it,” he said. “My parents didn’t like it. Earlier on, they saw it as a kid thing and they laughed. But at a certain point in time there are adult expectations and they want you to go off to work and date. Society wants to straighten you out.”

Other children teased him and he was sent to a “special school” for teens with social and emotional problems, but he insists there is nothing wrong with him.

“I see it as a lifestyle,” he said. “I just live differently.”

(Photos: From Boomerthedog.com)

One for the road …

There are times – despite what you may believe – that my dog is not at my side. One of them was Saturday night.

Once or twice a year, a select group of friends and I make it a point to visit all the old-time bars – those among the dwindling few in South Baltimore that haven’t been upscaled yet.

I’m talking about the sort of neighborhood places that are named after a guy as opposed to a concept, the kind where you’re still  called “hon,” and where the food — if they have anything beyond bags of chips and a giant jar of pickled eggs atop the bar — is never  “encrusted,” just flat out fried.

As Ace and I prepare to hit the road, it seemed a good time to do it again – to say goodbye not just to friends, but to a few old, not yet gentrified bars that might not be here when I get back, including one that I’d just found out will be the next to go.

So we started there, at Bill’s Lighthouse Tavern.

Popular with old-timers and newcomers alike, the Lighthouse serves up huge portions of food, at affordable prices. When its owner Bill Wedemeyer died last year, his wife, Adele, kept it going, drawing in a steady crowd with its famous crabs, and impressive buffets on Ravens game days.

According to the sign posted in the window, Bill’s Lighthouse has been sold to new owners from California, who plan to transform it into “Café Velocity” and add outdoor dining. Currently, the only al fresco dining that takes place is done by the stray cats (like my former houseguest Miley) who are drawn by handouts from the kitchen staff.

After paying our respects at the Lighthouse, we moved on – first, right across the street, to Leon’s, home base of the Attaboy Club, whose members were holding a meeting in the back room, probably to plot their next bull/oyster/pig roast. The Attaboy Club is always roasting something.

Leon’s is unusual in that it has no outside sign. It’s a nondescript white building that caters mostly to a stalwart crowd of regulars. Yet it has always been warm and inviting when our old school bar crawl crowd shows up. My connection to it, as well as the Lighthouse, began when Ace poked his head through the door.

From Leon’s we moved on to Schaefer’s, whose bar is one of oldest in the city – a carryover from the days that male customers didn’t walk to the bathroom to relieve themselves, instead utilizing the trough-like drain that ran the length of the bar. (Not everything about the good old days was good.)

The sidewalks leading to Schaefer’s are emblazoned with the painted-on jerseys of Raven’s players, and in the back room, you can find a purple pool table.

Moving on to Rayzer’s just up the street, we got a bucket of pony-sized beers and blew a few dollars playing the video horse race game, learning, among other things, the difference between quinella and trifecta.

The last old school bar stop was Muir’s Tavern, whose glowing orange neon sign and upstairs turret give it the look of a medieval whorehouse, and I mean that in a good way.

As we arrived, Natasha, the bartender, stood outside. One customer, Mary, had run home across the street for a moment, and Natasha was worried that – Mary being small and the winds being fierce that night – she might blow away when she tried to return.

Alas, Mary made it back, and reassumed her position at the video slot machine. Our group kept itself entertained with the low-tech bowling game and Muir’s sophisticated Internet jukebox, which lets you download any song, it seems, in the world.

As you can see, though I didn’t have my dog, I had my camera along, and thanks to it and Iris Dement, we were able to throw together this tribute before we depart — a musical slide show about a slowly fading side of South Baltimore.

On foam, farewells and Federal Hill

After eight months away, it has been interesting to see the latest twists and turns my old neighborhood in Baltimore has taken.

For 10 years, I lived in not quite Federal Hill, never – until now — within its exact boundaries, but on its periphery: first in the Riverside neighborhood, and later in another that, while it doesn’t have a name, per se, falls under the direction of a neighborhood association called the South Baltimore Improvement Committee.

Living in an “improvement” district keeps you from getting a big head, and perhaps the same can be said of living in Baltimore. To me, the charm of “Charm City” has always been its lack of arrogance. Having “improvement” in your neighborhood name, on the other hand, seems to reinforce a “you’re not quite good enough” message: “Hey, you still have a way to go, SoBoImCo, before you can attach “Hill” or “River” or “Point” or some other scenic term to your name.”

The gentrification of South Baltimore – and whether that’s synonymous with improvement is arguable — was well underway when I arrived 10 years ago, not quite young, not quite upscale, definitely not gentry.

Immediately, I felt more of a connection with the old and vanishing, stoop-sitting side of the area than its younger, newer denizens – those being the rooftop deckers, the wine-tasters, the perpetually texting woo-hoo! girls and the loud, backwards-cap-wearing frat boys who clog up Cross Street

Far more interesting (not to mention closer to my age group) were the old-timers, the ones with stories to tell, the ones who knew the area’s history and had some themselves, the ones who, as the neighborhoods of Federal Hill, Riverside, Locust Point and SoBoImCo transformed,  were being priced out of the block they’d grown up on. If that weren’t enough, they were seeing almost all their old watering holes dry up – reopening with trendier names, upscaled décor and higher prices.

A few years after I arrived, the gentrification of South Baltimore was in full swing, and it seemed likely that day would come that it crossed all the way over – that the last patches of the original canvas, all those interesting textures, would be layered over with more boring, modern hues. Then again, what is any neighborhood but a work in progress?

Since being back, Ace and I have spent the month living in a friend’s house in actual Federal Hill before her tenants arrive, and we’ve been enjoying the rooftop deck, and the hot tub on it. (After steeping for five minutes, I do start feeling a little like gentry.) Walking the neighborhood with Ace, I can see that the transition continues – though slowed by the lousy economy — for better and worse.

There are more empty storefronts along Charles Street than I’ve ever noticed before, and two of my favorite institutions are closing up shop.

Gone is the House of Foam, a curious establishment that, in addition to foam, sold a mish-mash of electronic gadgets. As there weren’t too many times I found myself in need of foam, I only went in once, but I loved the name, and the sign. They’ve relocated to a new neighborhood, on Russell Street, in what used to be a Staples.

Also departing is Lucky Lucy’s Canine Café, whose owner Nancy Dixon (also my temporary landlord) has decided to close up shop – more for family reasons than anything else. The shop is up for sale, meaning it could reopen again as a doggie haven, with homemade treats, pet food and toys – or maybe as something else entirely.

Meanwhile, down at the shopping center, the Shopper’s Supermarket has been reconfigured and the entire complex is receiving a facelift. Apparently, with a huge new condominium development called McHenry Row going up, and a new Harris-Teeter grocery store arriving, the management at Southside MarketPlace decided it was time to upscale or die.

There were rumors that the Goodwill thrift store was going to close – highly upsetting to me — but I’ve since heard that, under its lease, it will be around a couple more years at least.

Part of the reason I’m waxing nostalgic is because three two more things are leaving South Baltimore – two of those being Ace and me, at least for a while.

After a month spent reuniting with friends, our travels will continue. We’re headed to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the town in which I was born, and where my mother still lives. It will be our home base for a few months, during which time we plan a few side trips. Stick with us and you can read about those expeditions, as well as our new living arrangements – in the basement of an aging mansion.

As for that third thing that’s leaving, it’s another classic piece of South Baltimore – one we’ll pay tribute to tomorrow.

 (Tomorrow: “One for the Road,” a tribute to the South Baltimore’s old school bars)

Days out … Dads Inn … Y not?

We didn’t know the whole story behind this, but sometime this summer a motel changed names in Lansing, Michigan.

With the simple switch of one gigantic yellow plastic backlit letter, what was once a Days Inn, became Dads Inn.

We guessed that the Days Inn franchise shut down, leaving a multi-story motel vacant. We guessed that some guy — likely a dad — stepped in and took over, and either didn’t want to be a Days Inn or wasn’t accepted by the chain.

In any case, “Days” became “Dads.” Maybe the “Y” was already missing or damaged. Maybe the new owner spent some time reviewing the possibilities: Dabs Inn, Dags Inn, Dals Inn, Dans Inn, Dars Inn, Dats Inn.

He opted for another “D” though, not quite the same width as the first “D,” and a little brighter yellow.

After having some fun conjecturing, we looked up the facts — as initially reported the Lansing Journal.

Seems the Parsippany, N.J.-based hotel chain parted ways with its south Lansing franchisee, Frank Yaldoo, after Yaldoo declined to spruce up the place. The chain wanted him to spend more than $200,000 to replace beds, update computers and — of all things — change its signs.

The article didn’t mention where the new “D” came from, or whether Yaldoo is a dad, but we’re guessing he’s a thrifty guy.

N.C. restaurants get ok for outdoor dogs

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources has ruled that restaurants may decide on their own whether to allow dogs in outdoor areas.

The new rule requires dogs to be restrained and prohibits them from entering indoor seating areas. It also makes a point of saying they can’t come in contact with food or servers.

But it’s a giant leap from the old rule, which assessed as much as a two-point health-inspection deduction for restaurants that allowed pets in outdoor eating areas.

The rule change became effective earlier this month.

No more dogs in Ann Arbor bookstore

The Borders bookstore in downtown Ann Arbor is dog-friendly no more.

After years of allowing dogs, the bookstore has decided to enforce the chain’s company-wide policy prohibiting pets from entering.

“We prioritize the safety and happiness of our customers,” Borders spokeswoman Mary Davis said. “We think that it’s important to put this particular store in line with our other stores, which currently only allow service dogs.”

AnnArbor.com reports that the store’s general manager said she had “received a number of complaints about the dogs, some of which she described as ‘nasty,’” (meaning the complaints, I’m pretty sure, and not the dogs).

Borders declined to specify the nature of the complaints. At least one was made to county health authorities, who pointed out the store, since it houses a coffee shop, is licensed as a food service establishment.

Some patrons expressed sadness about the new no-dog policy.

“My dog has never fought with another dog or eaten a book or a person,” said Marcia Polenberg, who was standing outside the store with her dog, Caravaggio. “I don’t know that this is a good policy. I will be much less inclined to shop here.”

Warning: This video is extremely graphic

A dog thrown off a bridge in Lithuania. A dog dragged to death at Colorado National Monument. A dog viciously kicked in a New York elevator.

We’ve shown you all of those in recent weeks at ohmidog! — because, though they are graphic and disturbing, we believe that they need to be seen.

So now we bring you this one of Lucky and Misty, dog and cat — graphic in a way that won’t turn your stomach, graphic in a way that we could use a little more of, graphic in a way that, maybe, we humans could learn from.

Global New Year’s Resolution: Be more like Lucky and Misty.