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Mutt & Jeff: Remembering Dick Sparks and Milo

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This morning we bicycled past a handsome old cabin in Carbondale festooned with an American flag.

It reminded me of a “cabin” in Boulder — a dilapidated garage, really — where my friend Dick Sparks used to live. He was a music fanatic who owned expensive sound equipment in that dirt-floored hovel, a Deutsche Gramophone collection of classical music, and Led Zeppelin, which he played full blast. He and I worked for Western Union, delivering telegrams around Boulder on our bikes. We rolled our own cigarettes.

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He had a crazy rant that he liked to perform, part Zen and part Jim Morrison. He called it a tirade. Soft-spoken at first, it then waxed abusive. One time he performed it in the door of the Western Union office. As the receptionist looked on, he delivered his tirade in a sing-song voice, then dropped his pants. Of course, underneath was a pair of boxers.

Once Dorene and I took Sparks and our friend Carol to a dance where people were bopping to raucous music. We tired of it after a couple of minutes and left the scene, abandoning him and Carol to their own devices without so much as a courteous adieu. Very bad!

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I remember going to Dick Sparks’ cabin to ask the whereabouts of Milo, who had suddenly disappeared. Milo’s mother had written a letter pleading for information about her son. I thought that Sparks, if anyone in Boulder, would know. The FBI came to our apartment looking for him. Years later, we learned that they nearly caught up with him in New Orleans (he escaped out the back door while they were kicking in the front door). There was a seven-year hiatus when no one knew where Milo was, then I spotted him in a crowd at the Denver Art Museum.

We were having lunch at the museum when a figure — seen from the back, no less — caught my attention. No one else stood like that. Dumpy, lost in thought. We had prayed for him for years. He came to the valley for a brief stay and hiked with me up to a cave in Deep Creek Canyon. It reminded me of a hike we’d done thirty years earlier in a lonely canyon deep in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park. I was glad to see him, but he had changed. He saw flying saucers coming to abduct him.

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I invited him to visit The Church at Redstone, but he paced on the boulevard instead. When he finally went home to his family, they appeared as imposters. Milo, who spoke a secret language we had invented as teenagers; who knew the first acid freak in Boulder; whose comments were dense with cosmic sarcasm; who looked like a sheepdog; who preferred living on the street to living at home; who bandied psychological terms around like baubles. A vivant. A connoisseur of most anything at hand. He became a victim of the homeless murders in Denver nineteen years ago.    

I whizzed around Boulder on my bike delivering telegrams: at 21 I had yet to own a car. After Dorene and I married we were still without a car. I worked at Holubar Mountaineering and saved enough to pay for the delivery of our baby. I stacked bricks for a year at the Valmont brickyards, commuting every day on my bike. One of the worst things that happened on that bicycle was delivering a telegram to a couple who had lost their son in Vietnam. It was a mortifying task. I had no right to be part of their grief.

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Dick Sparks faded out of our life. He can’t still be holed up in that cabin, wherever it was in Boulder.  He seems still rosy-cheeked and mischievous. And it’s easy to imagine Milo with his bemused smile and his careless blond hair — not that haggard countenance in the newspaper, and to hear the chiding, bewildered sarcasm of his voice.    

So word by word, and line by line,
The dead man touch’d me from the past,
And all at once it seem’d at last
The living soul was flash’d on mine.
– Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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Stan Badgett alternates this monthly column with fellow conservative Paige Meredith.