Sparky was our next door neighbor for twenty seven years. Sparky is not his real name but the episodes portrayed here are real. At first I thought we had nothing in common but over time I realized he was the iconic everyman. Six years after we moved in he stuck this note on our back door threatening to call his “lawer.” We were coming and going a lot with our band and he didn’t like all the “slaming” of the doors. He wanted us to be “more quite at the wee hour of the nite.”
Sparky grew up in Kentucky where he didn’t go any further than the sixth grade (he says). He told us he played guitar, “country, not rock.” He played at nursing homes and wore a shirt with “Sparky” written in magic marker just above the pocket. I gave him a copy of my cassette compilation , “Stop The World,” songs that the working band I was in Indiana performed but by the original artists. That kind of sealed our friendship. He took a liking to friends of ours, Pete and Shelley. We would talk over the fence. He didn’t like blacks and he made that clear. He would bring us doughnuts and remind us that he doesn’t do any work around the house (if Workers Comp came around).
“I pissed blood last night,” he told me on day. And after a weekend trip to Pennsylvania he said it rained so hard down there we caught fish right out of the hotel parking lot. He told us he saw our cat down at CVS! He had such fantastic stories and did such crazy things I started jotting them down. Sparky loved the camera so I took plenty of photos over the years.
I did a group of paintings of Sparky in 1992 and they they were featured for a month in the window of Godiva’s on Monroe Avenue. John, the owner of the Oxford Pub across the street, bought them and they hung in that bar for years. He told me he was thinking about renaming the place “Sparky’s.” A friend told us she spotted three of the paintings at Murphy’s Law on Empire Boulevard, another bar that John owns.
Sparky says, ”Look at those god damn roses.” (still blooming in November)
Sparky gets a Sears Alarm System installed and asks for extra stickers. Puts one in each window.
He tells us about catching fish out of a parking lot after a big rain.
Sparky changes his new dog’s name from “Rusty” to “Little Man” and then to “Little Manny.”
Sparky tells us his kids steal money out of his pants at night.
Sparky tells us he broke up a crap game at the corner by calling the cops.
Sparky recycles aluminum (he pronouces it ally-loon-ee-mum) – smashes up old lawn chairs, dimantles lawn mowers in his garage. Has an old scale in there.
Sparky demonstrates his new car alarm for the Bosnians next door.
Sparky’s car alarm goes off each time a bass heavy car stereo goes by.
Sparky says his wallet was stolen at the VA Hospital.
Sparky drives off with his cane on top of his car.
Sparky kills his lawn with a heavy application of fertilizer.
Sparky pretends he isn’t home on Halloween.
Sparky brings us doughnuts and reminds us to say he doesn’t do any work around the house if the Workers Comp guy comes around.
Sparky burns his mother-in-law’s old inhalers behind the garage in order to recycle the aluminum. They pop loudly as they burn.
Sparky rakes his lawn in his pajamas.
Sparky cuts the extension cord with his electric hedge clippers.
Discussing his garage that needs painting Sparky says,
“I MIGHT JUST SIDE THE BASTARD”
Sparky says “My hair is not that white” as I work on a painting of him.
Sparky takes Little Man to the vet because he can’t poop.
Sparky hoses down a noisy cricket
Takes a nap in his Lazyboy with his gun by his side and a pet parakeet in a cage next to him.
Sparky goes to a “Body Building Contest” in Buffalo.
Sparky tells me, “I pissed blood last night.”
Sparky washes Little Man’s rug in the rain because Little Man won’t sleep on the rug if he puts the in the washer.
Sparky’s boat cuts loose from the back end of his car and passes him on the expressway.
Sparky sits next to a girl with green hair on a flight to Las Vegas.
I teach Sparky fractions.
Sparky shoots at squirrels with a homemade slingshot.
Sparky alternately calls “Cuz” his “brother-in-law” or “his cousin”
Sparky says he calls home when he is out so Little Man so Little Man can hear his voice on his answering machine. (“Hello my Little Manny” – arf, arf)
Sparky plants flowers in the Spring that are still in their containers.
Sparky says he saw our cat, Ornette, at CVS.
Sparky checks his engine and then closes the hood on his cane, breaking it.
Sparky gives Little Man a haircut on the tailgate of his truck.
Constructs a tripod/copystand out of copper pipe and solder to take photos of prints.
We go fishing with Sparky near the nuclear power plant because the fish like the warm water.
We watch Sparky chase a squirrel off his property with his cane.
Sparky puts his up for sale “By Owner” and no one makes an offer.
Cuz cuts his fingers off in Sparky’s snowblower.
Sparky attaches a Schaeffer Beer can to his lawn mower muffler.
Sparky says he has three kinds of cancer but he will not allow doctors to open him up.
Sparky cracks up his truck and blames it on “Niggers.”
Sparky says he is suing his insurance company over his back injury.
Sparky buys a Ford Escort as a winter car.
Sparky wires apple tree to shock squirrels and keep them away from his apples.
Sparky tells us he got food poisoning at Bill Grey’s hamburger stand.
Sparky says he was born on February 29 (in a Leap Year) so he changed his birthday to February 27.
Sparky mounts a “Push Button For Walk Signal” sign to a wooden handle to make an “ice chopper.”
Hangs six pairs of blue work gloves on line after washing them in old Maytag.
Sparky gets a leaf blower.
Sparky mistakes the keyboard solo on a Sun Ra CD for the nuclear power plant alarm.
Sparky gets a Buffalo Bills jacket for Christmas. It’s at least two sizes too big.
Sparky gives us a bag of tomatoes he got “out in the country” and they have silver spray paint on them.
Sparky drives down the street to let the snow slide off his car.
Sparky meets the gay guys down the street.
Sparky installs the world’s largest security light on his garage.
Sparky picks up Little Man’s poop with a small shovel and throws it over the fence into the neighbors yard.
Sparky tells us his 18 year old cat ate Chinese cat food and died of food poisoning.
Sparky calls Cuz “my brother-in-law” one day and “cousin” the next. It finally dawned on me that if he is both then there must be some funky bloodlines here. This might explain why he stuck his arm down Sparky’s snowblower to clear it out. Cuz smoked extra- long, generic cigarettes and he couldn’t stand up straight. He bought this car from Marge, the woman who lived on the other side of Sparky. It belonged to her adult son, who still lived home but spent most of his time at the Main Place bar at the corner. He drove the car to the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, opened the door and jumped in the river. The Nerve and Ednaswap stickers were his, the Confederate Flags belong to Cuz.
We moved away from Hall Street in 2004 and Katie Shapiro, who lived in our old house while she was going to Visual Studies Workshop, sent us this photo of Sparky (below). Sparky passed away in November 2018.