The Wooden Leg

Definitely No Nickels

This is my fortieth post since starting this blog in late December and I want to thank all of you for subscribing and hanging out with me for a bit during your day. I’m really enjoying the process of this endeavor so you’re stuck with me for the foreseeable future!

In my post on March 17th, Publish or Perish, I talked about how I often joke on stage, when getting ready to perform one of my originals, that it’s a True Story. The Wooden Leg is not in our live repertoire but is based, however, on the following events.

During my final year at the University of Kansas I applied for and was chosen to be the chairman of the film series for the fall and spring semesters 1985-86. The 16mm Films shown at the Gallagher Theater in the Memorial Union were historically well attended and screened seven nights a week. It was a time when I went all out film-nerd.

And I was honored to play a small part of that KU history.

As I was graduating in May of 1986 I got word that David Millstein along with Charley and Tensie Oldfather were set to rehab Liberty Hall in downtown Lawrence, Kansas. I also heard they were thinking of showing films. I knew I was their guy.

Liberty Hall wedding after the rehab. (Jerry Wang Photography)


(An aside about Charley Oldfather – he was the narrator in the classic industrial film Shake Hands With Danger and you can watch it here. I played drums on a couple cuts. It was directed by Herk Harvey who was best known for the 1962 cult film Carnival of Souls.)

I called up David, we talked, and I was hired along with longtime theatre caretaker Tim Griffith to get to work (Tim had actually been working on and off at the theatre since the 70s). The first thing David wanted to do was open a video store on the corner. As he put it, “videos are an amazing business…the product goes out the door and then it comes back!”

So I was in charge of stocking the store, among other duties. Of course, I wanted it to be more of a cult-style store and everyone seemed to agree that was the right direction. So every week I’d make the drive to Kansas City to a wholesale video warehouse and fill up grocery carts with all the foreign, cult, hard-to-find movies available. Who could ask for more?

Tim and I worked hard side by side for many months getting that store off the ground, often times locking up well after midnight and each trudging home. We had no idea of a system to use so we just made it up, including the idea of shooting a Polaroid picture of every dang customer as an identifier. Ha! I’d love to get my hands on that archive. The store took off like gangbusters.

The rest of my time at Liberty Hall is a story in itself but today’s post is about Tim.

Tim was known to have had cancer for years and because of it, one of his legs had partially been removed. Supposedly he had some sort of wooden replacement that made it so he could maneuver pretty well, but with a noticeable limp-type shuffle.

We certainly had our ups and downs as he could be a grouchy fuck, but the respect from each other was there. As I moved to Tucson in 1989, we stayed in touch whenever I was back in Lawrence as there was some sort of lifelong bond from our mutual efforts.

So it was in 2005 I got word that he died from heart failure at the age of 50.

Shortly after that I got a phone call from Bill Lynch, who lives in Los Angeles but also an LFK expat, who was old friends with Millstein. He calls up Bill and told him that at the funeral or during the reception, he was chatting with Tim’s folks about this and that, and he brought up the cancer and his leg in casual conversation, to express some sort of sympathy and condolence.

Well, they had no idea what he meant as Tim never had cancer and both legs were just fine and completely intact.

Gaaaahhhh. You may pause for a moment.

Soooo, it was a few years later that I wrote lyrics about this whole tragicomedy. A melody wasn’t forthcoming so I sent them off to my good friend Kelley Hunt in Lawrence who also knew Tim pretty well. She took it and recorded it with just her singing and playing piano, then I added a bit of accordion after she and her husband Al Berman sent it back to me. The result was released on my Happy Homestead CD in 2009.

The Wooden Leg

Tim had a wooden leg for years
As all who knew him knew
Chopped short quite neat below the knee
As cancer cells surged thru

His body needed 420
Used daily for the pain
The Red Dog Hall kept him alive
And thought it kept him sane

Munchausen was his only guide
Munchausen made a lonely bride
Munchausen could not stem the tide
Took the answers to the other side

In Quantrell's town he laid down roots
Wrote the story of his lies
Passed tales around the campfire of
Suffering and strife
We all chipped in to help him out
Although he never asked
Worked side by side for all those years
Shared many of our tasks

Now sometimes on a winters night
Icicles click and glow
Down Massachusetts street is heard
Boots crunching in the snow

Munchausen was his only guide
Munchausen made a lonely bride
Munchausen could not stem the tide
Took the answers to the other side

©2008 Gary Mackender, lyrics, ASCAP,
Kelley Hunt Music, with EEs Music Publishing, BMI

Gary Mackender: Accordion
Kelley Hunt: Piano, Vocal

So, if there’s a moral to the story it’s Don’t Take Any Wooden Legs.

And, for posterity, here’s how serious we were in 1975…

Bill Lynch, Gary Mackender, Greg Mackender – 1212 Ohio St, Lawrence, KS, 1975


The Frontier Drive-In somewhere in Colorado, 1987.

And your moment of phyllo philosophy…