Since I've had my right leg amputated below the knee, of course, there are always funny episodes or nicknames people give you. But one of my favorites happened in 2019.
One day while sitting with my friend Phil, he asked, "Do you want to have a little fun?" I replied that I did, and he told me that our mutual friend, singer Maria Muldaur was doing a bus tour back east to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. Phil said, "Let's give her a call and see how it's going."
Phil put his phone on speaker so I could hear the whole conversation. To my surprise, Maria said, “Oh, Tony Five Toes is with you?”
I chimed in, asking her how the tour was going, and she said, “It’s funny to hear from you because just last night your name came up while I was talking to Melanie.”
Melanie is my favorite singer-songwriter, whom I’ve met several times. She had performed at Woodstock in 1969 and was celebrating the reunion of that great festival with Maria and other musicians of the era. Melanie said to Maria, “You know Tony in California?” Maria said that she did, and then it occurred to them that they both had signed my prosthetic leg. (The leg I wrote about in my last blog post.)
Well, the fact that Maria was talking to Melanie at the reunion in New York while I was sitting on my couch in California made me feel like I was the celebrity.
Phil continued his conversation with Maria while I was listening in and before they hung up, she said, “Tell Tony Five Toes goodbye.”
After they hung up, I asked Phil, “What’s this Tony Five Toes?” He replied, “Well, I was afraid it might hurt your feelings, but that’s how we’ve been referring to you.”
I said, “I’m okay with it, because, actually, it was pretty clever. So now that time’s gone by and I’m okay with it, they just call me Toes!
(It sounds like I have a Mafia name, Tony the Toes Albano!)
Being an amputee, I ended up with an old prototype leg that was just standing in my living room for a long time . . .
I turned to my dear friend Don Hobbs and asked, "What do you do with an old leg? Should I throw it out?" He said no, and suggested that I ask all the performers in the music industry that I admire to sign it. I replied that I'd never ask anyone for their autograph. He said, "You know, a leg is different."
Well, one of the songwriters I most admired was John Prine, and when he came to town to perform at Carmel's Sunset Theater, I had to give it a try. So, after his sound check, I met him coming out and said, "John, would you sign my leg?" He said he would be happy to. Wow! It was so easy that I started really liking the idea, and when any performer came to the area that I admired, I would meet them after the sound checks.
Soon the employees at the Sunset Theater got to know me, and I didn't have to explain why I was there. They'd say to the artists, "You've got to sign the 'leg man's' leg!' So, after their sound checks, that's what they did. Artists who've signed the leg are Graham Nash; David Crosby; Merle Haggard; and Art Garfunkel. Jackson Browne also signed it, but I was also told by the staff that he wouldn't be too happy if he saw my plastic water bottle, so I ditched it in the recycle bin before he came out. Maria Muldaur started singing "Midnight at the Oasis, while she signed the leg. Others were Timothy B. Schmit, from the Eagles; Arlo Guthrie, and his daughter Sarah.
Funny things happen when people sign your leg. For instance, before meeting Arlo Guthrie outside his tour bus he wanted to look at the leg before he signed it, so he could see in whose company he was in. After signing it, he said, I don't want to see it on ebay." He also told me to have Sarah sign it, "Because she's the real star of the family."
Melanie, the great singer/songwriter who influenced me the most in my teenage years, unbelievably signed her name right in the middle of the leg, as if it was waiting for her to sign it there.
35 years later I met Melanie again at her hotel in Salinas prior to a concert. She had read the story in my book, "Life is a Bumpy Road," about how she took me into Carnegie Hall when I was 18, and didn't have tickets to her concert. The night of the concert in Salinas when I was sitting in the audience, she asked me to come up and tell the story to the people who came to hear her. It was a thrilling night for me to be reunited with my biggest inspiration.
(An interesting thing I've observed after all the people have signed the leg is that the women always signed it with colored markers, while men use black.)
As I mentioned, John Prine was the first one to sign the leg, and several years later, I happened to run into him at Walgreens. I told him how much his music meant to me, then added, "By the way, John, I want to thank you for signing my leg a couple years ago. You know, you were the first one. Do you remember signing my leg?"
He answered, "Of course." I was shocked that he even remembered me, and said, "Really?" And he said, "It's the only leg I've ever signed."
And that's how I got known around town as "the leg man."
Recently my three-legged buddy, Brie, and I met a lovely young woman named Kait. And like the two of us, Kait also has leg problems. She's had many operations that have tested her resilience and outlook on life, but she handles her challenges beautifully. As a physical therapist, I'm sure she brings a special kind of understanding and caring to those with whom she works. And what a smile! I'm glad to have become the recipient of Kait's friendship, not only because of what we have in common, but because I sense that she has so much to offer the world. What she's experienced gives her a unique perspective, making her the type of person to whom others in like situations will naturally turn. Yes, she's definitely a breath of fresh air!
Sometimes I consider myself very fortunate that I lost my leg in my fifties, because I can only imagine how difficult it is for, let's say a teenage boy or girl. I'm sure dating is awkward. I'm also very grateful that my amputation is below the knee, which gives me directions on my movement. And being aware of all the different situations, I do get many compliments on how well I walk, and so many people say they wouldn't know that I was missing a leg had I not been wearing shorts.
Over the years many people have come to me for advice, especially when newly amputated. It's a wonderful feeling to help out fellow amputees. One of the most asked questions comes from loved ones asking if it would it be okay if I came and spoke to a person they care about who needs encouragement in giving an artificial leg a try. So, I am here to help anyone who is having trouble not only trying a leg, but also trying a leg and finding it too difficult. Since I'm in this situation, I have many answers for some of the problems that come up. Sometimes people give up because they are going to the wrong Prosthetist. Over the years I have recommended the man I go to right here in Monterey, who has given me great success. His name is James P. Kirn, Certified Orthotist-Prosthetist, here in Monterey at 831-655-3580. Don't lose hope, because in the beginning it is very difficult, but my biggest regret is that I can't wear sandals!