Cure for the Common Cody

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During Huffman's first fifteen years as ol' Cody, he hung on to his job at Gates Rubber. After that, he retired. "Hell, it got to be full-time doing ol' Cody," he elaborates. "One summer I was in Germany five times! And I've been to Ireland, England, and they wanted me at EuroDisney in Paris. For eight months!"

By the time his Bill career peaked a few years ago, the turning-seventy Huffman no longer had to use artificial whitener on his hair and beard -- nature had taken care of it. The look-alike contest he'd helped to start at the Buckhorn (and which, according to the bylaws, can be won only once by a contestant) had run through twenty different winners. He had two steady sidemen to help with equipment and skits: "a plain old cowboy I call Fetch-n-get, and ol' Red Bear -- he's an Indian." He'd even built a show tent similar to the one in which Cody relaxed between shows, with its old Army bed and buffalo robes. Whether he might still be missing any bit of Bill, and whether he might find it at Mack's auction, Huffman is reluctant to say.

"I did hear he had quite a collection of original posters," he offers. "I know who he got them from, and I would have liked to have gotten them first."

There is a certain symmetry between Mack's auction and the quietly whispered rumor that Huffman himself may retire.

"I've said that myself," Huffman admits. "I might even do it."

But that would mean giving up Bill -- no easy feat after all this time in the spotlight.

"And I do kind of feel like him," Huffman says. "A couple of years ago, out at the Stock Show, I particularly did. They played ol' Cody's music, and the crowd was the same -- or at least that's how they looked. They cheered so hard it made the hair come up on the back of my neck."

As auction day approaches, Mack gets busier, but never too busy for coffee at Cox's Diner, a business that, like a few others in Garden City, was once owned by Mack.

"Hell, we have coffee three times a day in these little towns," he says, looking around at the company. Three babies in high chairs are stationed near the window. A waitress sits across the room with a friend, speculating on the faithlessness of someone named Nick. Ron McMillan, the former Village Idiot and current Native American craftsman, comes in from an afternoon of weed whacking.

"Usually there's someone in here who wants to know what I'm going to do next," Mack says. "I like to say, 'Oh, I think I'm going to do what you do. Maybe I'll open a car wash kind of like yours, or I might do small-engine repair.' I like to make them nervous that way, even if it is a fib. Bill told a lot of fibs, you know."

And Bill's still drinking a lot of coffee -- maybe three times a day in Cox's Diner?

"Could be," Mack admits. "As kids, we all wanted to be someone else. And we still do, don't we?"

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Robin Chotzinoff
Contact: Robin Chotzinoff