This week at Thanksgiving dinner, when it's my turn, I'll express gratitude for many things — family, friends, the food on the table, a certain magnificent doctor, the Social Security check, a home.
That said, it will be high time I thank a guy named Randy Jones. You might know who I mean. He's the "cowboy" of The Village People.
In the late 1970s, our disco-crazy country was singing and dancing to their megahit, "YMCA":
It's fun to stay at the Y ... MCA,
It's fun to stay at the Y ... MCA-A. ...
Randy Jones was one of those people who appear and disappear in your life in a flash but manage to change everything. We've all had at least one, I think.
Jones changed my world one Thanksgiving a long time ago. What happened was this:
Earlier that year I'd met a charming, classy Manhattanite at a wedding I crashed (another story) here in Minneapolis. We small-talked, flirted and into autumn exchanged schmaltzy letters and poetry about our stars aligning (no cellphones or e-mail back then).
The girl, as I thought of her, suggested I come to New York for Thanksgiving. I'd never been to New York. New York scared me. New York was about blackouts, Mafia hits, grimy subways, getting lost. I balked.
But Billie Greenberg, my transplanted roommate, Brooklyn-born and -bred, rolled his eyes New York-style:
"What the matter with you? It's New York City. And there's a girl. Go."
I went. To pay for the plane ticket, I sold the guitar I had no intention of learning to play but schlepped around town anyway because I thought it looked good. When you're young and trying out who you think you want to be, you do things like that.
The girl met me at the arrival gate (back then you could do that) and drove us expertly into Manhattan. First stop, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. She found us a great viewing site on top of the stone wall that stretched along Central Park West. We held tightly to each other for balance, warmth and the titillation that until then had been expressed only in those sappy letters.
We heard the Village People before we saw them. Then, decked out in their macho pizazz, there they were — the cowboy, the helmeted cop, the Native American chief, the leather-clad biker, the hard-hatted construction worker — singing (well, lip-syncing), shimmying and high-stepping disco style on a float with a rainbow-colored arch:
Young man ... there's no need to feel down,
I said, young man ... pick yourself off the ground,
I said, young man ... 'cause you're in a new town …
The float stopped smack-dab in front of us. I pretended indifference. Then Randy Jones, the cowboy, spotted the girl and me perched on that wall behind the crowd. I know he pointed and smiled broadly at us because, when he did, parade watchers followed his finger to the oddly matched country boy wannabe wearing overalls, flannel and Birkenstocks and the stylish New Yorker, arm-in-arm.
When The Village People started performing "YMCA" yet again, kids, parents, bell-bottomed teens, even geezers around us sang along happily and mimicked that all-the-rage arm choreography spelling the letters Y — M — C — A.
A closeted lover of disco music, I abstained. Disco didn't jive with overalls, flannel and Birkenstocks.
Right then, spontaneously, the girl and I shared the first of what's become 40 years of kisses. I remember how sure I was The Village People cowboy had given us the green light with his point and a smile:
"Go on. What are you two waiting for?"
The remainder of our weekend together was lovely (except for her family's bafflement during Thanksgiving dinner about this outlander from "Minndianapolis"). The girl led me by the hand around New York: walks through Central Park, lunch at Carnegie Deli, ice skating under the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, the mind-blowing panoramic view of the city at sunset from the observation deck of the World Trade Center …
Alas, Sunday came. A city-savvy (yet sentimental) taxi driver saw the girl and me embracing on a busy street corner next to my suitcase. On my lonely ride to the airport, he said he'd driven twice around the block to give us more time to say goodbye. Then he declared — because New York taxi drivers know everything: "You'll see her again."
He was right.
I've often pictured the girl and me standing on that stone wall on that Thanksgiving morning. Was it a random hit among a lifetime of many more misses when The Village People float stopped in front of us? Dumb luck? Divine intervention? Fate? Forrest Gump's mother called it "destiny." Mine called it "bashert." Yiddish for "it was meant to be."
I only know that at Thanksgiving dinner I'll count my blessings and thank my lucky stars — along with, this time, Randy Jones of The Village People — for the charming and classy New York girl still sitting next to me.
Dick Schwartz lives in Minneapolis.