Billie Holiday, Chihuahuas and the Cosmos

July 20, 2021

How Billie Holiday's spirit has continuously reappeared in my life and formed a new connection.

Fifth Grade:

It was black history month and Mr. Buczkowski assigned everyone a notable figure for a book report and speech. I sat at my desk, crossing my fingers, hoping to get someone I was already familiar with—your Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.'s—so that the project would be easy. Instead, I was assigned Billie Holiday. I don't know who this guy is, I thought to myself. It was the early internet days when most people didn't have access to personal computers, let alone Wikipedia. Later that week, my mom took me to the public library and I learned about the glorious and magnificent Lady Day. I spoke of her proudly in my speech. She was a tough-as-nails pioneer for women in Jazz. Thought not without her demons, she is remembered for more than her voice.

Seventh Grade:

In My Early Twenties:

I had heard somewhere or read somewhere at some point in my life that chihuahuas were among the least adopted breed. People have a negative image of them. Those tiny heads and big egos. How dare they yap and bark, and make their presence known so as not to be stepped on. I didn't seek out a chihuahua, but when I sat there one day, scrolling through Craigslist, a pair of big brown eyes, what I would eventually refer to as Bette Davis Eyes, made me pause and fall in love.

Months later a friend came to visit from out of state and met Gus for the first time. I overheard a conversation he had with my partner where he laughed and commented on how we managed to get "the least cool dog on earth." People were always shocked at the fact that Gus didn't bark. He howled at sirens like any mutt, whined to get on the sofa, and yawned loudly, but yappy was not a quality he possessed. He did yoga stretches and went to bed at exactly 10:30pm every night on his own. He used his trademark helpless expression to manipulate anyone into giving him attention. He sprinted around the apartment when he heard the word "walk" and hid under the coffee table when he heard the word "bath." He slept on my stomach while I watched TV and warmed my feet with his body while I worked at my desk. His favorite pastime was lounging in the sun, and he'd wake me up on weekends by forcing himself between the blinds and the sliding glass door. We walked two to three times a day and for some weird reason, Gus had a mysterious talent for finding chicken bones (and two chicken legs) on random sidewalks. I'd yank them out of his mouth or kept him away with his leash, then get the cold shoulder for ten minutes. If Gus was the least cool dog on earth, I felt honored and privileged to be his mama.

March 5, 2017:

"Zadie!" I gasped. I love the sound of Zadie's voice in my head and it was the first time I had ever seen a photo of Billie and a chihuahua. I read the short story admiring every nuanced reference to Billie Holiday and the fact that Zadie had written the story with Billie's voice instead of her own. A specific passage struck me. It reminded me of Billie's struggle with drug addiction, and painted a beautiful picture of how she endured through her darkest moments with the help of her chihuahua, Pepi. It made me tear up. I picked up Gus and held him tight. I read the passage over and over again.

"Crazy They Call Me" by Zadie Smith. Published by The New Yorker in 2017.
Spring 2020:

The Criterion Channel releases a series of Jazz Shorts. One of which stars none other than...

Summer 2020:

Like the rest of the world, I was quarantined in my home and looking for something new to to pass the time. I began making cocktails and learning to play poker (something I have always wanted to learn). Taking a break from poker practice, I skimmed through the streaming services and noticed Ken Burns' Jazz documentary miniseries on Amazon. The cover photo was Billie Holiday, so naturally I began watching. Billie had a penchant for cocktails, often outdrinking the band. She was also a talented poker player, often cleaning house when she played against the guys.

Winter 2020:

Staying at a dome house in the Mojave. It's new years eve and somewhere along my ritualistic journey, I begin to talk about Billie.

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