Image Source: The Bowery Boys
On her first night in town Sunny Holiday set out to find the eagle. On her second night in town, she set up and started working in front of the eagle.
Sunny Holiday was the perfect name for her New Self in New York. It was partly a tongue-in-cheek nod to what her clients had in store, of course, but mostly it was homage to Billie. Oh, Billie! Tough as nails, yet ladylike and fragile enough to sing
My life a wreck you’re making
My heart is yours for just the taking
and make you cry like a baby. Billie Holiday took no shit, but she was always a lady. And she came from nothing and made it. Besides, Sunny Holiday, Queen of Manhattan sounded so much better than Cedric Dupree, Nobody from Daphne, Alabama.
Cedric never felt like he fit in anywhere growing up. Part of it was having big city dreams in small town Alabama, but most of all it was just that feeling of being so damn different from everyone else. He preferred his grandparents’ records – Billie, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Shore – to any rock ‘n roll. He preferred reading about the construction of the Empire State Building to Alabama football. And he preferred to look at boys instead of girls.
Cedric graduated high school and enrolled in night school architecture classes, but he dropped out mid-way through the first semester. Eventually he caught on a trawler working the gulf and worked construction.
Sunny Holiday was born on days when Cedric was home and his parents were at work. Eventually she became a prime mover, subsuming and easing the pain.
Eventually she started to work a little bit in Mobile. Longshoremen mostly. A few turns here and there, just enough to make her feel ready for the big city. For Sunny it wasn’t the money so much as it was the thrill of the chase and a lust for reclamation. As Sunny, she held all the power, and she didn’t have to try to fit in anydamnwhere. She could pull a few turns, make some damn money and call all the shots, just like Billie. She wouldn’t have to take being called a faggot and getting tripped on the playground and having the entire class laughing at her. Sunny Holiday wouldn’t take that shit, no sir.
Thirty hours on Greyhound and she arrived at the Port Authority. Sunny had packed light: just a duffel bag with the stuffed eagle Cedric got when he was eight, five pairs of panties and socks, two bras, three white dresses, a slip, two wigs and a white flower for her hair, just like Billie. Tough as nails, but always a lady. She also packed a 007 blade in her boot. Tough as nails, so don’t fuck with me. She headed out the 8th Ave side at 40th Street and headed for 7th Ave.
And suddenly there it was, right where she read it would be: 7th Ave on the 31st St. side, right next to the entrance to Madison Square Garden. Sunny stood in front of the eagle, in awe and lost in nostalgia.
This very eagle once guarded the most beautiful train station…hell, the most beautiful building, that was ever destroyed for nothing. An actual 1910 relic that survived the destruction of Penn Station from 1962 – 1965. Sunny felt eight-year-old Cedric jumping out of her body with excitement, and she felt like she had finally arrived in her own life.
She remembered seeing a photo of the eagles on the façade of the original Penn Station when she was a little boy. When he learned that they tore down the station and threw all the rubble into the swamps of New Jersey, Cedric cried. He became obsessed with architecture and preservation, drawing and coloring eagles and Corinthian columns and Grand Central Station and the Brooklyn Bridge, building skyscrapers and bridges with Legos and reading everything he could about the great buildings of the world. He vowed to move to New York, become an architect and build and save great landmarks. And when he read that a few of the original Penn Station eagles were preserved and that one was in front of the new Penn Station, he vowed to pass by it every day.
And here it was… Now at last Sunny Holiday had found her guardian eagle.
That eagle in that moment was everything: preservation, perseverance, protection. It was symbol and metaphor and dream. Mostly it was rebirth and reinvention. It was Sunny Holiday, and it was beautiful.
It was almost 1:00 AM, and Sunny had nowhere to go. She figured she’d get a copy of the Village Voice, find an all-night coffee shop and scan the listings for a room for rent, then call around first thing in the morning. “Work” would take care of itself once she returned later that night to visit her guardian eagle.
She had finally arrived. Her life was unfolding rapidly, and it was finally hers. Sunny Holiday was about to take Manhattan. Little did she know what was to come…