The poem begins with a glance at the speaker's watch. What time is it? 12:20. Where are he? New York. What day is it? Three days after Bastille Day, so July 17. What year is it? 1959. What should he do now? Get a shoeshine. After that? Take the train out of the city to meet friends for dinner in East Hampton. Which friends? (He has a lot of friends in East Hampton). He'll worry about that later.
Having recounted his general plan for the day, the speaker starts walking up the street. He eats lunch and buys a literary journal. He goes to the bank and is surprised when the teller does not look up his balance. He goes to a bookstore to buy gifts for some friends. He goes to the liquor store to buy a bottle of fancy booze for another friend. He retraces his steps and goes to buy cigarettes at a tobacco shop. While in the tobacco shop, he sees a copy of a newspaper with Billie Holiday's face on the cover. He's a big fan, and – no! What? Billie Holiday has died. The speaker buys the newspaper along with his cigarettes.
As he tries to process the news, he starts sweating with grief. Or maybe just from the heat. He remembers the time he heard Holiday sing at a club called the "5 Spot." He was leaning against the bathroom door as she "whispered a song along the keyboard." All the people in the club, including the speaker and Holiday's pianist, held their breaths.