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  • Kai Straw

New Orleans

I’m writing this at 1AM in New Orleans.  My first stop as I make an album around the world.


So far – lotta firsts for me.  I tried gumbo.  And jumbalaya.  And a poboy.  Crab cake.  A beignet.  Some big shrimp that I had to de-shell myself.  I had dinner on a steamboat out on the Mississippi.  I saw George Porter, Jr., perform at The Maple Leaf.  I kayaked, first time, and this was out on a Louisiana bayou among the alligators, the cyprus trees and spanish moss.  If you listen right, it’s like you can hear whispers through the trees as the wind rushes through them.  My fingers got so cold the water felt warm.


I walked down Bourbon Street where every bar is overflowing with neon signs and drunk tourists and weed smoke and tarot card readers and jazz and within all that there was a couple doing heroin right there in a doorway.  The woman who served me my first poboy had no teeth, or maybe three.  Almost all servers called me baby.  And it’s pronounced like “New-Orlins” not “New Orleens”.


On Bourbon Street, it’s this 10-block canyon of bars and nightclubs with different songs screaming from each of them – and each song fades in and out of the next as you’re walking – with the predominant constant being the banging of plastic buckets by groups of kids and teenagers at the end of almost every one.  I tipped one of them and the rest swarmed me saying they were owed some money, too.  The smallest one looked mad, maybe nine years old, “Cash up!”  He said.


In my elevator, a woman was bleeding from her knee – it was dripping down her shin to her ankle.  She was standing with her friend.  They were drunk, sweaty, and definitely at the end of their night.  “I got in a fight with some guy,” she told me; I hadn’t asked.  Her eyes were dark and tired.  “Do I look cute?”  She asked me; I didn’t think so – but what can you say?  At the end of the night when someone’s been drinking heavily, their eyes look empty.  I said yeah but winced as I did – like it was a question and an apology wrapped in one; they both laughed.  “Where are you going?”  They asked, and I could hear the invitation tucked inside.


A guy told me his apartment flooded during Hurricane Katrina.  He’d lived in New Orleans his whole life and his voice was low and coarse like maybe it’d been eroded by smoke; or like his vocal chords were used as a barbeque and had many years left but were somehow charred sweet from so much use.  He said during the flood he’d put his newborn son and young daughter onto a blow-up mattress with their mom and tied a rope to it – then he pulled them through the flooded city toward dry land.  He said you could see bodies floating in the water.  It was like a movie, he said, and his wife still has anxiety attacks because of it.  “Something like P..” he stuttered trying to remember the letters, “PTSD or something,” he said.


Every life, seems like, is long and heavy and unique.  When we’re out in public, it’s like everyone can fade together.  We interact with each other as puddles while hiding oceans behind our eyes.


I take off my headphones; I can hear either the clang of a church bell or musicians playing trumpets and tubas and trombones on the streets below.  The melody the church bell sings is the same melody that played from the doorbell at the nightclub I once worked for.  It’s like I’m in a strange dream.


New Orleans is beautiful, and ugly, and creative, and heartbreaking, and soaked rich with flavor.  If my soul could sprout homes as well as music maybe it’d look the same.


Kai Straw

New Orleans, 2023


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