Fear and Loathing in Tennessee

A true story by Jay Slusher

Some time ago, in New Orleans and Tennessee, I’d reached my limit and hit the wall. After being a functional alcoholic and recreational drug user, I’d become that guy: a total pilled out drunken mess, fired from my job of nine years, evicted from apartment and my girlfriend left me. She saved my life and told me she didn’t want to be the one to find me dead. I don’t blame her one bit. I pretty much hit rock bottom.

I got in touch with a friend in Daytona Beach who said I could come stay with her and her husband. My brother from another mother bought me a bus ticket. It was a long, fucked-up trip and I got there in slightly better shape than Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy.

Didn’t have any trouble getting a job, but Daytona Beach wasn’t my town, man. I’m a New Orleans guy; I’ve lived half my life (25-plus years) here. Things didn’t work out for me and I recently found out my second oldest daughter was pregnant after suffering a previous miscarriage. Finally, there was hope for something good and decent in my life.

Arrangements were made were made for a place to stay with oldest daughter in Tennessee. I really didn’t want to be back up there, but I wanted something good. I found out the baby was going to be a little girl!

So I got a job in a local factory working the night shift. It was rough work for a 50-year-old, busted-up bartender and doorman, but I hung in there—for two plus years. Felt like I was in purgatory. It was the most boring time of my life: work and home. However, I kicked booze, pills and event quit smoking weed for over a year! (Drug tests at my job.)

Jessica, my daughter, had the baby and named her Journey. Man, I knew she was gonna be something! The first time I held her, she was a week old. Me and my girlfriend at the time drove up to Indiana to see her. My daughter’s house was chaos at the time, with little dogs barking and all the sons-in-law’s relatives there.

My granddaughter was pretending to be asleep and discreetly cutting her eyes at me, like who-in-the-fuck is THIS guy?!?! It was one of the best moments of my life.

Not long after driving back to Tennessee, I broke up with my girlfriend and the boring monotony of work and motel life set in. It felt like I was dying and missing the fuck out of New Orleans. The city is like that really toxic girlfriend who’s no damned good for you, but you still want to bang her. Seeing people I went to high school with looking like death on a tricycle, spun constantly and living in their parents’ basements really got me down.

It seems like I had my shit together better when I was half-drunk and doing drugs? I missed the camaraderie and respect I earned working on Bourbon Street. It’s the only life I’ve ever known and the only place I’ve EVER felt at home.

Music to my fuckin’ ears

The music, the people, the vibe. Bourbon Street is where you think there’s about to be a street brawl, or gunfight, and it turns into a second line with everyone cutting up and getting along. I missed it so bad it hurt! Yeah, it’s fucked up and yes it is dangerous, but goddamn I feel alive here. A part of it all! Never bored and always something going down, good or bad.

Shit started going bad. I got fucked over on my car and was about to point-out at my job and I really don’t kiss ass well, to say the least. I hadta remind myself every day what I got away with in New Orleans, which I’d get fired and catch felony charges for in Tennessee.

Given my nature and personality, I got really tired of toning down my personality and taking shit. It was coming to a head and I was getting a dark foreshadowing of ending up in jail with guys I went to high school with in there and I didn’t get along with most of them back in the day.

I had spend a lot of the past couple of years along most of the time, and sober, with lots of self-introspective brooding; reliving every goddamn mistake and bad decision I’ve made in the last 40 years. Not a good place to be, but I had several epiphanies, or moments of clarity as we alcoholics call them.

At a crucial point, I got a call from my old boss: Cary. I’d been a henchman for over a decade. We had a long conversation about many things.

He said “come back, I’ve got work for you, we need you!” Another friend called and said, “Jay, you can crash at my crib ’til you get on your feet.” A job and a place to stay? Fuck yeah. I’ve started out on less before.

I left the great state of Tennessee on the day the Hard Rock (hotel) fell. I though a friend of mine had been in there working. He was missing and unaccounted for? Found out the day after I got back that he was in New York. Thank gods for that. My boss pretty much put me back to work pretty much the first night I walked back into that world. It felt great to be back. I’d missed pretty much everyone.

Back on the street, back on my feet

I had a nice little gig going. Was working with a lot of friends and some new ones. It’s really rare in this world to meet people and be friends with them right off the bat. And it has happened to me more here in New Orleans than anywhere else I’ve been: Detroit, Atlanta, Chicago or Houston. I’ve really got some good solid friends here in New Orleans that looked out for me and held me down during ALL of the COVID-19 and political fuckery during 2020. Some rough times for all of us.

Thankfully, I DID NOT have a girlfriend or wife and kids to provide and look out for. Hitting 50, my check engine light came on! The whole goddamned board went red: diabetic type 2, arthritis, PTSD and ballistic head trauma from being hit in the dome too many times, too many to count over the years.

Pool sticks and beer bottles and bar stools, memory loss and confusion, waking up dehydrated and not knowing where I am or what year it is. It only lasts a minute, though, if it gets really bad and I’m self-aware enough to realize it. The last skull I crack will be my own.

Not wanting to turn this into a Dark Carnival of the Soul, but I’m getting emotional and in my feelings writing this. It’s very personal stuff. Being back after a couple of years gone by has given my a lot of perspective and insight. Everyone remarks about how much calmer and patient I am now. I owe that to my granddaughter, Journey. Her parents are doing an awesome job with her. She’s got a sweet and kind personality, and she’d want me to be more patient and help people.

I’m not my old cruel self anymore. The path of the righteous man and all that shit. I’m trying Ringo, trying REAL hard. Had a love-hate relationship with the Big Sleazy for awhile. It’s all love now, but I needed that time away, alone mostly and sober.

To put it into perspective: if it’s my fate to die here by God I’m down for it. I’ve never felt at home anywhere else. The people, the music, the history and the vibe. And, of course, the best food in the world. We lost a lot of people over the last few years. Many have fallen RIP and see y’all on the other side.

The future is uncertain and the end is always near. Just want to say I’ve got a lot of good friends and mad love and respect for everyone holding me down. And we WILL get through this. Katrina couldn’t kill the city and neither will COVID-19.

Love y’all man! We few! We happy few! Band of brothers and sisters. Proud of ALL y’all.

Send all questions, comments, feedback, or to welcome Jay back to New Orleans, email dave@thequarterrat.com or styles@thequarterrat.com.