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"Authorized Girl" by John Yohe

I was part of the joke as soon as I arrived: Nerve Rat had just gone big with their second album, Edge of Rain, and been on a world tour of all the dive bars in the world when they returned to Portland and rented—I wouldn't call it a mansion, but a big fucking house down in Oregon City overlooking the Willamette River, with three stories, including The Rat's Nest, which, since the house was set into a hill, was just a big basement that opened out in back to the lawn and river.

They immediately had problems with hangers-on, groupies and randos in the house, all the time, at all hours, and shit getting stolen, so at a band meeting they decided to only allow authorized people most of the week, with Unauthorized Nights on weekends. That is, parties. And, only Authorized Girls—that is, girlfriends—were allowed to be (live) there the rest of the time. So, six of us.

I was the Authorized Girl of Kant, the drummer. I gave them all philosopher nicknames because I was just finishing up a BA in philosophy at PSU and it amused me. Kant I guess because he was a drummer, was very logical, or tried to give the appearance of being so. The rhythm thing, I guess. The steady logical flow of rhythms.

Aristotle was the bass player—he talked a lot and wasn't very interesting, though I got along with his Authorized Girl, Iris, a waif of eighteen, and they had been seeing each other for two years and Aristotle was twenty-four. Iris was a nerd, a gamer and cosplayer and all that, and she'd had three years of french in high school so we could have joke conversations like, —Ça va?

—Oui! Ça va bien!

—Qu'est que tu fais?

—Rien! Et tu?


And everyone would look all impressed. And we would laugh to ourselves in a french way. Because we, the Authorized Girls, actually really didn't do anything there. Just fuck, eat pizza, and listen to the band rehearse down in The Rat’s Nest. I'd wash the dishes and the nearest bathroom to keep it from total filth. I could cook basic meals, like scrambled eggs. And spaghetti. I can still boil a mean pot of noodles. Sometimes at night (we were all nocturnal) I would wander down to the cliff edge over the river and watch the water and the lights from the other houses and wonder what people did with their lives that they could actually buy houses like that. Probably nothing good.

I'd read in our room if Kant wasn't around. I never told him I was a philosophy major. He would have freaked the fuck out. I never told anybody in that crowd—men get scared when they think a woman is smarter than them. That's why I never dated anyone in my department, even if I had wanted to, which I didn't because they were all, like, on the spectrum. Nice guys mostly, but not good around women. They would have loved Iris.

The singer/songwriter/guitarist I nicknamed Nietzsche, because he had that earnest madness and, when I delved into his lyrics I felt like he had the one-liner aphorism and also a mockingness, mockingbirdness, towards christianity and societal morality.

I had never listened to Nerve Rat before I met Kant. I am, or was, more of an americana gal: Joni Mitchell to Gillian Welch, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, and even a little bit country with some good ole cheesy (artists-formerly-known-as) The Dixie Chicks if I was in the mood.

I met Kant at a party down off of Morrison, near the bridge. We were both along as friends of someone invited to the party. He was like, yeah, I'm in a band and I was like, Oh really, that's interesting—visions of some high school garage band I'd seen play back in Ann Arbor in high school. But, he was ruggedly handsome with his trimmed black beard (only in Portland were young dudes sporting beards in the 90s)(maybe Seattle too). And he had some ripping arms—not huge, but lean like a primal hunter. So I gave him my number and while he went into the kitchen to hit the keg, my girlfriend's friend, Tia, came over and whispered, —Do you know who that is?!

So then I had to go home with him. Which was the first time I was at The Rat House, which felt creepy when we got there because we were the only ones, at least at first. I met Aristotle and Iris the next morning and we all had scrambled eggs and toast. Which I made. I can also make toast.

Kant was even good in bed—he licked my pussy and liked me on top, which is where I really can come hard. And, a very decent cock. Plus he was funny and a little charming. I did let slip that I was in college and I could see his eyes grow wide with fear, so when he asked my major, I fluttered my lashes and said, —Communications.

I didn't move into The Rat House as an Authorized Girl until the end of winter quarter—so, end of March—after about a month of us 'dating'. That is, fucking. But when he asked if I wanted to move in, I of course said yes, and wrote off spring quarter—what woman wouldn't? Which began my research into Nerve Rat. Like I said, I wasn't into grunge, so I focused in on the texts, the lyrics, as a way to find a connection. I even printed them all up, one song to a page, and put both albums together, stapled with underlines and marginalia. Which I guess sounds kind of stalky now.

Nietzsche did all the songwriting, lyrics and main music 'riffs' and chords, though they as a band had an agreement that all three shared songwriting credits. Which wasn't fair: After a summer of observation, I could tell Nietzsche was the driving force of the band. Kant I grew to appreciate and, later, musician friends would tell me that he was good a good drummer. But the lyrics were what made Nerve Rat Nerve Rat. They were actually probably less like Nietzsche and more like some french poet like Baudelaire, but the name had already stuck, in my mind.

Nietzsche was short and scruffy—he never seemed to shave but always had a two or three day stubble. Brown with some dark reddish strips. He mumbled when he talked. He even mumbled when he sang. I may be the only one to know what he was actually singing. I'm not sure he was a guitar god or anything. If he was noodling around, it was usually with his sound effects pedals, making his guitar sound weird, though I always felt their actual songs just sounded either what was called 'clean' (no distortion) or 'dirty' (with distortion) and mostly with distortion. It was like the weird sounds invited him to try weird chords. Or, weird lyrics too maybe.

So, suddenly I was in the band family. Not a groupie—I became clear on the status of groupies versus Authorized Girls when Nerve Rat did shows in Portland and Seattle that summer, even though the record company wanted them to have a new album recorded before fall. It was all new and wild and all I had to do was amuse Kant. I mean, I liked him. I think he loved me, for some reason. He said he'd never really talked to a woman like me before. Which is odd. Maybe he never tried. He was twenty-five, had grown up in Salem, the state capital to the south of Portland, quiet and small—and had hardly ever been out of the northwest, out of the Willamette Valley, when they were suddenly touring Europe.

I've been avoiding her, but Nietzsche's Authorized Girl, Hélène, was the sixth. I will say that I did not like her. And the feeling was mutual. Though she didn't seem to like anybody, not even the people in her band, The White Holes. She mocked them all the time at The Rat House.

She too was a singer-songwriter-guitarist and latched onto Nietzsche after Nerve Rat's first album, Bubblebumbagoo (actually I guess it's an EP—not a full album, five songs) after it did well, though they'd known each other in the Portland music scene. She was my age and it was clear, to me and just about everyone, that she wanted to be a rock star. Which is great. Was great. But she would constantly demand that Nietzsche get his agent to come see The White Holes, or to talk to his rep at the record company, Middle I. And poor Nietzsche would kindly nod and mumble something. I swear he even said, —Yes dear.

I don't know if he ever did those things. But, he loved her—she was full of energy, and even funny, and took care of him—got him to eat vegetarian and bought decent clothes for him, even though he was known for his jeans-and-flannel look. He told me once that he missed shopping at Goodwill: —You know, and you find something cool, some treasure that only works for you, and it comes from some stranger, but there's a connection! It's rad, dude.

So sometimes the three of us Authorized Girls would sit up in the living room and get high and laugh and make popcorn (I do it all) while the guys rehearsed. I had learned quickly that watching a band rehearse gets old quick. But, if the band was rehearsing, you heard them anyways: they were LOUD. The whole house vibrated. And no one ever called the cops. Even the houses across the river had to have heard.

As long as us three Authorized Girls were together, we could have fun, though Hélène was mean to Iris—kind of passive-aggressive, and talked smack when she wasn't around. Which of course she must have been doing with me. But poor Iris was the youngster, the 'young lass,' and was, I think, in love with Hélène and/or her glamour. And Hélène was glamorous—in a trashy way: Cleopatra eye-liner with fishnets and a brand new men's leather jacket, or green tights and a leopard-skin coat, and her hair color changed weekly. I saw The White Holes play a few times at Dante's, and they were good. She was good. They weren't great, and she wasn't a great guitar player or singer, but she had that charisma, that presence on stage where everyone in the club watched her. I never thought her lyrics, that I could understand, were that great. She kept notebooks, and scribbled, but I never saw what. I don't think she ever read that much though—she looked in Kant and I's room one time and said in her sneer voice, —Wow, that's a lot of books. What are you, a bookworm?

And there were like, three. Three books on my side of the bed. In college, now even, I'd have five to seven.

Nietzsche had read a lot earlier in life, I think, when he was a quiet nerd (so I picture him) before he became cool. Or, maybe he was an idiot savant. I never got to really talk to him since fucking Hélène wouldn't let me anywhere near him. If I even asked him to teach me a guitar chord she'd screech in like a harpy and physically place herself between us. Again, she did this with everyone, especially other women, but I felt like there was a personal extra distrust of me. Not like I liked Nietzsche. He was cute in a just-woke-up-with-a-hangover way, but Kant was the handsome one. (Aristotle was just kind of tall short-haired dork.) I just thought Nietzsche was interesting. And I wished he would have stood up to her a bit.

Ok, I could have been a way better girlfriend to him. Ok, I liked him.

I did not last long as an Authorized Girl. All it took was an Unauthorized Night at The Rat House and finding Kant in one of the extra rooms getting a blowjob from a lowly groupie for me to get the hell out. I suppose the super ability of wives and girlfriends of famous musicians is to put up with the outside sex, and today I even might be ok with it as long as I got to play around too. I certainly had offers that summer. I guess Kant did too. The bastard. The ripped amusing bastard.

So I wasn't there at The Rat House for Nietzsche's suicide-by-jumping-off-the-cliff-into-the-river. Nor for the investigation about whether it actually was a suicide: Hélène was the only one at The House with him at the time. I’ve heard the 911 call, and how calm she was when reporting it. The police never called me—Kant had a acquired a new Authorized Girl by then. I was never even interviewed for the documentary five or six years later. What would I have said.

Kant went on to form another band, with decent success. I've never talked to him again. Hélène's band got signed, did two albums, to minor success. She 'became' an actor, was in some Coen Brothers movie, one of the serious ones, and last I heard, married some record exec and lives in LA now.

I ran into Iris about five years later, at Powell's. We laughed. We hugged. We said, Ça va? She had been at The Rat House until the end. I said, did Hélène do it or not? Iris said she didn't know. She left Aristotle after Nietzsche's death and went on to college, to study art at the PNCA and, amazingly, went on to write and illustrate a couple of well-known graphic novels—one adapted into a movie—about her childhood. She said she was going to do one about that time, our time, called The Authorized Girl Experience.

Which sounds like a good name for a band.

Born in Puerto Rico, John Yohe lives in northwestern Colorado. He has worked as a wildland firefighter, wilderness ranger and fire lookout. Best of the Net nominee. Notable Essay List for Best American Essays 2021. @thejohnyohe

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