Even in high school I spent a lot of time in Kai’s band’s studio. Where ‘studio’ is ‘condemned structure containing couches and miles of wires and cables’. Smidgen practiced in a two-story building at the back of someone’s mom’s lot. The first time I went there I was warned not to fall through the floor and to watch out for raccoons.

But I wasn’t there to watch the band practice, and I wasn’t even there to see Kai. I was there to spend time with my boyfriend who played Dungeons and Dragon-esque role-playing games with Kai. I was there at night, picking my way through the cables and drums by flashlight with a bag of Fritos and a liter of Mountain Dew under my arm so that I could watch four high school boys roll 12-sided dice all night. And as I recall, I couldn’t make fun or I’d be asked to leave.

Yes, I did eventually participate in a campaign. And it was super fun. But that doesn’t make it any less dorky that you did it–Kai, Reuben, Chris, and Jake!

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Smidgen
Ashland, 1990s

Ashland Oregon is about halfway between Seattle and San Francisco. It’s an eight hour drive to either city. When we were growing up, the population was about 15,000, and disproportionately pretentious thanks to our primary industry, Shakespeare-based tourism. There’s no shortage of martini glasses in Ashland, but not one of the Taco Bell, McDonalds, Dairy Queen, or Pizza Hut managed to stay in business. There’s nothing for teenagers to eat, and there’s nothing for teenagers to do.

We spent most Friday nights at 24 hour truck stops 15 miles up the Interstate drinking coffee and sucking ketchup off of French fries. There was a park, but curfew was strictly enforced, and a movie theater that showed a lot of independent films and offered nutritional yeast as a popcorn topping. There was only one band in town, as far as I knew, Kai’s band, Smidgen. This was the late 90s and Smidgen was in its post-ska, horn-free incarnation. I saw them play all over town: on the quad at the high school, at the Shriners’ temple, and in coffee shops all up and down Siskiyou Boulevard. My mom saw them. My sister saw them. My friends’ moms’ sisters saw them. We saw them through the windows of the Beanery because they were much to loud for anyone to enjoy their coffee inside. And we saw them through the windows at Evos because the smoke machine made our mochas taste funny. It was cold on the patio. But man, it sure beat another night of gasoline fumes and cigarette smoke.

SMIDGEN 4EVA

Seattle, 2000s

I had fallen asleep on a couch while Kai was playing in a friend’s living room on New Year’s Eve. The party seemed to be dying down, people had started leaving and it was well past midnight. I had no competition left for the couch.

When I woke up, there were people sitting on my feet, people sitting on the arm rest, and people leaning over the back of the couch. There were dancers and tambourine players and at least two accordions. There was a two-year-old with a bottle clapping out a polka, and no one was speaking English.

For a minute I felt like I was having my own “It’s a Wonderful Life” and, as it turned out, had I never been born, the cold war would have ended very differently. It was four o’clock in the morning and I didn’t know it yet, but I had just started a new chapter of my life with the band–this was the Bucharest Drinking Team.

How do I describe Kai–my boyfriend, the drummer? Kai’s an all around good guy. He looks like someone you wouldn’t want to mess with, and you probably wouldn’t. You’d probably want to buy him a beer instead. But he looks like a wall of testosterone behind the drum kit. He’s got these broad shoulders and he’s sporting the cue ball look and he has the ability to grow a full beard almost overnight. But this is the guy who taught me how to cook tofu and likes to talk about Fermat’s last theorem and is really into Balkan folk music. He’s smart, and he’s easy-going, and he’s impossible not to get along with. He just looks like he’s the bouncer.

His brothers are the same way. The middle brother looks like he could tie a chain around his waist and tow a Mack truck, but he’s a photographer of delicate detail and he sings in the choir. The baby brother, with his long hair, looks like some sort of urban Viking who could pillage the bar at any minute, but he’s about to get his BA in literature and was in A/V club in high school.

Kai brings me pink cupcakes with sprinkles when I have a bad day because he knows they’re my favorite. Kai tells more people than I do when I win an award or get a promotion. Kai “likes” every photo I ever put on Facebook. So, yes… I can live with the constant tapping.

Hidden Number
Seattle, 2000s

When some people get drunk, they become beligerent, or slutty, or wistful. I myself like to announce to people that I am, in fact, drunk and then I laugh loudly about things in my head that I don’t share with people. I also tend to get drunk on embarrassingly elaborate fruity drinks in shades of pink or blue. When Dean gets drunk, he becomes an 1890s dandy. Dean drinks Manhattans, “a refreshing libation.” When the bars close, Dean’s place is a popular destination. “To my parlor! There will be merriment until the morning lights the wainscotting!”

Dean’s apartment, in the basement of an art gallery, has no windows but it does have a full video surveillance system. Every wall, and some doorways, are draped ceiling to floor in red velvet curtains. The rooms are lit by electronic candlelight, wired to sconces along the walls. The furniture is a combination of Victorian wood and upholstery and bench seats from the van the band gutted to fit the equipment in. To the right of the entrance are shelves supporting phonographs, books on the occult, and Victor, Dean’s ventriloquist dummy. To the left is a TV. Would you like to watch any given episode of Pee Wee’s Playhouse, or would you prefer an old Houdini film? Too bad! Those are your choices. This is why you shouldn’t follow a drunk guy back to his windowless apartment. “I seem to have misplaced my monocle. Do you enjoy the theremin?”