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Finding better ways to fail at Molotov's 

Wednesday, Aug 6 2008

I lost my job a month ago, and have been doing a big fat zip ever since. Actually, that's not entirely true: I've been applying for gigs and interviewing hither and yon. But when I'm not getting dressed up to go answer things like "When was the last time you failed?" or "Name three things about yourself you'd really like to change," I have been lying in bed watching Comcast On Demand and eating ramen noodles.

Trying to find a job sucks. I don't understand why employers ask those "hard" questions, because the answers can't be very satisfying. Surely most people, when asked what they would change about themselves, say, "Well, for starters I would be less of a workaholic. And maybe I would work on not being so dang conscientious. And ... oh, yeah! I really could stand to be a lot less organized."

I am honest to a fault, and I guess I'm hoping the right employer will appreciate that. For example, when I was recently asked about the last time I failed, I immediately said, "Well, I just got fired from my last job." I thought the dude was going to fall out of his chair. I went on to explain that I got fired for something I wrote, not for my job performance, but still, I'm thinkin' most people probably wouldn't have volunteered that information. No, most people would've said, "I came upon an elderly woman who was in cardiac arrest. Immediately I began to administer CPR, but it was too late. I failed to save her life, and even knowing that I did my best is little comfort to me."

So here I am at the crossroads I always come to when I am between jobs or relationships. Should I be myself and possibly have fewer opportunities, or should I put on a show? Oddly, Dogtown and Z-Boys helped me gain clarity on this topic recently. The documentary was playing on the television at Molotov's in the Lower Haight the night I stopped in there.

Molotov's is where the Dead Boys would drink if they weren't old and, well, dead. I was actually on my way to the Noc Noc when I heard Fugazi pouring out of the door across the street. It was a track from 13 Songs, which has to be one of my all-time favorite records. Like a zombie, I made an immediate turn toward the source of the sound, arms out in front and feet awkwardly shuffling. I sat at the bar next to a metal dude in red jeans. On my right was a punk dude in a Suicidal Tendencies T-shirt. Everyone was wearing studded belts, even the female bartender. The male bartender looked like Johnny Thunders. They were selling $2 Pabst. I had five dollars, so the price was right.

As I said, Molotov's was showing Dogtown and Z-Boys, a movie about the rise of professional skateboarding in Southern California. In the beginning, no one really gave a shit about skateboards except this ragtag group of kids. Then they began skating in empty swimming pools in homes that were on the market, yadda yadda. ... The cool thing about the film is that it really is a historical snapshot of a pivotal era. Imagine seeing a caveman make fire for the first time: In Dogtown, you see the very moment when "sidewalk surfing" started to become the multimillion-dollar industry that it is today.

"It's all about the nipples," a guy said to the metal dude next to me. The metal dude concurred. They were having an in-depth discussion about burlesque, and I was suddenly all ears. God, I love hearing men talk to each other when they think no woman is listening.

"She looks mighty disgusted with us," one of the dudes said, and I realized that he was talking about me. I suppose my face had registered some disquiet, which surprised me, because I was really more amused than perturbed. The metal guy explained that Benders bar was hosting a burlesque night. I said, "Oh, the guy who owns that place, Johnny, is a great guy." He answered, "Really?" and then I realized I was talking to the man himself. Finally we both remembered each other and he bought me another Pabst. "Sonic Reducer" came on the jukebox. I knew I would hear the Dead Boys at least once at Molotov's.

I was still in the throes of figuring out if I should conform to the Man and get a real job, or keep on being myself and hope the right fit comes along. That's where Dogtown comes in. Here were these guys who loved to skateboard, so much so that they actively worked to improve the design, find a place to expand their repertoire of tricks, and eventually even get people to sponsor what they were doing. They had no idea it would be as successful as it was; they were just doing what they loved. I thought about myself as a writer: how I always kept a diary, how teachers would read my stuff aloud, and how I accidentally fell into journalism in my early 20s. I wasn't trying too hard, I wasn't out to impress, I was just doing what felt good to me — just like the skateboarders. What's more, I wrote the equivalent of saying "I got fired" in a job interview — I was honest to myself in my writing, even if it meant losing a relationship, a job, or a reader. And that attitude has really paid off for me, at least spiritually.

"Hmmm," I said out loud, taking a sip from my Pabst. It was sort of ironic that I was sitting next to Johnny, because he is another good example of doing what you love and sticking with it. When Benders burned down a few years ago due to arson, he pretty much lost everything and had poor insurance. In the aftermath, I was impressed with how upbeat he seemed. After more hard work and fund-raising, he rebuilt the bar, and it looks awesome. He is very pleased with the place, and now has an "all's well that ends well" attitude.

Johnny and the bartenders did a round of shots and I hugged him goodbye.

So I suppose the lesson to take from all this is that you must have faith and keep on keepin' on. Climb every mountain, ford every stream. Don't go out of your way to sabotage yourself, but also "to thine own self be true."

Or you could just go home and crawl into bed and watch more Comcast On Demand. If there's one thing I could change about myself, I would watch less cable TV. Then I would have more time to concentrate on other things, like better ways to fail.

About The Author

Katy St. Clair

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