Column: Progress and regression and The Happy Ending

Last week before an improv show in Hollywood I met up with my teammates to do what all good improvisers do before a show – drink. We rendezvoused at a bar on the Sunset Strip called The Happy Ending.
 
The Happy Ending featured three innovations I had never encountered. I was so blown away by these potentially game-changing additions to the traditional bar scene that I felt compelled to write about them. Plus, I figured it would give you a week off from reading about things like what it means that human beings are grossly incapable of guessing the size of their own heads.
 
Two of the bar innovations are signs of human progress. The other innovation is a sign of digression.

The first innovation was the drink wheel. No one spun it while we were there, but I love the idea. A customer spins the wheel and whatever cocktail it lands on is discounted for the next hour. The drink wheel combines the following awesome things: chance, anticipation, spinning, discount booze, women yelling “donkey punch shots” and a giant, multicolored wheel. When has a giant, multicolored wheel ever not made people happy?


(If you see one of these inside a bar – stay.)
 
The second innovation solved a modern dilemma that commercial interior designers refuse to acknowledge. Like many bars, the men’s room at The Happy Ending had a trough urinal. Unlike other bars, this trough had a vertical divider hanging from the wall for privacy. The trough divider is potentially the greatest breakthrough in the history of men’s room design.

According to the Shy Bladder Center, (yes there really is a Shy Bladder Center), 7 percent of the population suffers from shy bladder, or paruresis. I do not, but I can sympathize, as I prefer privacy, like all men do.

I contacted the International Paruresis Association to get its take on The Happy Ending’s trough divider. CEO Steven Soifer replied with the following one-word e-mail:

“GREAT!”

Leave it to the nation’s leading authority on pee shyness to keep things short.

The private trough is an idea whose time has come. If mankind can hang a gigantic wheel of toilet paper on a stall wall, (another genius idea), then we can put a trough divider in every sports arena, bar and Kid Rock house party in the country. Kudos to The Happy Ending for giving men what they need to urinate quickly and with dignity.


(Welcome to 7 percent of the population’s nightmare. Photo by kimmysoo/Flickr.)

Dignity, unfortunately, is not the word I would use to describe this otherwise fine bar’s third innovation. Tucked against the back wall is a game called Lobster Zone. You know those games where you use a joystick to control a claw in an attempt to grasp stuffed animals? Lobster Zone is the same thing, except with live lobsters.

For $2 a patron can try to grab a lobster off the bottom of a seawater tank. If the patron succeeds, the establishment will cook and serve the lobster.

Unlike PETA, I am not outraged by the treatment of the lobsters. Lobsters are removed from tanks and cooked in restaurants every day. It is the fate of lobsters. At least with Lobster Zone, the lobster has one last chance to escape. (If there is any justice, lobsters that survive more than a month in the tank should win their freedom like a Roman gladiator slave.)

My outrage with Lobster Zone is aimed at poor taste.

No business should seek to profit from idiocy, but it is only the idiot who thinks A.) It would be fun to pluck a trapped, living being from a machine B.) That a $2 lobster is going to taste delicious.
 
As proof of said idiocy, I offer you this video:

As another year winds down, The Happy Ending reminds me that for every two steps humanity takes forward, we take another step back. The year 2008 saw the U.S. take a giant step away from its racist past and also saw the world collaborate on a scientific project of epic proportions – the Large Hadron Collider, which could solve some of the biggest questions in physics. On the downside, the economy tanked and we started repeating the same mistakes that contributed to the length and depth of the Great Depression.

I hope 2009 brings much more trough divider and much less Lobster Zone.

(Note: This is the final column of 2008. The next column and podcast will be published on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2009.)

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