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It was then decided the next Lebowski Fest would be at a bowling alley that did allow drinking and cussing. Word of the annual gatherings "somehow got picked up by SPIN magazine as part of its summer-events guide next to giant festivals such as Lollapalooza," recalled Russell, who says that brought 1,200 "Achievers" out. "Ever since then, it's become a phenomenon. It has its own life."
Asked if it was the movie's story (and quotable dialogue) or the essence of The Dude character that lights a fire in so many Achievers, Russell first said that was a difficult question before deciding that both probably inform fanatics. He believes people love The Dude because "he's an anti-hero, anti-capitalist who is happy just to take a bubble bath. He is genuinely a nice guy, laidback and cool."
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Russell figures folks also appreciate The Dude being accepting of everyone (so long as they don't piss on his rug), even "an asshole like Walter. The Dude can tolerate where other people can't. And I think Walter needs a laidback friend."
Achievers let their Lebowski freak flags fly through costume, trivia, and hardest- and farthest-traveled contests. A band play before the first night's film screening, but Russell claims, "The bowling part is really the more fun of the two parties.
"The bowling party is more about becoming the movie," he adds. "It's kind of where the world of Lebowski comes to life, a living and breathing Big Lebowski that is just as unpredictable and fun and weird as the movie. You'll have Nihilists running around with marmots, as well as lots of guys in bathrobes drinking White Russians. It's a good time. It's a legitimate, renegade, DIY, organic festival. It's cult culture."
Organizers prefer "traditional bowling alleys," Russell says, over those newer versions you'll find at places such as GardenWalk in Anaheim, the Outlets at Orange or the Pike in Long Beach. "They were built to be partied in," he says of the old warhorses. "You can't really hurt a bowling alley. We've had more than 50 festivals in the U.S. and overseas—they have been crazy parties, but after all of them, the bowling alleys have been left standing."
That's not the only reason Fountain Bowl was chosen for this year's post-Lebowski Fest bowling celebration. It turns out the Fountain Valley venue has a Big Lebowski connection.
* * *
From the chapter titled "Just Throw the F**ing Ball, Man!" in the Bridges and Glassman book The Dude and the Zen Master:
JEFF: We're making the movie The Big Lebowski, and everyone who's seen the movie knows that The Dude and Walter dig bowling, right? Now, I've bowled a little bit in the past, but I'm not an expert like The Dude. So the Coen brothers hire a master bowler to teach John Goodman, Steve Buscemi and me how to bowl.
It seems that years ago [the master bowler] tried to bowl like in the book Zen in the Art of Archery. That book teaches the student to completely let go of his ego in order to hit the bull's-eye. If the mind is settled and clear, the pins are practically down before the bowler cocks his hand back to throw the ball.
Unfortunately, trying to settle and clear the mind actually made things worse, not better, for the master bowler, as Bridges tells it.
Things got so bad he couldn't throw the ball at all. He would not release it from his hand because he couldn't get into the right mind-set. Finally, he went to a shrink, and they worked it out.
"So what do you do now?" I ask him.
"I just throw the fucking ball! I don't think."
* * *
Meet the master bowler, Barry Asher, who owns the Fountain Bowl pro shop Champions Bowling & Embroidery. Not only was he the bowling technical adviser on The Big Lebowski, but he is also the last person to appear on camera before the end credits roll.
Sitting on the other side of Asher's desk at Fountain Bowl, I begin retelling Bridges' master bowler story, but I think the word "zen" kind of freaks him out because first he shakes "no" about his being the bowler, then he says it must've been someone else. Finally, when I tell the part about the bowler having had to see a sports psychologist, Asher sheepishly admits, "Yeah, I've talked about that with Jeff."
He adds it took two full years for him to return to the form that led him to be inducted into the Professional Bowlers Association Hall of Fame as one of the top 50 bowlers of all time. A black commemorative ball honoring that achievement is in the middle of his shop, with a picture on the orb that shows him with a full head of hair. On a nearby wall is a still of him from the end of The Big Lebowski, bald by then but still maintaining that classic bowling delivery stance as all 10 pins scatter.
Asher looks to me as if he's in pretty damn good shape now. "At my age, I have no fear that I can throw as well as the kids," he says. "I can't beat them, but . . . actually, I do beat them sometimes."
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