After wading through a nearly full parking lot of cars–some, according to their plate frames, from as far away Valencia,
Riverside and, yes, Kentucky, which is where Lebowski Fest started 12
years ago (Louisville, to be exact)–your intrepid reporter tonight ran
into Barry Asher, the “master bowler” depicted above to close out the Coen brothers' movie The Big Lebowski.
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Asher, one of the top 50 pro bowlers of all time and the owner/operator of the Champions pro shop at Fountain Bowl, was a bowling technical adviser on The Big Lebowski, which Jeff Bridges and John Goodman have cited as the favorite film of their storied acting careers. Asher also played a role in making sure the bowling half of this year's Lebowski Fest LA, which kicked off Friday night with a Lebowski screening and Kyle Gass Band show in Beverly Hills, came to his home alley.
Informed inside the alley “This is fucking weird” of every Fountain Bowl lane occupied and many of those on the hardwood or milling about dressed like characters in the 1998 movie, Asher patted his informer on the shoulder and replied, “You got it, buddy.” The sight of a beaming Asher, his concern of a “clusterfuck” averted, was quickly followed by three Walter Sobchaks, two Jeff “Dude” Lebowskis and three Maude Lebowskis. And after that, many, many more of those characters and others.
Now, here is something I noticed about these real-life imitations of the celluloid heroes. The size of the faux Walters: spot on. (As Goodman is, well, burly). The paunchy Dudes: pretty damn close. But the Maudes? Well, think of actress Julianne Moore as Twiggy and most of the gals trying to ape her tonight in the viking/bowling ball breastplates from Jackie Treehorn's Gutterballs as Melissa McCarthys. One, who was closer to Moore-size as she lined up with her bowling ball, obviously impressed some people huddled around her lane I was downing a Newcastle next to. Admiring her particular viking/bowling ball outfit–which your reporter found no different than many others on display here–one amazed fellow remarked, “and she rolls, too.”
The next most-imitated character from the film out tonight was The Stranger, who was played by Sam Elliott and appears very briefly in the picture. One Stranger spotted in the Fountain Bowl bar appeared to be wearing stage makeup. There were also women wearing bowling pin headdresses like the ladies in The Dude's trippy Gutterballs dream, some of whom drew the attention of people passing with cameras. Indeed, you noticed a lot of snapping of photos or taping of videos of people dressed up like Lebowski characters. As previously told to me by Lebowski Fest co-founder Will Russell, who may have belonged to the Kentucky license plate out front, revelers just love bowling night because they get to “live” the movie. Obviously, it's important to capture that moment of living the movie on film, videotape or digital space.
A few guys were in robes, ala The Dude is in the opening scene, but one lament would be there were no–upon super close inspection–Bunny Lebowskis (the character played by Tara Reid, before she got revolting).
Based on rudimentary math, the Fountain Bowl head count would have come to 684 as of 7:30 p.m. (the event was to run from 7-11 p.m. Saturday). But keep in mind that could have been the Limey brewski, compounded by three Kona Brewing Firerock ales and two glasses of tempranillo shiraz before hitting the FV, doing the counting. At any rate, there were more lovers of this trippy modern noir comedy coming through the front door at that time of the tally. So it beats me who wins the office pool.
In the Fountain Bowl bar, a guy who looked like my gray bearded former next-door neighbor Bob–only with long stringy hair–butchered Creedence Clearwater Revival's “Suzie Q” on the karaoke stage. That prompted a guy drowning his sorrows alone next to me to get up, get in my face and announce, “This just ain't worth it” as he left the room. (Pray he wasn't referring to his life.) I soon followed him out the entrance, not because of Bob's tone-deaf double, but to use the head. Both urinals were occupied, but whipping open a toilet stall door I soon discovered the bowl was covered with what appeared to me to be a St. Patrick's Day night dinner of corn beef and whatever else makes barf stink up a room like the 5 freeway near Coalinga. I didn't know if it was that sight of the porcelain covering that informed my nasal passages for the rest of the time in the restroom, or if it really did just stink that fucking bad, but let's just agree it really stank that fucking bad. It made the original Linda's Doll Hut men's loo seem like a hyper-sterilized ICU in comparison.
I headed out to the table with $20 t-shirts and $5 stickers and posters of un-noted price to find a loving couple in matching white “Heeb” t-shirts, which I believe references a magazine Steven Spielberg either runs, started or somesuch. I believe I'm outside the demographic–not that's there's anything wrong with that demographic. The opening bars of Foghat's “Slow Ride” lured me back into the bar, as my head was filled with my first memory of the song, in the mid-1970s, being driven with a car full of other underage degenerates up Old Waterman Canyon Road north of San Bernardino to an appointment with a toilet paper holder pipe. My trip down memory lane was quickly interrupted by Jay, who felt compelled to karaoke any joy out of Johnny and June Carter Cash's “Ring of Fire.” Jay not only looked like my dentist right down to the please-kill-me stare, he sounded like Dr. D's drilling tools. The point is, the bar is not the place to be on this night, the floor is. Between Jay and the next “singer' was a recorded classic Bob Dylan song that made me, for perhaps the first time in their life, realize what a great vocalist Dylan was. Or is. And I've always been a Dylan fan!
As I passed the front bowling desk so I could breathe in my second contact high of the night–thanks for abiding, potheads–I came upon yet more festgoers lovingly capturing one another on the cameras apped to their cellular devices. This really did seem to be the point of the evening, reminding me much of anti-war rallies attended by the usual suspects who seem more interested in making sure one another is there than swaying the opinions of passing strangers. Whatever gets you through the night.
I glanced away from the congratulatory camera flashes to catch a genuine tranny swaying her manly hips to “Come Dancing.” Failing to recall trannies or the Kinks in The Big L, I plugged my nose and headed back into the men's, where the odor had shifted to something in a musky burger, with a hint of bacon and avocado. Later, pushing past the 14th fucking guy in a Medina Sod bowling shirt, I found myself next to a fellow on a microphone informing the crowd that at center alley was Liam O'Brien, Jesus Quintana's partner in the movie, furiously shining his ball for the adoring masses.
“Shine that ball, shine it up” says the announcer, who I am more interested in than anyone because he's Will Russell, this whole stinkin' event's organizer. When I cornered him near the front entrance before he'd go outside to shoot some video to play back to the people here, he was still riding a high from the previous night's Lebowski Fest opening in Beverly Hills, where the Kyle Gass Band had a special, unknown-to-Russell guest appearance by Jack Black, in full Evel Knivel outfit.
“He came in, sang for two minutes and left,” said Russell, still astonished. “It was like Elvis had left the building.”
Before I left the building I asked Russell how this night's bowling night compared with the others he has staged around the world. He answered they are all about the same and he'd like to come back here again. That should be refreshing to local Lebowski fanatics, especially those who know not what to do with their Lebowski Urban Achiever uniforms between festivals.
OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.