Columbus Abides: A Firsthand Account of Our Inaugural Lebowski Fest

Brian Ahnmark
The Coen Brothers released their masterpiece, The Big Lebowski, in 1998. I was only 17 at that time, and my tender young brain had not yet developed the necessary means (the necessary means) to absorb the genius contained within. It finally clicked in college, as I observed a fraternity brother host a viewing (resplendent with White Russians) every night of the second semester of his senior year.

Having since watched the film approximately, oh, I don't know, give or take, countless times, I've come to appreciate its true value – not as a “cult classic,” but as a communal experience. Friends who once chastised me for “ruining the movie” by quoting the lines aloud now shout every word along with me. For years, we swore an oath to attend a Lebowski Fest, the official gathering/Mecca for all Achievers. I was gonna go to Lebowski Fest in Louisville... but I didn't. And then I moved to Arizona, and I was gonna attend Lebowski Fest in Los Angle-eez (the City of Angels. I didn't find it to be that exactly)... but I didn't.

And then a Columbus Lebowski Fest was announced for April 2011. My time had come.

I'd plotted my costume and character for years. I went as Brandt, the loyal lapdog butler to Mr. Lebowski – the other Jeffrey Lebowski, the millionaire. I slicked my hair into a neat part, dusted off a suit and tie, even donned glasses to fit the part. Upon arrival at the Columbus Bowling Palace, the unmistakable scent of the Dude's herbal remedy of choice was already wafting about the parking lot.

Security guided the early arrivals to the bar (“Bahhh's over there,” to quote Knox Harrington). And what better way to start the evening than with the first of many Caucasians – premixed in giant pitchers. Ah, the blessed gift of foresight.

The Walk of Pride along the lengthy entry line was a highlight, taking in the costumes as “Brandt!” catcalls rang out. A remarkably dedicated staff of “employees” from North Hollywood Auto Circus waded throughout the crowd, distributing release forms to get the Dude's Gran Torino out of impound (“We Can Get You A Tow By 3:00,” the leaflet announced). As the attendees shuffled forward, each Achiever received a stamp of the Dude's likeness upon the wrist, with a single word printed beneath: Abide.

Into the alley we ventured, and darkness warshed over us, darker than a black steer's tookus on a moonless prairie night...

The soundtrack was impeccable, loaded with Creedence and Dylan and the Gypsy Kings. The White Russians and oat sodas flowed freely, with several “White Russian Only” stations placed strategically about the lanes. The bowling was unlimited and predictably bad (I blame faulty depth perception due to my glasses. And beverage intake). The trivia was brutal; even with my considerable expertise and a cram session earlier that day, I failed miserably (The name of the auto repair shop next to the bowling alley in the movie? Seriously?).

Although the percentage of Achievers in costume was disappointingly scant, those who participated went all in. The victorious Walter hoisted a dog carrier for his ex-wife Cynthia's Pomeranian – and I can't believe he brought it bowling (Cynthia and Marty Ackerman were also in attendance to say thanks, dressed in full Hawaii regalia). Shockingly, no one dressed as John Turturro's signature character, The Jesus. Consequently, the trophy for “Best Jesus” went to a spot-on Liam, The Jesus' chunky mustachioed partner. Moses won for best overall costume, presumably for originality (although a Sandy Koufax getup would have been more impressive).

The race for “Best Dude” was too close to call; both had the puke green weave robe jacket; one had the jelly sandals; the other had the portable phone. Ultimately, it was settled with class: A single-ball bowl-off.

As for me? A nice round of applause in the costume finals, and some precious memorabilia I'll treasure forever: A pair of limited-edition buttons, said to be “like currency” at the founding Lebowski Fest in Louisville, and an exclusive bumper sticker reading “Ever thus to deadbeats.” I was even interviewed by a staff writer from The Lantern, the Ohio State University student newspaper. Kid did a dandy job, too; I was several beverages into my evening and remember little of our discussion, other than a hugely condescending rant involving my personal feelings toward people who do not see the humor in The Big Lebowski, which I concluded by proclaiming, “I don't mean that in a condescending way.”

Above all, the sense of community was overwhelming. Photo opportunities abounded, including a last-minute parking lot snapshot with the victorious Dude. One of my lane mates drove three-plus hours alone from West Virginia to attend, and planned to drive back that night. Attempting to bowl in my suit, there were multiple times where I damn near stumbled down the lane, prompting a chorus of “Over the line!” from onlookers.

For the first time in my life, I felt at one with the unifying vision declared by the Big Lebowski himself:

“I'm a Lebowski, you're a Lebowski. That's terrific.”