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  FAR ROCKAWAY, N.Y. -- Just as the remnants of Hurricane Charley began to unravel along the Atlantic seaboard on August 14, a storm of its own time and place was just beginning to churn in the  

outer reaches of a Queens bowling alley.

"It's a pretty regular night at Cozy Bowl," one of its employees said. "Except for The Dude and the White Russians."

Some 700 or so "Achievers," the preferred nomenclature for devoted fans of the Coen Brothers' 1998 comedy The Big Lebowski, turned out for the fifth installment of The Lebowski Fest -- some trivia, some White Russians and plenty of fucking rolling on Shabbos.

What some call the Coen's finest script -- and their most quotable -- The Big Lebowski revolves around a Raymond Chandler-esque whodunit plot stocked with a slew of absurdly likable characters played by absurdly likable actors: Jeff Bridges as the Dude, a pot-smoking, White Russian-guzzling ex-activist turned decidedly inactive, except for the weekly bowling league; fellow bowlers Walter (John Goodman), a ticking Vietnam Vet whose outfits smack of First Blood-era Stallone; and his simple sidekick Donny (Steve Buscemi); a purple-clad, paroled pederast named Jesus (John Turturro); and Maude (Julianne Moore), a sperm collecting avant-garde artist. Not to mention a marmot, a group of nihilists, a porno king, a German techno-pop group named Autobahn and a whole lotta ins, outs and what-have-yous. It's a Reservoir Dogs for the drug-addled amateur bowling set. Another staggering accomplishment: It's also the only movie in which Tara Reid, as sans-toe Bunny Lebowski, manages to not suck.

But by many accounts, the Lebowski Fest New York failed to achieve where past conventions had succeeded -- the costumes here were a bit tame, and the turnout was less than expected -- but it wasn't without its share of Duder moments.

There was the festival's customary unlimited bowling, plenty of oat sodas, sarsaparillas and White Russians (although, four drink tickets for a


pre-made White Russian? That is certainly un-Dude) to drown away the pain of a bad round, and plenty of fist-pumps to the ceiling of an imaginary '73 Ford Gran Torino whenever Creedence came over the loudspeakers.

Louisville natives Will Russell, 28, and Scott Shuffit, 32, hosted the first Lebowski Fest in a hometown, Baptist bowling alley in October 2002. The event drew 150 Lebowski fans, but no drinking and no darn cuss words. The next year, at a drinking and cussing friendly establishment across town, the festival drew 1,000, thanks in part to the informative Web site and a square inch name-check below Christina Aguilera's navel in Spin. Earlier this year, Russell and Shuffit took the convention to Las Vegas for Lebowski Fest West.

What's remarkable about the popularity of Lebowski Fest -- and The Big Lebowski's unlikely cult following -- is how unremarkable the film was in its initial release. The Big Lebowski earned just $17.5 million domestically, a box-office miss by Hollywood standards, and was almost uniformly shelled by critics partial to the Coens' previous effort, the breakthrough Fargo. For a movie that should be a Coen cast-off, its stubborn popularity only confirms the feeling that, like any cultishly viewed, dialogue-driven movie, it gets better with each successive viewing.

The Fest at Cozy Bowl clearly belonged to a keynote appearance from the real Dude, 54-year-old Jeff Dowd, a Hollywood pr rep whom the Coen Brothers met while shopping their first film, Blood Simple. Dowd has since gone the way of a B-list celebrity, though at these events he's treated to complimentary White Russians and idle hero worship.

"It's fantastic, man, fucking fantastic," a Hawaiian-shirted, beverage-fisting Dowd said of the film's timeless appeal and his supplemental career. "You buyin', man?"

That the Lebowski Festival is little more than a Star Trek convention with alcohol and gutter balls is an assertion that Achievers reject. "A Trekkie convention without the geeks" is a frequent battle cry. "We don't just sit around, we party." Well, sure, but geeks can party, too.

"We are like the Trekkies who got kicked out of school for bad behavior," said fest-founder Russell. "Make no mistake, we are geeking out -- we happen to also be rocking out while we do it."

And that night, it was about bowling, White Russians and a lot of dudes watching the Dude glide around Cozy Bowl like a guy still searching for his lost Creedence tapes. Despite persistent rumors, there were no cameos from the film's co-stars like Turturro or Goodman or Buscemi or Bridges. Just the Dude and his faithful.

I don't know about you, but I take comfort in that.


Dylan Stableford is a writer and producer currently working on his first documentary film about another dude, this one.