By Timothy Gillis
When Dave Cousins went to a Lebowski Festival at One Longfellow Square several years ago, he knew most of the set pieces were present. There were people dressed in costume as characters from the film, a viewing of the cult classic, and plenty of white Russians to make soggy any mustache.
“But I knew something was missing,” he said. It wasn’t until he was discussing his passion for The Dude (as the main Lebowski is known) with a friend that the answer came to him. He was chatting with Colleen Kelley, owner of Silly’s Restaurant in Portland, when she told him “do this for the right reason.”
The right reason, it turns out, is for charity. So each year, as Cousins and company get ready to roll another strike for their love of “The Big Lebowski,” they try to find a local person or agency worth bowling for.
Viva Lebowski, now in its third year, is a celebration of the film through bowling, games and trivia, and of course, white Russians. But it’s also much than that. It’s a clever way to have fun while raising funds. Cousins has traveled far and wide to attend several “Lebowski-fests,” in such locales at New York, where he attended the cast reunion and met Jeff Bridges, who plays The Dude, as well as the actors who portray his bowling buddies, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi. He’s been to the festival in Louisville, which he says is “the grand daddy of them all,” and he won “Best Dude” at a Lebowskifest in Boston. Despite all the excitement of making new friends with similar interests in big metropolitan areas, Cousins likes to come home for Portland’s own version. And the understanding that there’s an underlying cause much more serious than the comedy makes all his efforts – running around on First Friday, stapling posters to telephone poles – worth it.
“We raise money for charity,” said Cousins. “We charge admission but give away all the ticket sales.”
In 2010, his first year of involvement, Cousins gave the money raised to Nick Stevens, who owns 13th Cookie Bakery in Portland. He has multiple sclerosis, now in remission, “which is good news,” Cousins said. “MS, though, is one of those diseases that comes and goes. He was going through a relapse at the time, walking with a walker, a patch over one eye. He couldn’t work at his own bakery.”
In 2011, Viva Lebowski gave money to the American Heart Association. Juris Ubans, a tennis friend of Cousins, went in for surgery that summer. Ubans had been the organizer for Sunday morning tennis at the Racket and Fitness Center, in Portland, where Cousins coaches a few times a week. Cousins, who opened Top Tier Creative, a web design company in May, wanted to try to give something back to the man who had made Sunday mornings a great get-together for aging tennis hacks.
This year, Viva Lebowski is donating its money to United Way of Greater Portland. The entrance fee is $20, and things start to roll at Bayside Bowl around 8 pm Friday night, September 14.
“Bowling for the evening is in shifts,” Cousins explained. “There will be light-hearted trivia contests where I play game show host. Around 10:30 pm or so we will play the movie. Some folks say, ‘we’ve seen the movie a thousand times, can we just bowl?’ and I tell them, ‘You can bowl the entire night.”
Bayside Bowl has been closed for renovations for two weeks now, so Viva Lebowski is also like a sneak preview of the changes made there. For more information, visit vivalebowski.