Northside SF  

Publisher's Note
Random acts of 'The Big Lebowski'
By Susan Dyer Reynolds

Jeff Bridges as Jeffrey Lebowski
The last few years have been tough in the Reynolds household. In 2008, my father’s dementia worsened and his girlfriend, Kickie, could no longer care for him in her home. We sold my childhood house in Sunnyvale, bought a condo near Buena Vista Park in San Francisco, and I moved from my house in the Haight-Ashbury to take care of him. One summer morning when I brought his ritual hot chocolate and “mushrooms” (as he called marshmallows), I found he had passed away in his sleep.

I decided to stay at Buena Vista, and in 2009 I allowed a friend to move into the basement of my house in the Haight – she had lost her sublet and had nowhere else to go. I informed her that I planned to sell the house, and she promised she’d find a new rental within a month. Over the course of that year, she began abusing the City’s tenant-friendly laws to her advantage, filing frivolous lawsuits in small claims court and restraining orders to keep me off my own property while she lived in my basement rent-free. It took a tough lawyer and selling a chunk of my Apple stock to get her out.

When 2010 rolled around, I prayed for a good year, but the prayers went unanswered: in early February I went to a short lunch meeting, forgot to turn on the alarm, and I was burglarized – the scumbags took everything, from the pink diamond ring my boyfriend gave me just a month before he died, to the MacBook Air I use to write and produce this newspaper (and, of course, the burglary happened the day of production for the February issue). The thing that put it all into perspective for me was that my beloved pit bull, Jasmine Blue, was home during the burglary. She followed them from room to room in her typical fashion – with a stuffed toy in her mouth. We found a toy in the room where they broke the window to get in, as well as one in every room where they took a flat screen television off the wall. (When people say that pit bulls are vicious killers, I say if that were true I’d still have all my stuff and some dead burglars.) Though the experience was horrific (“stuff” can be replaced), I was just thankful Jazzy was OK.

But that didn’t last long, either. In July, I discovered a small bump on the left side of her nose. Since she is only 4 years old, her veterinarian wasn’t terribly worried. “She’s so young,” he said encouragingly, “and we rarely see cancer in this area, above the canine tooth …” But it was cancer; an aggressive, malignant fibrosarcoma tumor.

I spent the month of September living and working from a motel room in Davis while Jazzy received radiation treatments at the city’s renowned veterinary teaching hospital five days per week. It’s been two months since her last treatment, and all we can do now is say a little doggie prayer every single day and hope she will get through this. (Since only one out of a thousand pit bulls gets out of a shelter alive, I figure she’s beaten bigger odds.)

With 2011 here, I pray along with the rest of you for peace and prosperity, health and happiness, love and laughter – but after the last three years, I must admit I have grown cynical. Why do really awful people have lives that go off without a hitch while good, honest people struggle and hurt? Why is life so random and so cruel?

I was at perhaps one of my lowest moments when Northside San Francisco art director Sara Brownell called me after a trip to New York. I’m always happy to hear from Sara who, besides being a phenomenal designer is also one of the wittiest people I know. “You won’t believe what happened while I was in the city,” she said, and there was that mischievous tone in her voice that I know all too well. …

In 1998, actor Jeff Bridges took the lead role in Ethan and Joel Coen’s film The Big Lebowski, about a laid-back guy named Jeffrey Lebowski, who refers to himself as “The Dude.” Bridges’s character is mistaken for a millionaire, also named Lebowski, who owes a lot of money to some very bad people, and in typical Cohen Brothers fashion, confusion and craziness ensue. Stellar performances by Bridges and co-stars John Goodman and Julianne Moore, coupled with memorable lines (when asked what he does for recreation, The Dude responds, “Oh, the usual. I bowl. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback.”) and catch phrases like “The Dude abides,” made The Big Lebowski an instant cult classic.

About four years ago when Sara returned to Nebraska for Christmas with her family, she saw that her brother, Doug, with his long hair, shaggy beard and dark shades, had turned into The Dude. The Big Lebowski became an inside joke – she sent Doug the DVD (which she’s still not certain he’s made it through without falling asleep), and she began carrying a picture in her wallet of her brother next to a picture of Jeff Bridges as The Dude.

In November, Sara visited New York for a friend’s anniversary party, and, before heading upstate, she and her friend Solana decided to spend a couple of days in the city. Since Sara had lived there for a decade, she led the way on a trip through the East and West Villages. “Let’s go through Washington Square Park,” she said on a whim, and when she and Solana stumbled onto Thompson Street, they found themselves in front of a diminutive shop called The Little Lebowski, dedicated to memorabilia from the film. “I have to get my brother a T-shirt,” Sara said. Solana was less enthused and waited outside, texting on her iPhone.

As Sara entered the store, an old man in a grey pea coat standing in the doorway whispered, “He’s in there ...” Caught off guard, Sara laughed, “Who? The Dude?” She slipped past the man and began rifling through a pile of T-shirts featuring quotes from the movie, looking for her brother’s size, when she felt someone over her shoulder – and there, in all his living, breathing glory, was the star of The Big Lebowski. Shocked and amazed, Sara blurted out, “Mr. Bridges! I have something in my wallet that you might find interesting.” Bridges seemed intrigued. “Well, what’s that?” he asked. Sara opened her wallet and pulled out the photos of her brother, Doug, and The Dude. “I’ve carried these pictures for years because my brother, Doug, looks so much like you in the movie,” she explained. Bridges calmly took his glasses out of his pocket, put them on, and took the sacred photos in his hand. “Well, look at that,” he said. When Sara found a shirt in her brother’s size, she mustered up the courage to ask Bridges to sign it, and he did: “Doug, yeah man, Jeff Bridges.”

And as quickly as he had appeared, The Dude was gone.

Sara’s story gave me the laugh I needed that night, but it also gave me the answer I’d been seeking: While life is often random and cruel, it can also be random and wonderful. And it is because of those random acts of “The Big Lebowski” that we know life is worth living.


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