I Made You Famous. Not Rich, but Famous.

For NYE 2010 I found myself in New Orleans, visiting our friends Patrick and Gill and their son, Jack. (Visit Gill’s blog, The Reluctant Grownup.) After a long drive we began to settle in, chatting and snacking, and I swung by the bathroom. The Egan bathroom is comfortably large and nicely decorated, with a rustic little table to one side bedecked with books and magazines.

Ah, that book! I thought, looking at one of the titles. It was a popular book, a book you can get at any Borders, a book I’d been intending to read for some time, a book I know a lot of people liked. I selected this book and looked into the table of contents, found a chapter that looked most promising, and began to read.

And this is when my life took a most surreal turn. My brain had a delayed reaction, its thoughts in drunken slow motion. “Waaaaiiitt….thaaat’s abbooouuuut meeeeeee.”

Yes, my friends. The chapter began with an anecdote that directly involved me.

For some I suppose it ain’t no thang to be in a book. But I have lived an anonymous life. I am not mentioned in books. Let alone very popular and successful books that you can buy at any Borders you come across.

To tell you the story of how I came to be in this book, I need to begin with one man. And his name is Peter Exline.

At some point in college I was signed up for an industry workshop class. I think this was in Fall of my Junior year. If not, close enough. When I say “I was signed up for” – as a Filmic Writer at USC your class schedule was drawn up for you, then you picked electives around that. So I had not sought this class, didn’t know much about it, didn’t know anything about the teacher, but I was looking forward to hearing from working professionals on a weekly basis.

I arrived early for the first class and found my friend Aaron had as well. The tables and chairs were in disarray, but we found a table to sit at and began to chat. That’s when this tall guy walks in. He’s a little Clint Eastwoody in appearance, but with a Goodfellas agitation level. He starts stomping around, roughly organizing tables and chairs. Aaron and I look at each other. What’s with this guy? we think, but we don’t let it stop our chat. This prompts the tall guy to walk over, slam his hands down on the table right in front of us and bark, “are you going to help or just talk?”

peter

Peter, in his element.

Wow, I think. What an @#%*!.

Aaron and I get up, help organize the chairs and tables and soon enough class begins. The tall guy introduces himself as Peter Exline. He will be our teacher. I’ve decided I hate him and will make his life miserable for the rest of the semester. He starts telling us a story. About how he once had the Coen Brothers over for a barbeque, and kept remarking about how this abandoned rug he had reclaimed from the urban jungle, “really tied the room together.”

This sounded familiar. I couldn’t help myself. I started to laugh.

He also talks about Big Lou. (Who you can see for yourself, if you wish. He’s the submarine driver in Titanic.) During Big Lou’s varied career – he had been a mercenary in Angola, among other things – he picked up the private detective business. When Peter’s car was stolen and then remarkably retrieved by the L.A.P.D., Big Lou made all kinds of incorrect pronouncements about the culprits based on the evidence left behind. Primarily fast food wrappers. But Peter finds the most important clue of all, a book. An algebra book.

This is sounding very familiar, and I am laughing so hard my sides hurt.

Walter

This actually happened.

Inside the algebra book Peter finds homework, homework by some kid named Jaik Freeman. It so happens that in all of Los Angeles, Peter knows exactly one kid, a kid who hangs out in front of a convenience store Peter frequents. Peter asks this kid, the one kid he knows in all of L.A., “do you know Jaik Freeman?” The kid looks stricken. Yes, he knows who Jaik Freeman is. He’s bad news at this kid’s middle school. Peter gets some background on Jaik, while Big Lou does some research. They find the Freeman household and make an appointment to come see little Jaik.

At this point in the class, tears are streaming down my cheeks. I had already seen The Big Lebowski in the theater and this was my favorite scene in the movie.

Big Lou takes the fast food wrappers and the homework and puts them into baggies. Upon arrival at the Freeman home they find Mrs. Freeman dressed elegantly, a pumps and pearls sort of woman. They also discover Mr. Freeman is in a hospital bed in the living room. He’s reading scripts. At no point does Mr. Freeman say anything. Peter would eventually discover this man was an old school Hollywood heavyweight, an Oscar nominated screenwriter. But at this moment, Peter and Big Lou are focused squarely on little Jaik. Who stonewalls them. He refuses to answer questions, even when Big Lou threatens to dust the fast food wrappers for prints. Eventually mother and son exit stage left. The mother reappears to inform Peter and Big Lou somebody borrowed Jaik’s algebra book, and that’s that. Big Lou and Peter leave defeated. (They do not destroy a Corvette.)

By the end of the first class Peter had won a convert. I started out hating him, by the end I loved him. (It must be noted that not only was Peter’s story innately hilarious, Peter is a gifted storyteller. This tale told by him in person is infinitely funnier than anything I could ever put down.) 

Peter’s workshop class became my favorite, and I looked forward to it all week. We had great guests and Peter is a talented interviewer. We learned a lot and we laughed a lot. And I talked a lot. It’s what I do. It’s hard for me to stop. One day I was sitting next to Mikey Ireland, and we were talking. In class. When we shouldn’t be. Peter called me out, rather brutally, as was his fashion. He asked me, “care to share with the class what you were talking about?”

I replied, “oh, about how Mikey’s going to kick your ass after class.”

Mikey, God bless him, chimed in with, “yeah. You better watch out.”

Now, heretofore, my lifelong propensity towards cheeky, off-the-cuff comments had delivered unto me many things. It had delivered me trouble, detention, and the most unpleasant comments written into my report cards. But on this occasion, my cheeky, off-the-cuff comment gave me Peter’s respect. I had known that if I just kept trying, it would one day pay off. And it only took 30,000 negative experiences to get one good one! I am, after all, pure determination.

Not long after I threatened Peter with a beating by Mikey Ireland he asked if I wanted to join his bowling group. I did.

And so the next few years flew by. At some point, I must really tell all y’all about the Pookie in Korea Town incident or perhaps the occasion wherein Peter threw a package at me, yelling, “OPEN IT! IF IT HAS ANTHRAX IN IT YOU’RE GETTING THE ANTHRAX!” Alternatively, I could tell the Dead Camper at the Airport story. (Peter runs a digital film camp at Pepperdine. Once, when I was arranging camper pick up, I forgot one. At LAX. For the record, the camper did not actually die.)

Suffice it to say, Peter and I became friends. When LebowskiFest became a phenomenon, I asked Peter, “why aren’t you in on this deal?” Peter responded, “I don’t know.” So I, righter of wrongs that I can sometimes be, sent an e-mail to Will Russell, one of the founders of LebowskiFest. I told him about Peter and why Peter should be involved in LebowskiFest, adding a story about a time I audited a class of Peter’s. He kept tripping over a chair leg as he paced about, giving his lecture. He tripped one time too many, picked up the chair and tossed it, shouting, “first Vietnam, now this chair!” In early 2006, I received an e-mail requesting Peter’s contact information.

The book. That I am in.

The book. That I am in.

Peter participated in at least one LebowskiFest, maybe more. He met Will and the other guys who run the show. When they created the most excellent book, I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski: Life, The Big Lebowski, and What Have You, Peter constituted a chapter. It begins with a little anecdote about how they met him. I think they were looking for a way to include the line, “first Vietnam, now this chair!” 

After discovering my inclusion in I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski, I texted Peter, demanding to know why he hadn’t told me about it. He responded, “oh yeah. That. I made you famous. Not rich, but famous.”

As an aside, there is much discussion in I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski as to why The Big Lebowski resonates so thoroughly with so many. Many folks believe there is comfort to be taken in the notion that The Dude abides, takin’ it easy for all us sinners. I have my own answer. Independent of the fact the movie is just plain funny, I find that its plethora of one-liners are amazingly universal. When I offer up a grudging acknowledgement that somebody I don’t like is good at something, I say, “that creep can roll, man.” When somebody is unfamiliar with a topic at hand, I say, “obviously, you’re not a golfer.” When something is in doubt I say, “this is our concern, Dude.” And when I have a beverage and someone is jostling me, I say, “there’s a beverage here, man.” For nearly every moment in life, there is a corresponding Lebowski quote to go with it. It is stunningly like the Bible in this way. A Bible for slackers, bums, and achievers, too.

P.S. If you have a kid who might be interested in film camp, send them! I don’t work there anymore, they’re safe now. It is an amazing program put on by US Performing Arts. I cannot say enough good things about it. Here’s an example of a film shot back in my day, The Bored Room.

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