Her ass in the air like a beagle in heat

From the outside, 518 NE 28th Avenue looks like many other buildings in the area. A car alarm chirps and snowy gravel melts along the curbside thanks to iridescent water trickling down towards Glisan Street. “Velveteria,” a red cursive neon sign explains and the word “MUSEUM” is written with black marker on white stock paper with each letter placed in a window overhead. On the door, a sign explains $3 admission and one free question. No photos. I grab the cold, slender door handle and push, entering the museum. A few small paintings stand in front of me and the sound of a man’s voice shatters the silence. Carl Baldwin, the man behind Portland’s only velvet painting museum, is on the phone and I begin to look around.

“Technically dazzling and emotionally complex,” reads a note card below a sad clown sporting a five o’clock shadow, an oversized sun hat, and a large, floppy yellow bow tie; looking like a downtrodden Earl Blumenauer. Clowns are the current attraction, although banditos, naked woman, or contemporary B-list celebrities could all equally be called the main attraction. “Democratic art,” explains Mr. Baldwin, “it’s the stuff people have in their house.” I guess so, if by stuff in people’s houses you mean an velvet homage to Beetle juice (of Howard Stern fame) or some overly busty white girl wearing a meter of see-through fabric. Yes, now that you mentioned it I do believe my father’s mother had a reprint of that one over there of the white girl with the huge breasts and her ass in the air like a beagle in heat. That one certainly does hold a special place in my heart.

To truly understand the Velveteria, one must first understand Mr. Baldwin, who describes his addiction to “the velvets,” as akin to “bloodhounds after a fugitive.” No photos he reminds me, so I appealed to his sense of vanity and asked for a couple of personal shots on the record. He scrambles around, opening one trunk after another cabinet, searching for a loud, undersized orange jacket which is complemented with a purple, furry hat. To be honest, I did not even want his photo; I wanted to photography the paintings and subvert Mr. Baldwin pay-to-play scheme. “Give me some money,” Mr. Baldwin bellows. “I just gave you three dollars to get in,” I promptly retort. “The Shins,” continues Mr. Baldwin, “they shot some photos for Rolling Stone.” Presumably, they gave him more than three dollars but I am not in some crummy Portland band now, am I? Then he grabs some photos from behind the counter and shows them to me as though I care.

Penetrate past pink curtains and view the “adult” section of the museum. Gorgeous woman with shapely figures and swollen breasts lay, lie, bend over, swing, spread and otherwise stare-at-you will eyes that trace your every move. “Been here a year and a month,” babbles Mr. Baldwin though my attention was drawn to the lovely Susan Bernard, whose jet black hair has settled in her cleavage, contrasting her tapioca white skin, as she playfully undoes another button. Mrs. Bernard became the first Jewish Playmate in December 1966, and though her nostrils are in the shape of almonds, I would still love her. “Black light picks up the…blah blah blah,” I don’t care man. I am trying to stare into the eyes of an angel and this guy over here in the baggy wool sweater keeps trying to talk with me and scratch his patchy facial hair.

I ask about shooting photos again and finally he lets me shoot one. Then the phone rings and he walks away on leather-like shoes. As he leaves, I begin to shoot. Snap, snap the shutter open and closed. As Mr. Baldwin walks back and I can hear his footsteps draw closer and closer to me, then his voice trails off. I shoot, all-the-while listening over my shoulder for the sound faux leather footwear makes against leopard print carpet. He comes back and I try to restart the conversation. He wants to see the photos on my camera, so I show him one or two and walk back towards the door. Time to go.

I don’t trust anyone whose smile consists of a straightened upper lip with a slightly opened mouth. This is the sort of guy who you would find in a three way with the 24 Hour Church of Elvis lady and her husband, the Elvis impersonator down at the Waterfront. Their smile-less, sunken eyed offspring would run the rest of us normals out of town and into the hinterland of Forest Park’s wilderness and the muddy waters of old Vanport. If your idea of class is viewing velvet topless Pacific Islanders, Mexican stereotypes clad in bandoliers, or a cookie cutter Che Guevarra, then cancel the nights reservations at Genoa, summon the butler and have him warm up the horseless carriage. Have Meredith fetch her finest sun dress and parasol and find your top hat and monocle; then we can all go out to 518 NE 28th together.
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