Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Black Velvet Migration

In yesterday's Oregonian, an article in the "How We Live" section reported that Portland's Velveteria (the velvet painting museum) will be closing on January 24. The owner/curators also announced they will be moving to Southern California and hope to reopen there. Perhaps, they watched the Rose Parade one too many years. Can't say as I blame them.

Caren Anderson and Carl Baldwin have been, in Caren's words, "livin' the dream."

Their dream, to paraphrase Beatle John, is, alas, over. They're both Californians and they both miss the Golden State, for one reason or another. "Baldwin doesn't like Portland's weather. Anderson misses ocean warm enough to swim in on the spur of the moment."


But the kicker, for me, is, "In Portland, you can kind of do your own thing," Anderson says. "But I'm craving something more culturally and ethnically diverse. I just crave a bigger cultural base."

* * *

I lived in a sprawling apartment complex in Newport Beach for a year. The place was beautifully situated on the bluff overlooking the back bay. It had swimming pools, a gym and tennis courts. I participated in the group tennis lessons on Saturday mornings. One Saturday, Tony the ancient tennis pro, who knew I had moved down from L.A., asked if I missed the big city to the north. I said yes.

"What do you miss?"

I told him I missed the diversity.

He cracked in response, "why? It's too white for you here?"

I said, "yes."

* * *

The Velveteria's announcement, for all intents and purposes, reduces Portland's weird factor by 50%. The soul reason for the dubious crown is now because of Voodoo Doughnuts, the emporium that first put slices of bacon on their maple bars. Their other "delicacies" include such confections as the "Memphis Mafia" doughnut (chocolate chips/banana/ peanutbutter/glaze), the Triple Chocolate Penetration (chocolate doughnut, chocolate glaze, and cocoa-puffs), and, of course, the Nyquil Glazed and Pepto-Bismol doughnut (currently on hold). But, really, is this weird, or just disgusting?

There is a bigger issue here, though. And that is Portland claiming the "weird" domain name at all.

Living in the digital age has pretty much put a kabosh on lying, or even, for that matter, falsely boasting. From the wild claims made by politicians and pundits to the convoluted conspiracy theories of nutballs who spend too much time at home alone or in the gray market church of their choice, nearly everything can be fact-checked. All of which is to say, Portland seems to be the third city in the country that would like the world to know they would like to be kept weird. Austin, Texas is the first city in the country expressing a public desire to be kept weird. It is said that if Austin were a state, it would be the most liberal in the country. The fact that it is surrounded by the rest of Texas is pretty remarkable. But is liberal the same as weird? Talk amongst yourselves. The river has many tributaries and not all lead the same place. As for Louisville. Well, they are number two. Why is beyond me. I simply don't know that much about the city, beyond a baseball bat named for it and its proximity to whiskey stills. But Portland? When I Googled "keep Portland weird," I came up with the building painted, some pictures of bumper stickers and a shot of Music Millennium. Since when does having a used music store (CD's and vinyl) make a city weird? The place makes me pine for Amoeba, in Hollywood. Saying you're weird doesn't make you weird... just the opposite, actually.

Does a lack of exposure to sunshine make you weird? Or the rain? Maybe Astoria, on the coast, should be kept weird in that case. Does having the ethnic diversity of Johannesburg make Portland weird? Does the preponderance of tattoos, slackers and homeless make Portland weird? Having moved from a city that encompassed a white robed roller skater playing an electric guitar hooked up to his rope belt on the walkway by the beach, super-hero dress-up characters in front of perhaps the most famous movie theater in the world, a Thai Elvis impersonator who performs in a restaurant (also, ironically, Thai),as well as the Mex King (El-Vez), the Red Elvises and too many more to mention, a city that has mountains, valleys, beaches and deserts, more Jews than in Tel Aviv, the second largest population of Mexicans outside of Mexico City, a black population consisting of immigrants from the South, the East, Europe and Africa, including a community of Jewish Ethiopians. A city with more restaurants and more varieties of food than you can shake a churro at. And while Los Angeles may not have a gay mayor, (who escaped banishment from his office not for porking an underage male, but for lying about it), it does have the fabulously charismatic Antonio Villaragosa. Hell, the little town of Silverton has a more colorful mayor than Portland. He may be arrogant, but he isn't a pandering liar. I could go on, but for now, I will do my best to just ride winter out. They tell me it gets nice around here... in July. Don't let my friend Dogfish Donna see this, but Portland (complexion-wise at least) pales in comparison to the City of Angels, particularly during every month with a vowel in its name.

* * *

Alannah Miles, doing her Molly Shannon imitation

And, of course, no mention of Black Velvet would be complete without conjuring up Ms. Miles, her one-hit and the subject of the song...
Black velvet and that little boy's smile
Black velvet with that slow Southern style
A new religion that'll bring ya to your knees
Black velvet if you please

Is it mere coincidence that the news of Velveteria's closing coincides with the King's 75th birthday, at the end of the week?

Stay tuned... and keep yourself weird.


Davaudian said...

It's a simple loss of identity. Any lost soul that needs to fill the hole in their life will become contrarian to fill that hole....then they are whole. So weird looks great to an empty person. So do drugs, booze, food etc. You'll only find this trait in humans. Animals are just too smart to be a sucker....they don't have trends and fads or elect a fox to guard the henhouse.

Portland needs to be weird to exist...otherwise it's just another northern city with bad weather far too remote to count. Let's hope that more shops stay there to keep the image alive and the folks warm.

I was talking to a really cool canadian chick this evening at El Compadre over drinks. She was all happy to be in LA and wants to go to Nashville to sing but she needs to dump the boyfriend that got her here first. At least she got out of the cold.

barryshap said...

There's always a broad at the bar–and often in a Mex joint–who has a story about her dream and a bad boyfriend. Man, it's like Bukowski recycled. You need a better class of dives. Your office isn't that far from Musso's. Go over there, say hello to Ruben for me and have bourbon on the rocks or his signature martoonie. Conjure Chandler. Live a little..

Davaudian said...

Well, i was invited by friends at Sam Ash since i was away for so long....just returned to work yesterday. Musso's is great...love the steaks and I'm getting a Martoonie next. Is Ruben behind the counter??

barryshap said...

Ruben Rueda is the jolly barkeep. See if Oscar is still waiting tables. He spent way too much money on the ponies to have retired.