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In Character with Lisa Freeman


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Trapped inside a closed-circuit TV, Freakybuttrue Peculiarium co-owner Lisa Freeman dreams up new ways to freak out her customers at her novelty shop/museum. When you’re touring the Freakybuttrue Peculiarium in Northwest Portland, just be careful where you sit. And try not to be too embarrassed. Co-owners Lisa Freeman and Mike Wellins have taken the concept of “it’s all in good fun” to new heights. Or lows.

Portland Tribune: Favorite reaction you’ve seen from a visitor to the store?

Lisa Freeman: People walk in and see the 10-foot Bigfoot just inside the door and that is like an invitation. This guy comes in and goes, “Yeah, but he’s not that tall.” I said, “Really?” And he’s like, “Me and a couple of buddies were in a cabin in Washington. He’s shorter and a little wider, but that’s the guy. You got his face right.”

Tribune: And where did you get this Bigfoot, and his face?

Freeman: Mike and a couple of friends made him. They were just playing with some blue foam and the thing got bigger and bigger and bigger and it got out of control. We will never be able to remove that guy from the shop because he’s so big. His feet are made out of concrete.

Tribune: So what are you going to do when you close the shop someday?

Freeman: We’ve talked about that. We may cut him into three pieces.

Tribune: And then eat him? I mention that, because you have an Insectarium Club. Where did that come from?

Freeman: That was an afterthought.

Tribune: Are you sure you don’t mean an aftertaste?

Freeman: It could be. The food is the bug eater’s delight, which is an ice cream sundae covered with at least 10 freeze-dried mealworms and/or scorpions.

Tribune: Real ones?

Freeman: They’re not alive, but they are real.

Tribune: But is it quality ice cream?

Freeman: Heck, yeah. It’s from Oregon. I put all the bugs on the top and they have to pose and we take the picture. They have to eat the whole thing. If someone is lactose intolerant they can have a chili dog with bugs on it.

Tribune: Does everybody finish it?

Freeman: Usually the kids finish just fine. It’s the macho guys that come in, they’ll eat a few for the photograph and then hide it and set it aside. We go over (to them). They’re not leaving the shop until they finish eating the bugs, or no Insectarium Club for them.

This soccer mom comes with her two kids, a beautiful family. The mom orders three big sundaes and says to the kids, “You’re going to eat these sundaes or else.” This soccer mom turns into Momzilla and the kids are horrified. They did not want to eat these things. They did not even want to come into the shop. I’ve got photographs of them just gagging while she’s making them eat these bugs.

Tribune: Weirdest question you’ve been asked?

Freeman: This one guy comes in once a month and asks if we smoke pot and if we want to become a marijuana dispensary. It’s just the weirdness, but I think he forgets he’s been in before.

I get asked at least once a day, “Is that really Al Capone’s vault?” That’s one of our exhibits. The information says that Al Capone sent it to his brother in Oregon for safekeeping.

Tribune: But that’s not true, either, is it?

Freeman: No, it’s not.

Tribune: Basically, you’re lying about everything in the shop, aren’t you?

Freeman: Yes, we are, because that was the whole premise for opening the Peculiarium. We like to snow people. It’s really fun. We tell jokes all day long. Oftentimes we’ll have a ladies’ night out. First thing they do is lift up the flap on Bigfoot.

Tribune: The flap?

Freeman: He has a loincloth.

Tribune: Are they satisfied with what they see?

Freeman: Yes. That’s all I’m authorized to say.

Tribune: You sell whoopee cushions and I love your selection of fake dog poop and vomit.

Freeman: We’re very proud of that. We have three different kinds of dog poop to choose from and two different kinds of vomit: Pepto-Bismol and non-Pepto-Bismol.

Tribune: Ever sat on a whoopee cushion yourself?

Freeman: All the time. And we put them out so other people in the shop will get tricked.