S tephen Hanns, co-founder of the Portland Alien Museum, is telling me about a recent cattle mutilation in Christmas Valley, Oregon. "The farmer went back to his bull, and it was smoking and sizzling, and even its eyeballs were bubbling, and it had been moved 10 feet from where he had left it. But it hadn't been dragged through the grass--it was like it had been picked up and dropped off a little ways down." The twinkle in Hanns' eye betrays the notion that he's not entirely convinced about little green men but remains a sucker for a good story. Behind him an ad for the National Beef Council has been ripped from a glossy magazine and stuck to the wall. It shows a juicy tenderloin steak and reads "Why Aliens Steal Our Cows."

If Hanns, a semi-retired dentist, is rather agnostic on the issue of extraterrestrial life, his partner Lawrence Johns brings the undoubting passion to the museum. When he learned I was with the Mercury, his eyes lit up and he said I could help him get the word out. "The American military is holding 17 extraterrestrials in captivity, and we're going to have a public lecture on September 28 to see what we can do about getting these aliens free!"

Located in a small house in the Hollywood District, the young museum's collection is in the "sapling" phase, although I spent an easy two hours there. Flat artwork and reproductions dominate the galleries. Microfilm enlargements of alien encounters in the Northwest, posters of Renaissance paintings purportedly showing UFOs, and Roswell drawings mingle with digital photos of mysterious orbs. A DVD player showed the classic film The Day the Earth Stood Still. "Is that Aunt Bea," I asked. "I don't know," said Hanns. "I haven't really watched this one."

We were guided to the 3-D Alien Thrill Ride, located in a back room occupied by a TV screen and a few folding chairs. We were given fancy hardwired 3-D glasses and left alone. The screen came alive with eye-popping computer graphics of a spacecraft twirling through the stars. About two minutes in, it became obvious that the 3-D Alien Thrill Ride was an old IMAX film for kids that had been released on DVD. It shows two bumbling aliens who mistakenly invade an amusement park, thinking it's an advanced metropolis, and we come along as they sit through countless thrill ride simulators. Admittedly, it was a fun, trippy 3-D experience, but didn't do much to raise my extraterrestrial consciousness.

When I inquired about the first alien-human hybrid that was advertised for "ladies only," I was led to the women's bathroom and pointed towards the shower stall. Opening the door slowly, I was repulsed to find a nasty, gauzy mannequin propped up against the shower wall. "That's disgusting," I muttered, checking out the hybrid's bloody eyes and long, scratchy fingernails. "I know. Isn't it cool?" Hanns offered, smiling. I just couldn't figure out why there was an assortment of cheap lollipops in the hybrid's brown bony hands.

Finally we were led to the first ever man-made vortex, located on the front porch. I asked what a vortex is, exactly, and received a vague answer about psychic energy and electromagnetic fields. You can't see the Hollywood Vortex--Hanns drew an imaginary line on the porch indicating where it was. "Stand here," he instructed me, and positioned me inside the vortex. "Now look how tall I am; see where your eyes line up with mine. Now switch places with me." I left the electromagnetic field, and he took my place. "Now see where your eyes line up with me again." I swear that he got smaller or I got taller leaving that vortex. When Hanns produced a level, the bubble indicated that the porch was straight as an arrow. I tried again with my wife and believe I actually saw her shrink a little when she entered the unmarked area. There were no smoke and mirrors here, and there was definitely more at play than the power of suggestion. Driving home, it occurred to me that if I couldn't be sure my wife didn't shrink before my very eyes, then how could I be so sure that somewhere in New Mexico, Colin Powell isn't holding seventeen extraterrestrials captive? CHAS BOWIE

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