"Mama!" the young woman rasped, fanning her hands across the glass. "They got his underwear in here!" Then, reluctantly pulling her palms away, but with her fingertips lingering, she added, "You'da thought he'da worn colors."
Welcome to the Elvis Presley Museum and bulk-jewelry come-on, a combination 3-D scrapbook and sacred grotto carved into Northern Virginia's newest discount supermall, Potomac Mills at Woodbridge.
The only "approved" Elvis shrine outside Graceland mansion in Memphis, the exhibit is drawn from the collection of Georgia businessman M.L. Moon, a self-described "personal friend" and high-priced subsidizer of Elvis' longtime backup singer J.D. Sumner (of "and the Stamps") and Presley's aide-de-camp Charlie Hodge.
For just $3.95 ($2.50 for kids), you can bask in the borrowed proximity of the Presley mystique. See his jockey briefs, his pajamas, his personalized director's chair. Moon over his "Miami Vice"-style limousine, a white stretch Lincoln purchased off the "Shaft" set in 1975.
And mourn, if you can, at the tireless video crooning of a prematurely puffy Presley -- just one more cut-rate commercial in a line of low-cost shops.
"It was Elvis that brought me up here," said Eileen Barker of Jamestown, "but I couldn't resist that pottery place."
"That pottery place" is Waccamaw Pottery, a king-sized offshoot of the home furnishings and kitschy-koo discount center in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Waccamaw is the anchor attraction of the Potomac Mills shopping center, a $97 million mall 15 minutes south of the Beltway.
Created by Western Development Corp., which also produced the pay-for-prestige Georgetown Park center for more conspicuous consumers, Potomac Mills is designed to cash in on the growing popularity of mill outlets and factory-direct stores.
A schizophrenic mix of pastel tiles, "authentic" warehouse exteriors and high-tech lighting, Potomac Mills is being marketed as the "perfect mall," where status meets savings.
"We think it's prestigious to save money," according to Western Development Corp. President Herbert S. Miller. "Potomac Mills has all the things people like about regional malls -- the food, the day care, the convenience -- with the added attraction that every store here is value-oriented."
Except for the occasional Nike Air Jordans, they aren't peddling props for preps -- no eelskin card cases, no rainbow pasta, no Italian ice. These are inventories for the traditional-minded: Swensen's and subs, grandfather clocks, heathery knit sweater suits, Rubbermaid kitchen accessories, Santa Claus wrapping paper. This is heartland shopping; and until the 10-screen cinema opens in March, the only glitter and guilt is in the images of Elvis.
Such are the idols of the King: A nearly life-sized oil painting of a Mephistophelian youngster who bears little resemblance (save sartorial) to the singer; and a pseudo-bronze bust, all side-swept hair and hyperbolic collar, smothered in artificial flowers.
Like Presley's career, the exhibits ricochet from divine to decadent -- from the hardback copies of Christian theosophy to the well-thumbed titillations of Philip Roth.
Want to measure the inflation of fame? Read the handwriting on "the first dollar I earned," turned in to the Assembly of God collection plate in Meridian, Miss., during a tent revival -- and then look at the lawyer's letter alongside, showing that Moon paid $8,003 for the bill.
Or contemplate the faded idealism embodied in Presley's karate coat, emblazoned with his "TCB" (Taking Care of Business) logo and the words "Faith, Spirit, Discipline."
The most intriguing details have a seedy symbolism about them. The garish gold-nugget bracelet Presley "designed himself" has two added links, recalling his heftier middle age. The wasp-waisted (32-inch) briefs from his youth are paired with a mesh-fronted restraining girdle for stage use.
And the fur-lined, television-wired, white pimpmobile has a worn spot in the carpet, where Presley ground his foot to a private rhythm.
There is much, much more in the Moon collection (he has his own unauthorized museum in Gatlinburg, Tenn.), and museum owner Shelley Husta plans to replace the exhibits in Woodbridge every few years. Old rockers never die, they're just paid away.