Our group meets on the corner of Church and 26th streets. The plan is to eat at Chloe's Cafe. But Chloe's is mobbed, and it becomes clear we will not be eating there. Dog Bites is ravenously hungry. The girls engage in excited small talk. Somehow, their collective hormonal condition comes up. Omigods are squealed all around regarding this remarkable coincidence. Dog Bites is intrigued, yet remains calm.
Random squealy conversation continues on the corner. Dog Bites tries without success to guide the chitchat toward the subject of food. Despite near-fatal hunger, Dog Bites remains calm.
We all wander up Church Street and stand in front of Lovejoy's Tea Room. Dog Bites is no longer calm. The girls charge into the Tea Room, pulling Dog Bites along. The place is crawling with females, who stare at Dog Bites with a kindly look of approval. The same look we receive when walking down the street with flowers. The room spins; everything is in slow motion. The place is packed, women are everywhere, and we're ushered to a table in the epicenter of it all. There are females of all ages, gesticulating wildly with shiny jewelry and tiny crustless sandwiches and porcelain teacups. There's the sound of a thousand high-pitched conversations and squeals and clinking silverware and furious gossip and it's all one big, estrogenated blur until:
Kathleen launches into a diatribe about how her butt's square. It's not round like it's supposed to be. It's square. Vehement protests from the group. More than protests, really. Sheer outrage. Kathleen has a lovely butt, a fabulous butt, a butt to die for. Dog Bites tries to find a menu.
The females spend the next 20 minutes taking turns insulting their respective butts. Angela's is too big. Jessica's is too low. Julie's is too white. A round of unanimous protests follows each butt complaint. This is the strangest competition ever witnessed. It's like men trying to one-up each other with fishing stories, only in reverse.
By the grace of God, a menu is located. The words "Lovejoy's Tea Room" flow across the upper third of the menu in the squishiest, swirliest font we've ever seen. How to describe this font ... OK, get on your word processor and check out Edwardian Script. Imagine Edwardian Script after an hour of restorative yoga and a hot bath.
Dog Bites is still trying to decipher the menu. We can't figure out the culinary differences between the "Cream Tea," the "Queen's Tea," and the "High Tea." We rule out the "Wee Tea," surmising it must be for little kids. Specifically, little girls. Complicating matters is our refusal to allow certain words to pass through our lips. There's no way in hell we're going to say "Puff Pastry," "Toasted Crumpet," or "Double Devon Cream." Furthermore, certain words are way beyond our pronunciation skills, such as "Petit Fours" and "Duck Pate a l'orange." Even thinking about uttering such unnatural consonant/ vowel combinations makes us queasy.
Moments before we're about to pass out, a Lovejoy's representative arrives to take our order. ("Waitress" doesn't seem the appropriate word for a joint like this. Hostess? Counselor? Therapist?) Everyone orders. Dog Bites remains stumped. Wait. What's this? Beer? We order two.
We're trying to get a handle on the physicalities of the Tea Room. Antiques, tea cozies, pictures, lamps, mismatched chairs, lacy things. Doilies run rampant. What are all these knickknacks? Let's describe one: On the wall to our left is a wooden rack showcasing 10 miniature collector silver spoons, each with a unique ornate crest on its handle. And the colors. The colors in the Tea Room are hard to pin down. Funny shades of red and green. Angela nonchalantly describes the red as "dusty rose." Dog Bites forgets what she calls the green. Let's call it "grandma green."
Over in the corner, we spy what appears to be a fellow male in the Tea Room. Yes, definitely male. A little blond boy about 7 years old. Dog Bites and the boy exchange curious glances. Dog Bites tries to convey a look of "It's OK. We'll get through this." The kid's not buying it.
The tea arrives. The beer does not. OK, we're being a bit imprecise here. It's not tea, it's Tisane. (Tee-ZON.) Forest Berries and Rosehips Tisane, to be exact. Our teapot (Tisane pot?) is covered in poppies and says "Poppy Poppy Poppy Poppy Poppy" around the rim. None of the girls can sufficiently explain what Tisane is. We assume it's some genus or species of tea. Our beer finally arrives, but it turns out our beverage has nothing to do with alcohol. It's "ginger beer." The Lovejoy's representative notices our pained expression. "Would we like some tea instead?" she asks. "Perhaps the Afternoon Darjeeling?" No, thanks.
The food arrives. All of which is unidentifiable, except for a tray of crustless quartered sandwiches. Each one is prim and delicate, lounging on its side, with a slice of cucumber laid on top like a deluxe spa treatment for the sandwich. Everything's tiny. The tiniest food on the tiniest plates we've ever seen. It's too small to even pick up. Why is it that women like their food diced into little pieces? And when it's not in little pieces, they break it up rather than take a bite out of it. Someone oughta look into this.
The girls are in love. Kathleen with her Double Devon Cream. Angela with her Crustless Quartered Sandwich. Jessica with her Lemon Curd. Julie with her Petit Four. The girls are so happy they seem ready to burst out singing. Eyes roll back in heads. Pupils dilate. The girls stare at their food with a combination of delight and puzzlement, as if to say, Who are you? Where did you come from? The only way to describe the mood at our table is "post-coital."
The girls are discussing the latest theories about damaged hair. They sure are acting odd today. These are women who repair their own cars. Dog Bites tries to join the conversation. "Isn't hair dead anyway?" we ask with a certain flippancy. The girls don't even pause to acknowledge our comment. We decide not to mention our personal hair care regimen, which consists of Walgreens Shampoo and Conditioner in One.
What is menstruation, exactly? The encyclopedia says, "The periodic flow of blood and cells from the lining of the uterus in humans and most other primates, occurring about every 28 days in women." How does this explain what's going on at Lovejoy's?
More and more food arrives. Our table is piled with dozens of teetering trays and plates and cups and saucers. The trays are up on stilts. Some trays are multilevel and stilted. Dog Bites is terrified of knocking something over. Everything over. The girls, who are normally quite klutzy, display instinctive ease and grace, navigating the table's precariousness with surgical precision. Dog Bites can't quite figure out how to hold the little cups. The women do just fine. We study their tactics but can't unlock the secret. Something with the pinkie and the elbow. Elbow in, pinkie out? Is that it?
There doesn't seem to be a single item in the Tea Room that's not adorned with flowers. Let's see: the cups, plates, trays, teapot, sugar bowl, tablecloth, lamps, walls, knickknacks. Oh, here's something. The chandeliers. There are no flowers on the chandeliers.
You're not supposed to take food from the tray and eat it. You're supposed to take food from the tray and put it on your tiny plate and then eat it. There might be a three-second rule or something. Also, we learn there's an official name for the "tea sieve thingy," and the "tea sieve thingy's drip receptacle," which looks like a 1950s birth control device.
The girls eat everything in its proper order, from savory to sweet. Completely effortlessly. It's positively balletic. Where did they learn this? Meanwhile, the blond boy is drinking hot chocolate out of a teacup. Elbow out, pinkie in. He's having trouble sitting still. Sort of the restless type. "Do you need to take a walk?" his mom asks sternly. He looks at me. Yes! Yes! You do need to take a walk! We'll go together! "No," the kid murmurs.
Dog Bites is simply not connecting with the women today. We feel left out. Our mood turns obnoxious. We spend the rest of the tea pretending to be Oscar Wilde with a bad English accent. We rip off every overused Wilde quote we can think of. "The only thing in the world worse than being talked about is not being talked about!" we declare with a flourish and a snorty ha-ha-ha. The girls aren't amused. Jessica says we're acting "daft." Daft? Is she joking? "Listen, dorkus," she snaps, pointing a menacing pinkie our way. "The only person acting moody and irritable at this table is you. Got it?" "Got it," we murmur.
Maybe Jessica has a point. Maybe this alleged PMS factor has nothing to do with anything. The more Dog Bites ponders the peculiarities of our Tea Room experience, the more unclear it becomes. We excuse ourselves to use the bathroom. A nearby corkboard is adorned with tea-related news clippings. Look at this: Lovejoy's won SF Weekly's "Best Tea Shop" for 2001 and 2002. They've also won countless Bay Guardian awards. Hmmm ... does San Francisco have any other Tea Rooms?
Dog Bites has to get out of here. It's been more than three hours. Some of the Tea Room's mysteries will have to remain unsolved. What's a crumpet? A pretentious English muffin? What do they do with the bread crusts? Feed female ducks? And what in God's name is "Lemon Curd"?
We exit the Tea Room. Dog Bites is hungry and exhausted. We leave the girls to grab a burger and fries. We retreat home and watch ESPN's SportsCenter for the rest of the afternoon.
48 Hours Later
Everything has returned to normal. The girls are back to wearing cargo pants and talking about their usual subjects, which we refer to as "the three B's": bikes, books, and booty calls. And Dog Bites is back to his old routine, which, come to think about it, consists mainly of gossiping and emoting into his spiral notebook with some nice chamomile and a scone.