On Friday, Lydia came to town and adventure followed. Actually, Lydia's flight was delayed, so adventure arrived first.
The plan was to meet up with Lydia and Cynthia for tea at the American Girls Place at The Grove. Apparently having a tea party is a really big deal, involving firmly scheduled seating times and reservations in advance. Cynth had made the reservation, for which she had actually been charged a fee, so when the vagaries of air travel threatened to interfere, I was sent ahead to confirm the reservation.
Fortunately, I was already in the vicinity. I had arrived early with the vain hope of getting some work done beforehand. There I was, sitting in the Farmer's Market Starbucks, scouring newspapers for stories I could pillage for comedy material and wishing I had gotten a larger cup of refreshing shaken green tea lemonade (with sweetener), when Cynthia called with the urgent news that I would be the one responsible for securing our place at the tea party. Heavens!
At the appointed time, I crossed the threshold from the cramped, greasy, authentic charm of the Farmer's Market to the calculated, greedy, soulless charm of The Grove. There, in the storefront once occupied by the loathsome FAO Schwartz, stood the American Girls Place. I had to admire the name. Right away you knew that it sold American Girls merchandise, and that it was a place.
I stepped inside and found myself inside another world, a world that was wholly alien and more than a little unsettling. It was like Narnia, but girlier. (In case you haven't lived, American Girls is, at its core, a line of dolls based on girl characters from representative eras in American history. Once exclusive to catalogs, American Girls have since constructed a great and terrible empire.) Immediately I felt ill at ease. After waiting for other customers to finish, I stepped up to what I seem to remember was a concierge desk of some sort (a concierge in a store? I can't be remembering that right). I mentioned the tea party reservation and they directed me upstairs.
I ascended the escalator and passed through a long hallway of dolls, which included miniature "sets" of each girl's natural habitat, complete with "windows" displaying period-specific looped-video views of the "outdoors" as displayed on a sideways flatscreen TV in a window frame. Finally I found myself surrounded by mothers and young, doll-clutching girls.
What was I doing here? There was not a man in sight. At least, not one who didn't work in the store, which, as far as male employees were concerned, seemed to employ exclusively young black men who were presumably very secure about their masculinity.
Lydia called and assured me that her friend Katie would arrive soon. But Katie was not there yet, and as the seating began, I was terrified of being a lone adult male sitting at a table sipping tea by myself in a room full of little girls.
Imagine a posh Victorian parlor colored in a Victoria's Secret palette and you will have a good idea of what the room looks like. It reminded me of that secret club at Disneyland that you can read about on the Internet now. Upon entrance, a staff member asks "How many dolls?" then grabs the appropriate number of miniature chairs off a shelf. These chairs attach to the edge of your table so your dolls can enjoy tea with you. They even have little cups, albeit little cups with holes in the bottom, I suppose to alleviate the choking hazard for really stupid girls, and increase the spilling hazard for girls who insist on pouring their dolls real tea.
But I am getting ahead of myself. The important thing is that Katie arrived, with three genuine American Girls in tow. We answered "Three," and sat down with three dolls in adorable chairs hanging off the edge of our table. They were Molly, Kristen, and Felicity, if I remember correctly. Felicity was the prettiest.
I was relieved to have a companion, although I'm not sure a twentysomething woman toting dolls made us look any less crazy. We made conversation and had some tea and crumpets (well, not crumpets, but whatever the things are that they serve at tea), and repeatedly assured the staff that we really were a party of four and the other two would arrive at any minute.
Meanwhile, what seemed like every little girl in attendance celebrated a birthday. At one table, a mother stood up to take her daughter's picture, and as she leaned over the table, exposed the top of her thong. She was young and fit, but still, what kind of a world is this? Imagine growing up in an era where your mom wears a thong to your birthday.
Lydia and Cynthia finally did arrive, about forty minutes late. They were thoroughly impressed with the sumptuous atmosphere. I was thoroughly impressed with Lydia's Lolita sailor suit. I felt that the outfit offered us a good shot at justifying our presence by explaining that Lydia was in fact ten years old, perhaps with an affliction of the sort Robin Williams suffered in Jack. Or, if she preferred, we could tell the staff that she had wished to be Big. Lydia refused to go along with any story that somehow implied she was retarded, so it was abandoned.
UPDATE: Embarrassing photos added.