Here's another one of those "only-in-San-Francisco" stories.

For the tired bachelor who drags himself home from a hard day at the office and needs the care and attention of a good woman, there now is a place where he can turn.

Two out of three women in the East Bay area have teamed up to offer a "Rent-a-Wife" service, and are running ads offering to perform a variety of functions under the slogan, "Everybody Needs a Wife."

But it is not what you might think at first blush, and if you are a feminist, please read on before composing your angry letter.

Maryann and Michelle Pomegrante (they are not related, and how they got that last name is another story) will give dinner parties, run errands, decorate, arrange vacations, help with shopping, even build a bookcase.

"Or just ask," their ads say. But do not ask too much.

"We get calls from people who think it's a front for prostitution," Maryann, an unemployed apprectice carpenter, said. "I just tell them bluntly that if it's sex they want we're not selling."

And do not accuse them of sexism.

"We got a few calls from feminists angry about our ads," Maryann said. "But we explained to them that 'wife' is a concept, not a gender kind of thing. And we're offering skills for money that women traditionally have been paid nothing for. Actually, we're a pretty feminist enterprise.

"In fact, about half our calls now are from women. But house cleaning is not included in our list. And we're not an extended 'Gofer' service."

The two women whose last name used to be Smith and who grew up together in the Stockton-Lodi area of Northern California, got the idea for their enterprise while vacationing last November in the Sierra.

"We read about a service in New York called something like 'Surrogate Wife' and realized it was something we could do. We had lots of different skills and the energy to do something like that."

They wanted a catchy title; thus "Rent-a-Wife," and last names that might strike a more responsive cord than "Smith." So they asked a poet friend in Berkeley, naturally, for suggestions. He came up with "Pomegrante."

Michelle also took on a new first name -- Laughing Water. "It's just something she wanted to do," Maryann said, "and the time seemed right." So if you call and someone who says she is "Laughing Water Pomegrante" answers do not hang up.

Their fist job was to throw a dinner party for 14 people -- $200 plus the food was their fee. They planned the menu, shopped and did the cooking. They have decorated a bachelor apartment and planned a complete weekend for a man who wanted to entertain an out-of-town guest.

"We also took a job," Maryann said, "where Laughing Water was asked to jump out of a cake. The man who hired us saw it done once and thought hired us saw it done once and thought it was neat. It was at a party for five couples who were celebrating the fifth anniversary of their friendship."

Aside from the complaints from feminists, the two women have gotten a handful of other hostile calls.

"One man called me up," said Maryann, "and accused us of false advertising. He said not every man needs a wife."

Another caller told Maryann that he was looking for somebody to do his bookkeeping. "He kept going on and on about how he owned a small advertising firm in The City and I was trying to decide whether to take the job or not because I hate bookkeeping. And then he said he wanted me to wear a short skirt. I knew he had something in mind other than keeping books."

They attribute the growing success of their venture to the fact that, "There is a whole class of professional men who tend not to have time to carry on their personal lives, so we do it for them."

One man, for instance, pays them $60 a week to "oversee his apartment -- make sure the housekeeping is done, his kitchen is stocked, his laundry is sent out, and so foth."

And lest anybody doubt the sincerity of their efforts, their ad also offers to "Take your relatives on tour."