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Back Buzz - June 20, 1997

pumping heart Chapters Coffeehouse, 1109 North 36th Street, Fremont

The first thing I spotted when Max and I walked into Chapters was the huge, glorious stained glass window framing a classical antique couch with lots of green in the upholstery. Naturally we had to sit there, if for no other reason than to harmonize with the couch. (I've always looked good in green, especially when it matches my eyes.) Once we were seated we could concentrate on the rest of the details. Chapters Coffeehouse is hidden away in an odd little mixed-use neighborhood -- light industrial, apartment buildings, cozy residential lanes. I suppose the best reason you might find yourself here is if you were going to Shorey's Used Books, which is directly nextdoor to the coffeehouse. In fact, it's even attached; hence the name Chapters, I suppose. The coffeehouse has similar hours to the bookstore, closing at 5:00 PM when I would image all the workers in the light industrial buildings go home.

The building which houses Chapters and Shorey's -- remodeled and refinished enough to give it a crisp new look -- seems like an odd choice to fill with antique furniture, chandeliers, and used, musty books. It just seems like you should be offering more dust, mold, and deterioration, or at least a handful of cobwebs, to be a convincing used bookseller. When I used to browse through Shorey's at its previous multi-storied location in Pike Place Market, I half expected to stumble over old, musty cobweb-covered bodies clutching ancient volumes in the less popular sections of the massive cavern of a bookstore. In fact, I bought one of my most treasured book antiques, the 1910 edition of the World Almanac and Book of Facts, on my last visit to the old location. When I first took the book off the shelf and opened it, it made me sneeze; now there's a used book for you!

But back to the coffeehouse: Chapters is quite inviting, with its antique decor and its window seats: a romantic table for two on one side, a Victorian side table acting as a bar on the other. The coffee, however, ought to be better than it is. Since they use Caffé D'Arte beans, which are mightily robust and satisfying, there's really no excuse for the weak double cappuccinos we were served. I don't know if the shots were too watered down, not tamped hard enough, or the grind wasn't fine enough; all I know is Max and I were both disappointed at the lack of character and oomph imparted to the shots. The foam was nice, the cups themselves were pleasant enough; so why not make a decent shot of espresso, too? Perhaps it was just the day, the barista, and the barometric conditions. I'll be the first to admit that consistency is a tough quality to find in this city's espresso drinks. I've never written off a coffeehouse based on one single weak drink, so I'll give this place another chance.

Chapters also offers some lovely-looking scones, sandwiches, and soups for lunch. On this particular Monday afternoon the only other patrons in the place besides us were a small group of two women and one man avidly discussing something. In this book-inspired environment, what do you think they were talking about? Authors? Writing? No, the subject was...chickens! One of the women used to own a Polish chicken -- oh, now they're talking about goats and what goats eat: cardboard, leaves. "But sheep don't eat as much as goats, and you can make a sweater out of their fur." All this while I'm sipping my weak D'Arte, wishing it had the strength to stand up proudly in its work boots instead of lolling about in fuzzy slippers. Hmm...would it be bunny slippers? Or perhaps sheep or goat or chicken slippers?

Oh, and now they're talking about dogs and cats. At this point I started to notice all the birds in the upholstery pattern, as well as the cat hairs on my clothing and the bees buzzing in my head from a mild case of tinnitis. Suddenly it seemed like an excellent day to go to the zoo, which was our ultimate destination on this cloudy Monday.

And speaking of dogs, cats, and internal organs, I'm reminded of the following e-mail exchange with my Bay Area friend, who travels a lot with his cat:

As I drove down to Southern California on Wednesday and back yesterday, my cat Ariel rode in my lap most of the way. When I stopped at rest stops and gas stations, she would crawl through the ski door in the back seat and hide out in the trunk until I returned. The amazing thing is that she never needs a rest stop while we are on the road. In fact, I think she only used the cat box five or six times during the four days I was down there. Having gotten used to the Great Outdoors, she hates to go back to kitty litter. (She just can't dig deep enough in that stuff.) On Friday I think she went all day and night without emptying her bladder. Saturday morning I took her out for a walk around the house, and she quickly dug in some mulch and relieved herself in a flower bed. (I could almost hear the sigh of relief.) No problems on the way home£she slept and meditated in my lap all afternoon. Now she is glad to be back home, where recent landscaping excavations next door make for easy diggings.

I know it's not a healthy thing to try to go for a world record, but how big is a cat's bladder, and how long could she hold it without going?

According to my copy of The Well Cat Book (by Terri McGinnis, D.V.M.), a cat's "bladder containing urine will feel something like a water-filled balloon varying anywhere from about the size of a Concord grape to the size of a lemon." Considering the human uterus is supposed to be the size of a pear, this conjures up in my mind a festive still-life arrangement of various fruitlike internal organs. I wonder if any of the great masters have done paintings on the subject...

The Well Cat Book goes on to say the following: "Many cats are so fastidious that they will hold their urine rather than use a litter box they consider to be soiled. Other cats will hold their urine for long periods of time to avoid going outside to urinate in inclement weather. This causes urinary stagnation which is thought to contribute to crystal precipitation."

Does this mean that urinary stagnation can cause snow to fall? If this is the case, I'd say that you and Ariel were pretty lucky that you didn't have to battle snow flurries along the way.