I had no idea that Little Italy was so quiet in the morning. Chinatown wakes up early and stays open late, but on Mulberry north of Canal Street, most of the storefronts were shuttered before nine. I was about to give up and find a place closer to the courthouse, until I saw an older gentleman with a silver-headed walking stick open the door of Caffe Roma.
It was open! So I followed him inside.
I used to go there all the time. The pastries are authentic and the atmosphere makes it feel like a movie set. The silver wolf’s head on the walking stick sealed the deal—this place is NOT real…but it is! There were a few changes since my last visit: the coffee prices were higher and soymilk was available. Somehow, not even the idea of a soymilk cappuccino was unable to break the magic spell. Everything in the room—from the gleaming espresso machine and the wire-backed ice cream parlor chairs to the sign on the bathroom stating “For Customers Only” and the overstuffed bakery counter—created a backdrop for infinite stories.
Still, it was the walking stick that led me in the door! Why? It was an almost-too-perfect character prop. I needed coffee before jury duty, and what better place than a café that looks like a scene in a novel?
From a psychoanalyst’s pipe to Sherlock Holmes’ deerstalker hat, props bring characters to life. In fiction, a pair of mirrored sunglasses on a federal agent or an overstuffed/oversized handbag immediately spell out specific, if clichéd, characters. These can be shortcuts between the writer and the reader, but they can also be colorful, humorous, or dramatic details that make a character believable.
Was the older gentleman a werewolf out and about during the safety of daylight hours or an elderly bon vivant? The truth doesn’t matter, but for the half hour or so that I enjoyed my biscotti & coffee—while he enjoyed his—we shared a moment that could be the opening of a story.
What props do I carry? I guess I’m a writer. I always have a notebook and a pen. What about you?