Sunday, December 9, 2012

Street Treats

Back when I lived in San Francisco, we used to find cool things out on the street all the time. And we'd even bring them into our homes--a thought that is unheard of in this day and age. But we didn't even think about bed bugs back then. As far as I knew, they were something Henry Miller had to deal with in 1920s Paris as he ran around from brothel to brothel in Tropic of Cancer. I found coffee tables on the sidewalk, bought couches from strangers on Craigslist. Cool bookshelf in an alley? Why not! Just bring it on in! People do, after all, throw out some really cool stuff. But in the last six or seven years, this kind of street scavenging is absolutely out of the question. At least in major city areas. And if I see a mattress on the street, there is a good chance I will cross to the other side. 

Which is why it was so surprising that I brought this sewing machine into my house yesterday. After all, I found it on the street! 
I was walking to the grocery store and passed by my neighbor's house, as I always do. There is a very sweet old couple that lives in the building. Between April and September, they sit outside in folding chairs and listen to the radio, and they say hello to every single person that walks by. As I walked by their house yesterday, I saw this table sitting outside. It's tall and skinny, not a terrible looking end table but not spectacular either. Aside from the fact that we don't need any more furniture in our house, the whole "don't take furniture in off the street because it might have bed bugs" thing keeps me from looking at any street furniture too seriously. But then, on my way back, I noticed a cord hanging down from inside of the table. I stopped in my tracks. Could it be? Sure enough, I lifted the top of the table and inside was an old Singer sewing machine, neatly tucked inside the table. 
I ran into the house, where Robb was sitting on the couch, and said something along the lines of "how much will you hate me if I bring a piece of furniture in off the street." After a quick pow-wow, we ascertained that it must have belonged to the elderly lady next door, and that she was probably getting rid of it because she no longer sews--not because her house is infested with bed bugs. So I ran outside and lugged it in.

The bad news is the belt is broken and it's missing the power cord. The good news is that those things are pretty easy to fix, and it is gorgeous and fits perfectly in our kitchen, right beneath a little homage to the Sierras that I have unconsciously put together over the years (a string of pine cones, a framed photo of a pine tree that belonged to my great grandmother, and a grizzly bear bottle opener).

I just love these old built-in machines. They're so smart, and so neat, and so much more glamorous than the plastic Kenmore I'm currently using. I mean, when in use, the table extends to give you a whole new work surface. And when not in use, the machine folds down inside of the table, and the foot fits neatly into a slot on the inside, leaving nothing but a simple, practical table behind. It's like a transformer for sewing goddesses, and I love it.

A quick look at the serial number reveals that this one is from 1948. Oh, the spectacular garments that my neighbor must have sewn back then! I imagine her in a homemade coat dress, the lapel smoothed, her hair pulled back from her face, and her lips red and glossy. Was she married to her husband then? Was he back from the war or still off in the Pacific? Oh, the stories...I'm dying to know. Now, when I see them outside in their folding chairs this April, I just have to work up the nerve to tell them that I'm the one who took the machine, and that, I hope they know, it is in good hands.


  1. Even if you never actually get it to work, that sewing machine is gorgeous. Well found! (But if it gives me bed bugs next time I visit, I'm taking a hammer to it.)

  2. This Singer is a real treasure...just ask Ginny - she has one just like it. You will have it forever. You should take it into a sewing machine repair to have it fixed.