Felt Good

bo·de·ga (bōˈdāɡə) noun. A small grocery store, especially in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood.

Bodegas are 7-Elevens with character. They were once an essential part of New York life but their numbers are dwindling. British artist Lucy Sparrow not only has a charming name, she also has recreated an old fashioned bodega except that it’s stocked with goods and produce made of felt. Her medium is felt. Here is Ms. Sparrow in her Fauxdega in a pic I cribbed from the New York Times.

The individual pieces are for sale. All are painstakingly assembled by hand.

The idea was to open the exhibit until June 30th but the pieces are selling so quickly that they estimate the store will be stripped bare by next week. They occasionally have to close the store to restock the shelves.

They carry a nice selection of personal hygiene products.

There’s a variety of soft drinks and liquor.

If you buy a Corona, you get a lime with it.

And speaking of lime…there’s a fruit and vegetable section.

Mmmmmm. Bacon.

In the back is a room with larger pieces mounted in Plexiglas cases for sale.

Totally Custard
Edition of 1

Edition of 10

Top: Clean Me Up Scotty
Edition of 20

Bottom: Cereal Killer
Edition of 20

I Want Candy
Edition of 20

Under the checkout counter is a selection of gum and candy.

Lucy Sparrow is the checkout girl. Is that part of the exhibit?


I left my wallet in Starbucks. Have you ever lost your wallet? Your whole world is upended. Among the usual horrors, it was June 1st—only one day into my $400/month commuting pass. I raced back from my office, down 40th Street, overwhelmed with hopelessness and self-loathing.

A customer—a girl—turned it in. A Starbucks employee went to the back room, brought it out and handed it to me. Nothing was missing. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t.

I mentioned this episode to a few friends and more than one said I’m lucky Starbucks attracts an honest, worldly clientele. Is that true? Would I have been less likely to recover my wallet if I’d dropped it in a White Castle or a Burger King? This opens up uncomfortable questions about economic class. Perhaps the customers at McDonald’s are just as honest, but in more dire circumstances? Or perhaps my well-meaning friends were reducing them all to a stereotype?

I’ve returned to the same Starbucks several times hoping the girl who returned my wallet could be identified but to date, she has not been. I’m haunted by this. Someone did an incredible kindness for me and I never thanked her.

74 thoughts on “Felt Good

  1. I first encountered the word “bodega” on Paul Simon’s Graceland. I thought it was some kind of South African shantytown word. It wasn’t until many years later that I came across it again, I think in Jonathan Lethem’s Fortress of Solitude that I sussed out the meaning.
    The girl feels good, trust me. Anonymous kindness is pretty sweet.

  2. Love the felt fruit!

    I agree with Ross. The girl will remember her good deed for life (as I remember cancelling an ATM transaction where I could have taken money out of someone’s account but instead hit cancel and returned the card to the bank). It will make her feel honest and good. If you see her and can thank her personally, great. If not, she’s earned great karma.

    • I was going to buy her a $75 Starbucks gift card. I’m not joking. She saved me untold horrors.

      But what if I’d lost it at Wendy’s? Would I’d have been less likely to get it back? Ross avoided the question, too.

      • It’s all the luck of the draw. There are crooks everywhere — just look at who all is in the White House. (I thought that was expected, so I complied).

      • It *was*expected and you certainly didn’t disappoint. Thank you. I’m shocked it took you this long. Did you like the ring-kissing ceremony he imposed on his cabinet? Chuck Schumer did a funny parody. Did you see it?

  3. In a past role I had insights into human behavior and when someone will make a decision to be dishonest / steal. It was generally out of financial desperation and therefore a last resort.
    So I think you can make a general statement that says: if the patrons at an establishment are more likely in a lower economic bracket, the more likely someone would be desperate for that money in your wallet. It’s not a judgment of the clientele, but the people who pay $5 for a coffee are less likely to be in the place where the valuables in your wallet will make a big difference to them.

    and do you know if the felt stiff if available for purchase online? I love them!!

    • That’s my assumption. I think someone would act out of financial necessity before they were motivated by raw dishonesty. That being the case, it’s a good thing I was in a place where people don’t think there’s anything wrong with spending that kind of money on a cup of coffee which, if you think about it, is kind of nuts.

      To my knowledge none of it is available online but you could try a Google search of her name. It was a really joyful exhibit. People who sneer at it need to lighten up. Why can’t art be felt fruit with a smiley face?

      • Two subjects I recently saw something about and I cannot remember where.

        I saw an article about the bodega. Your take on it and the pictures are better. The article did not make me interested in the bodega and I ended up skimming through it.

        Ann’s comment matches what I read. There was a series of studies that showed that necessity is determining factor when it comes to “Lost Wallet” scenarios and whether they are returned empty or full.

      • When I moved to New York from Ohio (mumble-mumble) years ago, bodegas were exotic places that sold mysterious foods I’d never heard of. They hold a special place in my heart and I’m sorry to see them disappear one by one. This exhibit meant a lot to me. She clearly did her homework and had authenticity in mind.

        I’d like to think I’d do the right thing but if I was desperate enough, if I had to feed my daughters, I’d take the money and toss the wallet in a mailbox hoping it’d be returned to its owner.

  4. I love the felted bodega!
    And I like the honesty of the girl (child or young woman?) who handed in your wallet.I don’t entirely go along with the class stereotyping.In my experience,there are flawed characters in all strata. But I have met “poor” people who I’d trust and well-heeled folk who would see a dropped wallet as fair game.

    • When I say I’m haunted by this, I’m not kidding. I have no idea what bracket she falls into. Old? Young? Professional? Free spirit? The more I realize I’ll never get to thank her, the more it spooks me.

      I tend to agree that there are all types. But I think there’s a certain expectation we can follow that might be correct the majority of the time. The only way to know for sure is if I leave my wallet in a few different places and see if it’s returned.

      • Funny you say that…some years ago someone conducted such an experiment, using dummy wallets,some with a fair bit of folding money, bank cards(expired ones!) and personal stuff.I think most were handed in to the shop where found, or police station.Some still had the money.
        Where and when? London and, to have had bank cards, probably late 70s or 80s.

  5. I wish I had known about the fauxdega while I was there. I would totally have bought the spam compilation. The wallet being turned in with nothing missing? Wow. That was damn lucky. I walk around in perpetual fear that I will lose my wallet or my phone. My whole life would crumble. Once my wallet was stolen from my office while I was seeing patients. It was a woman posing as a healthcare worker. That being said, if I found a wallet I would never give my name when I returned it lest I give the impression that I expect a reward. I would be mortified by a reward.

    • ThIs is why you should ping me when you come to town. We don’t need to have a meet up—I won’t be offended at all—but I can alert you to all the fun stuff that isn’t in the tour guides.

      My first thought when I reached in my bag and found my wallet missing was, at least it’s not my phone. That’s more expensive to replace. I knew in an instant where I left it. I just didn’t imagine it would be there.

      I didn’t think she’d leave her name. But we are creatures of habit. I see the same people on my bus and the same faces in Starbucks. I was hoping—am still hoping—she’s a regular.

  6. Great piece. 🙂

    I love the felt art. 😉

    Glad to hear that you got your wallet back. I think that a lot of the time, economic necessity has a pretty huge impact, but to assume that a Macdonald’s customer might be less honest because it’s Macdonald’s, well, I don’t think so.

    • Thanks for checking in. What a labor! I don’t have the patience.

      I wish I knew where that woman was. Initially, I thought it was found by a Starbucks employee. I actually went to the bank, got a crisp $100 bill and was going to give it to him/her but when I went back I was told it was a customer who turned it in. Not an employee. Although, they deserve credit as well.

  7. I am in awe and disbelief at the level of time and attention this girl has given to her handmade shop. What an odd and yet delightful thing that is she is doing. Such attention to detail. This would send someone like me insane.
    I’d buy the spam. Like that.
    Good news on the wallet. What you have to do now is pay it forward. I’m happy with a cheque.

  8. Bodega, that really is a great sounding word. I’m astonished about the felt merchandise. Unbelievable talent and it’s felt. Folks will buy anything new and or unique.

    And you bettcha you were lucky to get your wallet back. I would have been in a panic as well- no matter, Starbucks or MacDonald’s. I’m not sure if the type of clientele matters or not. There are honest folks in unlikely places.

    • It’s such a happy word. Bodega. If I have another child I might name him Bodega. Like most of the art I see, it was overpriced. Not the smaller bits. But the big ones in Plexiglas seem a bit much.

      I never thought that wallet would be there and if it was, I thought for certain it would be empty. It was all there. Can you believe it?! This is New York City! It’s not supposed to be all that honest.

      • Mark all I can say/write is that you had two things going for you, the right place and the right person. Dang, I live in a town of about 120,000 people and folks sometimes get there wallet back-intact and sometimes they don’t. You just never know. I suppose it’s called luck.

  9. Do you think the girl’s behaviour was that unusual? She probably thinks she did what any honest person would have done in her place. The Starbucks employee deserves as much thanks.

    • In retrospect I feel a bit bad about assuming the worst. Maybe it’s because I’m a bitter, old sod. And you’re right about the Starbucks employee. They could’ve done the wrong thing, too. But she didn’t. The world is an honest place after all.

  10. Looking as that Fauxdega and that Brillo piece and thought somewhere Andy is smiling… and isn’t this country we live in one big, uncomfortable question about economic class? I disagree with your friends though, it doesn’t matter where the wallet was found it matters WHO found the wallet, you found an honest and decent human being, they’re out there you know, though the 24 hour news cycle proves over and over the world is full of horrible assholes (dominated by politicians of course) there is always light to counteract the dark, the girl did the decent thing, she doesn’t need thanked, she already knows, possibly her thanks is opening your eyes to the fact honesty and integrity still exist, it’s hard to fathom i know because i have trouble with it all the time but we bitter, old sods have to remember, sometimes the kids are alright…

    • I agree with your Warhol comment. If it hadn’t been for awl Andy, this piece would not exist.

      I know whoever found my wallet doesn’t need to be thanked but I’d like to do it, nonetheless. Maybe I want to do it for me more than her but that’s valid enough reason.

      Off to lovely Cleveland in a few weeks. I still have a nice time when I visit. You never go back, do you?

      • I try and get back to Clevo but i don’t get back as much as i’d like and when i do it’s for a night or two tops, being the indentured servant my rights are limited as to where and when and how much dosh is allotted, of course every time i go back it’s like they’ve erased my youth, the bulldozing of Parmatown Mall pretty much sealed that. I still like to hit Lakewood (which is close to where my dad lives, he used to live steps from Madison) and would like to get back to Coventry just to check it out, hell i’d like to take the boyos to show them the beginnings of their old man’s wayward youth but alas i am at the breadwinner’s whims and wants and those aforementioned things are not of them…

  11. I have lost many wallets in my lifetime. Once it came back in the mail intact, minus cash, once a club owner found it intact, minus cash. Cash is King.
    I think the female automatically turned your wallet in without thought. I’m convinced there are a lot more of those people then we think. Good for the World.
    Do you think Warhol merchandising lawyers will interfere?
    If there was an IMPOSED ring-kissing ceremony it would of been leaked to the Times!

    • I’ve lost a couple and it’s very upsetting. Lots of phone calls have to be made. I was just hoping I got the damn thing back. I didn’t care about the money. The fact that it was still there was a dividend. Not to sound arrogant but I’m pretty sure I’d have done the same thing. If I’m going to start a life of crime, I’m going to aim higher than keeping a lost wallet.

      I’m betting Andy would’ve loved this exhibit. He seemed like a fun guy. As opposed to a fungi. Heh.

      • I’m betting Andy would’ve said something smug and dismissive about this exhibit. He didn’t appear fun in the stuff I saw about him. He could be credited for starting the Hipster Doofuss movement, trying to be sooo coool. I know for sure that you would return that wallet instinctively.

  12. I think you may be overestimating the effect of Starbucks here – I’m sure that in Starbucks or in Burger King, there’ll be those who return the wallet, and there’ll be those who would take it. In your case, it just happened that one of the good guys (or girls) got to it first.

  13. I’m alternating between reasons of altruism and social pressures for why she turned in the wallet. Who knows, maybe she felt like all sorts of eyes were on her and so she was compelled out of fear and social pressure to bring your wallet to the counter? Aren’t we all a bit more well-behaved when feel or know others are watching? It sounds so cynical, but you brought it up with the “what if I was in Burger King” speculation.

    And in regards to varying clientele and other establishments, I’ll second those who have said good (or bad) people are everywhere. Just because one’s income level places you in the lower class, does not mean one feels more desperate nor does it eradicate an ethical compass to govern one’s actions.

    • I could not have been that she was being watched. I get there very, very early in the morning and I’m certain no one else was around. It was purely a selfless act. It’s why I want to thank her and give her a pfat Starbucks gift card.

      Dishonest people don’t tend to cluster in McDonald’s. They’re everywhere. I’m damn lucky I got it back but it could’ve turned out either way, no matter where I lost it.

  14. A total immersive art environment is awesome! I have an acquaintance who won the $200k award at ArtPrize this year for her Bureau of Personal Belonging. Stacey has painstakingly created an office environment in which she dons the administrative character that “Validates” you. It’s a very well done, socially- and politically-charged project that has finally gotten the national recognition it deserved.


      • I think she is planning on financing more work.

        She is also an assistant curator at the NC Museum of Art: https://instagram.com/p/BU0MC4kFS7d/

        I hope she has a chance to take it on the road. More people need to see it and engage in it. It’s like a real business transaction…

      • I stand corrected. Merranie tells me that Stacey told her that she’s probably going to to buy a house…something she can’t do because she’s a poor artist. She said she can and will keep doing the art, regardless. But having some domestic stability is super important.

  15. I love the Fauxdega! I’d buy the Tabasco for the MITM (by the by, he thought your Malcolm In The Middle remark was funny!). When super nana lived in Paris the corner “bodega” was called “l’arabe” (the Arab) and like NYC bodegas, it didn’t matter who owned the shop, all the little corner stores were called the same name.

    Re: your wallet. An honest person found it and turned it in. I have found, as others have mentioned, they are in every socio-economic, and ethnic group. Have you thought about asking if Starbucks would let you put up a small sign thanking her? Might not be a face-to-face thanks, but she’d know. xoxo

    p.s. Happy Father’s Day!

    • The bodegas have been taken over by Korean immigrants. I hesitate to use the words ‘taken over.’ Makes it sound like invading forces. But many of them have ‘Kim’ somewhere in the name of the store. they’re just as charming as the old bodegas but, again, the Whole Foods of the world are wiping them off the map.

      I asked the counter people at Starbucks so many times that I think I was getting on their nerves. I finally had to stop. It’s a mystery that will never be solved, I’m afraid. Doesn’t she want her just reward?

  16. You could always ‘look’ for her on Craigslist “Missed Connections”…even just to say an equally anonymous “Thank you”

  17. I don’t see this as much as art but as handicraft. It is innovative and industrious, but it doesn’t transmit feeling to me. I thought of Warhol right away.
    And I’m glad your wallet was returned. My teenage son is the weekend grill opener at a Wendy’s (golden spatula extraordinaire) and I am more than confident that he would have returned your wallet! I think like with all crimes, if the intent is present, the location doesn’t matter.
    Happy Father’s Day, Mark! 😊

    • Good morning. You’ve made an excellent point. This is a higher form of handicraft. Something you’d see in the craft building at the Cuyahoga County Fair next to the pot holders. Still kind of a thrill to see so much of it in such a small space.

      Working in fast food is good experience. The pay isn’t great but you work your ass off. It gives you perspective extraordinaire.

      Thanks for your good wishes. My daughter and I came into the city and saw a Bway show. Had a little lunch at a diner. Couldn’t have been better, really.

      • Morning, Mark! I guess it just comes down to marketing, correct? In the “right hands” and “right place,” who knows how much money those pot holders from the county fair could make!
        And I completely agree with your take on my son’s job. He works very hard, but is always in a good mood when he comes home. I think it’s the feeling of productivity that he thrives on, something that he needs at his age. And yes, the perspective he’s gaining is invaluable. Not to carry on with this, but many friends of his are buried with sports and other activities on weekends and don’t have jobs. We’ve done that for many years as well, but I question now where all of that ultimately gets them. Learning the value of honest, hard work seems like it might serve them better long term… been thinking about that lately.
        Glad you had a nice Father’s Day, have a good week as well!

    • I don’t see any contradiction between handicraft and art. Some classical modernist art is very simple — Ad Rheinhardt’s blank canvases, or much of Russian Suprematism — but it’s indubitably classified as art. At he same time, some of the works that fetch enormous sums and populate the great galleries and auction houses — to which we have a guest pass here of course in the shape of Mark’s blog — take great amounts of time and energy.

      When I was in my late teens, I made an obsessive collection of drawings using one single, straight, faint line. I’ve always been into minimalist art and was absolutely fascinated by what one could so with one sheet of paper and a straight line.

      Should have kept them. Might have appeared in Sotherby’s and Exile on Pain Street by now!

      • Hi looby
        I see your point. I guess this just illustrates how highly individualized perceptions of art can be. Hope you have a good day! 😊

      • I used to not ‘get’ Ad Rheinhardt and didn’t like him. I still don’t ‘get’ it but I’ve softened my stance. If you stand in front of one of his monochromes, they start to reveal themselves. You can really get kind of lost in them.

  18. Bodega! That’s it! I’ve heard that word so much – especially in random Spanish songs and films – but never looked into the meaning. I’m so satisfied to have finally come across a post that reminded me of the fact that I know this word, and told me what it meant. Also, that’s probably the cutest thing I’ve ever seen – the fruits have eyes, Godammit!

  19. I love that art – it’s so relatable. (why does Spellcheck keep telling me that word is wrong? Why??)

    I’m medium surprised that your wallet was returned intact. My daughter has lost/had hers stolen twice on the train (BART) in San Fran. The last time, her (still Illinois) drivers license appeared anonymously back here at home with a note it had been found on the train. I theorize that the person who found it couldn’t resist keeping her also-new BART pass, and justified it that it wasn’t REALLY stealing because he/she at least saved the poor slob the agony of having to go to the DMV in San Fran.

    • What does spellcheck want to make it? re table? After someone commented that the art is kind of ‘arts and crafty’ I saw it in a different light. I still like it but I wish they hadn’t said that. Part of the fun was spoiled.

      I would’ve been happy to just get the damn thing back. I was shocked–SHOCKED–that the money was still there. I guess that makes me cynical but please remember I was in the very heart of New York City, which is not known for giving found wallets back.

  20. Would it be OK if I cross-posted this article to WriterBeat.com? I’ll be sure to give you complete credit as the autvhor. There is no fee; I’m simply trying to add more content diversity for our community and I enjoyed reading your work. If “OK” please let me know via email.


  21. Yikes! Are those really her prices? She had a shop with her felt produce in London, England some years back. Unfortunately I’d already left London and couldn’t visit it, but would’ve loved to have done. Amazing work!

    Yep, losing your wallet and getting it back again with nothing missing is amazing. It happened to me too, not in starbucks but at a rock gig in the 1990s. I left it in my handbag (aka purse) on the floor where I’d been sitting and somehow forgot about it. When I realised what had happened I prepared myself for a long, long walk home without any money, but found it where I’d left it, on the floor. Like yours – everthing in it was still there as before… except for some crackers that had been trampled to crumbs by the dancing masses!

    I saw your blog some weeks ago, enjoyed what I read and then forgot to follow it. Just saw a comment of yours in Victo Dolore’s blog and was so pleased! So. now I’m following! 🙂

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