and wound up as the subject of a human-interest column about events in the counties around New York City. (Nyack is about 20 miles north of the city, on the west bank of the Hudson River.) And here we are:
A Shrine for a Friend Who Made a Starbucks a Village
by Peter Applebome
One by one, people made their own small contributions to the purple velvet shrine for Fleming Logan. Or was it Fleming Taylor? Everyone just called him Fleming, so we will, too.
There were red roses and modest bouquets, letters, cards and trinkets all left on the purple padded chair at the Starbucks on Main Street where he sat, chatted and took in the world every day for more than a year.
Some of the messages had the feel of letters to a child away at camp or a friend off on some long trip.
“Dear Fleming,” began one. “We all love you and miss you. It’s not the same without you here. You are a gem of a person. The joy you brought to our lives is incredible.”
Others were full of regret for words not spoken or things not done. “Dear Fleming,” began another one. “I wish you were here now because I never got to tell you that I enjoyed our conversation and that you had a warm, funny personality. I liked when you’d see me coming down the street and say, ‘There she is,’ that hilarious voice like I was some famous movie star. I wish I had taken the opportunity to buy you that coat you said you needed and to be a lot kinder.” It was signed, “Love in Jesus, Stephanie.”
They found Fleming’s body in a stairwell just up the street from the Starbucks at 10:45 a.m. on Nov. 26. The Rockland County Medical Examiner’s office determined that he died of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 62. A week later, Nyack’s coffee drinkers are still coming to grips with the apparently homeless man who, it seemed, had found a home, at least from the time Starbucks opened at 6 each morning until it closed at 10 p.m.
He was hardly an unknown in this Hudson River town with a long history of deep appreciation for eccentrics and nonconformists.
He was the foster child of the Rev. William H. Taylor, pastor of one of the prominent black churches in town. (That’s why most people knew him as Fleming Taylor, but the police said his last name was Logan, hence the confusion.) He went to Nyack High School, and for years worked in production at The Journal News in Westchester County.
But if the old-timers knew some of that, Fleming’s new friends at Starbucks mostly knew none of it. And details of his personal life — the daughter in Atlanta from whom he was estranged, his relationship with the family who raised him, where he went when Starbucks was closed — those were secrets he kept to himself.
Instead, almost everyone from Jean Pardo, the village historian, who delighted in his spirited commentary about her hats, to the young college students who gathered around as he held court at Starbucks, knew Fleming as the compulsively affable, flirtatious guy with the cane, who loved to talk about everything but himself. Some assumed he was homeless, but few were sure, and most knew he wouldn’t want them to pry.
He showed up every morning with enough in his pocket to buy coffee (grande), and a sausage, egg and cheese sandwich or oatmeal, and spent most of the day there, chatting with old friends like Oleg Khaghani, who used to drive him to his job years ago, or new ones like Maria Giannattasio, who developed a Friday night ritual of coming with her boyfriend to listen to Fleming philosophize.
“He was a proud man — always cheerful, always smiling,” said Jen Weddle, the store manager. “He loved to talk, but he didn’t talk about himself.”
She added, “I guess we were kind of his other family and I think that meant a lot to him, and it meant a lot to us.”
People were moved by Fleming’s death for lots of reasons. Mostly, they mourned because he was a friend, a charmer, a character, a throwback to earlier village life when there was more of a cushion for people who fell off the main seating chart of life.
It mattered because of the elusive alchemy that went on at Starbucks, where his presence was just one of the factors that made it not Store No. 7449 in a giant chain, but a real local place and a reminder that places shape chains as much as chains shape places.
And in these dour times it mattered, too, as a reminder how fragile the line is between Us and Them, the comfortable beneficiaries of American bounty and those hanging on outside the tent.
So there was Fleming in our shared commercial living room, on his purple velvet throne, listening to soothing balm of the Starbucks musical canon — at this time of year Mahalia Jackson singing “White Christmas,” Aimee Mann doing “The Christmas Song,” Neil Young, Fleet Foxes — as comfortable as a creature can be until he limped out to sleep in a stairwell.
Gene Homicki, a retired math professor at Rockland Community College, said people had many thoughts. Should they have done more for him? Could they have? And there, but for fortune…
“There are a lot of people who are not far from being homeless these days,” he said. “There’s a lot of fear out there.”