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Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Conductor

Meet Benjamen Denham, conductor. This man has, for 11 years, shown up in Washington Square Park and silently conducted many planned and unplanned musical gatherings. However, he is in fact conducting no one. Because Mr. Denham, armed with two drinking straws with paper intact, conducts for his own enjoyment.
This man has been an enigma for as long as he has been frequenting the park. Seen as extremely eccentric but quite benign, he is largely ignored as are many other unusual characters in this city. He, like others, just becomes part of the tapestry of New York City, woven from some individuals from every walk of life imaginable. Upon meeting and conversing with people over the years, I have found that many are extremely remarkable and I have been pleasantly shocked more often than I have had any misgivings confirmed. 
I have met so many individuals in this city with extraordinary backgrounds and histories both past and present disguised as ordinary mortals - editors of prestigious magazines, internationally known musicians, academics with degrees from Ivy League schools, engineers with multiple degrees, attorneys (one who  argued a case in the U.S. Supreme Court), grads from Wharton School, scientists, politicians in NYC government, prominent real estate developers, actors and former corporate execs.
In the 1970s I met a man who had left a position as mechanical engineer for Farberware to work in a leather shop on Bleecker Street. Why? To escape the rat race and "let his hair down." Although less true now that the Village has severely gentrified, this was at one time the reason that many ended up in Greenwich Village after a productive career. 
Rumor had it that any attempts to engage our conductor Benjamen in conversation was met with indifference - apparently no one had ever had any substantial conversation with him in all the years he frequented the park. When I decided to approach him, for some inexplicable reason, he was quite forthcoming. We spoke for some time - he seemed eager to share details of his life. 
I learned that he loved music and he felt he could learn any instrument easily. He said he wanted to author 100 books and showed me a notebook filled with coupons and rebate offers - his current project is a book on the subject. When asked if he had ever had a story done about him, he said there was and showed me an old article from the New Haven Register, which I did not have the opportunity to read. Regarding his livelihood, he told me he had operated 13 shops in his lifetime, each one ending in bankruptcy - he attributed his 13 failures to various cyclical recessions. He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. Upon returning to my seat, I was greeted with excitement by others who saw the conversation as a watershed event.
Our little girl in the photo was accompanying a group of musicians that Ben was conducting. When on a break, she at times looked at her mother for approval and at other times shared our wonderment with The Conductor :)

3 comments:

Michelle Johnson said...

It's always nice to meet someone new and different than yourself. I'm glad to hear you were able to speak with him. All anyone wants to do is tell their story and you got to share his. Thanks. Have a great night.

Anonymous said...

Hi Brian

Been looking at your blog for years, although haven't dropped by for a long time, and have never commented. Just wanted to thank for you yet another fascinating story about a city that I love. It reminds me why I love it and why I need to get back soon! Keep up the great work and best wishes from a surprisingly sunny Glasgow, Peter

Jeannie said...

Great story about a really sweet, polite and gentle man once you get to talk to him. He even offered me a straw so I could conduct. Without a word, just a smile and handing me an extra straw. What a nice gesture! Thanks for doing this story. I forwarded it to all of our park friends and they were similarly fascinated.