Every town in America has their legends, their hauntings, their myths, and we’re no different. For kids who grew up in Vallejo and Benicia, we had ‘The Ghost.’
He wasn’t actually a ghost, but a man we called ‘The Ghost.’ Everyone in town knew of ‘The Ghost,’ but despite universal knowledge of ‘the Ghost’s’ existence, very little information could be verified in relation to this man.
We knew he was homeless and we knew he frequented Mare Island, a decommissioned naval base that closed in 1996, which is ultimately what led to Vallejo’s economic deterioration.
Benicia, the town I’m from, fared much better. We had the refinery to fall back on. Pollution is a fair price to pay for economic stability, at least that’s what Mr. Evans has said in relation to the presence of the refinery in our small North Bay town.
It was senior year, and our Journalism teacher, Mr. Evans, informed us that our last assignment, worth 30% of our grade, was going to be a profile piece on a significant local of our choice. We would have to conduct interviews with this significant local, take their photo, and ultimately “write a story that’s worthy of being called news.”
For whatever reason, Mr. Evans would work that “write a story that’s worthy of being called news” line into every single one of his class lectures, sometimes more than once. It never really had the impact that I think he had intended. Other than forced catchphrase, he was a good teacher. We learned about nut graphs, the inverted pyramid, AP style and everything else our collective teenage brains could absorb to assist us on our journey to “write a story that’s worthy of being called news.”
Most of the students in the class didn’t care about journalism. The room was filled with people who settled because Journalism was one of the last elective classes available and Benicia High School required that an elective be completed to graduate.
Their choices of who to profile reflected this apathy. Many of my classmates picked from a suggestion list passed out by Mr. Evans. You had Benicia Police officers, senior faculty members, business owners, and executives from the refinery who spent their money to keep the lawn of Benicia High School green and made their money from mixing chemicals that would eventually turn our lungs black.
It was fucking boring.
My story wasn’t going to be boring.
“Mr. Evans, do we have to pick from the list or can we pick someone ourselves?” I asked.
“As long as they’re a well known local and the profile fits the guidelines given, I don’t see an issue with choosing your own candidate, but it has to be someone of significance to the community. No rappers from Vallejo or rappers from Benicia that say they’re from Vallejo. The last thing this profile piece needs to devolve into is a promo tool for some rap group with a corny name like the 707 boys or the Benicia Ballers,” Mr. Evans replied.
“While I appreciate your no rap rule, Mr. Evans, if there is a group with the inclination to call themselves the Benicia Ballers, it is an absolute obligation to interview them, not because of their music, which I’m sure would be… incredible, but to find the underlying source of their bravery.”
Mr. Evans stared blankly at me and gave a faint smirk.
The bell rang.
“Remember, AP style! This is not a normal essay. I know some of you have been struggling with that. My office hours are 4 to 5 PM Tuesdays and Thursdays. If anyone needs help with the profile or any refreshers, that’s when I’ll be able to devote my time,” Mr Evans announced as most of the class rushed out.
I stayed behind.
I often stayed after class because I was passionate about journalism and Mr. Evans was one of the few people who I could discuss the subject with at length. He wasn’t just a teacher, he was a friend.
“So Ben, who are you thinking of covering for the piece?”
“Honestly, someone kinda unconventional.
“Unconventional can be good. Who?”
“You know ‘The Ghost?’”
“The Ghost, as in the pale creepy guy that hangs out in Vallejo and pushes a shopping cart filled with random shit and half-finished statues of people? That Ghost?”
“That would be the one.”
“Isn’t he a rapist or something?”
“People say that. But people say a lot of things about him. No one really knows anything. I’ve heard everything from murderer to rapist to Napa State hospital escapee, but no one has any proof. They just say that because he looks weird.”
“So, when I assign a project about a significant member of the community, instead of a police officer or a firefighter, you wanna cover a weird looking homeless man who’s famous locally because he looks weird?”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“That’s why I like you, Ben.”
“Thanks, Mr. Evans.”
“Just one thing.”
“If anyone asks, I didn’t know you were planning on covering him, okay? The last thing I need are parents in Benicia thinking I’m encouraging teenagers to go and hang out in Vallejo, let alone to interview creepy old men in Vallejo.”
“I think if I’m going to write a story, it’s going to be a story ‘worthy of being called news.’”
“Shut up, Ben.”
“See ya later, Mr. Evans.”
“Be careful, Ben. Sometimes when you chase ghosts, you end up haunted…”