When we last left our hero (and I do apologize for the delay; I’ve been busy with other projects), he’d managed to convince RoseMerrie Peterson to marry him, and they’d settled down to wedded bliss in Portland …
Time passed, and with it came fatherhood and it’s unanticipated mental and emotional challenges. Suddenly, Roger was assaulted by a slew of emotions–tenderness, worry, unimaginable love, protectiveness–and a deepened sense of responsibility that gave him a whole new appreciation for his father, who’d worked any job available to keep the family afloat.
Leonard’s example haunted him in the months to come because Roger would have given anything to quit his job at Freightliner. It paid their bills and enabled them to put a little aside, but he hated the grind and being cooped up away from fresh air and sunshine; hated the industrial stink of the painting booth and the poor lighting that caused debilitating headaches.
Seeing her husband drag home every night eventually became too much for RoseMerrie, and she issued an ultimatum: “Find a new job, or find a new wife.” She meant it in jest–sort of–but the task was easier said than done. A single man might walk away from a perfectly good job because he didn’t enjoy it–an attitude that rankled Roger’s Midwestern word ethic–but he had a family to support and didn’t dare take the risk.
Then one morning, he glanced up from the paper. “The zoo’s looking to hire a keeper. Now, that’s a job I’d like.”
“Apply for it,” RoseMerrie said immediately.
To her annoyance, Roger pooh-pooh’d the idea because he had no experience with exotic animals. “Maybe not,” she countered. “But you’ve worked with plenty of others.” Shaking his head, he left for work. The instant his truck pulled away, however, she called the number listed in the ad and requested an application. When it arrived, she strong-armed Roger into filling it out and mailing it in.
For weeks, nothing happened. Roger was disappointed, but not surprised, and resolved to put away such foolish dreams and get on with his life … until a phone call came one afternoon asking if he was interested in taking the exam for a keeper position.
The invitation wasn’t the momentous achievement it seemed at the time. The zoo had received an overwhelming 400 applications. Of those, 230 candidates had been contacted to take the exam, which consisted of basic civil service questions plus several involving “common sense” animal care. Roger was one of 60 hopefuls called back to undergo a physical activity test that involved hauling four 60-pound gunny sacks from place to place against a time clock. In the prime of life and strong from lugging around five-gallon paint buckets, he breezed through the trial without a hitch.
The field now narrowed to 20 candidates, each of whom was granted an interview. That’s when Roger learned there was only a single keeper position available. He returned home to wait, but when the rejection came–he’d scored firmly in the middle of the list of ten finalists–he was crushed with disappointment.
A full year came and went. Roger focused on family, work, the annual hunting trip with his brother and their friends … and tried to forget about the zoo. He was packing the truck for a vacation in Canada when a postcard arrived in the mail, informing him that he was now at the head of the list of zoo keeper hopefuls, and was he still interested? If so, please fill out the information below and return this card.
Roger stared at it, pummeled by doubt and hope. Did he want to risk trying again? Could he tolerate such crushing disappointment a second time?
RoseMerrie produced a pen and made him fill out the card. Roger added a caveat to the bottom, that he was only interested in a full-time position because he had a family to support, and dropped it in the mail.
Ten days later, they returned from vacation. By the time the truck was unloaded and the fussy baby soothed to sleep, it was nearly dawn. Roger and RoseMerrie dropped into bed and were instantly asleep …
… until the phone rang at eight o’clock.
Roger vaulted out of bed and snatched up the receiver before it rang again and woke Michelle. “Henneous residence,” he growled.
“Good morning,” said a cheery voice at the other end. “Is this Roger?”
“This is Bill Scott. I’m foreman at the zoo.”
Suddenly, Roger was wide awake. Buck naked in the center of the bedroom, he stared at the receiver in his hand.
To be continued….