The housing situation for the upcoming season was going to be a little different, Ben was informed. Different how, they had yet to say. It could mean anything, and each possibility seemed to be even worse than the one before. Would they not have air conditioning this summer? Has alcohol been banned from the premises? Was the housing not guaranteed in the first place? Would he simply be homeless, sleeping in an office while his old quarters are used as a rec room for someone of a higher status than him?
On-boarding for a new season is stressful enough. He really didn’t need this. He didn’t deserve this. Maybe he was a little high strung. You would be, too, if you were forced to deal with the uncertainty and whims of federal employment.
So when the word finally came down from the administration up on high exactly what changes were to be made, Ben was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. The news still wasn’t ideal, exactly, but it wasn’t cause for a code red meltdown either.
Apparently his park had merged with another one, some island or seashore park out in the harbor, and those rangers potentially needed housing too. Ben was fine with that, but he was less thrilled with the fact that he was asked to share a room with one of them. It did mean the rent was cut in half, and in an expensive city like this, any penny saved was worth whatever sacrifice had to be made. If that sacrifice was giving up his solitary room of 4 seasons to have a roommate, then so be it. If they turn out to be awful, he could always just crash on the couch in the living room instead. It was relatively comfortable, and the park had recently had it fumigated. (They had been begging for that for at least 3 seasons now, if not longer, but that’s government efficiency for you.)
If there was any silver lining to this (not that Benjamin was a fatalist by any means, of course), it was the simple fact that Ben’s season started sooner than his roommate’s did. He’d get to move in first, set up his section of the room, and get acclimated. Two weeks alone to himself, to enjoy whatever peace of mind he would have left. To be fair, that wasn’t entirely on his roommate. His roommate might be a perfectly normal person! But there is only a small window of time that a ranger has to be fully at peace with the world. There are a lot of variables to how long their mental well-being can last (the park itself, coworkers, the types of tourists encountered, number of programs, the proximity to street performers, your bosses, the current administration, etc. etc.), and Benjamin Tallmadge placed his emotional and mental break somewhere around July 5th, if his roommate was good, and May 3rd, if his roommate was a nightmare.
On April 8th, Ben moved into the park housing, and set about decorating his half of the room. On April 14th, he had his first program of the season- a somewhat rusty, but still rather nice, talk about the Stamp Act. Everyone was friendly, and he even got a high school student to laugh at his corny jokes. Week one, a success.
Two days later, he had a tourist yell at him about perpetuating liberal propaganda for mentioning the city’s connection to the Atlantic Slave trade. Sometimes he wished he had chosen a nature park instead, like his soon-to-be-roommate. He couldn’t imagine getting sworn at over a hermit crab or whale.
On April 22nd, a car pulled into the parking lot, and Ben casually peaked out the front window to get a glance at the new ranger. From what he could see, the man was probably around his age, maybe a year or two older, with a bushy beard that could not be considered regulation and a goofy smirk that somehow stood out despite the distance between them. The man was singing, and Ben vaguely recognized the song from Jaws… spanish ladies, or something like that.
As the man offloaded one of his boxes he glanced up, spotting Ben in the window, and grinned even more. “Hey!”
Ben waved, calling out a hello. “You’re my new roommate, then?”
He laughed. “So you’re the unlucky bastard that got stuck with me, eh?”
Ben shrugged. “I won’t know how unlucky I am until after you move in.”
“Fair enough! ….. would you mind letting me in? I have my keys, but… boxes…” he tried to gesture, and nearly dropped the one in his hand.
“I’ll be down in a second!” Ben replied, unable to suppress a laugh. He bounded down the stairs quickly, a tentative feeling of excitement running through him. This guy seemed relatively normal. Maybe it wouldn’t be a horrible situation after all. He opened the front door, propping it open with a stopper, then ran out to meet the ranger face to face.
“Here, do you need any help?”
“Yeah, would you mind just grabbing the edge, there? Thing weighs a damn ton.”
“What do you… have in here?” Ben gasped, shocked at how heavy the box was, and how casually the man seemed to be carrying it.
“A large assortment of pet rocks.” He replied, deadpan.
“Ah…. I guessed as much.” Ben nodded sagely.
The man laughed again, with a sort of giggle that could only be described as adorable. At least, that’s how Ben would have described it, had he stopped to consider the fact. “What’s you’re name, anyway?”
“Ben. Ben Tallmadge.”
“Well, Tall-boy, it’s nice to me ya. I’m Caleb Brewster.”
On April 23rd, Caleb Brewster was scheduled to start work, bright and early, at 8:40 in the morning. That didn’t stop him or Ben, however, from spending half the night drinking and talking, and realizing that despite the rather different personalities, this new roommate situation might work out after all.
Benjamin Tallmadge: [April 23, 9:51] Please don’t fall off the boat today.
Caleb Brewster: [April 23, 9:53] Do u really think this is my first hungover harbor cruise? I’m not even on the boat today. I have to fill out all the paperwork. Yay me.
Benjamin Tallmadge: [April 23, 10:04] Oh fun, the “uphold the constitution with my life” pledge is coming up soon. Moment of truth. I hear if you lie while giving the oath Uncle Sam manifests and drags you down to American hell.
Caleb Brewster: [April 23, 10:06] Is that Florida or New Jersey?
Caleb Brewster: [April 23, 11:32] Update- it was Texas.