"When I think about all the time I tried to make it as a fighter when I could have been working and eating...I always seemed to have an old rattletrap, had to rent a little house that didn't have any conveniences and had broken windows and leaky faucets. I never had a place that had heat in the bathroom. I got a feeling people don't want me to live in those places. I wouldn't say it's all been worth it. Give me another year. Then I'll figure it out. I had to starve too much. There was too much hell."
After leaving Flaherty, Rouse asked Jovanovich to manage him. "I guess everyone likes to get tied in with an athlete," Jovanovich says. "When I first took over Roger, I had nothing to offer him. I knew nothing about boxing. I never went in with intentions that here's a gold mine, and I haven't taken a nickel out of his purses. What the hell is there to take out? I felt I could do something for him, get a few bucks in his pocket. He never had nothing. I thought by cleaning up his bills....Once he saw there was something in front of him I thought my problems would be over. He had a grudge against the world, a grudge against his manager. Well, we got off the ground. What kind of landing we'll make is something else. It's like waiting for the paint to dry.
"We didn't have equipment. We sat on a bed in the Marcus Daly and ordered equipment out of a catalogue. There was just us two. No sparring partners. He's out there on that lonely road by himself. I tried to run with him. I got pretty good at it. But poor Roger, he's got no trainer, no nothing. We've got to have somebody to watch the clock and hold the towel. I called Salt Lake—spent $100 on phone calls. Finally I get a trainer and then he can't come because he's got to take a hike with the Boy Scouts. I didn't know how to get opponents. I called Eddie Cotton [at the time the third-ranked light heavyweight] in Seattle. I didn't even have brains enough to talk to the manager."
Rouse fought Cotton twice in Butte. The first fight ended in a draw; in the second Cotton's manager threw in the towel in the seventh round. Rouse beat Cotton again on points in Seattle and defeated Hank in Missoula in a rematch. Since then he has marked time waiting for a title shot. "We'd spend a lot of time up to the house," Jovanovich says of this period. "The wife would cook us a meal. I'd strum the guitar and he'd sing; we'd listen to records, tape, horse around. I kept telling Roger we're next. He'd get all hopped up. Then he'd open the morning paper and read we'd been bypassed. I'd plead with him. Our day will come. We fought Leslie Borden for the North American Light Heavyweight Championship. We were bound to get a title even if we composed it ourself. We were bypassed five times. How many more times could I have kept him together?"
Roger Rouse, who is divorced, has two sons, Matthew, 9, and Bill, 2; his ex-wife recently remarried. He now lives at home with his parents in Opportunity, because, he says, the cooking is better. The Rouses' home is nothing fancy; the furniture is worn, and the floors are covered with linoleum and tremble to the Rouses' tread. The rooms are painted different colors—apple green, peach, lavender, so that there is something childlike about the house. "We're waiting for Roger to get that big loot," his mother said the other day. "Then we'll have a mansion." Roger gave her a look. "We can dream," said Mrs. Rouse.
We were in the kitchen by the wood-burning stove, drinking coffee—Roger, Don, Jimmy, Mrs. Rouse, Pete Jovanovich, Chappie Hayashi. The conversation turned to Roger's character.
"I'm an easygoing personality," he was saying. "Maybe I'm schizophrenic. Sometimes I'm kind of unpleasant."
"Moody," Don said.
"Mean," Jimmy said.
"I was born under the sign of Gemini," Roger said. "I never know what I'm going to do next."