The Misfit

Eugene Moser
Copyright 2000

The fourteen boys came into Room 238, with facial expressions as varied as the partial uniforms they wore. As each entered he awkwardly removed the long, flat cap and fumbled it under his civilian belt. Each wore a gray long sleeve shirt and a black tie, the end thrust between two buttons. Which two buttons, and how far out the tie’s loop protruded differed from boy to boy, as did the civilian pants they still wore. Each wore a temporary name tag on his shirt’s left pocket. They all seemed ill at ease. Several eyes showed surprise at the size of the room, since it was at least three times the size of the one each had been assigned earlier in the day; their first at Newberry Military School. Room 238 also had three windows instead of one, and a sink and mirror in the corner. Of course, with three occupants it had both a bunk bed and a single, all tightly made with olive drab Army blankets. There were three open clothes presses and three desks.

Phil Boydon nodded to the last one, Billy Smith, a senior in his second year at Newberry, wearing pressed gray wool trousers and shiny black low quarters, his tie tucked tightly between the gray shirt’s second and third button, just like Phil. Phil stood and became Cadet Lieutenant Boydon, P.I., First West. As he stood, Smith barked, “Detail. Ten Hut. The Senior P.I.” Phil saw Billy poke one boy in the back. The Youngster stood a little taller.

Phil glanced around. “You have the first seven rooms and are one half of First Porch West. That’s the section of the barracks where freshman live. I am Mr. Boydon. I’m your P.I., your Senior Porch Inspector. To your rear is Mr. Smith. He’s one of my Junior P.I’s. Our job is to make sure your rooms meet Newberry regulations. When I’m finished with you, I’ll explain the same to the other half.  Pay attention. If you don’t, you won’t see much of town.”

“Who’d want to see much of this town, anyway?” sneered one boy, who looked taller and bigger and older than the others. In fact, he was both taller and bigger than Phil, though about par with Billy.

Phil walked up to the new cadet and read “Masserham” on the temporary name tag. “Mr. Masserham, nobody gave you permission to speak.”

“I don’t need permission,” the new man retorted. Smith stepped up behind him.

“Mr. Boydon is your Senior P.I. He’s not going to worry himself about you, Mister. If you want to say something to him again, say, ‘Sir’”. Billy stepped back and the new man started to turn.

“Mr. Masserham, you are at attention.” Phil’s voice carried all the force derived from three years on the drill field, and Masserham swung back.

“This is new to you. Better learn the rules before you try to play. Leesboro will seem like Paradise after a month confined to barracks. Now pay attention.” Phil saw some doubt in Masserham’s eyes, and the new man seemed less tense. Good, Phil thought. One challenge taken care of.

For a moment Phil remembered the fall of 1957 when he had been a freshman, new to the school, and bitter about being there. He’d been brought to the room directly below the one he occupied now, and taught the Newberry way to lay out a room. He hadn’t listened carefully and the first Sunday had been a disaster. Phil knew the same would be true for many of these boys, but he really wanted their difficulty to be less than his own. He took a breath, unnoticed by the new men, and began to explain, aided by Billy, how to make a bed correctly, set up the clothes press and arrange the study desk. Phil used his own as an example.

He pointed to the small, black-painted wooden desk. “Your desk is primarily for study. The center must be open for books and paper. However, it may also have on it a desk lamp, a small radio, and up to three personal items, like pictures, souvenirs, or mementos.” He knew they wouldn’t realize that his desk really exceeded what he had mentioned. It had both lamp and radio, plus a picture of his parents, the brass builder’s plate from a steam locomotive, and a framed full portrait of a girl standing in front of a piano. What it also had, was twenty or more pictures of the same girl, underneath the plastic of his Newberry desk blotter.

Mr. Masserham, without asking permission, said, “That your little sister, Mr. Boydon?” as he pointed to the portrait on the desk. Phil saw Billy tense at the comment.

Phil checked himself. El’s figure was petite; he knew that. He also knew that Billy, knowing the relationship between Phil and El was ready to stop Phil from doing something stupid to Masserham. Phil reminded himself that Masserham was a Youngster. Therefore he didn’t know any better. And he didn’t understand discipline - yet, Phil reasoned.

“Mr. Masserham, at Newberry, if somebody wants you to know who is in a picture, they will tell you. Especially if you are a Youngster and in your PI’s room.”

“He let you off easy, Mister,” Billy Smith breathed, loud enough for Phil to hear. Then, louder he said, “Now, you Youngsters get back to your rooms so we can teach the rest. Don’t forget to cover before you leave.” The first group began to leave, fumbling with their new hats as they went through the door.

As he watched them leave, Phil knew he already had a problem on his hands; Masserham was clearly going to fight the system. The question was whether the Youngster was merely rebelling, or was he trying to get kicked out? Phil had once considered getting kicked out, himself. Only knowing what his father’s reaction would have been had changed his mind to that scheme. Now he had to try to instill a little common sense in Mr. Masserham. As the second group arrived, Phil hoped that this group didn’t contain a problem, too.

* * * * *

The first Sunday morning inspection was going fairly well when Phil and Gonzales Santiago, the other Junior P.I., entered Mr. Masserham’s room, Gonz ordering attention in his heavily Spanish accented English. Little Joey Donahue made every effort to stand at attention; Craig Masserham didn’t. Bad mismatch, Phil thought as he ran his hand over the transom sill and found the dust he expected to find. He glanced at the door card; Donahue was room orderly for the day. Too bad. “Dusty door frame, Donahue,” he said. Superficially the room looked neat --each blanket covered bunk against the wall, study desk at the head, facing the wall between bunk and press. Nothing falling out or piled up. Phil looked at Masserham’s bed before saying “Untidy bed, misaligned shoes, Masserham. Phil looked at both desks and said, “Cluttered desk, Masserham. Donahue, okay. Then he looked at the clothes presses. “Donahue, field equipment improperly displayed. Masserham, hangers backwards, display not uniform.”

Phil turned and began to walk out. “Reinspection at 1400. Get it right and you can go to town,” he said over his shoulder as he went to the next room.

The last four inspections were fairly easy; the rooms weren’t real bad, and the roommates were matched. When they left the corner room and started up the stairs, Gonz said, “That Donahue. He have much more than Masserham. Be easy on him?”

Phil glanced at Gonz. “Next week, Mr. Donahue will be straight. Think the same about Masserham?” Cadet Sergeant Santiago shook his head in the negative. “Report as observed. Let the Commandant decide.” Phil paused. “Gonz, if anybody needs a re-re inspection, I’ll do it. Tell your girl you’ll be a little late, but you can see her. I can write El between inspections. I don’t need to get to town.”

Gonz smiled. “Maybe lucky I get Senior PI with girl at home, not Leesboro.”

* * * * *

Phil was right about the following Sunday. Donahue’s side was much better but Masserham was room orderly and did little for the weekly inspection. The overage freshman wasn’t the first to march off demerits on East Parade, but he was close. That didn’t make Phil happy; he was perfectly aware that he could join Masserham for Marches. The only difference would be that Cadet Private Masserham marched with an almost ten pound rifle, while Phil had his one pound sword. Phil was trying to avoid demerits, while it seemed that Masserham was courting them.

The next Sunday Donahue was room orderly. Phil had noticed Donahue polishing the door knob as first call for room inspection sounded. All the other doors were shut.

Billy Smith acted as assistant and Phil said to him, “We’ll check Donahue and Masserham’s room first.” Billy nodded. When Billy threw the door open and called the two Youngsters to attention it took but a moment for Phil to see that Masserham hadn’t even tried to get ready. Phil could even see a wrinkled sheet protruding from the blanket hood which should cover both pillow and sheet at the head. “Mr. Smith, take Mr. Masserham onto the porch and review the chain of command, the general orders and his rifle. Make sure he understands that ‘nomenclature’ means ‘description’”. Billy nodded and signaled Masserham to leave. Not completely correct, Phil thought, but not the time to remind Billy of proper procedure. Especially when Phil wasn’t completely within limits himself.

As soon as the door shut, Phil said, “Rest, Mr. Donahue.” The short, dark haired freshman relaxed his stance. “Mr. Donahue, exactly what did your roommate do to help prepare for this inspection?” Phil kept his voice at a conversational level.

“Well, he made his bed, dusted his area, arranged his press. That sort of thing, sir.”

Phil nodded. “Not very well. What did he do to prepare the room?”

Donahue’s brow wrinkled and his eyes shifted. “Well, I’m the room orderly, Mr. Boydon. It’s my responsibility.”

Phil pulled Masserham’s chair from his desk and sat on the chair, resting his elbows on the back. He noticed a sheath knife lying on Masserham’s desk. “Sit down, Donahue,” he said, briefly pointing at the Youngster’s chair. Donahue’s eye’s almost popped out, but he scrambled into his chair. When Donahue was seated, squirming slightly, Phil said, “I’m room orderly for my room today, Donahue. It’s my responsibility, like yours. I swept the floor and cleaned the sink and mirror. Mr. Zimmerman dusted the radiator and pipes, the door, shined the door knob, and cleaned the door and transom windows. Mr. Tree cleaned the outside of the windows and Mr. Zimmerman and myself did the insides. We’ll do the same next week when somebody else is orderly. That’s what roommates do. They help one another. Mr. Masserham needs to learn that.” Phil stood up, went to the door and opened it as Donahue scrambled to his feet. Phil motioned Billy and Masserham inside.

“Report Mr. Masserham for his portion totally unprepared for inspection.” He turned back as he headed out the door. “What about that sheath knife, Mr. Masserham? That should be in your personal section.”

“I thought we could have something personal out,” Masserham said, a faint smile coming over his face, as though he’d caught Phil in an error.

Phil nodded, “Strange idea of ‘something personal’,” he said and followed Billy out the door.

They returned to the first room, the corner room where three second year sergeants roomed, and then proceeded down First West. The first room had a few problems; the Youngsters in it were willing, but careless. The second had two already known as The Brains. Their room was almost as good as an Oldster’s and Phil glanced around, did a perfunctory rub down the light cord, said “Okay. Room sat.”

Phil began to walk out when Bob Morgan said, “Sir, I’m not sure this is the right time, but I’ve had something stolen.” Phil spun around.

“What, Mr. Morgan?”

“A knife, Sir. A sheath knife my grandfather gave me.” Morgan looked straight ahead.

Phil thought at once of the knife on Masserham’s desk. “What does it look like?”

“It’s pretty small. Maybe a five inch blade. Dark brown hilt and a light brown leather sheath.” Phil nodded; exactly like the one Masserham had on his desk.

Phil thought for a moment. “Anybody other than your roomie know about the knife?”

“Probably everybody on First West. Jones used it to open a package from his folks and Yomamuri showed us how to disarm somebody. He kept the sheath on for that, Mr. Boydon.” Phil thought he might get the Youngster with the black belt in, what was it? Not judo, karate, something he’d never heard of during two years in Japan, to show him, too.

Phil nodded. “I’ll try to help you, Mr. Morgan.” Phil motioned Billy out the door. As soon as they were on the porch, Phil said, “Billy, go get Yomamuri. Bring him here.” As Billy headed down to the far end of the porch, Phil reentered Donahue and Masserham’s room. Donahue was by the window, but Masserham was sitting at his desk, feet propped on his bed. Even so Masserham came to attention better than he had ever done before. Phil ignored the sudden enthusiasm.

“Masserham, let me see that sheath knife.”

“It’s personal,” Masserham’s eyes looked up towards the off cream ceiling.

“It’s an item that was out for inspection. I’ll bring it right back. Let me see it.” Phil’s didn’t give his voice the volume to carry across the parade field, but he put force into the low tone. Phil breathed a silent sigh of relief when Masserham turned, and took the knife from the personal section of the otherwise open clothes press. With a seemingly sarcastic grin, the Youngster gave the knife to Phil. “I’ll be right back,” Phil said.

Outside Phil found Billy and Yomamuri, with his blouse off, but his saucer cap on. Phil held the knife out to Yomamuri. “Do you know whose knife this is?” Phil said, trying to be casual.

“Hi. Yes. Mr.Boydon-san.” Yomamuri paused as though he were trying to think ahead. Phil was sure he was, as Phil was trying to remember the Japanese he had learned during the two years he’d lived there in the fifth and sixth grades. “Bob-san’s knife.” The short, black-haired boy made a slight bow.

Phil put his hands on his pants seams and bowed. “Domo arigato gasi mushtae, Yomamuri-san. Ichi ban.” When Phil rose from the bow he smiled at the expression on Yomamuri’s face. The folks who talked about “expressionless Orientals” had obviously never lived there, he thought.

With the knife, Phil hurried back to Masserham’s room. Again, Masserham beat Donahue to attention. Phil displayed the sheathed knife, the blade across his open palm. “This knife belongs to Morgan. But I’m just going to give it back to him. You want to be thrown out of here, don’t you, Masserham?”

Masserham relaxed from his rigid attention. “If you do, Boydon, I’ll report you for failure to squeal on an honor violation. I want out of this place. It’s messed you up so much, you want to stay. But I’ll bring you along.” Masserham laughed from his mouth; not from his eyes.

Phil gritted his teeth. If only he could talk with El about this! But that was impossible. Masserham was right; Phil did want to stay. One of the few arguments he’d had with El was over staying at Newberry after being told he could transfer to a closer to home civilian school at the end of their sophomore year. She’d wanted him to; he wanted to stay. But he had no time to tap her thoughts or even his own. “Okay, Masserham. I’ll report you for theft, lying, insubordination, and threatening a superior.”

Phil scrutinized his problem Youngster. “All of these are specials, Mr. Masserham. You may not be thrown out. Just do a lot of Marches.”

Masserham's smirked. “I’ve won again. I’ll be out of school for two weeks, maybe a month and then Mr. Moneybags Daddy’ll find some other place to shove my ass. Wise up, Kaydett.”

* * * * *

“And, El, he was right. Right down the line. Gone the next evening. And calling me ‘Kaydett’. Guess he heard it downtown. Didn’t know it’s also your nickname for me. This being an officer and a four year man and senior isn’t as easy as I thought.” Phil paused and looked at the typed page. At least he had his El, his woman, his goddess. He glanced at the picture of the thin girl and his lips formed a kiss. For a moment, he thought he saw a wink and a kiss back.

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