I spoke to my old friend Bobby by phone a while ago, the first
time we’d communicated in almost 20 years. We chatted for a bit
about what he was up to these days, and I filled in some of the
blanks about my life. Then he said: “Hey, guess who I ran into the
other day? Your old buddy, Rojelio.”
“You know, man. Rolaids,” he said with a laugh.
Two decades since last I heard that name, and still I had to
suppress a shudder.
Rojelio was a short, skinny and extremely high-strung kid about
two years younger than my friends and me, and he was probably one of
the meanest kids I’d ever met. Since he was forever giving the people
who knew him indigestion with his crazy antics, we took to calling
him Rolaids. My buddies and I wanted nothing to do with him, but we
were on friendly terms with his best friend, Bobby. So whenever we
hung out with Bobby, there was Rolaids, acting like a big shot
because he hung out with the big kids.
But truly, we couldn’t stand the runt. Rolaids had a genius for
mischief, and was forever in some form of trouble with school or the
law. He was a plague on the neighbors around us, and seemed to take
pleasure in adding to the unpleasantness of their working-class
lives. We caught him on more than one occasion trying to climb
through the window of a neighbor’s home, intent on stealing a TV or
whatever else he could get his hands on.
He vandalized the local school for disabled children and, we
suspected, was responsible for slashing the tires of about a dozen
cars on our block. He would push the elementary school kids off their
bikes and steal them. If the kids didn’t have a bike, he would extort
lunch money from them.
We must have warned him a hundred times to clean up his act, but
nobody could tell Rolaids what to do. He was a wild kid with some
weird ax to grind that we could never fathom. But he finally went too
far one day, when he robbed the local 7-Eleven.
My friends and I used to spend hours at that 7-Eleven, hanging out
in the parking lot or playing Galaga and Tank Commando on the video
games inside. The manager of the store was a kindly Pakistani man who
didn’t seem to mind our loitering. This was probably a mistake,
because one day the trusting manager took a sack of money out of his
safe and laid it out on the counter as he prepared to go on a bank
run. Rolaids, who apparently had been waiting for just such an
opportunity, suddenly leaped across the counter, grabbed the sack of
money and ran out the door.
Despite our protests that we had nothing to do with Rolaid’s
actions, the manager promptly banned my friends and me from the
store. That was the last straw. We felt we couldn’t turn Rolaids in
-- we couldn’t have shown our faces around town had we done so -- but
we told Bobby that if Rolaids ever showed his face in the
neighborhood again, he’d rue the day.
A week later, I was hanging out with Bobby at the local
Jack-in-the-Box when a huge dirt clod exploded on the glass of the
window we were sitting next to. I climbed out from under the table
and saw that Rolaids was standing in the parking lot, pointing at me
and calling me out to fight him. Apparently, Rolaids was convinced I
was the one who orchestrated his banishment from the neighborhood.
I stared at this kid, not quite sure what to do. There was no way
I could fight him. I was almost twice as tall as him and double his
width. So I told Bobby to just ignore him and continued eating my
“I don’t think that’s gonna work, Dave,” Bobby said. “You don’t
understand Rolaids. The kid’s crazy. Once he gets something in his
head, he never gives up.”
“So why do you hang out with him, then?
“Well, he’s got his qualities.”
I looked out the window and was relieved to see that Rolaids had
left. Bobby and I left the restaurant and were walking to my car when
-- WHACK! A clod of dirt struck me full on the back of my head. I
turned around and there was Rolaids, running away.
“When I get my hands on that little ... " I growled through
“Good luck,” was all Bobby would say.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Rolaids had just set a pattern,
one that would repeat itself many times over the next few months.
Convinced that I had turned my friends against him, Rolaids was
constantly on the lookout for me. I would be walking through the
hallway at school when suddenly someone would shove me hard from
behind, and I’d turn around and see Rolaids disappearing around a
corner. I would be standing in line at the theater when suddenly a
rock would come flying out nowhere and bounce off my head.
Even if I spotted him before he pulled one of his stunts, it
didn’t matter. Rolaids had figured out that I might have been twice
his size, but he was faster than me. He’d throw a rock at me, then
run away and taunt me from a distance.
Finally, Rolaids made a mistake. I was sitting in the patio area
of a restaurant with my friend Mark, when he casually said, “Hey,
Rolaids is getting ready to drop a trash can on your head.” I spun
around and there he was, metal can raised over his head as he
prepared to bring it crashing down me. He dropped the can and ran off
when he saw Mark and me get up, but Mark -- probably the fastest kid
in town -- caught him in seconds. Mark dragged Rolaids back and he
and I lifted him off the ground dumped him butt-first into the trash
“Ah! Let me out!” Rolaids shouted. “I’ll kill you! Let me out!”
Mark and I looked at each other. Then we knocked the can onto its
side and started kicking it down the street. “Augh! Stop! I’ll kill
But really, Mark and I couldn’t get enough of kicking that can. We
must have kicked it a half-mile down the street before a group of
passersby made us stop. I looked over my shoulder as we walked away
and saw Rolaids crawl dizzily out of the trash can. If that doesn’t
stop him, I thought to myself, nothing will.
I never got the chance to find out if it would, because a week
later I learned that Rolaids had been arrested for breaking into
someone’s home. Since it was his umpteenth arrest, he was ultimately
sent away for two years. By the time he got out, I had already moved
“So what’s our old pal up to these days?” I asked Bobby on the
phone two decades later.
“Dave, you won’t believe it when you hear it,” Bobby said.
He proceeded to tell me how Rolaids had grown up to become one of
my hometown’s biggest and meanest drug dealers, with a small army of
goons at his beck and call. A quarter of the city was under his
thumb, Bobby said. And a lot of very mean and very cruel goings-on
could be traced right back to that skinny little kid who used to
knock other kids off their bikes.
“He still remembers you, man,” Bobby said. “I wouldn’t go hanging
out in the old ‘hood, if I were you.”
I closed my eyes and sighed. You like to think the past is behind
you, that it holds no further bearing on your present and future. But
there it was: 20 years after Rolaids, and I still can’t get any
* DAVID SILVA is the city editor of the Leader’s sister paper,
the News-Press. His column runs on Saturdays. Reach him at 637-3231,
or by e-mail at email@example.com.