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Rolaids, and elusive relief

INSIDE/OUT

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

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blanks about my life. Then he said: “Hey, guess who I ran into the

other day? Your old buddy, Rojelio.”

“Who?”

“You know, man. Rolaids,” he said with a laugh.

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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

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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

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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

food.

“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

clenched teeth.

“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

can.

“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

you!”

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

far away.

“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

relief.

* 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 david.silva@latimes.com.


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