It was a blustery autumn day in 1987 when Frank walked into my office. He had some important news for me. He just found out that he won three million dollars in the lottery. No joke. He had the proof to show me, the winning ticket and a page from the Sun-Times with the winning numbers on it. Frank was also giving me notice that he was leaving his job at the agency.
The agency was the Polish Welfare Association on North Cicero Avenue. I was the Executive Director and Frank worked as a part-time van driver. He drove the van as part of our ageny’s day treatment program for Polish immigrant alcoholic men. Frank picked up the men from the night shelter in Pilsen each morning, and drove them back in the early evening. His parents were Polish immigrants themselves, so he had no problem communicating with our clients.
Frank lived modestly in a small basement apartment on Milwaukee Avenue across from Chris’s Billiards, where they shot the movie The Color of Money with Paul Newman and Tom Cruise. Frank, a regular at the pool hall, had been cast as an extra. He got by with a monthly social security check and his meager earnings from his part-time work from Polish Welfare.
In the fifties and early sixties, Frank was a successful pantyhose salesman, carrying his inventory in his Cadillac Eldorado. His sales route was downtown and the Rush Street area. He frequented the seedy strip clubs on South State Street as well as the popular night clubs like the Chez Paree and Mister Kelly’s. He liked to see all sides of life.
Frank had a certain flair that attracted the ladies to him. He was lucky in love and lucky in selling pantyhose. The Chez Paree Adorables adored him, as did the strippers and the girls who checked the hats and sold the cigars and cigarettes. Frank was on the top of his game, living on cloud nine.
Then the booze got the better of him and he hit the skids. The girls avoided him. He lost his job and his self-respect. He lived on Skid Row for awhile. His life was hell for twenty-five years as he battled alcoholism. Slowly, tortuously, he got his life back. He thanked his faith and AA for that. At age sixty-five, he wanted to give something back. The part-time job at the agency was a perfect fit for him.
So when Frank told me about winning the lottery and leaving the job, I was not only shocked, but also concerned. I had heard stories about recovering alcoholics relapsing when they came into unexpected wealth. After Frank left Polish Welfare, I lost contact with him for nearly a year. I stopped by Chris’s on occasion and friends there said that Frank seemed to be doing well. When he stopped by to play pool, he was only sipping cokes and guzzling bottles of water.
Then one day I bumped into Frank at a Polish restaurant in Portage Park. He looked terrific. Frank introduced me to his girlfriend, a gorgeous blond Polish immigrant named Basia, who looked to be in her mid-thirties. He also gave me a peek at his car, a new high-end Cadillac Eldorado. There was no doubt that Frank was on top of his game again.