Five days ago, on Friday the 13th, a $225-a-week Brooklyn maintenance man, Lou Eisenberg, bought a $1 lottery ticket, as he had every week for three years, and filled out six numbers to play the game.
Sunday night, as he has done every Sunday night, he called the special Lotto line from his one-bedroom apartment in a not-so-fancy neighborhood. When he heard what they said, he couldn't believe it. He called back six times. His wife, Bernice, watched him as his face got very red, not realizing that the history of the world had just been altered in Brownsville, East New York.
She didn't know that in a 5.4 million-to-1 shot, Lou Eisenberg's number had just come in.
Finally he said, "We hit the Lotto. We're millionaires."
Five million dollars, to be exact--"the largest prize in the history of the world in lottery prizes, as far as we know," according to the folks who run the New York State lottery.
Five million smackeroos. Five million fat ones. Five million clamolas.
He's grinning when they lead him into the press conference at the World Trade Center today. He's grinning at the end. He grins all the way through.
This is his first press conference, he says to television cameras. A Jewish guy winning a lottery--he can't believe it. He went to work Tuesday. The lottery people wanted him to keep the news quiet until it had been announced. Besides, he thought he had an obligation to go to work until he could tell his boss. Then, as he's going about his business--changing light bulbs--he has a thought.
"What kind of a nut am I, putting in light bulbs? I'm a millionaire."
He's a round-faced guy in a brown shirt and a tan suit, with a smile that looks like he's used to smiling a lot. His wife is on his right side, his mother is on his left, his son and daughter are standing behind. "Kiss him!" photographers yell to his wife and mother. "Give him another kiss!"
When his daughter was growing up, her parents slept in the living room so she could have the bedroom. His son put himself through school. His wife, he will say later, has had cancer, has "had a lot of sickness in her life." Nobody wants to know about that just yet, though.
"Where do you work, Lou?" the reporters holler, cozy and familiar, though now he could buy and sell them all. "Anything you want to tell your boss?" "What's the first thing, now, you're going to do?"
Eisenberg answers them as a working man. First thing he's going to do is retire. He picked his winning number from the first numbers of a few addresses in Brooklyn--there was a time he had to move around a lot. There's a lot he wants to do; he's always liked music, the theater, museums--and never had the money to enjoy them before. No, there's nothing to tell the boss; this will be a surprise to him, but he's got no gripes with the boss--he was a little tight with money, but he's a pretty good guy. A winner? Boy, it's something to be a winner; he couldn't even win in the Giants game this week.
His winnings, they told him, are going to be something like $239,000 a year for the next 20 years. Out of that, he hopes to realize $100,000. Making $225 a week, he's acquired some debts. Will $100,000 the first year be enough to take care of those debts? a TV guy asks.
"Hey," says Lou, "I'm not a complete degenerate."
Dreams, the reporters want to know about dreams.
What'll it be, now that he doesn't have to change light bulbs for another 14 years. What's the first thing he's going to do?
Retire, Eisenberg says again and again. Retire.
"Number one, I don't have to go to work," he says. "I don't have to go like a little mouse back and forth on the train to the city; a little mouse doing a menial job."
"For 53 years I've been eating bread," he says. "Now I want to try cake."
The reporters and photographers like that. His mother likes that.
"Another kiss!" they holler. "Bernice and mom, kiss him both at the same time!"
Simultaneously collecting a smack and 5 million smackolas.