It’s another Friday the 13th, Lou Eisenberg’s lucky day.
Eisenberg, 89, who lives in a modest townhouse in suburban West Palm Beach, will do what he always does on days like this: Play his six lucky numbers 3, 14, 22, 24, 25 and 29.
It was on a Friday the 13th, nearly 36 years ago, when Eisenberg hit the New York Lottery’s $5 million jackpot with those numbers, becoming what was, at the time, the biggest lottery winner in America.
“Lucky Lou” they called him. He went from a guy making $225 a week replacing light bulbs in New York City office buildings to a happy-go-lucky man of leisure with a guest appearance on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” and a slew of celebrities — including Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett, Lainie Kazan, Joan Rivers and Donald Trump — posing for photos with him for good luck.
At the age of 53, Lucky Lou imagined he was set for life. After taxes, he began receiving his annual payouts of $239,005 for the next 20 years.
He quit his job immediately. When reporters asked him in 1981 what he would do with his lottery winnings, Eisenberg had a ready answer.
“Number one, I don’t have to go to work,” he said. “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 said. “Now, I want to eat cake.”
He did. And the crumbs went everywhere: Three wives, foreign travel, a Brighton Beach condo, a lot of subsequent betting that didn’t pan out, and a slew of friends who needed a little cash.
“I had no idea I would get to be 89 years old,” Eisenberg said this week. “I didn’t lose all my money. I used all my money.”
The money went, but Lou’s still here.
“Now, if I want $20, there’s nobody around,” he says.
It has been 16 years and running since his last annual lottery payment, and his high-flying days are getting more and more remote, which has led him to reconsider some choices he made.
“I don’t care what you have, you need to put something away,” he said. “Because you never know whether you’ll get to be 89 one day.”
“The years go by and you don’t realize it,” he said. “Getting old isn’t bad when you are getting older. But when you get there, it sucks.”
But Lucky Lou’s still a guy with a ready smile, and he’s not glum about how things turned out. He doesn’t like his arthritis, but he’s still feeling lucky.
And still playing those numbers, this time for the Florida Lottery, twice a week, and still waiting to hit the next jackpot.
“A dollar and dream, that’s it,” he said.
In the meantime, he figures he hit the jackpot with his 65-year-old companion, Jane Ann Walker, a woman he met while she worked the $50 window at the Palm Beach Kennel Club, where she still works, part time.
They’ve been sharing a home together in the Andros Isle community, and Eisenberg now calls meeting her at the dog track the truly luckiest moment of his life.
“She was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said.
Walker fills out their lottery slips. Three $1 bets twice a week. Week after week. Year after year. When Eisenberg won his jackpot in New York, the odds of him being a single winner in that drawing was 1 in 5.4 million.
He figures it’s just about time for him to hit it again. So Walker’s going to buy the tickets for the Saturday night drawing on Friday the 13th — because that’s Lou’s lucky day.
“He’s never negative; he’s always positive,” Walker said. “We’re hoping this Friday the 13th is going to be lucky again.”