At first, no one knows why they choose the solidly conservative Little Village neighborhood as their home.Fifteen-year-old Ben Podlowski doesn’t care; he adopts them as his mentors. His friend, Joey Baloney, is convinced that these two attractive women must be Playboy bunnies. The super-patriotic Ludmilla Kozak, self-appointed guardian of all that is wholesome, believes Rita and Sandra are subversives intent on destroying life in Little Village. Ben’s deeply religious father warns Ben to stay away from them because they’ll lead him to sin. Others view their arrival, coupled with an influx of Mexican immigrants, as a threat to the stability of a traditional Eastern European neighborhood.
Rita and Sandra’s goal is simple: make a difference in people’s lives. They do, but not in the way they expect. And they never think they’ll be involved in a murder that isn’t solved for 10 years. The summer ends with a devastating fire, which incompetent investigators rule an accident. But Ben never abandons his belief that it was deliberately set, and ten years later he enlists Joey Baloney to discover who was behind it.
“The Champagne Ladies,” set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the approaching Democratic National Convention, explores the fears of the old and hopes of the young as “the whole world is watching” traditional values disappear. It depicts the anguish when family members are torn apart by their separate beliefs on race, religion and individual freedom.
I was born and raised in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, though it wasn’t called that until I was about 10 or 11 years old. My part of the neighborhood was also known as K-Town, named for the streets: Kedvale, Keeler, Kildare, Kolin, Kostner and the others. As a kid I spent a lot of time playing softball in the alley, football in the street, and “army” with friends in various back yards. I read a lot, too, just about everything I could get my hands on. Some of my happiest days growing up were spent in the public library.
As an adult I’ve worked as a reporter and editor at various newspapers and magazines in and around Chicago, won awards for my writing and photography, traveled quite a bit, enjoyed good wine and fine cigars.
I live on the North Side of Chicago, where I wrote my first novel, The Champagne Ladies. I’m hard at work on the second. From time to time I visit my old neighborhood to have a look around. I miss it.