"You know," he said, "it's a funny thing, finance. People know I never went to school. It's no secret. And they ask me where I learned finance. They think you have to go to the Harvard Business School before you can make a dollar. Nuts! I tell them I learned my finance out in the streets. I mean you can either learn by being taught at home, and I sure wasn't getting any there, or you have to learn it yourself. My father had left, and mother, well, she was working the tavern. I guess I had a great feeling of inferiority, of hating that kind of life. After all, most mothers are home taking care of the family, cleaning the house and going away with their husbands on vacation. And my mother is running a business, and that business mostly caters to men, and, you know—she's alone."
Pavalon started learning finance by stealing bottles from the cellar of his mother's tavern, cashing them in and using the money to buy a newspaper stand. Winters he kept from freezing by burning wood and paper in an empty 100-gallon oil drum. Then he discovered that if he used his brain there were some easier, quicker ways. He was 9 years old.
First he discovered football parlay cards. He found that while one parlay card might be giving, say, Notre Dame's opponent 12 points, the card of another company might be giving six, or—a bonanza—only three.
"I'd run all over Chicago collecting the different parlay cards," he said, "and all week I'd read the papers, looking for injuries, watching the weather, figuring the statistics. Then I'd sit down and figure out my best bet and work from there, matching the points on one card against another and juggling my second and third teams until I found the best combination on one card." He laughed. "People now name some team that played in the '40s and I start rattling off the starting lineup, the records, who got hurt in what game. They are amazed. Well, I had to know those things."
Before long he graduated to a profitable, if illegal, partnership with a friend named Beetlebomb. They sold chances on the biggest, best-playing, most beautiful nonexistent radio ever offered in a raffle. Summers they sold sponsorships for a real 15-man Softball team. For $15 a sponsor bought a commercial on the back of one softball shirt. One summer Pavalon and Beetlebomb collected 217 sponsors. Rarely did a sponsor come to a game. If one did turn up, he always learned that his player was home sick. The shirt with the sponsor's name on the back, of course, was home with the sick player.
"That Beetle was unbelievable," said Pavalon. "He's a legend in Chicago. He came from a broken home, a lot of neglect, just tremendous disadvantages. The war was on and Beetle quit school to join the Navy. And then the Army. And then the Marines. All three threw him out when they found he was underage. When he came home the last time he wrote to every major college telling them what a great football player he was. And he was, too! He got scholarship offers from everywhere, even Notre Dame. But because he hadn't finished high school he first had to take a General Educational Development Test. I took the test for him. He actually played football at several colleges, and he was a great defensive end and a fine barefoot punter.
"When Beetle got tired of college, he came home and went to Roosevelt High School under one name, and he went to Wright College under another name. And he played football for both of them at the same time. He wore the first set of contact lenses I ever saw. Big as eye-cups. We had to hold a raffle to get the money to buy them, so you can see the raffles were for good causes."
If football was Beetle's game, basketball was Pavalon's. "Wes was a gym rat," says a good friend, Ed Kelly, who then was the athletic director at Green Briar Park, just across the street from the Pavalon flat. "He couldn't shoot a basketball for nothing, but he sure was tough under the boards. Big and strong, and clumsy. He'd half kill anybody who got between him and the ball. And he was always dirty. Holes in his pants; holes in his shoes."
"Ed Killer Kelly," says Pavalon softly. "This man is a priest, a rabbi, a psychiatrist, a physician, a coach, a friend—everything. He's spent his whole life in the park district keeping kids out of jail, keeping kids away from narcotics, keeping families together. He fed me. He was a father to me."
"There was an awful lot of hate in Wes," says Kelly, now an assistant superintendent of Chicago's parks, as well as committeeman for the 47th Ward. "Hate for life itself. He was always ready to rebel. Always ready to fight. What a bunch of screwballs that gang had. Always being chased by the coppers. Always in some kind of trouble. I'd look out in the street at night and there they'd be, pushing some car down the street. I'd yell, 'Wes, put that damn car back.' And he would. But I'll tell you something—Wes was smarter when he was 10 years old than I am right now. He didn't join me, I joined him."