Do You Believe in Miracles?

On Wednesday night, November 2, the Chicago Cubs ended a 108-year championship drought when they beat the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in 10 innings to win Major League Baseball’s World Series. The Cubs had not been in a World Series since 1945 and not won one since 1908.

A curse was blamed by some for the Cubs not being in a World Series since 1945. That year, the owner of Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern brought his goat to a World Series game between the Cubs and the American League champion Detroit Tigers at Wrigley Field and the goat was denied entry. The owner put a curse on the Cubs, saying they would never again go to the World Series. The Billy Goat Tavern, by the way, was the inspiration for the classic “cheeseburger, cheeseburger” sketch on Saturday Night Live.

I thought the Cubs were going to the World Series in 1969. They had an eight-game lead in their division in mid-August but ended up in second place eight games behind New York’s “Miracle Mets,” who went on to win the Series.

The Cubs came even closer in 1984. They had a 2-0 lead in games in a best-of-five playoff series against the San Diego Padres but then lost three in a row.

They came close again in 2003. They had a 3-2 lead in games and a 3-0 lead with five outs to go in Game 6 against the Florida Marlins before giving up eight runs in the eighth inning and then losing Game 7 the next day.

The Cubs had become a national joke for ineptness. The phrase “when the Cubs win the World Series” was right up there with “when hell freezes over.”

The Cubs made the 2016 World Series by beating the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers in the playoffs. They had to come from behind in both series. The same thing happened in the World Series. Cleveland won three of the first four games.

The Cubs now had to win three in a row. They won Game 5 by a 3-2 score to keep their season alive. Closer Aroldis Chapman threw 42 pitches for an eight-out save.

In Game 6, the Cubs led 7-2 in the seventh when Cubs manager Joe Maddon summoned Chapman again. Apparently he didn’t trust anyone else in his bullpen to protect a five-run lead. Chapman threw 20 more pitches. The Cubs won 9-3.

In Game 7, Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks, who led the majors in earned run average during the season, was cruising with a 5-1 lead with two out in the bottom of the fifth when he walked a guy. Maddon pulled Hendricks and brought in Jon Lester, who had started Game 5. When the inning was over, the Cubs’ lead was down to 5-3.

Lester pitched well from there and the Cubs led 6-3 with two out in the eighth when Maddon brought in Chapman. Chapman regularly threw more than 100 mph but was tired from overuse. This time he failed to hit triple-digits even once on the radar gun.

Chapman allowed the runner to score and then gave up a game-tying two-run homer.  It was now 6-6. Chapman pitched a valiant ninth to keep the score tied and send the game into extra innings but he was spent and all the momentum was now on Cleveland’s side.

Then the rains came. The sky opened up and the tears of several generations of Cub fans began pouring down. There were tears in the Cubs’ clubhouse too. Chapman was reportedly distraught over letting his teammates down.

During the rain delay, outfielder Jason Hayward called the team together. Hayward had been a free-agent bust, signing a $184 million contract and then batting .230 with seven home runs. But he was a Gold Glover, a veteran and respected in the clubhouse.

Hayward reminded the Cubs’ young players how good they were, how they were the best team in baseball, how they won 103 games during the season, more than any other team. He told them how much he loved them. More tears started pouring down. Hollywood could not have scripted this better.

Suddenly, the skies cleared. It took just 17 minutes. Who ever heard of a 17-minute rain delay? But that’s all it took for the clouds to go away and the Cubs to regroup. They came out and scored two runs in the top of the 10th and held on to win 8-7.

Do you believe in miracles? I don’t either. But for this one night, for just a brief moment, with rain and thunder one minute and the Cubs celebrating a World Series victory the next, how could you not? Cleveland never had a chance.

 

 

 

It’s Time to Join the Rest of the World on Health Care

With the recent announcement that health-care premiums under Obamacare are expected to skyrocket, I would like to ask if anyone is surprised. Until we join the rest of the world and move to single-payer government-financed health care we will continue to have the most expensive and complicated health-care system on earth. Below is an excerpt from the Epilogue of NOW They Make it Legal where I got a little political but I try to make this case.

One thing I have in common with Republicans is that I too hate Obamacare. But we hate it for different reasons. I hate it because it is far more complex and costly than a single-payer national health care system would be. Republicans hate it simply because it is complex and costly, and because it is this president’s signature piece of legislation.

In every other developed country on the face of the earth, the government pays for health care for its citizens. Only this country insists on keeping health care privatized under the notion that insurance companies, with an objective of maximizing profits, will fund health care more efficiently than the government.

Is Obamacare overly complex, inefficient and costly? Absolutely, because the hoops the Republicans made the president and other Democrats go through to make sure private insurers would still make their profits while no longer denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions is the reason the system is the way it is. If the Democrats had their druthers, we’d have a single-payer, government-funded national health care system like every other developed country on the face of the earth. But Republicans consider this socialism. They can’t get past the word.

And while we’re at it, we’re also the only country that drags employers into the health insurance business, expecting them to subsidize their employees’ health care costs. This can’t be good for our global competitiveness.

Of course, a single-payer national health care system would mean higher taxes. How else is the government supposed to pay for everyone’s health care? What gets lost in the debate is that the taxes should be no more than the premiums we’re already paying private insurers, and would probably be less.

When Congress was negotiating the terms of Obamacare, Republicans would not even consider a public option for people who could not get coverage from private insurers due to pre-existing conditions. They implied that private insurers would not be able to compete with a not-for-profit government payer. Isn’t this basically admitting you think the government can fund health care more efficiently with no profit motive?

Instead, Republicans agreed (reluctantly) that for-profit insurers could no longer deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions as long as everyone was required to buy insurance. Then they complained that forcing people to buy insurance was unconstitutional.

This country spends far more per capita on health care than any other country and our outcomes are no better than middle of the pack. On what basis can we say that our unique style of financing health care is better than everyone else’s?

Come on, people. I know you all think we, America, are the best. But there is a reason that every other developed country on the face of the earth pays for health care for its citizens. To deny such a thing is inhumane. You can read all the propaganda you want about people waiting in lines in Canada, or people in Europe not getting the quality of services we do. The fact is no country has ever shown any inclination to can its health-care system for ours.

I have friends who are Republicans, believe it or not. Shortly after Obamacare became law, one of them complained that he knew someone whose insurance premiums were going to go up 30 percent “because of Obamacare.”

“That’s because the insurance companies have to make their profits,” I explained. “They used to be able to just insure people who would be profitable and turn down people who might have actual medical needs. Now they have to insure everybody. So to maintain their profits, they have to raise premiums.”

I’ll conclude this editorial on health care and politics by pointing out that we already have a government-financed national health care system, folks. It is called Medicare. And soon it will cover the majority of health care expenses in this country. That’s because the biggest users of health care, by far, are the elderly. And pretty soon, all of us Boomers will be elderly and on Medicare. Some of us already are.

Wouldn’t it make sense to simply extend Medicare to everyone, adding the young and healthy to pay into the system, and be done with it? Republicans have yet to propose any other alternative short of eliminating Obamacare and going back to the previous system that gave private insurers all the control and millions of Americans being denied coverage. Their silence is telling.

Baby Boomer to Millennials: Please Vote

As a spokesperson for the Baby Boom generation, I’d like to congratulate the Millennials for finally catching up to us as the largest voting bloc in the U.S. According to a report by the Pew Research Center, we each now represent about one-third of the electorate.

Together, we now represent two-thirds! Oh what we could achieve if we were aligned. But as you will learn, the word “if” is the most frustrating in the English language.

You are the most inclusive generation in our history. This makes sense given you are also the most diverse. More than any previous generation you are colorblind. You’re probably not even proud of it. But you should be.

I believe change is generational; that each generation is better than the one before. But change is also gradual. This requires patience and tolerance. You must respect others’ opinions if you want them to respect yours. Otherwise, it just becomes a shouting match.

Kind of like this election. I hope you guys will make an effort to vote. Depriving the rest of us of your viewpoints, judgment and open-mindedness would be a disservice to everyone.

Mostly you owe it to yourself. If you don’t vote, then don’t complain who wins. If you don’t like the system, work to change it. Bitching and moaning and finger-pointing is the stuff of older generations. Just turn on your TV. You’re better than that.

 

I Reject!

We all hate rejection. I’ve always felt I was even more rejection-averse than most people. I’ve felt like I’ve had full-out rejection phobia. It kept me from dating a lot. It kept me from pursuing more aggressive career goals. It’s kept me from entering contests. You get the picture.

Now that I’ve left the cushy world of paycheck-every-other-week corporate life and entered the cut-throat world of commercial publishing, I find myself eating rejection for breakfast. It comes in different forms: rejected proposals, poor reviews, few web hits, fewer sales. Each one of these still stabs me in the gut.

The good news is, I think I’m finally getting used to it. I’m getting better at not letting it affect me. You get rejected enough this will happen, I promise you.

If anything, each rejection becomes fuel to improve. If enough agents won’t represent you, there’s a reason. If someone doesn’t like your book, they’re entitled. If you still want to do this, try harder. You can learn lessons trying to reinvent yourself at 60.

You can also just say, “What the fuck?” like in Risky Business, and really mean it. The world isn’t fair so don’t take it personally. If you not only wear your thoughts on your sleeve but decide you want to share them with the world, be ready for the backlash.

The alternative is to live in a shell. Tempting. But I’m not there yet.

 

Another Sign of the Apocalypse?

As I waited on hold for my radio appearance on the Paul Miller Morning Show on WPHM in Port Huron, Michigan, I heard the newsman report that boxes of Cracker Jack would no longer include a toy. You heard me. The most distinguishing thing about this product was the toy. It sure wasn’t the quality of the caramel corn.

Cracker Jack is replacing the toy with a code for an app through which you can get a digital toy. I mentioned this in my interview when we were discussing the difference between the generation gap in the 1960s and today. I said something like the generation gap between us Baby Boomers and our parents was more ideological and the gap between us and Millennials is more technological.

Paul said kids today would probably rather have the app than the toy. There you go, I said.

Whether the prize was an iron-on tattoo, miniature book or one of those little plastic tops, it was a toy! An an actual toy! Do kids today even play with tops? Do they know what they are? If you could get one of those Cracker Jack tops to spin more than a couple revolutions you were doing good. But we played with them anyway.

If kids today would really rather have the code to an app than a toy, the generation gap is wider than I thought. It could even be yet another sign of the apocalypse.

 

 

 

Blog Like a Sit-Com

As a fan of the old Dick Van Dyke Show, I have the whole DVD set — all 100 and some odd black-and-white episodes from all five seasons. I still watch them occasionally, usually in bed when there is nothing else on TV that I want to watch and I don’t have a book to read. I’ve seen every episode, know every line, but I watch them anyway and even still laugh sporadically, although mostly they are comfort food for my brain, helping ease the stresses of the day as I nod off.

When you watch the early episodes, it is evident the characters haven’t meshed yet, nor have they connected with the audience. Knowing how the show will play out in subsequent seasons makes this more obvious, almost uncomfortable. This is the case with virtually every successful sit-com. It takes awhile to develop the chemistry, hit that stride and achieve that comfort level. The Andy Griffith Show and Seinfeld are two others that come to mind.

I am not an expert on sit-com’s, although I did take comedy writing at Second City and knew Jason Alexander’s parents in real life. But I am an expert on comfort, as it is something I strive for all the time, almost religiously. It’s why I’ve been so haphazard with this blog. I didn’t understand it. It was new. It was uncomfortable. But I wrote a book, which has a website, which has a blog capability, so I felt compelled to use it. And I didn’t want to just run weekly book excerpts, which the publisher scheduled and I took down.

But what should it be? I ruminated for a couple of months about this. And what about Facebook? The website links to my Facebook page. My blog automatically gets posted to my Facebook page. So what else, if anything, would I ever want to post on my Facebook page? I don’t want to get this shit wrong! Heaven forbid!!

Watching Dick Van Dyke — the episode where Sheldon Leonard plays fictitious crime boos Big Max Calvada — it occurred to me: What difference does it make? I mean, do you care? Me either. I was suddenly so comfortable with the realization that it doesn’t matter that I decided to make this my next blog.

It’s not totally arbitrary. My book talks about Dick Van Dyke and other old sit-com’s and Jason’s parents. So there’s a tie-in there. But the political stuff that’s been dominating these pages — what a downer. As I watched an old sit-com that I knew by heart, in black and white, melting away thoughts that might otherwise have kept me awake — this was comfort, my friends. You all have a great week.

 

New Generation of Haters

The good news: Now that most if not all Millennials are of voting age, they are passionately expressing their political voice. The bad news: Our outdated and divisive two-party system seems to have created a new generation of haters. Which of the two parties you vote for defines you as a person and divides you from your fellow citizens. And the bitterness is palpable.

I find it amazing how many of the criticisms of Bernie Sanders by Bernie haters (I’m talking about young people here) are exactly the same as the criticisms Bernie supporters hurl at Donald Trump, whom I would imagine many of the Bernie haters support — that he thinks he’s a savior, his ideas are unrealistic, he thinks he can just fix things by snapping his fingers. Do you hear yourselves?

You guys, you’re all anti-establishment. Bravo and I mean that sincerely. But this polarizing two-party system of ours divides us. It foments this division. It’s not your fault. It has taught you that politics is about winning at all costs. To inspire the passion for one side, you are made to despise the other side. It has conditioned you to demonize the other side, assigning evil motives to honest philosophical differences.

Worst of all is that nowhere in the dialogue is there acknowledgement that we’re more alike than different in what we all want in life. It’s a shame that people who have no other reason to dislike each other literally seen to hate each other because one votes Republican and one votes Democrat. It would be laughable if it weren’t so sad.

 

Political Upheaval, Yesterday and Today

The political upheaval in the 1960s and ’70s had similarities to what we are seeing today. There also were major differences. NOW They Make it Legal: Reflections of an Aging Baby Boomer devotes attention to the political unrest, mostly among young people, over the Vietnam War. The frustration back then had to do with young people protesting a war on the other side of the globe that we didn’t want to be involuntarily drafted to fight and die in. I don’t know what young people are most frustrated about today, but it’s good to see them taking an interest in politics again.

Seeing liberal students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison rallying around Bernie Sanders and spearheading his upset in the Wisconsin primary recently made this Baby Boomer wax nostalgic. In NOW They Make it Legal, I describe cutting my political teeth at Madison in the 1970s. My first week on campus I participated in a protest when Ford pardoned Nixon that ended with an American flag being burned on the Capital steps, the remnants of which ended up on my dorm room wall. As a journalism student, I covered the 1976 election between Ford and Carter, which also was the first election I voted in.

I make a number of observations in NOW They Make it Legal, which was written before the current presidential race, that have found new relevance in today’s campaign. I’ll report more on these in the coming months.

 

Welcome to My Blog

Welcome to my first blog post. (The book excerpt the publisher put there doesn’t count.) I am not sure what the content of this blog will be going forward. I suppose it should help promote NOW They Make it Legal but really, if you want to buy the book, I thank you, but I can’t make you.

I suppose with a presidential election next year, I may get a little political, expanding on some themes I introduce toward the end of NOW They Make it Legal.  If I do, I will try to do it without fomenting the hate and division this dang-blasted two-party system of ours has created. Tolerance and respect for the views of those with whom we disagree passionately is difficult. But we must be more open-minded if we are ever to find enough common ground to live together comfortably as a nation and a world. Hate is bad for the soul. I’d like to use this blog to promote intelligent discussion without the bitterness.

But first, I need to see if I can actually publish this thing. Then, I have to figure out how to allow for comments, post tags and other technical features I haven’t grasped yet. Once I get these things down, I hope to be back at you with more substantive content in the future.

Excerpt from Chapter “The Convention”

NOW they make it legal: Reflections of an Aging Baby Boomer by Howard Harrison

Excerpt from Chapter “The Convention”:

The week of the convention, the city of Chicago was set up like a war zone. Thousands of anti-war protesters from throughout the country descended on the city to participate in organized rallies, marches and demonstrations. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley did not want his city embarrassed. He told police to do whatever it took to maintain order. In addition to 12,000 Chicago police, 15,000 state and federal officers were called in, along with another 15,000 Illinois National Guardsmen and U.S. military troops.

It was into this atmosphere that my friend Craig and I thought it would be fun to crash the convention.