11/22/63

Slightly longer than a pamphlet...

About a year ago I was at a book store when I decided to buy, 11/22//63, my very first Stephen King novel. I know he’s a very talented and prolific writer but the horror genre that he best known for isn’t my first choice when it comes to reading. Even amongst the many movies (both TV and film) that are based on his works, I’ve only seen It which I thought was fantastic.

I did some research though and I discovered 11/22/63 was different though. It was not a horror novel and it featured two subjects that I’ve been fascinated about since I was just a small child: time travel and the Kennedy assassination. I remember I was in elementary school when I first learned about how JFK died. One evening, there was some sorta TV special that came on focused on the conspiracy theories surrounding his death. Since I was a kid that knew nothing about 1960s, many details on that eventful day were revealed to me for the first time. It culminated in me seeing the Zapruder film, uncensored, for the first time in my entire life. This was way before the advent of the Internet so this was also the first time I saw a man’s head get blown apart. It just happened to be the President of the United States. The footage shocked me. The raw reality of such an important man being killed despite all the people surrounding him was hard to believe. From that day forward, everything around that historical day kept my attention.

I finally got around to reading this book this summer, around July and I only just finished it this weekend.

So in King’s novel, the premise is actually quite simple. The protagonist, one Jake Epping, goes back in time from 2011 to September 9, 1958 with the singular goal of stopping Oswald from killing Kennedy. King deals with the time travel concept in an interesting way. There is no time machine per se, no stainless steel car that is the time vehicle. Time travel is done via a portal and the way he describes it, it sounds very much like a wormhole. There are also rules for the portal which is explained by Jake’s friend Al Templeton. It is Al who initially discovers the portal in the back room of his diner. We are told the portal always goes back in time to the exact same second of September 9, 1958. Anyone returning from the past always comes back exactly two minutes after they left, no matter how much time they spend in the past. Changes done in the past are immediately reflected in the world once you return to the present. Any changes in the past are reset if you go back to 1958 once more. Those are pretty much the ground rules in the novel.

Al actually spends a considerable amount of time in the past. In fact, he is the one who comes up with the idea to save Kennedy, embarking on his own journey to kill Oswald. Unfortunately, he decides he needs to wait until 1963 to do the deed, thus necessitating living out five years in the past. He is prevented from doing so in the fourth because he develops lung cancer. After spending four years in the past, he decides to return to 2011 because he knows he’ll die before getting to Oswald. To Jake, Al is a healthy older gent one day and then the next, he looks years older and in terrible health. Al divulges everything he knows about the portal to Jake. He also gives him all his notes about Oswald that he had been compiling for the years he spent in the past. Al almost begs Jake to take over the task because no one else can. After a few short test trips to 1958, Jake agrees. Al then dies, leaving Jake with no one else to turn to about the portal.

Jake enters the portal for real this time, taking with him several thousand dollars in 1950s cash, Al’s notes on Oswald, and a few sports results (for betting purposes). Now it’s here that I knew this would not have worked if Jake was anything other than a white male in his 30s. There was still a considerable amount of racism and misogyny in the late 1950s, so the job would have been much, much tougher for let’s say a black man to blend into the world of the past. I tried to imagine myself in the late 1950s and I’d even have trouble getting a normal job, let alone stop Oswald.

Before Al died, he told Jake he had to be sure Oswald was the only gunman that day. For whatever reason, that meant Jake couldn’t kill Oswald right away in 1958 and he’d have to follow Oswald around, more or less, for five years. Now here’s where I would have done things completely different. I would have become a hermit almost, keeping to myself, and making minimal contact with people as possible, while trailing Oswald. Jake, instead, ingrained himself into a small Texas community, getting a job as a substitute teacher, making many friends, influencing students, and falling in love with another teacher. I would have done none of those things which could have endangered the mission. I thought King did a great job of describing the five years that Jake spent from 1958 to 1963. I got a good sense of what America was like back then, from the food to the music to the cultural norms of the day. At times, I thought I was reading a genuine history book rather than a piece of fiction.

At the end of the novel, I thought that King had written a brilliant piece of work but I was left with a considerable amount of sadness.

SPOILER ALERT (highlight to reveal)

In the end, Jake did accomplish what he wanted to do. He stopped Oswald from killing Kennedy and JFK lived to finish his term, even winning re-election. All of that, however, came at a great personal sacrifice for Jake. Before Oswald could be stopped, he killed Sadie Dunhill, who was the only woman Jake ever truly loved in his life. Before stopping Oswald, Jake was viciously beaten by mob thugs, who didn’t like how he came up big on some improbable sports bets (which he made to fund his mission). The beating cost him his spleen, broke his kneecap, his arm, some ribs, and caused a brain injury which led to some amnesia. After finishing his mission, he had to return to 2011, leaving all his friends behind in 1958. All of that, however, paled in comparison to what he found in the new 2011 where Kennedy had lived. Jake discovered that all the time traveling he and Al had done, coupled with all the changes to the past was causing the universe to rip itself apart. Unless, he wanted to watch the world destroy itself in a few years, Jake had to go back to 1958 to reset everything and then immediately come back to 2011. Everything he had done, the five years of living in the past, watching the love of his life die in his arms, and stopping Oswald was all for nothing. So that’s what he did. He went back to 1958, which undid everything, and though he was tempted to go meet Sadie again, he returned to 2011 almost immediately. In the end, Jake was left with being five years older, full of memories he couldn’t share with anyone, lingering physical problems, and an undying love for a woman he could not have. In the end, Jake couldn’t change the past, which is perhaps what King wanted us to think about after we got to the last page.

END SPOILERS

So I’d recommend 11/22/63 to anyone who’s previously enjoyed Stephen King’s works or anyone who has a passing fancy in time travel and/or JFK. The book is nearly 800 pages but don’t let that discourage you. It can go by quick. With the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination coming up this November, it’s worth a read.

WHAT MADE ME FAT

So for the last couple of months, I’ve chronicled how I lost weight over the summer through a combination of eating better, exercise, and getting enough sleep. After some analysis though, I realized how I got fat in the first place.

While lack of exercise certainly had to do with it, I’ve come to accept that it was my diet that really added on the pounds. Before I only focused on not eating a lot of fat. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to carbohydrates which was my undoing. While I was working at PopCap, I had some terrible eating habits. Often my breakfast would consist of either an English muffin or potato chips. The muffin was probably better but it contained carbs. For lunch, I’d fall victim to more carbs. My go to lunch was from the Chinese place from the food court. It was kinda fast food lunch where you’d pick from several items which they’d stuff into a take out container. I’d usually select three items but invariably at least one item was either noodles or rice but very often it’d be both. The third item would be meat or vegetable one but there was a lot of carbs from the noodles and rice. Then in the afternoon, I’d snack on more English muffins or potato chips. Imagine doing that five days a week for months on end.

It continued to get worse after I got home. I remember for a week straight, for whatever reason, I became enamoured with teriyaki chicken on fried yakisoba noodles for dinner. It might have been more than a week actually. Imagine a huge helping of noodles with teriyaki chicken on it. I ate the whole thing for dinner. The noodles were chock full of carbs.

Now that I’m working again, I’m trying real hard to avoid both fats and carbs. I had a sandwich for lunch today but that’s ok. The bread itself won’t get me fat. I didn’t have potato chips today nor any English muffins. Let’s see if I can keep the weight off going forward.

ONE WEEK WORK ANNIVERSARY!

I started work last Wednesday which means I made it past my first week today! Yay for me!

I’m taking it one day at a time and not looking ahead too far. For those keeping track though, I have not worked longer than a year at a single job since leaving EA in late 2010. The closest I’ve come to that one year mark since was two nine month stints, one at Radical Entertainment and most recently at PopCap. One day at a time!

AN IMPORTANT DAY IN HISTORY

I’ve mentioned it on this blog before but today is a very special day for me and the rest of my immediate family. Four decades ago, my parents got married on this day (actually, is it 41 years, no I’m pretty sure it’s 40). Marriages don’t last as long these days so staying with your spouse for four decades is quite an accomplishment. I took my parents out for dinner on Sunday. It was a very low-key affair but I’m hoping they have a nice dinner by themselves tonight to celebrate.

I’ll be forever thankful to them for staying together all these years through thick and thin. It must have not been easy to have been my parents over the years and I’m sure they leaned on each other for support during the many times I was unemployed or just sitting on my ass trying to figure what my next in life was going to be.

Congrats to my mother and father!

FORGETFUL CARD

I was already on the train this morning when I realized I didn’t have my access card with me. In the four years I worked at Black Box, I think I may have forgotten my badge once. In my last job, I didn’t forget it once in the nine months I was there. On my fourth day of my new job, I’d already left it home.

You might be wondering why I don’t put the card in my wallet. That’s actually what I did at PopCap but it was more convenient at that location. How many access-controlled doors I need to go through determines if I put the card in my wallet or if I place it in a holder attached to a badge reel. At my new studio, there are a lot of doors that are access-controlled. It’d be a pain if I had to fish out my wallet every single time to open those doors. So I have it in a handy reel attached to my waist.

For whatever reason, I just left it at home this morning. When I got to work, I sheepishly told the office manager I had forgotten my card. She was very nice about and said that since it was Monday, she’d expect a few more like me to come through the door. I was given a temp pass which solved the problem for the day.

Maybe I’m getting forgetful in my old age. Getting old kinda sucks.

OH THE WEEKEND

I had a three day week at work as my re-introduction to the world of the common working man. It felt I had worked three straight weeks instead. To be fair, it wasn’t the job itself that made me feel this way. I would have felt the same had I been flipping burgers or the executive producer on Donahue. I’m still getting used to the act itself of working. You know, the getting up early, commuting, sitting at a desk for eight hours, and then commuting home again. Did the four months off make me soft? You bet it did. So when Friday rolled around, the phrase TGIF had considerable meaning to me for the first time in many, many months.

As you might expect, I did not do a whole lot on Friday night. I came home and ate the rest of a rack of lamb I made earlier in the week. I then played some video games and went to bed relatively early for me for a Friday night. On Saturday, I slept in but still was able to meet a friend for tea just after noon. I then came home and decided I wanted to enjoy the somewhat sunny day. I went for a long walk in the nice weather. The end of the walk culminated in going to Walmart to get some groceries. A very quiet evening followed though I probably stayed up a bit later than I wanted to. Sunday morning was a bit of a lazy one. I woke up earlier than I wanted to but I just laid in bed surfing the Internet on my tablet. I did, however, get up early enough to get to Stanley Park before 2pm. I did a long walk around the iconic park before returning home to get ready to meet my parents for dinner.

Now it’s bed time on Sunday night. Sundays used to mean nothing to me. It was mainly the night I felt sorry for people who had to go to work the next morning while I was sleeping away. Now, I’m one of those chumps. I get the feeling somewhere out there, there’s some dude who’s feeling sorry for me as he’s getting ready to stay up super late tonight. Whoever you are, cherish what you have!

EXERCISE REALITY

So a few days ago I was looking at this app that I was using to track all the long walks I was doing during the summer. I’ve mentioned this a million times already but I used walking as the main activity to lose close to 20 pounds in the last four months. The app on my phone gives you a history of your exercise sessions so you can track how far you’ve gone, how much time you’ve spent, and how many calories you’ve burnt. Before I looked at the entire history, I had this impression that I was doing long walks just about every three days since the end of May. Here’s what the actual history showed:

Mall walkin'

I was a bit surprised to see that for June and July, I essentially only went on these urban sojourns about once a week. It seemed like a lot more to me. The interesting thing is, I lost most of the 20 pounds or so in the those two months. In August, I ramped up the frequency to almost double, yet that only contributed maybe two pounds or so of weight loss. I can only theorize what happened in June and July which had the greatest weight loss. I didn’t realize how much diet factored into losing the weight. Immediately after I stopped working at PopCap, I started eating better and actually less. This is something that I noticed a few weeks ago. While I was on my time off, I did not feel the desire to eat as much food as when I was unemployed. While working, I’d have this strong hunger when I got to work, even if I had some breakfast before leaving home. I’d then have this need for a big lunch in the afternoon. Finally, around quitting time, I’d get famished again and feel the need to have a big dinner. During the summer, I’d wake up after a good night of sleep, and have a very light breakfast/lunch, not feeling the need to eat a heavy meal. I’d then go hours before feeling the need to eat again. At dinner time, I’d feel hungry but not ravenous as before. I’d attribute this to probably getting enough sleep. When I’m working, I usually don’t get enough rest each night. Studies have shown this can cause increased appetite.

Now that I’m working again, I’m determined to break some of the bad habits I’ve had before and remain trim and fit. It’s hasn’t been easy thus far though. It’s been two days and I already feel very tired. I also felt very hungry throughout the work day. I’m hoping I’ll adjust to the changes. I know now it’s all about rest, diet, and exercise, it’s all three and not just one.

WORK POOPS

I woke up before 8am this morning because I needed to be at work at a specific time for my orientation. No one wants to be late on their first day, so I left myself with plenty of time. I can’t remember the last time I was awake before 8am. Actually, it was probably just over a year ago when I had my first day at PopCap. I had to be there at 9am to start my on-boarding with the office manager Linda. I never arrived at work that early ever again after that first day.

Back to the present however. So my first day was pretty standard. I’ve had my fair share of first days now, for better or worse. I signed a whole lot of forms. I met a whole lot of people whose names I forgot right away. I got slightly confused by some of the layout on one of the floors. I got dropped off at my desk and fiddled with my computer to get it the way I like it. I started reading a whole bunch of documents that only partially make sense to me right now. So yeah, all in all, that’s what I expected.

I also was shown where all the bathrooms were in the studio. Now most people won’t admit to this but every new employee, no matter where they start work, tries to figure out where the best place to poop at work. It’s true and you know it. I used to think I was the only one but I was dumb to think that. Case in point, my last place of employment. After PopCap was shutdown, we were all at the bar and I guess there wasn’t a lot of reason to be discreet about some things anymore. The alcohol might have helped too. Anyways, people were saying very candid things about the studio and some of our co-workers. One topic that came up was where was your favourite place to poop. It caught me off guard because so many people had favourite bathrooms to do their business. We were located in a building that had a lot of options. Apparently a lot of people used the bathroom on the fourth floor because it didn’t have a lot of tenants and it had a large handicapped stall. My own favourite was a restaurant bathroom that was located in the office building. I was able to get access to the bathroom via a shared staircase, which allowed me to not have to go through the restaurant itself. This bathroom was really nice. A big stall, modern fixtures, music on speakers, and almost deserted in the mornings when the restaurant was closed to the public (and when I usually did my business).

Today though, I was kinda dismayed by what I saw. There are three men’s bathrooms that I saw. None of them at first glance seem to be a clear-cut winner. It may take me a few days to figure out if there’s some hidden gem somewhere in the building that no one has told me about. I hope there is one. I may even discreetly ask around if there’s an unspoken secret location.

For all of you who have a favourite private spot, appreciate what you have!

THIS SUMMER OF ME IS NOW OVER

Tomorrow is the first day at my new job which means this “summer of me” is drawing to a close. I can honestly say I have enjoyed every single minute of these four months. You can go back through the archives of this blog and read what transpired but Friday, April 26, 2013 was a very significant day. That was the day after the studio closed and I woke up unemployed again. On that particular day, when my eyes blinked open around noon, I wasn’t 100% sure that I’d be taking the summer off. I find that there’s a certain inertia to things, it’s perhaps human nature. If you’re doing something, sometimes you just want to keep on doing it, just out of habit and for no other reason. As I crawled out of bed, part of me wanted to see if I could join another EA team in Burnaby or another studio elsewhere. Three things happened later that day that gave me a strong argument for just taking the summer off.

The first piece of business that I got around to was getting tickets to a matinee for Oblivion which had come out just a few weeks earlier. I love going to matinees because the tickets are cheaper and the theatre is usually devoid of people. It’s a great time to just watch your movie in peace. When the movie ended, I realized the summer movie season had just started. I could do this all summer with all the big movies I was looking forward to seeing. I know this sounds like a pretty odd reason to not work for a few months but sometimes it’s the most simple and trivial things that push you in one direction or another.

The second thing was undeniably the most important. As I was heading back up to my apartment, I saw a new e-mail from one of the PopCap HR representatives. They had reviewed my severance package and decided I was owed more money and an extension to my benefits. I was floored. The original amount was already very, very generous but the additional money they added made my decision almost automatic. It’s a very unfortunate truth in the world we live in but money does give you freedom to do things, which you wouldn’t have had the chance otherwise. The money gave me the freedom to choose.

The last thing was just a simple realization that wrapped everything up for me. I’m not sure what I did that Friday night, I might have stayed home or I might have gone out. What I do know is that before I went to bed, I thought this was the start of the weekend. It occurred to me that if I really wanted it to be, every day for the next four months could be a weekend. There would no more Mondays or having to look forward to Fridays. I could sleep in every day if I wanted to. More importantly, I could stay up late as late as I wanted to, every day. Each day of the summer could be as big or as small of an adventure as I wanted it to be. I also thought of it this way, EA was going to pay me every day to do whatever I wanted for the entire summer. How many people get paid to enjoy the four sunny months of summer? In fact, it had already started. I was essentially paid that first day to wake up late and go to the movies. So when I finally fell asleep on that glorious first day, my mind was convinced the “summer of me” was the way to go.

The four months went quick. I’ll throw in a couple of clich├ęs here. I remember that first day like it was yesterday. It was cloudy and grey. When I walked out of the theatre, it looked like it was going to rain. Time does fly when you’re having fun. The sixteen weeks went by like it was a week. I remember we got to the end of May and I was surprised that it had already been a month.

My last thought on the “summer of me” is how different it was from all the times I had time off in between jobs. Tomorrow will be the start of my fifth job in just four years so I’ve seen a bit of downtime. I had two months off in late 2010, three months off in early 2011, and four months off in late 2011. Each time I went back to work in those occasions, I never looked back at my time off as wistfully as I do now. Some of you might think it’s because I was hurting for money and was just happy to making a salary again. That’s not true as I received a hefty severance in one case and I had substantial savings in the other two.

This time was remarkably different for two reasons. First, this was the only time so far where I’ve had time off during the summer. Those other times happened in the winter when the weather sucked. The sun never was out, the sky was grey, it was raining all the time, and it was cold. This time around, the weather was spectacular. I was outside, getting fresh air, and enjoying the sun. Lastly, I made these four months productive and worthwhile. Those other times, I basically just sat on my ass and played video games. There wasn’t a lot of personal growth there. This summer, I worked to make the time valuable. I did new things and saw new places. I got in better shape and stopped being tubby. I learned how to cook various meats and plants. I like to think I became a better person since that day in late April.

I used to question if I would enjoy retirement, if I even got there, because I was afraid it’d be too boring. I don’t question that anymore. I am so looking forward to retiring. This summer has taught me how rewarding time off can be. It doesn’t have to be just about sitting on your ass. There’s so much about the world and yourself to learn. So while I think I’ve managed to snag a pretty good job that will start tomorrow, I will always think back fondly to this “summer of me” and hope there will be another one in my future.