I took a break for the last few days, and skipped a letter for the first time in five years to take turkey with the expanded family. A 30 pound bird made the ultimate sacrifice, and was accompanied with mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, potato salad, mince pie, and a fine Duckhorn Chardonnay. No pardons here. I ate an entire pumpkin pie the day before just to give my digestive system an early warning that some heavy lifting was on its way.
I am the oldest of seven of the most fractious and divided siblings on the planet, so attending these affairs is always a bit of a challenge. I bet many of my readers are faced with the same dilemma, and they all have my sympathy. Suffice it to say, that the only two safe subjects to discuss were sports and the weather. Aren’t those 49er’s something!
I learned that my brother who runs a trading desk at Goldman Sachs has put his new Bentley Turbo R into storage. It seems some Occupy Wall Street types have been keying it whenever he parks on the street. There is talk that the firm will go private again to dodge all of the onerous regulations of Dodd-Frank and the Volker rule, now that the Obama win assures the new rules aren’t going away anytime soon.
My Tea Partying sister was in a particularly sour mood. She argued that Obama stole the election by getting all his illegal Mexican friends to register and vote for him. I pointed out that is a lot of illegals, with the president winning by a margin of 3.4 million votes. I said it was only fair, since six states, California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Texas, used to be part of Mexico, and the Hispanics were simply reclaiming them all back one vote at a time. In the meantime, she better be nice to her cleaning lady. She may have to rely on her to bail her out of an immigration lockup someday. One upshot of the election outcome is that I am banned from mentioning President Obama’s name in her house, or risk facing immediate deportation myself.
My gay rights activist sister was celebrating wins for her cause in several states, including Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington. I pointed out that the new supermajority by the Democrats in the California legislature means that it will become law in California as well in a matter of weeks. The next new ground-breaking, cutting edge social trend will probably be a giant wave of gay divorcees.
The marijuana decriminalization measure that succeeded in Colorado and Washington is making life very complicated for my nephew, who is an undercover cop with the San Francisco Police Department. Local law encourages him to ignore minor pot infractions, but federal law doesn’t, and the bulk of new funding is coming from the Drug Enforcement Agency in Washington, so this is a big deal when city agencies are severely strapped for cash. I told him it was better to focus resources on the crystal meth epidemic, which is causing real and irreparable damage to the country.
A third sister married to a very pleasant fellow in Big Oil will be made the long and arduous trip from Borneo, where he is involved in offshore exploration. No doubt I will get a big serving of “peak oil” theory with my salad, along with arguments on why we should deregulate our way to more offshore energy supplies here. Hopefully, the local headhunters haven’t taken a trophy yet.
I suggested that he might soon start checking Craig’s List for an alernative career, as burgeoning new supplies, a huge acceleration in conservation, and the ramp up in alternatives means that the next big move in prices for Texas Tea will be southward. Better to apply now with oil at $87 than to wait for it to hit $10 again.
Sister no. 4, who made a killing in commodities in Australia and is up to her eyeballs in coal and iron ore, graced us with a rare visit. She has been investing her profits in serial real estate holdings, which she rents out. She pointed out that the advice I gave her a year ago to sell everything turned out to be golden. There has not been an uptick anywhere since then for those who rely on the China trade, even remotely. Past experience has taught me that the relatives who insist that real estate can never go down eventually end up moving into my basement.
My poor youngest sister, no. 5, took it on the nose in the subprime derivatives market in 2008, and has been holding on for a comeback ever since. She is the only member of the family I was not able to convince to sell her house in 2005 to duck the coming real estate collapse because she thought the nirvana would last forever. At least that is what her broker told her.
She is finally getting her wish, as some of these securities have since recovered, and in rare cases exceeded the value of the paper they were printed on. She has Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to thank for that, who finally managed to light a fire under the housing market with QE2 and QE3.
My two Arabic speaking nephews in Army Intelligence will again delight in telling me that they can’t talk about their work or they’d have to kill me. They have since been deployed to Afghanistan, and we are hoping for the best. Better forget about those long evening jogs after work. My offer of an introduction to my friend, General Petraeus, turned out to be pointless. I told them not to forget to cash out after four years, because their language skills will be worth a fortune in the private sector.
My oldest son had to flee China when his employer learned he carried dual nationality with a Japanese passport and fired him. I was relieved, as it has become too dangerous for anyone who is associated with Japan to stay in the Middle Kingdom. People were getting lynched in public. He is now considering job prospects in Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Hopefully there will be demand for someone out there with a US Series 7 brokers license who is fluent in Japanese, Mandarin, and Russian.
Another son is seeking employment at one of the major Wall Street commercial banks. He brought a suitcase full of books so he could cram for the Certified Financial Analyst exams. Hey dad, what kind of bonds can a Farmers Credit Union issue? Are those triple exempt? How do I calculate the net after tax yield to maturity? Hmmmm, let me think about that one.
My oldest daughter’s response to hard times in the public sector has been to get a second master’s degree, this time in education. The payoff was an immediate job with the Seattle School District teaching their toughest cases. Half the students show up with ankle bracelets and most expand her vocabulary in ways she hadn’t anticipated. Some are just outright mentally ill, dumped on a hapless school district that has a legal obligation to accept them. And these are eighth graders! All of these kids have parents who are drug dealers, gang members, or in prison, so they understandably get no help with the homework.
Reading the riot act to this unruly crowd will be my spritely, but hardnosed mother, who gave up taking any crap from us a long time ago. At 84, she can still prop herself up on a cane well enough to knock down 14 out of 15 skeet with a shotgun, although we have had to move her down from a 12 gauge to a 410 because the recoil threatened her brittle bones. She prided herself as the family member most benefiting from government largess, one of the notorious “47%”, as her thrice-weekly, two-hour kidney dialysis was costing Medicare $10,000 a month.
I observed that her lifetime payments into the system probably only covered the first day’s treatment. She answered “Not even that.” I thoroughly enjoyed my annual Scrabble tournament with her, paging my way through old family photo albums between turns. Who knew that “jo”, “qi”, “mu”, and “xi” were words? At least they’re all in the Scrabble dictionary, 5th edition.
Four days, six dozen eggs, and six pounds of bacon later, and it was time to shuttle everyone back to the airport to return to their far-flung origins. I was left with enough leftover turkey to feed the Chinese army for a day and the mother of all housecleaning jobs. I can’t wait until next year.