The Burden of Things

The Lund Loop - Your weekly update on markets, trading, and life.

One week after my mother died, my sister and I arrived at her house with a U-Haul and a mandate to wind down the remnants of her life.

It penciled out as an easy job, as my mom had moved twice in the last five years, each time prompting a garage sale or phone call to one of us inquiring, “do you want this?”

Anything of special significance or sentiment should have been long gone, so we adopted a well-known strategy to expedite the process – save, trash, or donate.

It was a simple algorithm.

“Save” meant my sister or I wanted it. Failing that, if someone else could use it, it went to “donate.” Anything that didn’t fall into the previous categories went into “trash” – literally.

But even with our ruthless efficiency, we ran into speed bumps - the first of which was a hoard of ephemera my mother had collected obsessively.

Old travel brochures and printed recipes mixed with bank statements, hand written check ledgers, and triplicate copies of utility bills - each annotated by highlighter and post-it note.

And file cabinets full of folders, stuffed with anything from 60-page prospectuses for mutual funds she never bought, to instruction manuals for exercise equipment she never used, and receipts for every repair, upgrade, and renovation ever done on her houses - going back to the first one that my parents bought in 1972.

Not wanting to accidentally throw out a cherished photo or stock certificate for 10,000 shares of IBM, we sifted through each piece one at a time.

But quantity wasn’t the only stumbling block. Emotional drag played its part as well, particularly when we got to her bedroom.

My mom lived alone in a three-bedroom house, but the sicker she got, the smaller the orbit of things around her became.

Hats to cover her naked head. Mints and candies to take the bitter taste of chemo from her mouth. A phone and flashlight for emergencies. Nightshades, an ice pack, and a hot water bottle so she could sleep better.

These things and more piled up on what started as a simple side table but evolved into a massage table full of items pulled close, all within arm’s reach of the bed.

I’ll admit to a tinge of guilt when clearing away the miscellany of her life, but I had to do it.

Every time I entered the house it felt like she was still there. Around the corner, in the kitchen making a sandwich, or upstairs folding clothes - always just out of view.

I had to start creating space between the memory of her alive and the fact that she was dead.

In these these situations you do odd things. Things that don't make sense.

Like when I bumped into her desk clock and the battery fell out. I quickly scrambled to replace it. To make sure it kept accurate time for someone who wasn't there - and never would be again.

But what really slowed us down was deciding what to do with things that carried a tacit obligation - the antique pair of glasses, inkwell, and church hymnal, for example, found in a small chest of drawers, nestled in the corner of a closet.

Inside the book’s cover was written “John Kelly.” I had a vague recollection of the name, and even less interest.  

A snippet of retained family folklore told me he was a great-great grandfather, or uncle, or cousin twice removed – someone from my father’s side who died 150 or more years ago.

I knew nothing else about him, but reflexively put his things in the “save” category.

Then wondered why.

My father was 30 years gone and had never mentioned him while alive.

My mother certainly had no connection, nor had she indicated any significance to his things.

In fact, the last time I saw them was 40 years ago, in a dirty old box under my father’s workbench.

Why was I saving them?

----

[A Russian nesting doll with hand-painted scenes from Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.”]

I was in love.

I thought she might be my wife someday. And I wanted to get her something special.

She was hard to shop for, but I had paid particular attention when she cooed over her friend’s Russian nesting doll.

That’s what I would get your mom.

I went to every place I could think of to find one - tchotchke shops, doll museums, even the local Russian cultural center - but to no avail. And her birthday was tomorrow.

Disappointed and depressed, I went to the mall - a mall I’d been to a hundred times before, one which had no Russian nesting dolls – resigned to buy her a shirt, or something.

Walking through the concourse I passed kiosks selling random crap, like handmade jewelry, customized cell phone covers, peanut brittle, off brand plushies, steak knives, new age crystals, windchimes, bath salts, and Russian nesting dolls.

Wait, what?

Yes, right there before me sat Vaclav’s Doll Hut, brimming over with nesting dolls of every size and shape. I picked one I thought she’d like.

She did.

It’s the one you’re looking at now.

And the stroke of serendipity that led me to it convinced me that your mother and I were destined for each other.

P.S. One week later I was in the same mall and I thought I’d stop by Vaclav’s to tell him how happy the doll had made my girlfriend. But his kiosk was gone, and it never returned.

[A Ragged, bearded doll, dressed in Bavarian clothes of green felt]

I was only six and it was the first time I’d flown by myself. I wasn’t scared, but the stewardess who sat next to me gave me ginger ale and a toy airplane just to make sure I was okay.

The flight was short, and Geneva and Roy were waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs when I deplaned.

I called them my aunt and uncle but technically they were “greats” – Geneva my grandmother’s sister and Roy her husband.

I was spending the weekend with them at their house in Kentfield, and knowing how they’d dote on me, I’d been excited about the trip ever since they called my parents to suggest it.

Now in their 60’s, they never had children, and I was their surrogate, just as my father had been before me.

They were wonderful people. Not particularly educated, but cultured, moving in all the right circles in the Bay Area. Roy even played violin in the San Francisco Symphony.  

They took me to Fisherman’s Wharf where I tried shrimp cocktail for the first time.

We ate chocolate sundaes in Ghirardelli Square, then rode the ferry to Alcatraz.

And on Sunday we had a picnic in Sausalito.

But what made the biggest impression on my six-year old brain were the tall tales Roy told while we sat around the dining table eating prime rib and Yorkshire pudding.

When he was still a young man, Roy had lived in a faraway land called Germany. It was there that he’d seen incredible things, like people paying for a loaf of bread with a wheelbarrow full of money – or so the story went.

He told me about men in boots who marched in the streets, shouting slogans to their leader – an evil man they called “The Father” – who eventually attacked his neighbors and tried to wipe out the people called “juice.”

Roy left Germany, but returned after a great war had passed and The Father was gone.

He looked far and wide for his friends, many of whom were juice, but they were no longer there.

I remember thinking that The Father had probably taken them away.

Before I went home, Geneva and Roy gave me a present – a Sandman – the one you’re looking at now.

In German he’s called Sandmännchen, based upon Ole Lukøje, a character by Hans Christian Anderson.

Sandmännchen is the gatekeeper of children’s dreams, and according to legend;

Under each arm he carries an umbrella; one of them, with pictures on the inside, he spreads over the good children, and then they dream the most beautiful stories the whole night.

But the other umbrella has no pictures, and this he holds over the naughty children so that they sleep heavily, and wake in the morning without having dreamed at all.

At the back of my Sandmännchen there’s a string, attached to an ivory ring. When pulled, it plays a Bavarian lullaby.

On nights when my sleep was disturbed by nightmares, I pulled that ring, and pulled the Sandman close, for protection from the unknown.

And I thought fondly of aunt Geneva and uncle Roy.

[A Black and white photo of a small grainy image]

I sat in the darkened room and watched the movement on the screen. I’d done this twice before, but still, I was nervous.

“Good,” said the technician. “Just fine.”

She moved swiftly through the process, but the gaps between her words seemed to last a lifetime.

“Good over here,” she continued.

Then she paused, “Hmm?”

Hmm? I thought. What does “hmm” mean? Don’t say hmm. Never say hmm during an ultrasound.

I held my breath for what seemed an eternity. Finally, she spoke…

“Okay, everything looks great.”

My relief was audible as I let out a loud “whew!”

Three months down, six to go.

I was fine with just you two. To be honest, I was fine with none. But after you came into my life, I couldn’t imagine it any other way. And if number three brought even half the joy you did, I’d welcome her with open arms.

Her. It was a girl.

I wondered what she’d look like. Specifically, would she be a mini version of her sister, or have a look all her own?

I pictured her with curly hair.

My mind drifted as I calculated how old I’d be when she graduated high school, got married, had kids.

The humming from the ultrasound machine brought me back to reality, as a series of small photos – with even smaller images on them - emerged from a hidden slot.

One of which you’re holding right now.

We raced home to show them to your grandparents and to post on Facebook. We got cheers of excitement and likes all-around. The next step was a name.  

Then the phone rang.

“Mr. Lund?”

It was Doctor Tucker, your mom’s obstetrician.

“We have the results from the amniocentesis and there seems to be an anomaly,” he began. “I’m sorry to inform you that your baby has markers for Trisomy 18.”

It’s a genetic disorder which causes most babies die in utero, and if they do live to birth, they’re usually dead within a matter of hours.

She died not long after we found out.

I was sad, and as men often do, I pushed my emotions down deep and thought no more of it.

But your mom was devastated and never got over it.

It was my job to inform family and friends, as well as delete the social media posts.

Your mother never mentioned the ultrasound photos, but I assumed she’d want me to get rid of them, so I ripped them up.

I never told her I kept this one.

I don’t know why I did.

----

One of the prime directives for parents is to leave their children with as little burden as possible.

Financial burden. Emotional burden. The burden of things.

What you just read were the letters I’d write to my children – in an alternative universe - explaining the significance of the things I left behind.

But these narratives are uniquely mine, and I can’t expect my emotional attachments to translate to anybody else. It’s the height of arrogance to think they could.

To me, these things represent the touchstones of my life, but to my children, they are a cheap trinket, a raggedly old doll, and a low-quality image of, at best, an abstract concept.

I understand the importance of history, of family history, and a sense of lineage. But I also understand the value in relieving your offspring from the burden of carrying sentimental straw men from generation to generation.

And if I accomplish nothing else as a parent, I at least want to free them from my baggage.

So, this is the letter I will write instead;

As you wind down the remnants of my life, feel no obligation to take my things with you. I’ve lived a full life and the things I’ve left behind are hollow vessels compared to the memories you carry of me in your heart.

If they please you through aesthetics or emotion, gladly take them with you. If they’ll help someone else, forward them so, but, and this is so important, don’t be afraid to discard them with abandon as you wish.

Above all else, that will put my soul most at ease.

That’s how I hope to break the cycle.

John Kelly’s widow kept his things because they were the only tangible remnants of the man she loved.

150 years down the line, my mother kept them to honor a well-meaning but defective tontine.

If I kept them, I foresaw my children, 150 years hence – if modern medicine is to be believed – wrestling with the same questions that vexed me so.

And so I gladly relegated them to “trash.”

Tweets o’ The Week

Point of Parliamentary Procedure

For those in the SoCal area – read: OC, SD, LA, Riverside, or the Inland Empire – you might be interested to know that very soon I will be re-booting the SoCal StockTwits Meetup group.

If you are interested in trading, investing, the stock market, and/or fine SoCal craft beer, click here and add your name to the list and I will be in contact with your shortly.

To Rip or Not to Rip, That is the Question?

Please see disclaimers at the bottom of this newsletter.

Big news, thanks to the wonderful programmers at Substack, you no longer have to “click to embiggen” to see a chart in all its glory.

Now you can just click the actual chart - like every other publishing platform [a not so subtle dig at my Substack masters] - to have it magically enlarggen.

Is that even a word?

Okay, here we go…..

Another great week for the major indexes - DJIA, SPX, and NDX.

Remember this historic tweet;

You’re up 400 handles on the NDX now - you’re welcome.

All indexes broke decisively above their short-term (21-day) moving average this week, as well as various resistance levels.

The DJIA and NDX still have room to run before they hit their 50-day moving average, the SPX less so.

So, here’s the deal.

I have no idea which way the indexes go from here. You could probably flip a coin and have just as good an idea of what will happen.

But….

I like the fact that price - on all indexes - is hanging tight, and not pulling back, as is the common wisdom.

Everybody is suffering from recency bias, remembering the pain of November and December, assuming it will continue into the New Year.

But the market likes to fuck with your shit. And the more people it can disrupt, the better.

If we can base at these levels for just a bit longer, it would not surprise me to see a face-ripper rally - possibly up to the 100-day moving averages.

CBOE Market Volatility Index - VIX

The VIX continues to die a well deserved death.

Now below the 100-day moving average, if it stays down here, the previous face-ripping rally prediction is more likely.

Apple Inc. - AAPL

The markets have started to recover - and AAPL is 10 points off it's low - but the repair process is still in its infancy.

See the Facebook chart for the price action it needs to put in before we can reasonably infer that a bottom is in.

Facebook - FB

My god, that $149 level is hot.

If FB can get through that, it’s reasonable to think that $159 is in play.

Facebook reports on 1/30, so there is still time for a pre-earnings run.

Keep a close eye on this stock and trade accordingly.

Amazon - AMZN

Someone tweeted at me that GOOG dropped 16% in the three months after Sergey Brin got divorced.

The implication being that Bezo’s divorce could do the same.

Whatever.

The current AMZN chart is like a first time stripper at Olympic Gardens - sexy.

[For those of you easily offended - for God sakes, it’s a joke!]

A four-day, narrow range pullback gives a tight risk-to-return ratio rarely seen on a high-priced stock like this.

Buy above 1660, with a stop below 1620, risks 40 points, or 2.5%.

Tesla - TSLA

Everybody’s favorite stock to love/hate.

Tesla continues to vex bears and tease bulls. Yet at the end of the day, it still resides in a $130 point range - extending back a year and a half.

Wake me when we challenge $380 or $250.

Netflix - NFLX

The strongest of the FANG stocks, this week Netflix closed above - not only a major resistance level - but the 200-day moving average.

If the market rallies from here, NFLX is poised to be the golden boy/girl of the recovery.

Invitae - NVTA

This bio-tech company looked like hot death in the depths of the bear market, but has rebounded like a rock star - breaking out of a descending channel in the process.

Above all major moving averages - 21, 50, 100, and 200 - this stock looks like it will challenge all-time highs if the overall market holds up.

Remember a few weeks back when I said that cannabis stocks were looking good?

And then shit the bed?

Mia culpa.

But to be fair, I did say that this was a speculative, long-term play.

Anyway…..

If you look at the charts of pot stocks like ACB, CANN, CRBP, and MPXEF, it seems like we’ve finally put in a real bottom.

In addition, I think the macro environment favors this sector.

We’ll see. As always, buyer beware.


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Talk to you soon,

-B

P.S. It should go without saying - but I’ll say it anyway - all opinions expressed here in The Lund Loop are my own personally and don’t reflect the views of my employer, any associated entities, or other organizations I’m associated with.

Nothing written, expressed, or implied here should be looked at as investment advice or an admonition to buy, sell, or trade any security or financial instrument. As always, do your own diligence.