My old pal Carlos, an investor and bon vivant, has been tearing his hair and rending his garments over the collapse of Bear Stearns. His experience with that distinguished and now defunct investment firm went something like this.

His first broker, the littlest Bear, found him a nice bowl of Mortgage-Backed Securities, but it was too cold. Next, the middle-size Bear found him a steaming pot of Collateralized Debt Obligations, but that was too hot. Finally, the third and biggest Bear found him an upper-level tranche of Credit Default Swaps, which seemed to be just right. So Carlos transferred all his funds (less a handsome commission) into those instruments.

At this, the big Bear huffed and he puffed, and was last seen in the first-class section of a flight to Aruba. Carlos' portfolio is now worth slightly less than a pocketful of magic pebbles, and the Securities and Exchange Commission would like Big Bear to help them with their inquiries, if only they could find him.

When Carlos told me about this tragedy, I of course offered to take over his finances as his personal wealth manager. We could rely absolutely on the trading advice of my own advisor, a magic bird that had flown the coop from Merrill Lynch. We should certainly reduce our exposure in complex financial instruments, I told him ... get into something more solid. Unfortunately, gold is overpriced right now, although platinum futures might be worth considering. I am also looking into the futures markets in titanium, palladium, Librium, linoleum, Naugahide, Saran Wrap, and tofu.

But for my money (or should I say for Carlos' money), land is still the most solid of investments, provided one gets the right kind. And, by a remarkable coincidence, I've found a surefire deal in the safest form of land investment. It is what you might call an underground market. I happened to get into it last year, by chance, although the details go a little further back.

After my mother went to join our ancestors in 1994, I received her mortal remains in a handsome wooden box. I didn't know quite what to do with this, so I kept her on a shelf in my Seattle living room for the next thirteen years. That way, she was at least among family.

My Downser son Aaron used to like to sit on a sofa directly below Grandma's box while waiting for dinner. It is not clear whether he liked the spot more for its proximity to Grandma or for its proximity to the groaning board. Come to think of it, I'm uncertain whether he even knew Grandma was in the box. Unless he listened carefully, that is.

We used to notice tapping sounds emanating regularly from the box. This was in addition to all the other atmospherics in my place, including the constant creaking of floorboards trod by invisible feet, the doors that open and close on their own, and the incessant shifting of my television, VCR, and DVD controls from one place to another by what must be gremlins. This kind of activity is so riotous that a couple of my house guests have moved from my establishment directly to the psychiatric wards of local hospitals.

Just last year, I decided to quiet things down a little by finding my mother a more suitable resting place. I chose Washelli Cemetery, a large institution just north of the Oak Tree Shopping Center. Having a little extra cash on hand at the time, I bought the plot for mother and six additional plots as a long-term investment.

It is a good location. It's convenient to Route 99, there is a moving picture theater not too far off, and you can find a giant Asian food market in a nearby shopping center. I figured mother might like to float over there from time to time, just as I do, to admire the mock pak choy and Gobo root, wander through the aisles of pickled seaweed salad, and sample the fermented red bean cakes and the preserved Yellow Walking Ear fish.

So that is how I came to go long in Washelli Cemetery real estate. This is an investment that is not merely safe as houses, but apparently --- to judge by what is happening in Seattle real estate --- much safer. After all, a grave-site is a once-in-a-lifetime investment, the kind of real estate that everybody needs sooner or later.

While mother is keeping one of the Washelli cemetery plots warm --- or should we say cold? --- I told Carlos I could let him have the other plots at rock bottom prices. In that way, I said, he could get in on the ground floor. In the parlance of the stock market, a grave-site would never be "falling out of bed."

He is now beside himself over this new potential bonanza. He immediately suggested that we file an application with the Securities and Exchange Commission to form a REIT --- a real-estate investment trust --- of our own, say, The Gravesend Trust. With the approval of shareholders, we could go full-time into acquiring crypts, mausoleums, overgrown churchyards, moss-bound catacombs, Indian burial mounds, Mesolithic middens, and Egyptian pyramids, whenever and wherever the price is right.

We are just waiting for our magic bird to complete the balance sheet analysis before we make our filing with the SEC. If it pencils out, then, by my chinny chin-chin, we'll corner the market in haunted grottoes. Check with the Financial Times or your fairy godmother to learn about our first IPO.

--- Dr. Phage
Send us e-mail


Go Home

Go to the most recent RALPH