My Mansion

By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 3 Jan 2022

My Wealth.

A choice library, right beside me.

I know that the main, the almost obsessive interest of this platform is cryptocurrency, but allow me to add my own perspective on lucre.

Socrates was not the most popular man in Athens, always questioning everything and everybody about how sure they were in their beliefs and professions. He was sometimes referred to as "The Gadfly". I don't mind assuming that role here, just for a little variety, a splash of a different color. 

I own a mansion now which no one can denigrate, because it satisfies all my needs, matches my scholar persona. I have a study rich in a few shelves of books, some quite ragged and torn, but the contents, the selection of this small collection is unmatched, the priceless gems of Western civilization. If every book on Earth were to perish in some deluge, along with every copy in every format, and my den alone survived, a large slice of the finest treasures of world literature would be intact, and scholars of literature would be overjoyed with what I’d saved.

My collection comprises the best of Latin and Greek, English and French, from the earliest ages, from Beowulf and Froissart to the present, the best authors in poetry and prose, history, philosophy, essays and plays, Cervantes in Spanish, Dante in Italian, early Renaissance and post Renaissance greats in Latin, abstracts, and anthologies, the works of Nietzsche, Toynbee, to Alfred North Whitehead, Marcuse and Jacques Barzun. Beyond that I’m fairly ignorant. I quit my heavy lifting in the eighties. I’ve re-read many passages but added mostly biographies and stray novels since then.

Half these books I’ve read, more than half, and all of them looked into. The other parts I intend to read before I die. The only way to make this collection better is to make it bigger. But in its selection it’s exceptional, the pearls of mankind’s highest achievements in thought. I dare anyone to make a fairer representation of the best of Western civilization, in the same limited number of volumes.

As I said before, I read slowly and always chose only the deepest books in thought for my library. And one thing to note, those authors who have the highest standing in the praises of the next generations of intellectuals, even two thousand years removed, I find to be the best. Everyone agrees on the ‘greats’. No one ever said Shakespeare or Euripides wasn’t brilliant, of if he did, he was laughed at. Scholars vary in their ratings of these authors, but they all rank between eight and ten stars, while the vast majority of all other literature, rarely approaches half that number, and one-tenth that genius.

I follow the recommendations of my favorite authors, like Samuel Johnson or Sainte-Beuve or Edmund Wilson on the Classics that came before them. I’m never steered wrong. I read them and with personal tastes, I rank a few above others a point or two. But that’s the insignificant difference of their views and mine. It’s the same as measuring the speed of the fastest runners in the world. Some win some races by a few seconds. But in the league of the top one hundred, there is no dispute.

My father was upper-middle class, starting out an engineer from U. of Toronto, intelligent and soon managed a large plant employing some four hundred machinists. So with my high grades he paid my way through four years of U.C. Berkeley, after which I gained a scholarship for graduate school at the same U. of T. he attended thirty five years earlier, but not in engineering.

He had a broad mind and loved reading history so he didn't mind my switch to the Classics. He wanted me to follow my interests. Even when I quit graduate school and became a true bohemian, living in free shacks in the slums of Berkeley, just so I could read all day in coffee shops living on twenty dollars a week, he didn't mind. He respected my devotion to literature.

I did this for three years and he would drop by twice a year and take me out to the finest restaurants (like Alioto's) in San Francisco and buy me a steak and lobster dinner costing more than I made in a month.  We'd have fine talks over a bottle of wine. Then he'd drop me off at my ghetto dwelling and getting out of the car, saying 'goodbye' I'd never ask him for a dime, though he had hundreds in his wallet and would have given me any amount I wanted. But he respected this and I prided myself on not asking.

At thirty I met a girlfriend who introduced me to a far-gone heroin addict who swallowed 240 milligrams of methadone (160 of them bought off others) along with twenty blue Valiums and a can of old Milwaukee every morning in front of me. That amount would easily kill six unaddicted people within minutes. But he built up a tolerance. Of course he had no friends and lay on a couch all day in his long-johns, dirty brown from being unwashed for months. He also kept a loaded automatic Uzi on the coffee table beside him at all times, another deterrent to social visits.

But he also had ounces of the best Methedrine I'd ever tried also in plain view on the coffee table of a cheap motel, with the front door wide open and him snoring on the couch the first day I met him.  My girlfriend, Lindsay, took me there as we needed money and said he would front us some.


First Meeting Dave.

We hit it off and became friends with that first long afternoon conversation because we realized each others genius. He had a P.H.D. from Berkeley in chemistry. The only book he read was the Merck index, also always on the coffee table. Within a week we were living in an apartment together, the three of us. He was too unpresentable to rent one himself though he had plenty of money. Lindsey was the go between and he hated the motel and wanted company (visits that would last longer than two minutes). He loved mine especially and we talked half the day and watched 'Perry Mason' together each morning after he dosed himself at nine a.m. He was much smarter in picking out the subtle clues in that show than I was.  We sort of made it a game, yet he had just dosed himself with so many drugs I was amazed he could even breathe.

We talked for hours every day for a whole month, fascinated with each others conversation. Then he offered, without my asking, to teach me his tricks. In a storage rental he had all he needed and under the bend of a short staircase to the bedrooms downstairs we carved out a wall and went to work.

But he was at the end of his run, his ever expanding drug habit, crashed his car coming home from the Methadone clinic one morning and decided to go home to his very rich parents, (both P.H.D.'s in chemistry, one running Pfizer labs) and detox.

He knew chemistry tricks the government had no idea were possible. He taught me these and chemicals on no lists were easily available. I met with other lame partners for places to work and other chemists who marveled at what I showed them and in a year and a half had a quarter million in cash, spread out in many banks and safety deposit boxes.

So I went from abject poverty to riches. But did I invest? No, I married and read full time once again, for six more years, (my only goal all along), had a boy with her, moved six times in seven years at her insistence, from the Bay Area to Northern California to Texas to St. Croix, to Seattle and finally Puerto Rico where we divorced when my money ran out (she was beautiful, but that type of girl).

But with my brother-law there we started a successful construction company and we're soon rich again, except that we hired a money-man and his two office secretaries (we did 70 store build-outs in three years) who finally swindled us as he kept the books and as my brother-in-law became a whoring, gambling drunk with our first big profits losing his post, while I worked hard and became an excellent electrician and bidder with an island-wide reputation, which got us all our contracts. 

So I was rich again and poor again, broke in fact, until I moved back to the states (my ex had absconded with my son), met and impressed people in Hoboken and New York city, worked many contracts, returned to Niagara Falls ( I'm Canadian) passed my Canadian license and got in the union, bought a house and regained custody of my son, now fourteen.  My ex-wife was no judge of character. Her first boyfriend (a drug dealer) was shot in the head in Florida soon after they moved there. Her next few fizzled. She lived a vagabond life, always moving (as she insisted we do) never happy where she was, never getting ahead by sticking with a job and unable to support him without my help.

I'm sorry to have to recap my life to make my point, but here it is. Any laxity I displayed in my business fortunes proceeded from an already achieved wealth in this reading. A lack of attention in all other matters, (except my son) also applied to my marriage. Without such a complete life in my pocket, I would I have been much more attentive, desperate and ready to go to any lengths of personal change and sacrifice to preserve that marriage, on my knees begging, as it would be all I had, my sanity, my life.

I pity the man so dependent on others, his mate or bosses. It gives him a double date with Death, or the sure knowledge he is creating such for his spouse, if he dies first.

Here’s the last two lines of an obscure poem by Henry Wotton, of a couple who do manage to stay together, life long:

He first deceased. She for a little tried
To live. But liked it not and died.

I've raised my son, worked twenty years in the electrical union (all across Canada) and built up a good pension. I've been happy at my work because I was very good at it, which makes for three things: It makes it easy, you get lots of praises and the best jobs, and being in the union if you do ever run into an unpleasant workplace or boss, you just quit, even telling them why, because a better job awaits, often right away.

I've been a happy bachelor all these years, with a few short-term girlfriends. Now I enjoy writing. If you think I exaggerate, your wrong. If you know books, this is Fort Knox. If you consider the one alternative view of wealth, then money, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are the masters of the world. And all of us are such lowly, insignificant peons so far below them in worth, we’re worthless, smaller than the smallest microscopic worm, and about as insignificant.

But that’s the most ignorant standard one can use to measure personal worth and happiness, financial success, and mansions and jets and thousands of employees. I know that most people do use this benchmark, as the media constantly promotes it, it’s so colorful and picturesque. But the media is controlled by the super rich.

Those with little wealth and little chance of ever gaining any, who look up to the rich as winners, are the greatest fools. They’ve just defined themselves as losers, permanent losers, in a game that’s loaded against them from the start. None of them write autobiographies. They can’t. They lack both the skill to write and any matter to write about, no life worth reading, or living for that matter.

The rich are often distracted beings constantly assailed with requests or bothered by others, paparazzi, sycophants, social events and a million business concerns. They can only delegate so much to others before the fear sets in of their affairs being mismanaged, or their money pilfered and possibly going to ruin. So they have to constantly oversee their empires, as taxing a job as it was to build them. So they need their brief island getaways. I don’t. My study is my getaway, my gateway to a private world no one else can fathom, so it’s never invaded or disturbed. Thieves go for money, not old, dog-eared, Greek texts, the pages brown with age.

These so called ‘stars’ of wealth might hire ghost writers to concoct a praise-filled autobiography, and blazon their best seller on billboards. But this is just the same as all their Hollywood existence, glossy and hollow, a movie, a fiction, filled with cant phrases and hackneyed story lines, shallow reading for anyone with a mind, as banal as their lives.

Lately I composed my autobiography. It comes from a life thoroughly lived. By that I mean a rich life. It does contain disasters and mistakes. But they were full of lessons learned, knowledge gained and shared, besides the wealth of emotions and scenes and characters involved, their intertwining with my own, the beginnings and ends of many episodes, friends and lovers, making a stream of vivid impressions and reflections.

The one thing of value is the journey, which a thinking being can record and share with any discerning reader able to empathize and learn. This is the one true measure of success, the ability to encapsulate your life in words, understand it, delineate and see it for what its been from as many angles as possible, without lies.

I wrote my story from years of keeping detailed journals of conversations and parties and reflections, some journalistic in nature, others just musings or records and impressions of what I was reading at the time. Some recollections, not written down come from crises and unfolding, shocking, developments. Just as they stimulate adrenaline, they sharpen the memory wonderfully.

The dissolution of my marriage was the worst. And it did take me a few years to regain my balance, my old self. I felt devastated at points during that period, and very low. But then I always found some degree of relief and pleasure in hard work in San Juan or Hoboken or in Rincon, and with the friends I found, through many long nights of soul-searching conversations at kitchen tables, with lines of coke and glasses of rum before us.

But my love of books was the sustaining factor, my solid philosophy, a core unchanging opinion of myself, an armor that may be dented but preserves me from harm, from the 'slings and arrows' of my fortunes and the remarks of others.

I can even look upon the dissolution of this society (and even my own) with cold, philosophic indifference.  That's why I can write about it and guess at its various possibilities.

I hope you can fabricate such an armor for yourselves. There are many means and ways to do it, anything that gives you pride and happiness and helps define you as a complete human being.

But money by itself isn't one. It often leads to decadence and self-degradation, drugs and bought love. I've seen it in many of those I helped make rich.

I'll end with another line of poetry by Ernest Dowson, a beautiful line, but his life was sad and brief:

ed4bae8f956fec025994f1e46243ebf423560edb0f98b56d305a18bcb716985b.jpg     "Surely the kisses of her bought red lips were sweet".


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B.A. in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkley. Writer, Blogger and retired Electrician.

Robert O'Reilly
Robert O'Reilly

I am educated in the Western Classical Tradition, B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in Latin and Greek, English major, one year at U. of Toronto, studied under Alain Renoir and Northrop Frye, read most classics full time for many years after university in French, English, Latin and Greek to the modern day. I am interested in the near future of technology, what changes it imposes upon our heritage and character as humans. Short stories and Essays are my medium.

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