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The Dinner

My dad, Louis Wasserman, was for many years a professor of Political Science and Philosophy a San Francisco State College, now University. Among his many activities was as the head of the College Lecture Series, which brought interesting and famous speakers of the day to the campus to hopefully stimulate the minds of its students. 

On this night the lecturer was to be Aldous Huxley, the famous philosopher, humanist, pacifist, poet, and author.

My father would occasionally invite the current lecturer for dinner at our home in Mill Valley on the evening of his or her talk. As they were acquainted from prior years in Los Angeles, Mr. Huxley accepted. His most famous book, “Brave New World” was then required reading in English class and I made it a priority to attend in spite of the busy social life of a high school junior.  

At that time, I was a sallow youth, concerned mostly with seduction of the opposite sex (I was a total failure) and other pursuits non-academic. As I will reveal later, my recollections did not include the more esoteric nuance of the dinner conversation.

The lecture took place in, or around, 1959, and concerned the potentialities of the human mind.

As I discovered much later, this was a favorite subject of Mr. Huxley. At the beginning of his lecture, he quoted Ophelia as she tells Claudius in Act 4 of Hamlet: “We know what we are, but know not what we may be”. This quote defines, in a way, Huxley’s pursuit of knowledge and the potential of the human mind.

His early friendships with D. H. Lawrence and Bertrand Russel and later associations with such luminaries such as spiritual teacher Jiddi Krishnamurti and Hindu Swami Prabhavananda, both of whom resided in Los Angeles, told of his wide range of both mentors and contemporaries with whom dialog concerned the pursuit of the meaning of life itself.  

It was in Los Angeles that Huxley first experienced Mescaline, and his experience helped to define much of his writing. In “Doors To Perception” he wrote of his own trips under the influence of the cacti, and in his final book, “Island”, in 1962, he writes of a utopian society which used a hallucinatory drug to deepen a state of religious-like serenity. 

What I did remember from that dinner over 60 years ago was that Huxley was very apologetic about his blindness, his sight being limited to blurred shapes since school days in England. At the beginning of the meal that my mother carefully prepared, he explained that he had to eat with his fingers due to his condition, and proceeded to deftly eat the salad, dressing and all, in the only way he could. Later, standing before our brick fireplace with one arm on the mantle piece, he joked that a prize Hereford bull imported at great expense from England for breeding stock by a ranching friend, “had better not be impotent”. The great man was actually human!

Huxley lived in LA until his death in 1963, within hours of the demise of C. S. Lewis, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  The angels must have been fluttering their wings with anticipation.

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