Almost all of my pals have already heard this story.
Any of them reading should forgive me.
I’ll rephrase: I ask your forgiveness.
Anyway. . . .
Before he ever perched atop a giant thin bomb to be propelled to the surface of the moon, Neil Armstrong was a Gemini astronaut. A civilian Gemini astronaut, which was a cool thing. He was the Command Pilot of Gemini 8; in that capacity, he shot out of our atmosphere, orbited the earth for ten hours, and fell back into the sea.
While orbiting, he was the first astronaut to dock a capsule with another space vehicle. While doing it, the Gemini 8 capsule experienced a malfunction, and went spinning through space. Armstrong regained control, and successfully landed the thing. Emergency landed, mind you.
Jim Lovell, you late-arriving bastard you. . . .
But I digress.
As frightening as it was to careen through space, untethered and with no point of reference, Armstrong was only beginning his dangerous missions.
NASA launched him on a world-wide Goodwill Tour.
When I was a little boy living in
I rubbed show-dlers with greatness.
You may be guessing that it involved Neil Armstrong.
Now I know what you’re thinking: how could one of the geniuses behind Inside Out and “All I Wanna Do (live)” be impressed with a quick encounter? Read on.
Armstrong was sent with a couple'a other astronauts on a three-week, 24,000-kilometer goodwill tour of Latin America that covered 14 cities in 11 countries.
I lived in one of those countries.
My pops took me to the airport to see the NASA guys. I have no idea if my dad was genuinely excited to see them, or thought I would be.
Since there had not yet been any NASA comic books, I didn’t give a shit. Add to that my age (six), and you got the makings of a boring day.
But somehow, my old man got me on my way, and got us in the front of the crowd of hundreds inside the airport (actually, hundreds and hundreds in the departure area; oh those innocent times), possibly because he was a spy.
Not Neil Armstrong; my old man.
But I digress.
Anyways, the gathered crowd was almost exclusively
Colombian Venezuelan native, all holding U.S. flags, weaving them madly. But, oddly, waving them silently. You could have heard a pin drop.
I was the lone towheaded, superskinny (yeah; I know. . .) six-year-old-in-his-go-to-church suit kid that you would find in that airport. I have no idea if I waved a flag or not. But my blond hair stood out in that dark-haired country like nobody's bidness. And by bidness, I mean industry.
The NASA travelers suddenly appeared at the end of an uncarpeted corridor. Their footsteps clicked and clacked toward us. The crowd murmured, but only if you could murmur silently. There still was no noise.
We could now see the astronauts’ faces. They were clean and good-looking, and looked amazingly powerful to me.
But I was six; I’m sure I could take ‘em all now, with one hand tied behind my back.
Because they’re old or dead. But I digress.
The undisputed leader was Neil Armstrong. He walked at the head of the pack; more correctly, the pack trailed him by about four steps.
As the astronauts approached, the crowd got energized, but still didn’t make much noise. The crowd was somehow respectful. Most of the crowd.
As Armstrong got to our area, I acted my age. I walked under the red velvet rope that we stood behind, out into the corridor, with astronauts bearing down on me.
And I stuck out my hand.
Armstrong stopped on a dime, and his compatriots did likewise. He then bent down, looked me in the eye, and silently and solemnly shook my hand.
The crowd explosively applauded him. I’m probably embellishing based on what I’ve now read, but my current memory has him being embarrassed at the applause.
But all of the astronauts were smiling, and all of the crowd were smiling back.
Less than three years later, he jumped out of an aluminum-foil sailboat onto the face of the moon.
I was sad on Saturday.
This was not my only meaningful experience with an astronaut. When I was sixteen, I started my career [as a professional musician/my career in the theater] as a bass player in a dinner theater. In the small combo was a pretty, nice young woman who played flute.
I took the young woman to an Eagles concert at the Cap Centre in Largo, MD. [shudder at the musical thought]. Later, I took her to a fine feature film, and then to another concert. America, again at the Cap Centre. Burton Cummings opening.
JesusFuckingChrist, the music young men would sit through just to be with a young woman. But I digress.
We both liked each other, but actually liked each other. Which, at that age, was so damned awkward (dates were driven by something else; something more powerful than caring for someone) that we stopped dating.
She's a kickass astronaut. Space-station jock. Doctor of polymer science and engineering. And now she drives underwater exploration subs for fun.
Still plays a mean flute. Sometimes on the space station.
I was sad today.
Thinking of it.
Thinking of it.
My lost youth, I mean. . . .