Neil Armstrong was a good looking man who liked to fly planes. He was a highly educated man too, one of the first in his family to be able to describe himself as such, despite not ever being seen as much of an intellectual, despite being a man who could have been and was described as ‘good with his hands’. Surprisingly, later on in Neil Armstrong’s life someone said (or was overheard saying) that Neil ‘had a mind that absorbed things like a sponge.’ This may or may not have surprised Neil Armstrong. Certainly he relied on his daring above all else and so was not often shocked. Like most men who blithely succeed at life’s various tasks, he wasn’t one to dwell on the occasional failures. But this wasn’t a conscious decision on his part. Memory – and therefore the capability to reflect upon and derive truths from the various images and narratives attached to said faculty – was not one of Neil Armstrong’s strong points. As life rolled on accordingly Neil Armstrong did try his best to remember various mundane facts and figures (some such things are necessary in any life) but he rarely could. For example, he might be out buying household items, and while counting out stray quarters and dimes he would just know there was something essential he had not remembered to purchase. That particular something would always elude him until it was too late. Milk? Toilet paper? Rodent-bait? It would worry him albeit only for a little while. Eventually Neil Armstrong would just crack a joke or make a statement about the weather; sometimes he might talk about his hopes and dreams, even to annoyed customers behind him waiting to be served. People were charmed and would usually forgive him the milk. In this way his mind only really disturbed him occasionally, when he awoke in strange hotel rooms on interstate trips for instance: why couldn’t he remember the things that mattered? It made no sense. (As Neil Armstrong walked out on his mother for the last time, smiling a vague patriotic line, she said ‘Pick up a bottle of gin for me, there’s a god boy.’ He couldn’t forget that, even though it was out-of-character, almost definitely a product of her impending dementia, and therefore irrelevant). Neil Armstrong sent off an application to the Manned Spacecraft Centre thinking about whether or not it would be cold enough to wear a light sweater when he went out to the bar that evening. It almost certainly increased his sense of immortality, this lackadaisical foolishness. And when Neil Armstrong, the ‘first civilian astronaut’, found out that the other more experienced astronauts had died in a terrible accident, in a gung-ho contradictory manner (that was to become typical) he and the other guys drank scotch to the tune of what happened. His predecessors (like Neil) believed a fifty percent chance of death was what you lived with when you went out the door each morning. In those days there were risks in trusting science. And so it was determined, Neil Armstrong would be the first person on the Moon. Perhaps it was because of his small ego; perhaps it was because of his surefootedness, derring-do. Neil Armstrong wasn’t told. Neil Armstrong was destined to become the living embodiment of a principle, a testament to ‘fact’. Neil Armstrong drank Gin when he was alone and not on the base. This was known but deemed okay. Neil Armstrong had a crescent moon carved out of Styrofoam and attached much importance to it – he thought of it often, and was stupidly sure he would never forget it. It stood for so much. Neil Armstrong was happy that he didn’t suffer motion-sickness as he flew to the moon and he thanked the crescent moon, privately, in his mind. He tried to focus on what he would say. It had been a long time since he’d bought his own groceries. He’d been thinking about this a lot recently: he would like to tell the world a little about himself if it were possible. But perhaps that wouldn’t be relevant as he rounded upon the new terrestrial. Neil Armstrong just couldn’t speculate.
Neil Armstrong decided on the moon-ploy early on. His name now meant truth. And communication hadn’t advanced to where it theoretically would be in the future, yet, so he would simply stick with the story that he had said it. Or if he hadn’t, if it did come to that, he had meant to. That would get him through the first round of interviews and guest-lectures at any rate. Or no-one would care. This was conceivable. Nobody quite new whether or not there would be any interest in his words. They were just words, after all. Nobody liked Buzz Aldrin. And Michael Collins would become a Wikipedia reference at best, or a metaphor for alienation; his hometown would never name him on the welcome sign, having better and more famous Italian things to spruik. Neil Armstrong was sure Buzz Aldrin had taken the pen they had used to guarantee the safety of the mission too. He was sticking to the line that he’d dropped it somewhere on the moon, but Neil Armstrong wasn’t that stupid. The pen would probably show up years later and be purchased for millions by a collector. But it would only be because Neil Armstrong had led the mission. People liked Neil Armstrong. Neil Armstrong focussed on the future and only ever contemplated success. Neil Armstrong was a good American boy, and, come to think of it, later on in his life he would be sure only to use his name to promote American companies, corporate entities that only organised such things as making cars, or digging for coal. It seemed like the right thing to do. Because even the most blatantly contradictory statements can become paradoxes, clauses that become quite useful to mankind, even if only in a ‘really makes you think’ literary sense. A paradox contains the seed of a deeper truth within its ostensibly contradictory exterior. It’s like ‘What?’, but then ‘Oh…’ Less is more, et cetera. On one of the more nightmarish post-Moon days in quarantine Neil Armstrong begins to think that Man does equal mankind. It really does. It must. And the best sorts of people are American. Americans cast off their Colonial oppressors years ago and then just set about pushing the boundaries. Only in America, thought Neil Armstrong, could a man like Neil Armstrong succeed. If America needs my help, as a man who didn’t die – as a spokesman for man, a spokesman for [a] man, a spokesman for mankind – I must provide my services. Neil Armstrong shared his thoughts with Buzz Aldrin (Michael Collins was positioned somewhere towards the extremities of the quarantine capsule and not within earshot) but Buzz seemed only to feign interest, thinking instead of the pen hidden in his suit perhaps (Buzz Aldrin’s name would come to stand for coming second; inevitably he was commissioned for less corporate advertising). Naturally as time passed Neil Armstrong forgot all the mental processes behind his patriotic decision – but he stuck to it. The veracity of the speech didn’t matter. The appropriateness of his status as a cultural icon of truth did matter. The reasons and evidence that explained all that he did in the future could never matter. Holding on to his momentum did matter. Neil Armstrong realised a poor memory had never held him back. Neil Armstrong had lived, was living, the dream. Neil Armstrong quietly thanked the Styrofoam Crescent Moon. Night was falling outside the quarantine shell but he couldn’t tell. His course would never deviate.
(first published in Going Down Swinging #29)