Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon and allegedly one of the dullest guys to ever do something momentous, died today at age 82. But let’s hold off for a minute or two and offer due respect for his and NASA’s brilliant achievement and for Armstrong being the super-reliable and resourceful pilot that his colleagues always spoke of.
Now that I’ve paid my respects I can say that I was always bothered by Armstrong’s historic first words after his feet touched the moon’s surface: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Obviously “man” and “mankind” are synonymous so the statement made zero sense, but it would have if Armstrong had simply said “a” man. Instead he ruined it, and that grammatical error is now etched in stone and marble for centuries to come with millions upon millions of unborn people fated to read this silly quote and scratch their heads and look at each other and ask, “What…? I don’t get it.”
Armstrong rarely spoke in public, rarely said anything, rarely shared or reflected or expounded. He was a private man who decided early on to keep to himself, and was content to simply be a skilled pilot who did the job. That’s fine in itself, but I’ll never forget Norman Mailer‘s describing Armstrong as a bit of a dolt in his 1971 book “Of a Fire on The Moon.” I particularly recall his comparing Armstrong’s responses to press conference questions to the way a cow grazing in a field deals with flies by flicking them away with its tail.
Four years ago I passed along a story about Universal’s intending to make a film out of James R. Hansen‘s “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong.” I wrote that the book “will be adapted into screenplay form by Nicole Perlman — if the poor woman manages to stay awake while writing it. For Universal is essentially going to make a movie about that cow.”