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Charlie Carillo

Charlie Carillo

Posted: March 21, 2011 12:13 PM

Brooklyn, We Have a Problem


A signed copy of Neil Armstrong's flight plan for the Apollo 11 moon mission just sold at auction for $51,000. But if my late grandmother had been among the bidders, she would not have lifted her bidding paddle a single time, unless it could have been used it to stir her marinara sauce.

Carmela ("Millie") Carillo was a wonderful, brutal, loving, tough old lady whose bittersweet outlook on life was certainly forged by the fact that she'd raised five children through the Great Depression.

People like that tend not to wave pom-poms or sing the National Anthem when they get nostalgic. Actually, they tend not to get nostalgic. For what? Bread lines? Gas rationing coupons?

I take you now to an extraordinary summer day - July 20, 1969, the day Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. By late evening, they were preparing to get out of the Eagle and walk on the moon, hours ahead of their original schedule.

Grandma and Grandpa happened to be visiting, so three generations of Carillos would be together to witness the single greatest achievement in the history of mankind!

And with that achievement mere minutes away, my grandmother turned to my grandfather and said, "Charlie. Let's go home."

She wasn't kidding. It was nearly eleven o'clock at night. She wanted to head back to Brooklyn.

My grandfather was wide-eyed with disbelief. He was a dreamer, a long-shot horseplayer, a man with a sense of wonder who was genuinely happy to see others - even strangers, like the astronauts - achieve their goals.

"Millie," he said, "are you kidding? We can't leave now! We gotta see this!"

"Mom," my father chimed in, "do you realize what these guys are about to do?"

My grandmother gave the TV screen a dismissive wave. "Ooh, them too," she sighed. "Who told them to go?"

Who told them to go. As if Armstrong, Aldrin and Michael Collins were three juvenile delinquents who'd hot-wired that rocket ship when nobody was looking and taken a $355 million joy ride to the moon.

You needed more than a quarter of a million mile trip into outer space to impress my grandmother. Okay, maybe it took a certain amount of courage for Neil Armstrong to land a spaceship on the Sea of Tranquility and get out for a stroll.

But to my grandmother's way of thinking, even Armstrong might have had second thoughts about driving to her Brooklyn neighborhood after midnight. That "one small step" out of the Chevy could be your last, if you weren't lucky.

"Charlie," she repeated, "let's go home."

Usually, he did whatever she wanted. Not this time.

"Millie," he insisted, "we're gonna watch these guys walk on the moon."

The moment was upon us. We were seated in a semi-circle on the floor around the TV set, my whole family and my grandfather. Even our dopey dog seemed to be paying attention to this incredible thing that was happening.

Only Grandma remained standing.

The door to the Eagle opened. The black and white footage was grainy, but what we saw was unmistakable - Armstrong made his way down the ladder and set foot on the moon. And then he spoke those words nobody will ever forget.

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

My heart was pounding. Tears rolled down my mother's face. None of us could even speak.

Well, except for Grandma. She gestured at the TV screen.

"That ain't a very clear picture."

Charlie Carillo's latest novel is "One Hit Wonder." His website is www.charliecarillo.com. He's a producer for the TV show "Inside Edition."