After you’ve been around newspapers a few years, you soon develop a sense for which stories are real and which belong in the category of urban myth.
Experience has taught me that the perfect coincidence or the perfect retort occurs almost exclusively in fiction, almost never in nature. When you happen across a perfect sphere or a perfect cube while poking through the outdoors, your first assumption is that it’s manmade. Nature doesn’t produce perfectly round apples or watermelons or ball bearings.
And so I was intrigued but skeptical when an email friend sent me this item about astronaut Neil Armstrong and an enigmatic comment attributed to him as he walked the moon:
“When Apollo Mission Astronaut Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon, he not only gave his famous ‘One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind’ statement, but followed it by several remarks, including the usual COM traffic between him, the other astronauts and Mission Control. Before he re-entered the lander, he made the enigmatic remark, ‘Good luck, Mr. Gorsky.’”
Nobody seemed to know what Neil meant by his supposed comment, but the astronaut supposedly explained many years later: Once while playing baseball with his brother in the backyard of their home, a fly ball landed in front the open bedroom window of his neighbors, the Gorskys.
As he leaned over to pick up the ball, Neil overheard the Gorskys arguing over a subject not fit for young ears, with Mrs. Gorsky informing her husband that he could have his way “when the kid next door walks on the moon.”
The yarn was both racy and funny, but a little too perfect, and Snopes took all the spice out of it. The story, it reports, surfaced in 1995, some 26 years after the original moon landing.
NASA’s transcript of conversations from the Apollo landing shows no reference to Mr. and Mrs. Gorsky or to their bedroom episode. Armstrong says he first heard it as a joke told by comedian Buddy Hackett.
I place it beside other urban legends I’ve heard and stored away in my treasury of yarns that fade in the face of the facts, like Superman in the face of Kryptonite – yarns such as the one about the Mississippi lady who heard a pop inside the grocery store aisles and an impact against the back of her head, who fled to an emergency room screaming that she had been shot and her brains were coming out through the bullet hole. Turns out, a can of Pillsbury biscuit dough, kept beyond its “sell-by” date, had exploded, hurling pent-up biscuit at her head. Or the one about the Yankee bullet that passed through the groin of a healthy Rebel soldier and ended up in the anatomy of a Southern belle, who thereby became pregnant.
These are harmless myths, and I don’t mind passing them along in the confidence that my readers are smart enough to separate fact from fantasy.
Others are not so harmless, and I often have to appeal to Snopes to help me out. During the political race, most of the yarns that have come spinning by me came from the right, since my audience is in the South and my readers tend to congregate to the right of center.
So I’m left to debunk the nonsense about Barack Obama’s being a closet Muslim who hides his Kenyan (or is it Indonesian?) citizenship behind a phony birth certificate. Or the photos showing the president and first lady holding their left hands over their chests when the flag passes by. (Hey, I’ve worked on newspaper copy desks, and I know the technique of “flopping” a photo to show the subject looking into instead off the page.)
The anti-Romney yarns are less frequent in my mailbox, but Snopes has fielded a few.
Foremost, of course, is the famous dog-on-the-car-roof yarn. When I first heard it, I pictured poor Seamus trussed up like a bagged deer and strapped to the rooftop rails. The truth was less traumatic for the family pet: He was placed inside a pet carrier which was lashed to the car roof, with a windshield placed in front of it to shield him from the wind. Poor Seamus got car sick, and he and the carrier had to be hosed down. But I remember a motor trip in which our small dog was placed inside a pet carrier on the back seat with similar results. I think it was nice of Romney to take Seamus on vacation with him, especially in view of the extra trouble it entailed. After all, the Romneys could well afford to board him out for the duration.
Other Romney yarns:
• The Romneys posed their kids holding placards bearing the letters “M-O-N-E-Y.” There was a photo to prove it. Anyone with a computer equipped with a photo-editing application can guess what happened: In the original photo, the placards spelled “Romney,” and somebody did some strategic retouching.
• Romney once said he didn’t know why airplane windows don’t roll down. In this case, the candidate was commenting on a scary incident in which smoke filled the cabin of the small plane in which his wife was flying. The candidate commented that the windows couldn’t be rolled down to admit fresh air and remarked, tongue-in-cheek, that he didn’t know why they were designed that way.
• Romney’s campaign slogan, “Keep America American” was borrowed from an old Ku Klux Klan slogan.
Actually, that was never a Romney campaign slogan, though the candidate once remarked, “Let’s keep America America,” which has a different ring altogether.
Being a one-man operation, I don’t have the resources to fact-check everything that comes over the Internet, so I usually run it by Snopes or some other fact-checker.
By the way, I hope Mr. Gorsky didn’t have to wait till young Neil grew up and walked on the moon.
Readers may reach Gene Owens through email at WadesDixieco@AOL.com.
Gene Owens is a retired newspaper editor and columnist who graduated from Graniteville High School and now lives in Anderson.