The second man to set foot on the moon was called "Buzz." Neil Armstrong was first of course. But maybe they should have let Buzz Aldrin go first, both because he had a very cool name, and because Neil screwed things up a bit.
This week is the 40th anniversary of that historic trip to the moon. It was 1969. San Francisco was a love zone. Vietnam was a war zone. The world seemed evenly divided between war and peace, love and hate, us and them and, if you were American, "freedom" and communism. Eight years earlier, in 1961, John Kennedy had started two projects. He wanted to get the communists out of Vietnam and to get some Americans on the moon. It turned out to be easier to get men on the moon than to get a bunch of stubborn rice farmers to accept American-style "freedom." Life is full of surprises.
So Neil, Buzz and Michael Collins (who flew all the way with them but had to wait in the car while they played golf on the moon) trained intensively in every aspect of their flight. In addition to everything else, Neil had to practice his big line - what would he say when he first stepped on the moon? I'm sure that to a test-pilot like him, this was a minor detail. But to NASA and the US government, this was a BIG public relations moment. So they presumably got all their best speech-writers to come up with something short and poetic for him to say. The line they decided on was very good:
"That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."
But that's not what Neil said. What he said was both very similar and very different:
"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
Since "man" without the article "a" before means exactly the same thing as "mankind," by forgetting to say "a" before "man," Neil Armstrong ended up saying something that really made no sense at all.
And that's not the only thing Armstrong said that didn't make any sense. At one point during the 21 hours he and Buzz were dancing around on the moon, Armstrong reportedly said something like, "Congratulations Mr. Lipinski." Nobody knew what he meant. The engineers down in Texas asked him but he just ignored them. For years afterward, on the rare occasions when he spoke publicly, people asked Armstrong about the mysterious Mr. Lipinsky comment. He never addressed the question.
Then, a few years ago, when someone asked him about the comment again, Armstrong said, "Well, I hear that Mr. and Mrs. Lipinsky are no longer alive, so I suppose I can tell the story now."
Apparently, when Neil Armstrong was a little boy, he went into his neighbor's yard to get a baseball that had gone over the fence. When he was picking up his baseball, he heard the neighbors arguing in their bedroom. He heard Mrs. Lipinsky say to Mr. Lipinsky, "Oral sex? You want oral sex? I'll give you oral sex when the boy next door walks on the moon!"
They should have let Buzz go first.
Update: For a truly otherworldly experience, watch Buzz Aldrin explain comedy to Ali G.
Update 2: My old friend, Jim, who has become a serious journalist (and buzz-kill) since I last saw him, has written to point out that the story about Armstrong's neighbors probably isn't true, citing this debunking at Snopes.com. Ah well, true or not, it's a good story.