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And You Think You’re Losing It?

We all lose things. We lose our keys when it’s time to leave the house and we’re running late. We lose umbrellas, but only when it’s raining. And we lose our memory as we grow older, but hey, it’s better than losing our mind. But all that’s nothing. A French pharmaceutical company, trying to prove once again that the French do everything better, managed to lose 85 million doses of smallpox vaccine. Yes, that’s million. Remind me not to ask them to keep an eye on my dog while I run into the store to get milk.

It seems the vaccine has been sitting in a freezer in Pennsylvania for the past 40 years but no one realized it until a few months ago when someone stumbled across it while looking for the last of the Tetanus Booster™ Popsicles he’d stashed there. "Hey guys! Guess what I found behind the Cool Whip? Oh, that’s not Cool Whip, it’s from the artificial insemination lab." I’d sure hate to be the one to have to clean out their lunch room refrigerator or check under the company car seats. Lord knows how many green fuzz-covered containers of spaghetti sauce and half-eaten burritos are lurking around.

You’d think a drug company would keep better track of its things. After all, most of what they make requires a prescription and, face it, it’s tough to keep things out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have it if you don’t even know if you have it. Besides, how do you lose 85 million of anything? Unless you’re Enron, of course, in which case you can lose 85 million dollars a day and no one bats an eye, least of all your auditors.

Generally speaking, the more of something you have the better the chance of not losing all of it, which is why it’s always good to have backups of everything. Extra socks, spare keys under the door mat, and another pair or glasses which you may or may not be able to see well enough to find are all good things to have. Of course one or two will usually suffice; you don’t need 84,999,999 backups. Well, not unless you’re a French pharmaceutical company, anyway.

They’re not the only ones losing things lately. In Los Angeles, the Sheriff’s department discovered they’d misplaced some hair, blood, and semen samples which had been collected as evidence in a number of cases. A large number of cases. Okay, as many as 6,000 to be exact. They were planning on extracting DNA from them so they could analyze it and hopefully match it with someone they could arrest for the crimes, but it’s a little late now. Unlike the smallpox vaccine, which was all in one freezer, these 6,000 pieces of evidence were scattered throughout several storage sites. So much for the idea of keeping backups in a safe place.

This recent spate of large quantity loses isn’t confined to the United States. In China every year there’s a huge annual dust storm which starts in the Gobi Desert and makes its way to Beijing. Think of it as spring break transportation for dust mites. It’s so bad most years that people have to wear respirators because the air is filled with yellow dust. Well, that and the fact that they like telling each other how much they look like Michael Jackson. Before the plastic surgery. But this year, before the dust could settle, so to speak, they lost it. And somehow it ended up here in the United States. That’s right, scientists detected Chinese dust on the West Coast. It’s amazing how dust from China can find its way across the Pacific Ocean yet you can still miss that turnoff from the interstate with a AAA map, Yahoo driving directions, and GPS in your hands. It’s also amazing that they can tell Chinese dust from the stuff that’s coating your furniture.

The English have been losing things too. Not only did they recently lose the Queen Mother, they also seem to have lost their maps. Or maybe it was their bearings. During a recent military training exercise in Gibraltar, 20 Royal Marines carrying mortar launchers and assault rifles jumped out of their boat and stormed the beach. Unfortunately it turned out they’d invaded Spain, not Gibraltar. Obviously they forgot their AAA map, Yahoo driving directions, and GPS. The members of the 254th Monty Python platoon apologized profusely, clambered back on their boat, and immediately found a few million stray doses of smallpox vaccine and a newspaper full of petrified fish and chips under one of the seats. They say they’ll turn the vaccine over to the French pharmaceutical company but the fish and chips are theirs.

Aventis Pasteur, the French vaccine-loser, has graciously donated the newly discovered smallpox vaccines to the United States to hold onto. We’ll store it in a freezer somewhere and hope that someone remembers it’s there just in case we should ever need it. And who knows, when they do open up the freezer years from now they might just discover the rest of the dust China lost, a few of the missing pieces of evidence from Los Angeles County, or more importantly, the Manimal Pez dispenser I lost years ago. I’ve been wondering where that thing went to.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It’s Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com>

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