I buy stuff for a living. Nice, huh? Well, not really, because it’s not for me but for corporations. And it’s for employees who work for the corporation. Scientists who forget they needed a vial of antibody after they’ve thawed the rest of the experiment ingredients and expect me to fix it for them.
I worked in Biotech for 11 years, purchasing all sorts of goo, like DNA, chicken cartilage and 2-2-3-5 Di ethyl ether. None of the companies I worked at exist anymore; they got swallowed up by big Pharma or bigger biotech. It may not be safe to hire me; it’s possible I’m cursed. I liked buying the goo; I kind of miss it. I don’t miss the mice. I achieved the designation of live animal buyer backup once. I volunteered for a tour of the “mouse house,” the biotech term for where they keep the mice and occasional rat. The tour proved fascinating; however, the stench stayed with me for the rest of the day. Turns out I hate the smell of mice.
The day arrived, around the holidays, the main animal buyer disappeared on vacation and I was it. One Thanksgiving week, I walked into the purchasing cubicle area in the morning. Darcy, the IT buyer, says, ‘Allll…. is looking for you.”
Mystified, I ask “Who?”
Darcy looks exasperated, “You know that French scientist, Allll…. ”
Now, I get it. “Oh, you mean Alain.”
Darcy says, “Yeah, that PhD.”
Alain didn’t like his name getting “Americanized” into Alan. Everyone in Purchasing knew that, but no one ever learned how to say it correctly. They just said the first part, “Al” and waited for me to finish the rest. I took French in high school, so I usually got close to the right pronunciation.
I dialed Alain. “I need mice, CK85 on Friday, what I do?” in his nice French accent.
I said, “Just fill out a purchase requisition and email it to me. I’ll call in the order right away.” We were officially closed the day after Thanksgiving, but Alain wanted to work. Thanksgiving is not a French holiday. The purchase requisition arrived in my inbox about 10 minutes later; he wanted 20 mice the day after Thanksgiving. I immediately called his order in. The mice are in stock and will ship today. In those days, mice flew to their new home. Mice don’t fly anymore, the last 10 years they travel in style in environmentally controlled trucks.
I received a call that afternoon. “Hello, you ordered the mice this morning.” Wondering what the issue was, I said “Yes, I did.”
The customer service person apologized, “Well, I’m sorry, but they got bumped. There is nothing we can do; you won’t get them till Monday.”
Incredulous, I said “Give me that again? They got what?”
Again, apologetically, “I’m sorry it’s the holidays and there wasn’t room for the shipment.”
This is new. I know I can get bumped from a flight during the holidays but so can my mice.
Now, I needed to break the bad news to Alain. I walked to the lab, and as I entered the unmistakable odor of live cells gently cooking in Fetal Bovine serum wafted by. That smell doesn’t bother me; in fact, there’s something familiar and comforting about it. Okay, I’ve spent way too much time in the lab myself.
Apologetically I said, “Alain, I’m afraid I have bad news, your mice are bumped.”
Upset, Alain replied, in his nice French accent, “What! Can’t you call the airlines and get them on the flight”? Sacrebleu!
To which I replied, “No, no I cannot.” All the while thinking, sacrebleu, why don’t you take the holiday.