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the Lowest Bidder

The Lowest Bidder

The US government, for all its wasteful spending, has a process by which the winner of any contract to provide the government with any product must be the lowest bidder on the contract. It’s a common excuse for mismatched clothing, poorly made boots, easily breakable equipment and shoddy products that the lowest bidder got the award. Just think – your loved ones go off to war, the Space shuttle launches into outer space, submarines dive to insane depths all thanks to the lowest bidder. It’s kinda scary to think about it, but that’s how our government and its contracting process works.

Three things come to mind which I attribute to the lowest bidder on a daily basis.

#1 – Plastic Utensils. First off, I think plastic utensils are a colossal waste of money over here. I understand the benefit – no need to install and service industrial size dishwashing machines or employ people to work them or pump water to utilize them (in a country in a perpetual state of drought). Also, the problem of theft and repurchase is made obsolete if one always disposes of one’s utensils. But for crying out loud – where’s the comparative cost benefit analysis of plastic versus stainless steel? Everything here is disposable – the utensils, the plates, the bowls, the Styrofoam coffee cups, etc. Over the course of xx # of years, don’t you think it would cost less if we re-used our utensils & such? Let’s not even bring up the subject of trash disposal or burning. If all the trash from all the DFACs got burned on a daily basis there’d be a constant haze stretching from one end of the province to the other.

So, the utensils. We’ve had two kinds – the sucky ones and the good ones. When I first got here all we had were the sucky ones. They were sucky because they were almost dangerous to use. They came with a sad little napkin in a cellophane wrapper. The fork tines would often break if your meal was especially hard, well cooked, grizzly or crunchy or if you used them on raw vegetables. Just as often, the fork would break at a place where the handle part met the “fork” part. The knives were a joke – and incapable of cutting anything. I can’t tell you how many times some would be cutting meat or chicken and the knife would literally break apart. The handle and the blade portion would snap, sometimes flying across the table. Plus they are as dull as chemistry class. I bet you more people get injured than fed when we use that sucky stuff.

The good ones are light years better than the old ones. I’ve yet to see anything snap in half or go shooting across a table, unless it was thrown by someone. It kinda makes me think the lowest bidder was out bid – or that someone of very high rank had a fork tine break off in a piece of chicken then stab him in the cheek as he chewed. Now that would prompt a change in vendor for sure.

#2 – Shower Curtains. The curtains by themselves are relatively okay. Perspective remember? – at least we have proper showers and are not using baby wipes, for that I am eternally grateful. The curtains need to be replaced often because the ghetto hooks used to hold them up seem to rip the pre-made curtain holes. Each end of the curtain is usually unattached to the bar because the pre-made hole is torn. Subsequent “man made” holes are also torn. So, we have a space at either end of the three foot shower curtain where the curtain doesn’t touch the side wall and 3 of 5 hooks hold up the sad curtain.

It might be manageable if the curtains were cut to fit the shower stall openings. Yeah, I don’t get it. We have these white plastic shower curtains which some “genius” cuts too short to completely enclose the shower. WTF? They hang long enough so the length is good, but the width is always short because the moron in charge of hanging them cannot seem to fathom the concept of privacy. Because there is a ½ to 1” gap at either side of the curtain, water escapes from the shower and pools on the floor of the changing room. It’s always a challenge when changing into or out of your clothes. Success is measured by the fact you avoided dropping your pant leg into the ever present water when disrobing. I’ve taken to wearing shorts to the shower, that way, there’s less material to keep from getting wet.

#3 – Toilet Paper, my biggest gripe. We are the most powerful nation on the planet and our military uses the most pathetic toilet paper on earth (well, that’s if you don’t count the time I used newspaper in an outdoor public toilet in Moscow, or the sand that many people in Arab countries use… don’t ask). Thank you, Lowest Bidder. Again, perspective – at least we have rolls of it and there’s a “proper” toilet on which to sit. My buddies on other COPs must use the cut off ends of metal barrels with a wooden “toilet seat” on top. When full, they then must literally burn their crap. If you’ve ever smelled burning feces – and I hope none of you ever has – it’s almost beyond description. But this is about the lame toilet paper we use – quit distracting me.

I kid you not when I say the toilet paper is literally see through. Yeah, I tested it one day: magazine in one hand, swatch of TP in the other. Unbelievable! Sometimes it rips as you pull it from the roll. I mean, it tears from the main part of the roll so that you end up with a fist full of TP samples of various lengths. I can’t remember why my hands were wet one time as I grabbed some TP to do the obligatory wipe of the toilet seat. The stuff dissolved in my hand! The tissue paper used to wrap clothing in a box is thicker than our TP. And you better be sure to have at least 5 layers of it when you blow your nose. I can’t remember how many times I was in a hurry to blow my nose and just grabbed enough TP for two layers – ended up with wet, slimy fingers… I’m at a loss to explain why except for – the Lowest Bidder.

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