I walked the aisle of our Airbus 320 and collected the last of the generous donations into the sealable UNICEF bag. My hands shook with excitement. There were mostly euros, a few dollars and some of the Queen’s currency. I saw mostly pocket change and ones drop in but there were also some twenties several fives and one obnoxiously yellow two hundred euro bill.
The old man who dropped it in the bag winked at me and said, “You can’t take it with you.”
The hell I can’t, I thought, but “You’re right about that, love. Thank you for your generosity sir,” I said out loud.
I approached the tail of the plane and sidled up to my colleague, dressed in the tight fitting blue polyester flight attendant skirt and loose white blouse with faux silk scarf, most likely a lame nod to the barnstormers of aviation past. She also wore latex gloves as she sorted the service item trash.
In a bid to appeal to the precious conscience of our mooing clientele, our airline saw fit to launch a several-million dollar publicity campaign to highlight its commitment to recycling each bit of filthy trash its customers produce on each flight. The brilliant idea no doubt earned some suck ass executive a promotion but resulted in giving us another mundane and sometimes disgusting chore.
The real kicker was that nine out of ten airline service companies end up tossing all of our bright colored and meticulously separated recyclable material into one large garbage truck headed for the local garbage dump, effectively tossing our airline’s good intentions out in neatly labeled trash bags.
“Looks like you could use some help,” I said as I folded the top of the donation bag as if I’d already sealed it.
“This is the dumbest idea corporate has come up with besides these damn scarves,” she said in a whisper so as not to let the cattle hear her complain.
“I’ll log the few dollars we could pry out of these cheap skates and come back and help you.”
“They didn’t give very much to the children huh?”
“They never do.”
“I know, I collected last week on the Rome to London run and barely got over a hundred euro and only a few pounds.”
“I know, the cheap bastards. All they care about are cheap fares, free booze and a long look at my tits and ass when I bend down to grab their damn ginger ales. They’d rather buy from the duty free cart than help the starving children.”
“I know, people are such jerks,” she said as she kept sorting.
“Okay, I’ll be right back,” I said and headed for the front of the plane.
I stood behind a partition in the front so the passengers couldn’t see me and plunged my hand in the donation bag and pulled out a wad of cash. I scanned the crumpled bills and spotted the canary yellow bill I was looking for. I stuffed my fistful of colorful paper in a barf bag, shoved it in my purse and stowed it in our little personal items locker.
I made sure there was a mix of remaining bills that wouldn’t look suspicious or diminish my take too drastically. I sealed the official donations envelope and marked the amount of money it contained on the outside.
Just then, our head flight attendant and purser emerged from the lavatory.
“Perfect timing Vicki,” I said and handed her the envelope. “Here are the UNICEF donations.”
“We’re supposed to count that together,” she said without taking the envelope.
“Well it’s all there. You can rip it open and count it if you want, but I need to go back and help Jackie with sorting the damn trash.”
Vicki gave me a long look mulling over her options. I knew she hated sorting the trash.
“That’s fine this time, but next time we’re supposed to do it together,” she said and took the envelope from me.
“Okay, sorry,” I said as I grabbed a set of latex gloves and began putting them on as I walk to the back of the plane.
The same old guy in the aisle seat who dropped the two hundred euro bill in the donation bag stopped me on the way back, “Hey hon, what do you need those for? Did you lose something?” he said and smiled.
“Yeah, we misplaced the charity bag and we’re sifting through the trash to find it.”
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll double whatever you lost, I got more than I know what to do with.”
“No, sir, I’m just kidding. This is the green airline, we’re sorting the recyclables to help keep the planet green.”
“Oh, don’t waste your time, hon. I’m sure there are much better uses for those sweet little hands of yours.”
It’s always the older men. They think it’s cute to talk dirty to women that are young enough to be their granddaughters. Disgusting.
“Well I did use to box in college,” I said and feigned a right hook, “these hands can be deadly so watch what you say, potty mouth.”
“Oh, she’s feisty,” he said to the young man laughing next to him, “I like that.”
I finally got through the harassment gauntlet and spent the rest of the flight sorting trash and talking shit about the passengers.
On the way out the cabin door, the old man opened his arms to give me a big hug. What was I supposed to do, cause a scene? I took his hug and tolerated his rank breath and his not-so-subtle groping hands on my hips and my ass as he whispered in my ear, “You can knock me out any time sweet gloves, with or without latex.”
I fought a gag reflex and just gave him my best overzealous laugh as if he just told me the funniest joke I’d ever heard. “You are such a flirt,” I said.
And then I felt him slip something in my blouse pocket and lingered over my breast for a second.
“Go get yourself something nice,” he said and turned and stepped out onto the jet way and didn’t look back.
“I hate having to be nice to creeps like that,” Vicki said. “You should get his name and lodge a complaint,” she said and continued greeting people as they left the plane.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out another yellow two hundred euro bill from my pocket and smiled. “No, he’s just a dirty old man.”
An hour later I said goodbye to Vicki and Jackie as we walked through the Rome airport. I told them I wanted to window shop a bit before I headed to the hotel and I’d meet them later for drinks. I slipped into the Prada store to spend some of that cash on my favorite charity, me. I picked out a supple brown handbag and paid cash.
I put the remainder of my cash take and all of the contents of my old purse into the charitable contribution to my fashion statement and headed for the taxi queue. I had my phone out and was going through my emails when an African boy no older than a teenager got right up to me and began walking backwards in front of me as he talked.
“Hello, miss. You are English?”
“Yes, congratulations, how did you guess?” I said without looking up from my phone.
“Oh good, I speak English too.”
“How great for both of us.”
“Would you have just a little bit of change so I can get a panino or a caffé? I am new to the country and am looking for a job, but love the Italian coffee.”
“Sorry, I don’t carry cash or change. All I have are credit cards,” I said and tried to walk as fast as I could go in my low heels.
He moved out of the way and matched my pace as he walked next to me.
“Please miss, I just need a little to eat. Just one euro?”
I stopped abruptly and turned toward him, he was wearing a dirty sky blue tee shirt, cheap aviator sunglasses and a baseball cap with a Ferrari logo on it.
“I told you already, I don’t have any cash or coins. I only have credit cards, so please leave me alone.”
The words weren’t out of my mouth before I felt a tug on my shoulder and I saw my new Prada handbag fly through the air toward the street. Another African boy with a helmet and similar cheap sunglasses caught my bag as he straddled a beat-down Vespa in the street a few feet away.
The boy who was talking to me bolted for the Vespa before I could say another word and hopped on the back. The driver poured on the throttle and they both sped away trailing a cloud of gray smoke. I specifically thought to get a license plate number and take in every possible detail for a police report, but the Vespa had no license plate and all I saw were the words on the back of the passenger’s tee shirt: Help the Children with UNICEF.
Todd Tavolazzi is a full-time Naval Officer stationed in Norfolk, Virginia and a part-time writer. He usually writes on his porch with a drink and a smoke. He is a frequent contributor to Potluck.