I was the last person on a full Southwest Airlines flight from San Antonio to St. Louis so I wasn't very optimistic about my choice of seats. My usual fate for habitual lateness was to be wedged between Mr. Big 'n Sweaty and the strange little dude that keeps muttering to himself while looking at what he has in his bag and peering up and down the aisle. It's not that I'm necessarily opposed to thwarting terrorism per se, it's more that I would prefer the nut job be seated next to someone who has a greater need to be a hero than I because I find staring at a person so that I can intervene when he starts his detonation sequence to be tedious. I've also found from personal experience that sometimes what looks like a terrorist setting out on his date with destiny is actually just some weirdo fiddling with his fuse. But little did I know that day something much more heroic would be required of me than simply separating some simpleton from the Semtex. As I peered into the cabin knowing smirks and chuckles filled me with foreboding. And then I saw it: the tell tale gap that signified an empty seat or small child. Bracketed by two...nuns...in full habit (damn! no child), including that head thingy that the radiation poisoned humans wore in that really bad Planet of the Apes sequel. A wimple? Yeah, that's it: wimples.
These Wimplestiltskins instantly locked on me with expressions that had successfully seen off every single boarding passenger, including the legally blind ones. If I have a soul they definitely peered into it to verify its serial number and see if I had any recall notices. And in clearly inappropriate behavior for women who had taken vows of poverty not to mention chastity, they were sprawled all over the window and aisle seats, leaving about six inches of middle seat open. So, resigned to my fate, I grimaced a hello and wedged my frame in the inter-wimple space. As I did so their staring, begrinned heads swiveled with me like searchlights tracking a crippled B-17 over Berlin.
And then it got really weird. Because these two 50 to 70 somethings (the wimple really does wimple away the years, ladies!) were in full party mode. Apparently they were part of a fairly but not completely 'cloistered' nunnery - which as I understand it is a nunnery where none of the nuns are known outside the nunnery because the nuns don't do non nunnery things with non nuns. And they had been sent by the Head Nun to go to some sort of nun convention. And like convention goers everywhere these girls - I say girls because their demeanor was wholly girlish - were behaving with the enthusiasm of sailors on East Indies shore leave. They were on the nunnish equivalent of a toot - a bender - this was their "Porky's" moment. And as it turned out I was to be their amanu...amaneu...amanuiens...I was going to be the guy they were going to toot with - in other words, their tooter.
"Well my, aren't you a handsome young man", said the big one, which was a lie in all its particulars but recognizing that my role in this shore leave scenario was that of the Subic Bay barmaid with a heart of gold, I played right along "well I'd have to be to sit between you gals". After we had dispensed with biography and the most impressive bevy of sincerely insincere compliments exchanged between nuns and backsliding Presbyterians since the Peace of Westphalia the drink lady came along. My normal response to stressful flying neighbors (unless they're looking 'bombish') is to hand the stewardess, oops, I mean flight attendant, oops I mean Mistress [insert name here] Provider of Libation and Distributor of Pain a full book of the drink coupons that Southwest uses to sedate excessive fliers like me and tell her to "keep 'em coming". As I was handing over the book I spied the ladies of the cloth looking expectantly so quickly called an audible "and whatever these young ladies would like as well". "Bourbon, neat" shot the alpha nun without a moment's hesitation while her smaller sidekick held up two fingers in an expression known the world over to mean "oh hell yes". For a moment Mistress Annabelle (for that was our Flight Dom's name) looked at us uncertainly, her smile wavering - as if to say "there is something quite wrong with this picture" that she couldn't quite put her finger on but that someone, somewhere had warned her about - but she shook it off, lashed us with a couple strops of her whip and moved to the next row of flying gimps.
Which kicked off one of he most fascinating two hours in my life. Their tongues loosened by liquor, the nuns gave me the lowdown on convent life, regaling me with tales of skulduggery and intrigue that could be profitably used by a Game of Thrones writer. It made me a little bit ashamed that despite at the time being a partner in the Big 'n Greedy consulting firm I couldn't match their Machiavellian tales - although I suppose Machiavelli, the Medici's and the Borgia's were Catholic so it's not surprising that their full time team has a leg up in that department. We then proceeded to their apparently inexhaustible collection of jokes. I gamely tried to match their prodigious output joke for joke but I think all those years spent on their knees 'praying' had given them a significant competitive edge. Eventually I simply sat back and let it all wash over me, secure in my role as audience and drink purveyor. I honestly don't believe that we stopped talking and joking and laughing the entire time.
At one point when the Alpha Nun stopped to catch her breath the little Beta Nun leaned over and whispered conspiratorially "you know you're not the first man to buy me a drink" to which I (with uncharacteristic aplomb) replied "well how about the first to buy you two?" while waving my drink book and calling for another round. I suppose if I were Catholic that little maneuver would have bought me an extra million laps or push ups in Purgatory but since I'm what they call a "Reformed" Christian (albeit one still needing quite a bit of additional reformation) I am convinced that "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate" which in my admittedly eccentric reading of scripture means my little nun "tootilage" was in fact all God's idea. After all, they were His nuns.
But Roman or Reformed, in Purgatory or Predestined I don't think I've ever laughed more. Nuns are cool.