Well, he certainly stepped into my life. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember asking him into my life at all. One day the Saint just appeared at my door and walked into my writer’s study and never left. To do justice to my stated theme, pulp fiction, I couldn’t very well ignore Leslie Charteris’ The Saint,
as he had taken permanent residence in my life and soul and has been living there ever since. As I got older, I began asking myself a question about my relationship with Simon Templar. What was it about him that made such an indelible impression on me as to change my perception of myself and of the world?
The Saint To The Rescue
Exactly what happened on that first occasion when Simon Templar appeared as a saint, perfectly attired and suave, six feet tall with a cheerful smirk on his face, I can’t really say. It was – I hesitate to say it – almost a spiritual experience . This smile was as much part of him as his clothes and his manner.
Whenever we come up with something in our more-or-less humdrum existence that challenges our status quo and shifts our perspective away from the habitual narrative we live each day, we are changed.
Some people who are struck by lightning experience bizarre changes in their behavior and even their interests. Tested by scientists, some of these people who survived a lightning strike, were found to have experienced a quantum alteration in their brains. In these rare cases, they were found to have developed new neuron pathways. Suddenly they found they had mysteriously acquired new skills.
Unfortunately you’re just as likely to suffer serious brain and nerve damage, or death, so please don’t rush to the nearest tall tree during a thunderstorm to test this hypothesis. Particularly if you’re a golfer. Please watch those clubs!
There are less hazardous ways to make changes to one’s character and personality.
One way is by reading. Filling your head and heart with good reading, whether escapist or otherwise, builds imagination. And imagination is what I believe makes the world go round. We worry a lot about what’s reality and what isn’t. Too many skeptics, naysayers and cynics like to cast doubt on our transformative experiences.
When I started reading The Saint stories, I went through a kind of transformation. Marginalized as I was in my youth, my fantasy world provided me with a cushion against “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” as Shakespeare put it.
I was looking for a hero, someone to stand beside me in times of uncertainty and trouble, and even though imaginary, the Saint’s impact on my existence was formidable.
So, the Saint came to my rescue. He rescued me from isolation; he saved me from my fruitless search for meaning in a world that had more or less abandoned me, or perhaps disillusioned, I had abandoned the world.
The result was the same.
Call for the Saint
Whenever I was I trouble, Simon was always there for me. My worst years were at school, and as I turned into a teenager and then a young adult, I found the challenges of a social life pretty difficult.
“Call for the Saint!” was a cry for help that I would shout-out, and Simon would show up.
Catholics call on their saints, and I had mine. He wasn’t divine, he didn’t have wings, and he didn’t fly like an angel, or anything like that.
He was a friend always ready to help.
You may be asking yourself, Is this guy nuts? Maybe, I haven’t figured out for myself if I am crazy, but I know one thing: I was always ready to listen and learn from people who knew more than I did. Simon knew so much. How was I ever going to reach his level?
What did he have that I didn’t have?
He had poise. He was elegant, charming and intelligent. Resourceful. Face it, he had it all.
The Avenging Saint
Then came the day when my life took a turn in a downward direction. I didn’t know which way to turn. I’d lost my job.
I had no marketable skills. With my head lowered in shame, I became a taxi driver, a decision my family advised against, citing the potential for being robbed, even at gunpoint, perhaps even killed.
My parents were a jolly couple. Their advice was invaluable in scaring the crap out of me and making me feel insecure. Not only had I lost my job, but they didn’t support me in any way. To top that off, I’d just been divorced from my wife.
So, one night I had a fare that took me to the suburbs. It was a snowy night (of course) and the wind was howling (naturally), and I saw three guys lurching toward my cab from across the street.
On that bitter night, I picked up these three galoots who were drunk and
despite qualms I had at the time that they could be a problem.
And they were.
Too late I realized I’d missed my chance to keep them out of my cab by locking the doors. In those days you had to reach over and push all the buttons down, one at a time.
They poured into my taxi, took up three seats, one in front, two in back, and when they found out that I had tried to lock them out, the guy in front beside me hauled off and punched me in the face, and kept punching as I tried to unhinge the driver’s door handle with my left hand and holding the steering wheel in my right. Each time I pulled on it, I got another slap in the face, or a punch in the ear – it’s hard to remember everything that happened. I know one thing: there was a streetcar head the opposite direction and for a crazy moment I thought to myself, “I can do this!” My intent, as you may have guessed, was to ram the streetcar. All I had to do was steer right into it.
I missed my chance because, well, because I wasn’t the Saint.
I drove, my hands getting sticky with sweat as I contemplated the unthinkable. Was I going to become one
of those statistics? I saw the headlines in my mind: Another Taxi Driver Shot Dead. Was that going to be me?
The expressway was snow-covered and I had to drive slow, which made my panic all the worse. If something was going to happen, let it happen now. The guy in the front who’d punched me, was alert; I could see that. I sensed him squirming, tense. In the back, the two other yahoos were gabbing about baseball, so that was all right. I figured if they were talking baseball, they wouldn’t be in the mood to kill me.
But then I heard them talking, just barely, in low voices. They were talking about me. How they didn’t have to put up with this kind of service, and maybe they should just bump me off.
The guy in front yelled at them to shut up.
“Just keep driving,” he said to me.
So I drove. I turned off the highway and onto a city street, where they told me to pull over. It wasn’t near an address. This was where they were going to do it.
I heard a rustle behind me. One of the guys in the back touched my shoulder, and I looked down and there was the fare. The money.
“Keep the change,” the guy in front said to me.
They all got out.
To say I breathed a sigh of relief is an understatement. I blew it out of my mouth with the force of a hurricane.
And then, as the snow was starting to diminish, watching the three assholes walk toward the driveway of an apartment building, a dark figure all in black stepped out of from behind a pillar and confronted them. I could see his body language: he was primed for action.
It didn’t take long. My Avenger made quick work of them. Karate chops were flying everywhere – the man was a whirlwind of energy. Spinning and chopping, he brought all of them down within seconds.
I couldn’t believe it.
Then, the man came toward me, brushing the snow off his Fedora hat, which he was carrying in his hand. He stopped beside me. I could barely see his face. He lowered his head a little, but showing only his profile, and handed me a small business card. I took it, looked at it, and when my gaze ascended back to his face, he was gone.
I looked around. He’d vanished. I looked at the car and recognized the Saint’s Halo, embossed in black, and underneath that was some italicized type:
Trust The Saint
Did any of this really happen? Well, some if it. I was mugged in my taxi and I heard talk about my own demise, which didn’t happen. And I’m grateful for that. And I had contemplated ramming that streetcar coming from the opposite direction, but I just couldn’t do it. But I swear that in some way the Saint has always been with me, ever since those early days of my adolescence when I first came across him. The great thing about him is that he’s timeless, immortal. He’ll always be with me, steering me toward better writing – though that honor really belongs to Leslie Charteris.