Him and his sweater.
The Yellow Sweater, to be exact.
I read this iconic Canadian short story in Grade 13 at Markham District High School in 1979 when Can-Lit was being shoved down the unwilling throats of all but the most lit-loving teenagers.
I think I was willing.
I took two English courses in my last year at MDHS: advanced and enriched. The math? Not so much. I could spell good, that's all.
In one of those courses a slim collection of Canadian short stories was part of the curriculum. Sorry, can't recall the name of it. It was green, though, and had a collage of literary faces on it: Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood and Hugh.
Hugh cuts a dashing figure, doesn't he?
All movie matinee idol and 1940s newspaperman rolled into one Brylcreem-slicked package.
Not only that, but my Hugh was a literary bad boy. A working class writer who lived (meagerly) off the earnings from his words, who badgered editors and producers for every nickel he could squeeze out of them. That's not the way things were done in Toronto the Good back in the day. Writers were genteel as a species, not squabbling over money because, generally speaking, they were university professors who looked at blue collars like Hugh with ill-disguised disdain.
Even to this day, people who write about Hugh Garner describe him as an oddity; worse, they slam his career as being spotty, uneven in its quality.
Go ahead, google him. You'll see. (Or start here, but not until you're done, because that would just be rude and I know you're not rude.) One graduate student actually did her thesis on Hugh, pontificating on the violence in his work and how that lessened him somehow.
I'm sure it must have hurt when she sat on that big kosher dill.
Whatever people have to say about him, he had a big impact on me.
His story The Yellow Sweater has stayed with me for 30 years – it was that good. Every time I write a story I think, vaguely, is it as good as The Yellow Sweater?
It never is, of course. But it is the bar to which I aspire.
I have a character rattling around in my head that resembles the salesman in Hugh's piece. He also reminds me of Hugh himself, with his cheap suit, shiny at the seat and the elbows, in a dark gray-green colour, his only suit, worn whenever it is needed. I don't know what this character wants. He hasn't told me yet. I'm thinking he will soon, though. His rattling is getting louder.
Maybe it's not a character.
Maybe it's Hugh, who died in 1979, the year I fell in love with The Yellow Sweater.
The year I fell for Hugh.