The Summer I Went By ‘Hot Stuff’
The summer after kindergarten, I went by “Hot Stuff.”
I was still “Hyo-Sung” when I woke up on the first morning of day camp to pull my favorite yellow T-shirt over my head. My mother had made sure it was washed the night before even though our portable washing machine had to be pulled out and connected to our kitchen sink, and so doing laundry meant no cooking that night. Even my tired father tolerated a dinner of cold leftovers so my beloved shirt could be washed in time for my first organized activity outside of school in our new country.
I had picked out the T-shirt myself at a Toronto bargain-basement shopping mecca called Honest Ed’s. The store used to dominate the whole city block at Bathurst and Bloor, about 10 blocks from my parents’ 7-Eleven.
I loved that place. Honest Ed’s famously featured a 23,000-bulb lighted billboard with pun-laden signs like “Come on in and get lost!” or “The only thing in the store that’s crooked is the floors!” — the humor of which was vastly underappreciated by its non-English speaking shoppers, who were more drawn in by the “bargain basement” part of the equation. Back then, more than half of the families in Toronto were not even born in Canada, and 100% of them shopped at Honest Ed’s.
Almost tipping into the bin marked “girls size 4–6,” I rescued my totem T-shirt by pulling on a small square of bright yellow until it fully revealed itself as being decorated with black letters on the front: “HOT” horizontally and “STUFF” vertically, with the letter “T” serving double duty. Neither my mother nor I knew what the words meant, which is how it ended up coming home with me that day.
Buoyed by my favorite shirt, I held my mother’s hand loosely, skipping happily alongside her to the park four blocks away, where a big-haired teenager greeted us from behind a makeshift registration table decorated with an assortment of colorful clipboards. “Last name?” he asked us as we walked up.
“Park,” my mother answered, standing up straighter as she did when she answered any questions from Canadians, even from a teenager. In preparation for dropping me off at summer day camp, my mother had woken…