If you’ve never had a stranger dressed in a tuxedo iron your clothes for free at a bar, I highly suggest it. On Tuesday I schlepped from the Upper East Side to Williamsburg to watch a man listen to Rachmaninov while he ironed clothing in the corner of Pete’s Candy Store — a misleading name. There was no candy to be found but there was an abundance of beer and wrinkled button down shirts waiting to be steamed by the “Iron Man” himself, James Hook.
Hook, 46, otherwise known as the superhero of boring chores, has invited members of the Brooklyn community to watch him straighten out their disheveled articles of clothing every Tuesday in July from 9 to 12 p.m.
“I feel very at home in this neighborhood and one thing I can do as a philanthropic nature is to iron people’s clothes for free because I like it,” Hook said.
The Iron Man believes that ironing has always been a cathartic experience for him, but bringing the activity to the public, outside the confines of his home, feels like itching a fresh mosquito bite on his arm.
I approached Hook to observe him in his element, but he interrupted my note taking to hand me a set of headphones. The classical music surprisingly enhanced the experience of merely watching the performance, leading me to believe the Iron Man, wearing a green handkerchief on his forehead, was onto something.
“It’s good, right?” Hook poked me on the arm and asked. “One of the great things about ironing is that it’s the tofu of spiritual practices. It absorbs exactly as much as you put into it, so if you want a richer tofu experience you put more stuff into the tofu. If you want a richer ironing experience, you simply put more into the ironing.”
Jillian Richardson, 22, felt the rich tofu experience Hook described. “He makes a mundane task of ironing pretty epic,” she said.
I sat next to a beautiful young couple from Brooklyn who had no idea “Iron Man II: The Rachmaninov Pressings” would be taking place at the bar. Based on the juxtaposition of Hook’s tuxedo and the commonplace ironing board, they were able to dissect the meaning of the activity.
“Luxury and simplicity. We need to enjoy the finer things in life, which are the most mundane things in life. He’s given us the opportunity to celebrate something mundane, which we don’t do so much anymore since everyone is too busy celebrating celebrities with no talent,” a 34-year-old bar-goer and Austin resident, said.
This isn’t Hook’s first experience with making an event out of everyday chores. He organized a local dish-washing competition in May, and has even held a dinner party inspired by Rasputin, and ran a popular lecture series at Pete’s Candy Store for years, according to the Brooklyn Paper.
Unlike most people, Hook believes ironing in public is like having a loving orgasm.
“I’m ironing the seat of your pants, which in some worlds can be considered erotic,” he said, as he ran his tool over my black, polyester bottoms. “There’s an erotic component to it, but for me it’s something I want to share. So in that sense, a good orgasm can be had all by yourself, but it’s much more meaningful when shared with other people.”
Hook says his favorite thing to iron are men’s white button down shirts because they’re classy and simple, though he accepts any and all articles of clothing.
Last week Hook wore a lab coat to the bar, and this week he opted for a fancier tuxedo outfit. “I really wanted to iron to Rachmaninov, and he evokes an extremely old school soviet Romanov sensibility, so a tuxedo is important to wear,” he said. He plans on continuing to experiment with clothing, and might even show up in just Bermuda shorts and flips flops.
I was surprised that Hook was American, because his choice of music and mustache led me to believe he was Russian.
“Up until now my mustache has been the pendant of a car salesman, but I’m glad I graduated to a sensible Russian,” he said.
Pete’s Candy Store is significant to Hook because it’s where he married his wife with whom he has three daughters. The two eldest will soon be joining their father in his ironing act.
Hook hopes this endeavor inspires people to do something actively instead of fantastically.
“Most people exist in a questioning state, and I think if people wake up to pleasure and responsibility and ironing, and realize that if I can iron and change the neighborhood, then they can do anything for the good."