Brooklyn's ironing man irons strangers' clothes

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In the same way in which all innovators must find their inspiration to change the world, Brooklyn's James Hook realized he could accomplish nothing further in his field as long as he remained confined within its current framework.

"I was ironing one day and I just thought: I've reached the limit of what I can do alone," he said.

And so, on Wednesday, Hook found himself smoothing his family's rumpled laundry before a TV camera in a bar in Greenpoint, steaming, pressing and evening his wardrobe in search of some still-unidentified plane of craftsmanship.

"The truth is: I'm hoping this'll make me a better ironer," Hook said, "so I don't really know where it's going to go."

Between 9 p.m. and midnight every Tuesday in July, Hook plans to stand over an IKEA ironing board inside Pete's Candy Store in Greenpoint, ironing out all the wrinkles on all the clothing strangers want ironed, for free.

"I don't have an imperial attitude toward ironing," Hook said. "It's just something I like to do."

While the what of this residency involves only wrinkled fabric, hot metal, a little water and a flat surface, understanding the why requires some more philosophical analysis of the act itself.

"It's one of those unendurable things in life," Hook said, "and the only way to endure it is to learn to love it."

Hook learned to love to iron about 10 years ago.

"If you really like ironing," Hook said, "then you see a wrinkled shirt like this and you just think: I can take this chaos and apply a little order to it."

A producer of events at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and a father of three daughters, Hook found some satisfaction in quieting the chaos of a crumpled shirt. After living in Greenpoint for the last decade, he wanted to thank it for having him by sharing that satisfaction with the people who lived there, removing the shirts from their backs and returning them in optimal condition.

"One of the great pleasures of this world is to put a freshly ironed shirt onto naked skin," Hook said.

So, inside of a place where most won't expect to find ironing, Hook's going to iron, starch-free, for free, with only a barroom of pressed shirts to track his progress.

"It's not going to make a dent in amount of clothing in the world that needs to be ironed, so what's the point of counting it at all?" Hook said.

Hook calls the dry cleaner of jazz legend Louis Armstrong the greatest ironer in the world ("every time he hit the stage his shirt was a pristine and beautiful and, might I say, no-starch white"), a men's white Oxford shirt the ideal article of clothing and the craft he's honing a necessity, unless one wants rumpled clothes or another costly errand to run.

"For me, there's only a personal peak," Hook said. "There's what do I enjoy ironing the most and what could I refine further."