It is a warm, blue-skyed afternoon. Finally! The original Edmonton Sunshine Boy has brought it with him from sunny Alberta (where real men carry steam irons). Through an e-mail from the artist I know where he's going to be performing this afternoon. Only a select few had the knowledge, until I posted it on the blog this morning. Is this is new trend in performance art--the TBA performance where you need a GPS and a secret handshake to be able to see the artist at work?
I browse the art books in Pulp Fiction with friends while we wait for the artist. Janes has formed an affable relationship with the bookstore, and they seem happy to let him plug his iron into one of their power outlets. I watch the performer from inside the store. He's plunked his iron down right into a prime parking spot and hung two canvas bags over the parking meter, which he keeps plugged with money. I move out to join in the conversation in progress. This is the second day Jane's performed here and he's already made friends. A man wearing several layers of clothes comes by to drop of a green shirt and pants. He shows Todd the salt stains on the trousers, which Todd promises he will try to get out with his spray bottle. The man says he might as well not stay and watch Todd at work, so he leaves. I see he's only gone a few feet up the street to keep an eye on his clothes from the bus stop bench. It's a touching interaction, making the act of ironing a stranger's clothes a tender, considerate act.
Other people have not been so sweet. "What are you doing?" A woman in an SUV trolling for a parking spot demanded yesterday. Todd explained he's ironing clothes. Did you plug the meter?" she asks. "Yes, of course," says good citizen Todd Janes. "Well, how can you DO that on CITY Property?" she whines. "Maybe she should walk instead of driving that hulking SUV," he mutters under his breath to me.
I ask Todd if he feels this is a sexualized act--a gay male stroking the big phallus. "Not really," he says. Okay, that goes that theory. Anyway, that's what I'm thinking about when I'm ironing--chacun a son gout.
Todd is sanguine, but a bit hesitant regarding documentation of his action. He accepts it, but doesn't want it to become invasive. Wouldn't you know that Vancouver's most invasive newsperson (Mike McCardell) happened to see Todd ironing and stuck to him like a fly on a cow pie. He asked Todd if he was crazy. Charming. Then he asked everyone who walked by if they thought Todd was crazy. "That's a leading question, your honor."
One of the cooks comes out of Aurora Bistro to have his apron ironed. The camera hovers like a wasp out for raw meat and McCardell persists, "Why are you doing this?" he asks Todd. "Well, it's about giving things away, Todd says. "Today it's free ironing, maybe tomorrow it'll be free love. Will you be here tomorrow?" he asks cheekily with an exaggerated wink. The reporter turns redder than a sunburnt cowpoke.
My friend Lois gives Todd a vest and a sweater to work on. Julianna gives him a vintage blouse that she's just purchased, which Todd shifts and carefully steams and works the nose of the irons into the corners. He's created a temporary coffee clatch--a place where we can gather and chat about the weather, and the associations ironing has for us. Lois grew up in a Mennonite farming family in Manitoba. She remembers ironing her dad's green Perma Press slacks and work shirts as a kind of ritualistic slavery. First they washed the clothes and then they had to be hung on the line--winter and summer. Then they were brought in and sprinkled with water. Next they had to be lain out flat and rolled up before they were put in the freezer overnight so that the next day they would be evenly re-moisturized. Now they were ready for ironing. She doesn't remember her mother ironing her own clothes--the bulk of this labor of love was for her father.
Lois, an artist who often works with textiles says that when a man irons one thinks of it as part of his profession as a tailor or launderer. When a woman does it we think of it as labor within the domestic sphere. Ironing is a lost art. I don't iron very often, but I have rose-colored memories of mom hanging clothes on the line flapping in the breeze and then the clean smell of the steam iron. After a certain point, she switched to using the dryer and bought fabrics that didn't need ironing. Women's lib through technology.
Todd tells me there is a pursuit called Extreme Ironing. It is a bizarre Internet phenomenon where macho men hike into the jungle or the deep woods with an iron and snap a photo of their accomplishment. That's just weird. What Todd does is perfectly sane. In Victoria, a street person thanked Janes for making living on the street seem more normal somehow. A gesture of kindness. A miztzvah.
LIVE5 Photos: Iron Man Photo Set