In a bookstore window on New York’s Fifth Avenue a guy named Joe Rinaldi is wearing boxer shorts and ironing shirts. While women cast sidelong glances at his underwear, men are buying the book he’s promoting — The First Men’s Guide to Ironing. Rinaldi didn’t actually write the 85-page manual on the rudiments of putting hot metal to polyester-cotton. He’s just a stand-in for the real writer, who hides behind the pen name E. Todd Williams. Recently, though, Williams did reveal something of himself to EW: He’s a rabbi who lives somewhere in the Southwest.
Although The Guide is not the sort of work you’d expect from a man of God, it does have its spiritual dimension: ”You should immediately feel the power of the moment. The moisture in the shirt will vaporize on contact, creating a satisfying halo of real-guy steam.” But it’s also decidedly irreverent: ”I rush to assure that an iron is a tool…It will not alter your genitalia as soon as you touch it.”
When we reach the married, 38-year-old rabbi by phone at the home where he does all his own ironing in the basement, it becomes clear that he finds nothing blasphemous about provoking a good laugh. In explaining why men should forsake all-cotton shirts for blends, he says: ”A high government official could vomit on poly-cotton and it would come up begging for more.”
Williams wrote the book in 10 days during the summer of 1990. He then scouted out a Dallas literary agent who sold it to St. Martin’s and kept the author’s identity secret. (He has confessed to his congregation.) The book has been out just a month, and has already sold out its initial 20,000-copy printing.
Why such appeal? ”It’s a hard time to be an American man,” Williams says. ”When was the last time we got to slaughter animals? When was the last time we got to invade an offshore island? And the world expects us to look fresh. Forget Iron John. We need Ironing John.”