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Mental Health Moment: Ode on a Barbershop

August 12, 2010

Growing up, a man we called “Uncle Roy” owned a barbershop and every few weeks, but especially before the start of school, major holidays, school picture day, family gatherings, my mom or dad would take my brothers and me for haircuts.

I loved the smell of Roy’s barbershop. The air was fragrant with a blend of talcum powder, comb disinfectant, Bryll cream, musk oil and coffee. I would sit high in leather chair while Roy went to work taming my cowlick and the Greg Brady-esque curls that appeared when my hair grew too long. While he worked, I’d gaze around the room at the other patrons, try to read the newspaper clippings taped to the mirror and wonder who would use the little hairbrush you could affix to your finger tips.

Roy’s doesn’t exist anymore, except in memory. A real estate office occupies the building where Roy once plied his trade.

I think about Roy every time I step foot in Frank’s Barbershop here in Knoxville. I was there Wednesday, for a haircut and a much-needed respite from a busy few weeks. In fact, my subconscious apparently needed me to go so badly I showed up for my appointment on Tuesday!

Frank’s is really a man cave with a barbershop attached. Plush leather chairs, a pool table, big-screen televisions. You can enjoy a frosty mug of old-fashioned root beer while you wait, or browse the amazing selection of guy gifts and Art of Shaving products.

All right, I know I sound like a pitch man here, but the experience of getting a haircut at Frank’s is incredible. And what does this have to do with health and fitness anyway? My friend, an hour at Frank’s is an hour that restores your mental well-being.

My barber, Nate, leads me to his chair. I sit.

“Wow, you really need it cut, don’t you?” he says, looking at my hair.

“Yeah, my cowlick is so long it I look like Jimmy Neutron,” I say, parroting a line shot at me by one of my co-workers earlier in the week. It was true. My hair was looking a lot like this:

Nate begins by applying lavender essential oil to his hands. He waves them over my head, filling the air with the relaxing aroma. Then, he uses a machine to give me an upper back massage. After he ties a cape around my neck, complete with old-fashioned paper collar, he swivels me around and lowers the chair. He applies a hot towel around my face, then Nate washes my hair. I don’t have to move, I don’t have to get up to go to a washbowl. This is one magic barber chair.

Nate raises me up, and then the cutting begins. We chat — about summer, vacations, books, some of the sports footage on the many televisions in the shop, family, etc. Nate is extremely personable and makes the experience enjoyable. I’m sure the other barbers are great, too, but Nate’s been cutting my hair since before Frank’s was officially opened.

When the cutting ends, Nate swivels me around, lowers the chair again, and rinses my head. Then he applies Towel Dry‘s awesome styling creme to my hair. Guys, if your hair is thinning, Towel Dry is a great product line.

And, then, sadly, it’s over. But, I feel relaxed. While I know work has been piling up back at the office during my absence, I know this diversion was necessary and worth it.

I keep telling myself I need to arrive a good 30 minutes early to enjoy the man cave: read a magazine, drink a root beer, shoot some pool. Next time.  Ultimately, I know this: Frank’s isn’t your granddad’s barbershop, but I’ll bet your granddad would love it.

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