I love Q-Tips, love the way they swab the entire ear. I come dangerously close to sticking them too far inside the ear canal, each time pushing the little stick and its cotton puff a tiny bit deeper.
I’ve never had a Q-Tip mishap, never had to be rushed to the emergency room to get the cotton out from inside my eardrum. But it’s like playing with fire, stretching to scratch that itch. I know if I go too far, the pain, magnified by the chambers of my waxy inner ear, will be crazy-making unbearable.
I’ve known people whose ears produced so much earwax they have to take monthly trips to the doctor’s office to get big chunks removed. I can imagine the relief they must feel, like being brought up after an ear-bending dive, or brought down from the milky heavens, ears popping their way to normalcy until finally, ah, stillness.
A co-worker once told me how he almost fainted from getting his earwax removed. He described a firehose-like contraption, jets of water so strong I imagined the wax being blown from inside one ear out the other. As he talked, flopped in his chair like a ragdoll, I pictured torture contraptions, the doctor a balding man with an eye monocle. I felt grateful that on a scale of zero to mucho waxo, I rated average.
Ears have always been part of our family lore. The big Dumbo floppy ears of Sandy. Narciso was said to have the biggest ears among Sandy’s brothers. All of them had stiff hairs growing out from the inside and blackheads on the backs of their ears.
Mom had Maniere’s Disease when I was a kid, and I can still recall the onset of an episode. How she’d panic, behind the wheel of the Caprice or in the check-out line at Safeway’s. I remember the two of us fleeing the store without our groceries, peeling off in the big blue Caprice down Griegos Road for home. Mom’s eyes wild, and me, meek and scared in the front seat. I knew once we ran through the front door she’d fling herself into the entryway bathroom and puke her guts into the green toilet. Later, after crawling down to the bathroom off her bedroom, she’d spend the rest of the day curled on the bathroom rug, calling for help — water, a wet cloth — while I crouched in my closet, crying.
Mom says the reason she got Maniere’s was because Grandma used to treat ear aches by having Robert pee into a cup and pouring the hot urine down the offending ear. Can you imagine? Mom told us later, when we were adults. Yeah, but isn’t pee antiseptic, I always said, trying to be helpful.
I never remember Q-Tips in the house as a kid. Mom used Bobby pins to clean her ears. I can still see her circling the pin inside her ear, round and round, as if she were a wind-up doll. She used the curved end of the Bobby pin, and she pushed hard, much harder than one would expect. She always mined plenty of wax, cleaned out the pin and put it in the drawer for next time.
I wonder if ear cleaning, like manners or a person’s voice, the color of eyes, gets passed on through DNA. I bet if I took a poll, I’d find that every one of my siblings loves the feel of a good ear cleaning with a sturdy Q-Tip. We might eschew Bobby pins; unlike Mom we’re willing to spend money on equipment made for the job. But I know we all probably inherited the kinds of ears that pop while flying and carry an almost constant, faint tinnitus.
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