Carroll Dale Short

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Car Wash for Ears Does the Trick

By Dale Short

If I seem a little less grumpy than I did last week, it's because Friday was my Ear Day.

I'm one of millions of Americans with a genetic predisposition to over-produce a substance known as cerumen, which lubricates the ear canal, and prevents bugs and stuff from flying right in unimpeded, among various other functions. It's more commonly known as wax, but that sounds yucky. "Cerumen" has a much classier ring to it.

About once a year, everything and everybody around me starts sounding very muffled and I have to go to an ear, nose, and throat specialist to remedy it.

He does this by inserting into my ears a metallic wand that resembles a miniature car-wash nozzle and blasting away. It is, to put it mildly, one singular sensation. It's a combination of the loudest noise you ever heard and the feeling of a gigantic itch being scratched. It's also cold.

But in less than a minute, it's over. A lush landscape of audio vibrations rushes in to fill all the space where the cerumen was, and I feel like a miracle has been performed. If I knew the doctor wouldn't take it the wrong way, I'd hug him.

Fortunately, doctors are trained not to make us feel embarrassed about yucky stuff, In fact, if your doctor is ever examining you and says something like, "Oh, gross!" you may want to look for another one.

Mine likes to show off his handiwork. "My, my, my," he says with a sense of wonder, holding out the stainless steel receptacle for my inspection. "Would you just look at that?"

Yow.

The only downside to the procedure--other than the fact that the cost of it per hour is roughly equivalent to our country's Gross (pardon the expression) Domestic Product--is that for a few days after each annual session I can actually hear a little too well. Sibilant sounds seem jacked to the max, and the ventilation systems in my office and my car make dozens of startling, strange-sounding little whispers and grunts that were not there before.

But then the cerumen factory cranks up again, until the months start rolling by and, before I know it, it's time to rinse and repeat.

I remember my great-grandfather having a similar overload experience when he got his first high-tech hearing aid, with a battery the size of a Walkman. Just going to the grocery store with his enhanced audio ability left him a nervous wreck.

"It's like everybody on every aisle is banging their cans together especially hard," he once observed, "just to aggravate me."

Though the device had a volume switch, he says it never seemed to work quite right and eventually he found a more effective solution: leaving the whole contraption in a dresser drawer and just smiling and nodding at whatever people said to him, the way he had before.

Fortunately I don't have that option yet, because I'm sure I'd do the same thing.

Last week I heard an interview with a music critic for a big metro daily (and winner of a Pulitzer for his writing, by the way) who was diagnosed at the age of 50 with Asperger syndrome. One of the symptoms was that he had started leaving his eyeglasses at home because "seeing things too clearly makes me nervous." He says it's easier to concentrate on music when everything around him is fuzzy, so he takes public transportation to the office and cranks up the magnification on his computer screen to write his columns.

Makes sense to me.

Hear no evil. See no evil.

Now, if I could just work on that third part.

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