Earwax is like smoke alarms or ushers during movies: all serve a purpose, but if you notice they’re present, something wrong. I’m sure my earwax does all sorts of useful things while I’m not looking, like trapping ear typhoid viruses or thwarting the efforts of Danish royalty to poison me as I sleep. Mostly, however, I notice earwax when it traps water in my ear, which then blocks such things as sound waves.
This is not a lot of fun. If you have been standing on my left side in the past two days and said something, I guarantee you sounded to me like the grown-ups in Charlie Brown. What Charlie Brown doesn’t tell you is that kids are actually even harder to understand than adults, so at work I find myself defaulting to Clueless Person in a Foreign Country Mode, where I nod and smile and guess at what is being asked of me. Or, of course, I can angle my head to target the speaker with my good ear. This gives me a good start on being an old dude, though I do wish I had an ear trumpet.
Earwax buildup is also discouraging because it is a case of my body betraying me on account of being too sensitive. Like with allergies, the body is reacting to a stimulus but going completely overboard in the response. I want to shake it* and say “C’mon body! Hardly anyone gets ear typhoid anymore! You need to chill out.”
Then there is the problem of earwax being friggin gross. When people sound to me like they are quietly gargling and I ask them to repeat themselves, I generally don’t use the word “earwax” to explain myself. “Some water is trapped in my ear,” I say. I generally hate using passive voice, but if I use the E-word,** people make a face and sometimes run away. I can only write about it here because it is a scientific fact that there is no shame or good taste on the internet.
I’m not going to give earwax a failing grade…who knows how messed up my ears would be without it. But it is my firm belief that it should taken for granted: unseen and unfelt, so words don’t go unheard.
*Like a Polaroid picture.