There is one basic lesson in ear hygiene. Do not stick the Q-tip completely in your ear! The Q-tip isn’t a wax backhoe. It’s designed for the less sensitive, easy to reach, exterior parts of the ear. Despite this easy to remember maxim, we humans persist, do we not, jabbing our cotton swabs of death into battle against the brown foes of wax and gunk.
Q-tip rules are ones we learn at a very young age. This is not the kind of thing society has deemed relevant for the syllabuses of 9th grade health classes. “Today we’ll be talking about how a man has a ‘you know what’ and a woman’s got a ‘thing a mabob’ and the proper method of cleaning your ears with a Q-tip.” Ear cleaning with cotton swabs should be learned before we know anything about human reproduction, beer, flip-flops, constipation, colors, or osmosis.
On whatever day they taught Q-tip usage I was absent. I blame my parents. I was completely home schooled in cleanliness. I was trying to get advance placement credit in toenail clipping and it wasn’t going well. If memory serves, I might have skipped to prep for the “Big Toe Final”. Honestly, I can’t be sure. I did so much Tinactin in middle school. How could someone who played no sports at all have athlete’s foot?
Why does it matter that I was absent from ear cleaning day at hygiene home school? On Monday, I broke a cotton swab right off, plumb clean in my right ear. I know what you’re thinking. How did this happen? Surely, someone with my good looks, bald head, and sock collection knows the one basic lesson of ear hygiene: don’t stick the q-tip completely down your ear. I got greedy and cheap. I bought bootleg Chinese Q-tips on the black market. Sure, I wanted to save a few bucks. But the narrow diameter of the swabs appealed to me. They looked like they could bend further and go deeper than the usual, safety tested American models. These babies could reach places where no cotton swab had ever swabbed before.
My right ear beckoned. Before I knew it, I heard a snap. I pulled the Q-tip out and the cotton was gone. The plastic tubing was broken. I was deaf as post. Panic soon set in.
I called for my wife, using both a tone and term of endearment reserved for the direst emergencies.
“Baby, baby, get my Swiss Army knife army and pull out the tweezers!”
“Why?” she asked in a manner more casual than I thought the emergency deserved.
“I think I broke the Q-tip off in my ear and it’s headed to my brain, you got to get it out!”
“Don’t you know,” she said, “you’re not supposed to put it all the way down your ear?”
No, I was out that day. Same thing happened when they gave out brains. I thought they said trains and I feared locomotives.