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THEY SAY it's inherited - you know, the tendency to produce 10 times as much earwax as a normal person? That's me. I first noticed the severity of it all several years ago when my family pointed out ever so gently that I was saying "WHAT?" a lot. So I made an appointment with my old friend, Dr. Jones, for irrigation of my ears.

You heard right - unless your own auditory canals are also filled to the brim with fatty acids and solid hydrocarbons.Irrigation.

"I think we're going to have to irrigate," he said matter of factly. "I can't see the drums, and that's a bad sign."

Up until then I had only known one interpretation of irrigation, in the old traditional Western way - doing the graveyard shift to help save the crops. It was the system that allowed our desert to blossom as a rose.

But I was living in the East, and Dr. Jones' method of irrigation was different.

He put a barber's apron around me, then called in his assistant and instructed her to hold what looked like a long, skinny dessert tray next to my ear. After hooking up his high-powered irrigation contraption, he exploded 100,000 acre-feet of water against my tympanic membrane.

That's a lot of water for my ears, because I have small, sedate "Lythgoe ears" that lie flat against my head, as opposed to the large, floppy ones that have helped fuel so many comedians' careers.

Lythgoe ears are inherited, too.

Irrigation produced a strange sensation. It was like having the entire Atlantic Ocean racing inside my head. Sometimes it felt as if the water was sloshing from one ear to the other. I was sure he would only have to do one ear, because the other ear was getting it whether it needed it or not.

After several thrusts of enormous pressure, Dr. Jones stopped to inspect his work. He always acted surprised to find wax cylinders larger than bazooka rocket shells sitting in the tray.

"See what I mean?" he said excitedly, as he picked up the massive cerumen specimens to show me. "This was actually inside your ear! I think once a year for a cleaning is not going to be enough for you. You'd better start coming to see me every six months."

It actually took half an hour for each ear, and I kept wondering how much I was delaying the good doctor's time. He was, after all, an ear, nose and throat man, and so his responsibilities were a lot more diverse than simple wax removal.

But he was unrushed. I got the feeling that "ear-igation" was one of the more satisfying tasks of his professional day.

Besides, he rarely had a patient with as large a volume of the stuff as I had. It was a professional challenge.

Finished, he triumphantly removed the barber's apron and asked, "Do you hear a lot better now?"

"I think I do," I said, but in fact, my head was still buried in the Callahan Tunnel.

As I walked out into the New England air, I started to feel breezy and renewed. My spirits were lifted, because I knew I was good for six months.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I moved to Utah and my doctor kept reassuring me with, "No, your drums look just fine. The ears don't need cleaning."

Either he's not an irrigation man, or the arid climate has miraculously cured me. Although I've lived here four years, not once have my ears been irrigated.

It's an irony of Western history if I ever heard one. And believe me, I can hear ironies as well as the next man.

I think.