On a cold day in February, as I sat at my desk balancing my checkbook, the phone rang.  I snatched it up.  “Hello??!!”  I’m sure the caller could sense my irritation.  I’ve been told I wear my heart on my vocal cords.

“Good afternoon!” the woman said.  “Is this Joan Harris?”

“Depends.  Who’s calling?”  I was poised to hang up if she launched into a spiel asking if I was the person who handled the family electric bill, or offering me a special cable TV promotion.

“This is Debe Dockins,” she said, “I’m calling from the headquarters of the Erma Bombeck Essay Contest to inform you that you’ve won first prize in the local humor division.”

I was so flabbergasted I almost dropped the phone.  I must have said “Oh my God!  Really?” about fifty-seven times as her congratulations and instructions floated in one ear and out the other.  I’d need to send them a bio and a “head shot.”  I’d need to confirm my address and fill out a tax form so they could send me the prize money.  I’d need to commit to reading my piece at an awards ceremony on April 1st and make hotel reservations for the days of the workshop.  My head was spinning.  She said they would send a confirmatory e-mail, thank the Lord, containing all the details.

After the shock wore off, I opened the email and set about the required tasks.  I was looking forward to being back in Dayton for a spell, reading for an appreciative audience, attending a delectable array of humor writing classes, reconnecting with old neighbors and friends, noshing at our sorely-missed favorite restaurants.  Of course, it all went down the toilet when Coronavirus came to town.  They’re shooting for new dates in October, but truthfully, anything could happen.

Without further ado, here is my prize-winning essay.  I have included a link below so you can read the other winning essays and runners up if you wish.  Pretty stiff competition.

    We need these in the Ladies dressing room!


I almost scrapped the idea of joining AquaRobics because it meant buying a swimsuit.  Why do dressing rooms have three-way mirrors that provide a panoramic view of every bulge on your personal landscape?  Wouldn’t it make more financial sense to install funhouse mirrors that stretch corpulent customers into five-foot-ten supermodels?  As it happens, I was able to bypass the cellulite confessional because, according to the retail calendar, summer is the off-season for swim-suits.  In January, they’re plentiful as flies in an outhouse but in July, you must shop online or make do with a Wonder Woman Halloween costume.

Catalog dot.coms offer hundreds of swimsuits modeled by lanky teenagers.  You wade and click, wade and click, comparing features and trying to imagine what the suit would look like on an older, flabbier person.  They need to create a Midlife section where you can narrow your search by figure flaw, like Jelly Belly or Butt Requiring its own ZIP Code.  Or by remedy, such as Compress it with a Spandex Panel, Hide it Under a Skirt, or Draw Attention from it by Using Bright Colors on the Opposite Half of the Suit.

I ordered a navy swim dress with tiny white polka-dots.  It skimmed over my figure flaws as promised and seemed quite perfect, until I got in the water.  Submerged, the skirt had a mind of its own.  It floated at armpit level, twisting and tangling.  Doing AquaRobics was like wrestling with an umbrella in a monsoon.  After class, the sodden skirt sagged to my ankles, having somehow grown three feet while I was in the pool.  So I exchanged the swim dress for a color block tank designed to divert attention from my behind, a goal it achieved each time a shoulder strap abandoned its post and allowed a breast to escape.  I traded in the tank for a 97% Spandex racer-back suit.  The top is snug as a mammogram machine and the material in the tummy control panel could be used for building levees.  It performed commendably in the water – no tangles, sags, or peek-a-boobs.

“How’s the new suit working out?” a classmate asked.

“This one’s a keeper,” I replied.  When I hit the showers a few minutes later, I realized truer words had never been spoken.  My body heat had vacuum-sealed the wet Spandex to my torso and although the wide, X-shaped straps had gone on with ease, their removal would have flummoxed Houdini himself.  After ten minutes of contortions and tug-of-war, I heard a loud pop and the swimsuit surrendered.

The bad news?  I’ll have to buy a new suit.  The good news?  By the time I finish therapy for my dislocated shoulder, they’ll be back in season.


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32 thoughts on “OH MY GOD! REALLY?

    • Just Joan May 10, 2020 / 9:11 am

      Thanks, Judy! Swimsuit shopping is never fun, and doing it by mail order leaves a lot to be desired. Even when a suit fits right and looks good, you can’t know how it will perform in the water until you jump in. With all the gyms and pools closed for COVID, I can probably put off my purchase until next year. 🙂


  1. Tippy Gnu May 10, 2020 / 6:21 am

    Congratulations on winning the essay contest! Too bad the ceremony had to be delayed, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that you won.
    I thought the funniest line was, “The top is snug as a mammogram machine.” Made me laugh, as I’ve heard my wife complain about those machines.
    Maybe now it’s time for you to get your own newspaper column, like Erma Bombeck herself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan May 10, 2020 / 9:33 am

      Thanks, Tippy. I hope the ceremony and workshop can proceed safely in October. I’ve worked long and hard to win this thing and I’d like to take my bow. Comedy is less about the story and more about the way you tell it. I spent 24 years in nursing, distilling every note down to its barest essence, conveying relevant observations in as few words as possible. Describing a racing heart as “a manic typist” or a large-bore IV as a “garden hose” was frowned upon. I don’t know about a newspaper column. It’s hard to be funny on a deadline, and I think newspaper readers are a dying breed. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tippy Gnu May 10, 2020 / 10:04 am

        I wouldn’t make it in the nursing business. I can see myself describing racing hearts as manic typists, and large IVs as garden hoses. My creative writing impulses would quickly get me hounded out of the profession.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Just Joan May 10, 2020 / 11:26 am

        No doubt, Tippy. You wouldn’t be able to help yourself. Out of curiosity, what is/was your profession? 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tippy Gnu May 10, 2020 / 11:57 am

        I retired as a mailman. I was also a union steward. And I must admit that occasionally I would get creative in the manner in which I wrote contentions in grievances that I filed. But I doubt anyone was impressed.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Just Joan May 10, 2020 / 6:42 pm

        Contentions in grievances? Sounds like a creative writer’s dream. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. LTodd May 10, 2020 / 9:09 am

    Congratulations! And thank you for the laugh. The perfect way to start my day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan May 10, 2020 / 11:24 am

      Thanks, LTodd. And you’re welcome. It feels good to have something to laugh about when everything is so serious. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. pranabaxom May 10, 2020 / 10:05 am

    But where is the photo?
    Your readers demand proof☺️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan May 10, 2020 / 11:30 am

      Thanks, PB. I don’t post personal photos, especially not ones of me in a swimsuit. If some anonymous peeper at the pool took pics or videos, they would be great fodder for blackmail. 🙂


      • pranabaxom May 10, 2020 / 11:38 am

        No intention of searching the internet for that😀

        Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan May 10, 2020 / 6:41 pm

      Thanks, KE. Each of the judges was tickled by something different, but all of them felt it had the “voice of Erma.” I thought the other pieces were good, too. I would have had a hard time choosing. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. murisopsis May 10, 2020 / 11:09 pm

    Yes! This is very good and I did laugh out loud! You have hit on a universal experience. When in HS we had to wear school issued suits. They were made of some sort of evil fabric. You wanted to be first in line to get a suit 3 sizes smaller than normal. This was because as soon as they got wet they expanded! The first day I nearly swam right out of the suit!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan May 11, 2020 / 7:52 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it, Muri. Swimsuits are evil garments, period. No suit fits well if you’re pudgy. You almost swam out of your suit? Then what? You streaked to the locker room? I remember reading one woman’s complaint about what was an otherwise perfect suit–the fabric became transparent if it got wet, LOL. Good heavens, who designs these things? 🙂


  5. kutchie Kender May 11, 2020 / 6:51 pm


    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan May 11, 2020 / 7:40 pm

      Thanks, Ursula! This was my third entry. In 2018, my story about the horrors of the self check-out made it to the final round. This year, I took it up a notch. Erma Bombeck is my hero, so winning was quite an honor. 🙂


  6. circumstance227 May 12, 2020 / 3:36 pm

    Oh, this made me laugh out loud, Joan. Especially the skirt part – I envision you doing battle with it – a swimsuit that tries to drown you – what a concept! Thanks for that! And I can see why you won the contest. Bummer that the ceremony had to be put off.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan May 12, 2020 / 3:54 pm

      Thanks, 227. One of the AquaRobic exercises was called “the washing machine.” To do it, you twist back and forth using your arms like agitators. So if nothing else, my skirt got really clean while I was wrestling with it. LOL. It took me about 2 minutes to figure out why no one else was wearing a cute swim dress like mine. The rescheduling of the ceremony was indeed a bummer, but it might yet have a silver lining. By October, people will have forgotten all about my piece and it will seem like new material. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  7. L. T. Garvin, Author May 19, 2020 / 10:04 pm

    Congratulations, Joan! You hysterically captured the trials and tribulations of the swimsuit selection process. You are a wonderful humor writer for sure, I’m not surprised at all. Awesome work!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan May 22, 2020 / 3:46 pm

      Thanks, LT. It’s painful to buy by mail and think you’ve covered all the bases and have things flop so spectacularly. At least such experiences are good fodder for our writing. I’m honored to have captured the “voice of Erma.” She could find humor in anything. I remember reading a book of hers about kids with cancer, and even that had its funny moments. How about you, girl? What have you been up to? I was going to move a ceiling fan to a new location, but the ceilings are high in this new house and my old step stool is too short. I can’t reach. Grrrr… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • L. T. Garvin, Author May 27, 2020 / 9:31 pm

        I always enjoyed reading some of Erma’s work too. She was great with humor. It will be wonderful for you to attend the event and read your piece. How exciting! I am just here trying to stay relevant, lol. I’ve been doing some house projects also, but nothing with electricity, mainly cleaning closets, painting and reorganizing. I’m about to have to knock off some or I’ll look up and the entire summer will be gone. Take care, and be careful with too short step stools!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Quirky Girl May 29, 2020 / 3:03 pm

    OMG! Congratulations! That is so awesome! I’m a big fan of Erma Bombeck’s humor… and hopefully by now you know I’m a pretty big fan of yours as well. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan May 29, 2020 / 3:25 pm

      Thanks, Quirky. 🙂 I fell in love with Erma as a teenager, even though her stories made fun of teenaged kids (her own). In her case, humor and wisdom go hand-in-hand. Wisdom is what she has to share; humor is how she gets us to listen. How is Jett, btw? Hopefully recovering and starting to see the light at the end of the cone.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Quirky Girl May 29, 2020 / 4:37 pm

        Wisdom and humor- what better pairing, right? No wonder I’m such a fan 😀

        Jett is busy driving me to drinking. 😛 Ok, not really. It’s not his fault. We are (once again) making progress, for what it’s worth. Fingers crossed we continue to move forward from here.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Lightness Traveling October 3, 2020 / 11:11 pm

    Ha! Love it! Well-chosen essay that seems to apply to a lot of running gear as well. And it gives me another excuse for always swimming in a wet-suit.


      • Lightness Traveling October 4, 2020 / 2:44 pm

        Agreed with the spandex… bike shorts perhaps notwithstanding. (Does a good job holding the padding in place.) As for the wetsuit… “Slippery when wet,” as opposed to just glued (or painted on) to your body. And I tend to swim in water of the un-chlorinated variety. As for hot springs (or hot tubs), the Japanese approach also works.

        Liked by 1 person

      • judyrutrider October 4, 2020 / 6:41 pm

        I appreciated this piece even more the second time I visited it. Do you drink while you write? I find a glass of wine makes me THINK I’m funny but I don’t even need wine to appreciate your humor.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Just Joan October 4, 2020 / 6:58 pm

        Hi, JRR! Just saw your latest post. Oh, the (rutted and bumpy) places you’ll go! (And diaper-filled places you WON’T go.) The truth is, I rarely drink. A couple times a year, maybe. And definitely not when I write. The truth is stranger (and funnier) than fiction, and my swimsuit piece was a mostly true story. Finding only a Wonder Woman Halloween costume, yes. Possessed skirt, yes. Peek-a-boobs, yes. Dislocated shoulder, no. (But it felt like I had.) Glad you enjoyed the re-read. I will be reading that piece for the Erma Bombeck Virtual Awards Night. I will be wearing a nice blouse or top, not a swimsuit. My apologies to those who were hoping for a free show. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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