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.
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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