Practice in Paragraphing

An Exercise in Identifying Paragraph Breaks in Essays

borrowed bathing suit
(Kean Collection/Getty Images)

This exercise will give you practice in paragraphing--organizing sentences into unified paragraphs in a coherent essay.

When originally published in 1913, this humorous essay by Homer Croy was divided into 17 paragraphs. The essay has been reprinted here without any line spaces or indentations.

Either on your own or in a group, decide where the paragraph breaks should be, and be prepared to explain why. When you're done, compare your version of the essay with the original version of "Bathing in a Borrowed Suit." Keep in mind that many arrangements are possible and that your version of the essay may have more than or fewer than 17 paragraphs.

Bathing in a Borrowed Suit

by Homer Croy (1883-1965)

The desire to be seen on the beach in a borrowed bathing suit is not so strong in me as it once was. An acquaintance, under the guise of friendship, lured me out to his beach one day, saying that he had full rights to the most popular ocean in the world. I had heard his ocean spoken highly of, and I accepted. Unfortunately I forgot to take my bathing suit, but he said that that was nothing--that he had one that would fit me as the paper on the wall. As I recall it those were his exact words. At last he found it in the basement, where it seems that the mice, to get the salt, had helped themselves rather liberally to its none too strong fabric. From the holes in the suit it was easy to see that the party had been a merry one and had not broken up till a late hour. The suit had never been planned for a person of my general architecture. Roughly speaking, I am fashioned along the lines of the Woolworth Building, with a slight balcony effect about the thirty-third floor. The suit had been intended for a smallish person given to bathing principally by himself. It was, in its present state, mostly a collection of holes rather insecurely held together with yarn. The waist would have been tight on a doll, while the trunks looked like a pair of pulse-warmers. I tried to find a place to get into the suit, but it stuck together like a wet paper bag. At last I got part way in only to find that my arms were sticking through where a couple of mice had polished off a meal. Finally I felt that I had the suit on and looked in the mirror. I drew back in startled surprise. There were two foreign marks on my body. One I recognized after a moment as being where my collar button had rubbed, but the other was larger. It was a dark splotch as if I had run into the bureau. But, on looking more closely, I saw that it was the bathing suit. Even under the most favorable circumstances, when attired in a bathing suit, I don't live long in the memory of strangers. Rarely ever is my photograph taken by a shore photographer and put up in his exhibition case, and practically never does a cluster of people gather around me, talking excitedly with bursts of involuntary applause. My friends were waiting on the lawn for me to join them. Taking a firm grip on my courage I walked out into the yard. The ladies were gaily chatting and smiling until they saw me, when suddenly they closed the conversation and turned to gaze far out over the blue horizon to a dim, distant sail. The ocean looked only a couple of blocks away, but we seemed to walk miles. I was the cynosure of all eyes. I had never been a cynosure before, and in fact didn't know that I had any talent in that line, but now, as a cynosure, I was a great success. When some rude boys came up and began to make personal remarks in the tone that such remarks are usually made in, I abandoned the rest of the party and hurried for the water. I plunged in, but I plunged too hard. My suit had got past the plunging stage. When I came up there was little on me besides the sea foam and a spirit of jollity. The latter was feigned. Something told me to keep to the deep. My friends called me and insisted that I come ashore to play in the sand with them, but I answered that I loved the ocean too well and wanted its sheltering arms around me. I had to have something around me. I must get back to the house and into my clothes. I worked down the beach until I was out of sight, and made a break for the solace of the basement from whence the suit had come. Many people were out walking but I did not join any of them, and as they stared at me, I began to walk faster and faster. Soon I was running. A large dog that I had never seen before rushed at me. I turned around and gave him one lowering look, but he evidently did not catch it, for he came straight on. I looked around for a rock to use for something that I had in mind, but somebody had removed all the desirable ones. So I turned my back to the ill-bred creature and started on. However, this did not cut him the way I had hoped. Instead, he came on with renewed interest. I did not want him to follow me, but this seemed to be his intention, although he had received no encouragement on my part. I sped up and tried to lose him, but my efforts were fruitless, and to make it more unpleasant he kept up a loud, discordant barking which jarred on my sensitive ear. I gained the yard and plunged against the door of the house, but some thoughtful person had closed it. I ran around to the rear, but the person had done his work well. So I ran back with some vague hope that the door would be open, although I knew quite well it wouldn't be. My surmises were right. Back the dog and I ran together, while curious passers-by began to stare. I soon found myself almost out of breath, but the dog seemed to be quite fresh. However, I ran back again. At last I came upon a basement door that was open, dived in and shut the door after me. I took particular pains to do that. I continued to remain in the basement. Although the time hung heavily on my hands I did not stroll out to chat with the townspeople. In the course of time my friend returned and looked at me strangely. "Aren't you feeling well?" he asked pityingly. "No," I answered sadly. "I feel kind of run down." "But why did you get in this basement?" he asked. "It belongs to the man next door." Of late I get all the bathing I want with a sponge behind closed doors. I would rather have a sponge that has been in the family a long time at my back, than a strange dog similarly located, with whose habits I am not familiar.

"Bathing in a Borrowed Suit" by Homer Croy originally appeared in Life magazine (July 1913) and was reprinted in Our American Humorists by Thomas L. Masson (Moffat, Yard and Company, 1922).