There's epic grandeur in the office world: Computers that perform incredible feats. Titans who exercise princely power. And boardroom dramas with millions at stake.

But to me, one of the almost mythic symbols of business life is the three-hole punch.

Why does it keep disappearing? And why, if found, will it only punch two or three sheets of paper at a time . . . and then shower my desk with scores of little paper circles?

I'm sure that even the titans encounter problems of this magnitude. And heaven knows I've found my share.

Why do I always reach the end of my typewriter ribbon after office hours, when I can't get my hands on a new one?

Why is interoffice mail even slower than the U.S. Postal Service? And why do some people persist in using it to transmit their most urgent requests?

Why is my smoke-hating boss always downwind from my cigarette?

Why does the company cafeteria run out of salt? Or out of plastic soup spoons?

And why, when it has barely mastered the art of making sandwiches, does the cafeteria attempt to prepare things like veal cordon bleu and beef stroganoff?

Why do some people push both the up and down elevator button? Do they actually think this will get them speedier service?

Why does my W-2 form never arrive before the end of January, even though my last paycheck of the year has a stub with all the necessary figures on it?

Why is the brown-water machine called a coffee machine?

Why does it take a day to get my expense reports approved when I'm flush and weeks when I'm strapped?

Why are some controllers called comptrollers? (Somehow I imagine the latter variety with framed mottos saying, "Waste not, wampt not"--but that's not an explanation.)

Why, wherever I work, is there someone nearby who can eat constantly and stay thin?

Why, after months of dedication to my job, did I share an elevator with the head of the company the first time I left early?

I could go on and on about office mysteries. And I'd be interested to hear some other people's lists. But I'll close the subject for now with the biggest mystery of all:

In a world like this, how come so much is accomplished so well?