One reason the annual office party in Woodward & Lothrop's boiler room has gone along nicely for 40-odd years now is that they don't serve boiler-makers, or indeed, any other drink more dangerous than grape pop and Pepsi.

"The party was going good when I got here in 1939," said John Griffith, senior adviser in charge of procuring oysters, "so I guess it's been going on a good 40 years. I'm retired now, but I keep my hand in, and this year we drove down to the Patuxent River and brought back 12 bushels of oysters for the party."

He pointed to John Smith, a young man. "He went with me. I'm breaking him in. Some year I may be out of town or something and not able to get the oysters myself."

Al Zinn, greeting guests for the building engineers whose party it was, though they allow the chief executives and department heads of the downstore store to attend ("They're usually the first ones in the door," said an engineer), said the oyster stew was good.

Others testified on behalf of the raw oysters, and the boiled shrimp ready to peel. A few even ate the potato salad, salami, olives, etc., but the oysters were the thing. Men in work uniforms sat among the pipes and levers, and the store president, Edwin Hoffman beamed round about.

A visitor from the outer world soon learned the party was in the Pump Room, a pretty grand place as it turned out, and various men explained at various times that the real boiler room was over yonder. Some visitors were taken several times to see the boiler room, the air conditioning machinery, the new pipes for the new sprinkling system, etc. All in excellent shape, as far as could be judged.

Charles Reed, who has only been around for 26 years at the store, answered the phone and pushed a buzzer and told someone else the escalator at such and such a location was out of order.

One heavy lever had the legend. Open Slowly pressed into the metal. If anyone pushed it quick the store would blow up, it was understood. The store carpenters were heavily represented - God help Data Processing if they needed a 2-by-4 ripped - and a few ladies of settled age and outlook arrived (representing various departments) and smiled as if they were admiring Mars.

A clumsy fellow slopped his stew on the floor but wiped it up, and many admired the temperture which was about 89. Few of those who were asked said they were ready for Christmas. Many had not done their shopping.

(You know how it is. By the time you get to a store and park and fight the crowds . . .