A nod to the boss, a raid on the shrimp platter, 10 minutes of casual chatter and a quick exit: this year, you're going to finesse the office Christmas party and beat the rush hour home.

But while your hand is still clutching that first crustacean, you spy the Office Wheeze, heading at full bore toward your hiding spot among the ferns. "The man of the hour," he burbles, holding you in his grip the way King Kong wielded Fay Wray. "Let's liven things up."

In the past, you might have beaten a hasty retreat to the bar, melted down to the floor a la the Wicked Witch of the West, or simply muttered, "Get lost, jerk."

Now, technology has brought you relief: the Timely Beeper.

A discreet flick of the wrist and your beeper is activated. Twenty seconds later, it's squawking urgently and you're headed for freedom. "Gotta run," you say. "Let's do lunch sometime."

So natural a device would seem to have been around forever, but the Timely Beeper wasn't dreamed up until a year ago, and only then because a California entrepreneur wanted to spend more time on his boat.

"I was at church, and it was beautiful out, so I wanted to go fishing," says Eugene Grant. "But this pastor was giving one homily after another, and I had heard them all."

Then a beeper went off. As its owner eased himself out of his pew, another bell went off -- in Grant's head: "It dawned on me then that people will believe a beeper more than anything, and that it could get me out on my boat without embarrassing my family."

When Grant's not on the 26-foot Double Trouble ("It gets me in trouble with both my wife and my customers"), he's running Omega Contract Design, his six-person engineering job shop that works on such projects as creating a more efficient land mine and developing a machine to produce soup cans in two pieces instead of three.

It's the beeper, however, that's his pride. He has received his most appreciative responses from businesswomen, who say the little cube enables them to dodge pests at conventions and meetings.

There are also the social applications: "A woman told me she had a date that was a barracuda," says Grant, 66. "When she got in trouble, she turned it on and said she had to go."

Pop artist Andy Warhol, who's seen a party or two in his years, wouldn't mind a Timely Beeper. "All these people have real beepers and they look important." If he had a one, he suggests, "people would then think I was important . . . And on the street, it might stop a mugging."

Not everyone is impressed.

"I would think of it as the microchip equivalent of having yourself paged at the swimming pool of the Beverly Hills Hotel," says writer Calvin Trillin. "People who use it to impress people at parties are going to be disappointed -- they'll think you're a computer repair person. And if someone's bothering you -- what's the matter with 'Get away from me, you creep'?"

But even Trillin sees a positive angle.

"The normal way to get rid of people is to go to the bar," he says. "This might cut down on holiday drinking."

In Washington, the Timely Beeper is sold by The Sharper Image for $29 under the name False Alarm.

"It's selling well -- about a half-dozen a day," says John Whitaker, manager of The Sharper Image store here. "A few people say they've used it and it's helped them out in awkward situations."

Whitaker, too, is always prepared.

"I haven't had to use mine yet, but I keep it with me. Just in case."