Connie Romero, 45, secretary to principal deputy White House press secretary Larry M. Speakes:

"I absolutely could not survive without a sense of humor. It's more important than pencils, typewriters or anything else. It's something you have to nurture here because of all the crises. "People generally respond in kind. A sense of humor can help defuse stressful situations."

On the other hand, "People who haven't been around here very long [Romero has worked in the press office 22 years] often don't show much of a sense of humor, probably because of the gravity of the place.

"The staff here has to band together to deal with the press. We really buck each other up.

"The bane of my existence, though, is the telephone. On an average workday -- that's likely from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 or 7 p.m. -- our office is likely to log 1,200-1,300 calls. Of that I'd probably take 200 or so calls. The incessant ringing and constant interruptions are probably the worst of it."

In the frenetic scramble for news in the wake of the Libya air raids, the estimated 28 lines in the press office "all were ringing off the hook. There easily could be double the calls of an average day. It's all so fast and furious.

"I've often said that I wished Alexander Graham Bell's mother never had any children."

Kathy Boi, 30, secretary to Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Robert McC. Adams:

"I couldn't do without my IBM-PC. The Secretary has his own PC. He drafts his letters directly and then gives me the disk. I clean it up, shuffle it around.

"It's hard to imagine what we did before -- having to type things over and over on an electric typewriter. Side benefits are getting rid of the carbon paper and dictating machine.

"The Secretary has a second home in Colorado. When he was doing writing and research there last summer we communicated daily with his PC. It allowed him to feel very in touch with what was going on here.

"Two complaints: The telephone rings an awful lot and it's disruptive. The other thing, a plus and a minus, is we use those little yellow stickum messages. I can hardly imagine not having them but they sometimes get separated from things and get stuck on the wrong things and you have to figure out what message goes on what piece of paper."

Cathy Crary, 35, secretary to columnist Art Buchwald:

"At the moment, I'm enamored with my answering machine. It's so much more convenient than an answering service. I can just pop in and out of the office at will, without having to call a person up and say 'I'm going to . . . I'll be back in five minutes.' And I can call it from anywhere and get my messages anytime, day or night.

"I use a typewriter and a computer. The typewriter for correspondence and the computer to send columns to the syndicate. If I'm not sending in the most recent column on the disk, the syndicate's computer cuts me off. It's the fault of their computer.

Peeves: "These long-distance phone companies that try like the devil to get your business and then once you take them up on it their service is horrendous. You think you're going to save money and then can't get through.

"The other thing is people who come in to your office and they can see it's a little, two-person office and they want to sell you a copier that makes 5,000 copies per microsecond."

Julie Allen, 59, secretary to attorney Edward Bennett Williams:

"My favorite tool would have to be the office telephone. Mr. Williams requires instant communication, with incoming and outgoing calls. About 100 calls a day coming in would be in the ballpark on a busy day. When he's out of the office and maybe on his way to the airport, I just put important calls through to his car telephone.

"At other times, when I think I'll go to lunch instead of having yogurt at my desk, I'm still not safe. The phone may ring and it can be Mr. Williams calling from his jet, or even from the portable phone he can tuck into his briefcase." Joanne Conte, 37, secretary to William McGowan, founder and chief executive officer, MCI:

"I couldn't function in this job without a sense of humor.

"Mr. McGowan has a grand curiosity about everything. One minute he can be talking about a new [MCI] offering and the next moment he'll come up with something he's created in his mind, a project he's going to do down at the beach, a trip he's going to take.

"You have to be very flexible, and a sense of humor -- knowing that sometime during the day you're going to get back to a project and complete it -- is the secret to flexibility.

"One source of irritation, at times, is the telephone. There are days when I feel the telephone is the bane of my existence, but if there were no phones, I wouldn't have a job, would I?"