This is one of those Christmas-in-the-big city stories. It is a welcome change after a year of reports about office politics, skullduggery, incompetence and just plain gripes.This one is too good to keep until Christmas. It goes like this:

Two Sundays back, somebody knocked on the apartment door of a low-level Labor Department clerk. He is partly paralyzed and lives alone. It is a tough neighborhood but the rent is cheap.

When he opened the door, four very tough young men pushed inside. They knocked the 52-year-old down, and asked where he kept the money. He gave them all he had. One dollar.

Infuriated by the slim pickings the toughs proceeded to beat the cripple -- for wasting their time. They shoved him on the bed, covered his head and began searching, and wrecking, his apartment. Every now and then one of them would suggest killing the man.

They didn't kill him but they stole his beat-up old TV set, wristwatch, clock, even some food in the refrigerator and his steam iron. When they left he called the police but, well, no description . . . these things happen.

Next day the people where he works -- a place called the Division of Reports Analysis and Disclosures -- heard about the Sunday night horror. Some of the 85 workers decided to help out. First they wanted to replace his stolen goods. Then they decided to move him to a safer apartment. (His keys had been stolen, then mysteriously returned. That is a tipoff they had been copied, and that the hoods would be back sometime).

People started chipping in. They figured they would shoot for $500 since this is not an affluent bunch, and people are short of funds around Christmas time.

One of the bosses said he would cover any pledge anybody cared to make. He said they could pay him back in biweekly installments. Within two days they had come up with $1,100.

Now the man has a new TV set. And a new clock. He has a new watch, and some food. Maybe best of all, he has a new (safer) place to live. The office came up with enough for a security deposit and the first month's rent for a new apartment. Except for some bruises, and some bad dreams, the man is probably better off than before.

I asked one of those bosses where people could send money, if they wanted to help the man. He said, very politely, no thanks. He said this is a "family affair," the family being that bureaucratic thing called the Division of Reports Analysis and Disclosures. He said other people from other branches of the Labor Department had volunteered help, but the family wanted to take care of it themselves. No big deal. No earth-shaking ending. Just a nice thing by a nice bunch of people.