The Case of the Pointless Paperwork

This afternoon, I worked on organizing my office. I hate organizing my office. It’s boring. I want to be making something happen, not straightening up my desk and filing paperwork. Of course, sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and do those mundane office chores. Somewhere, the poet Gary Snyder talks about how important maintenance is — you can’t always be creating things, he says, you also have to maintain what you’ve got. So I tried to tell myself that I was doing Snyderian maintenance this afternoon, even though I think what Gary Snyder had in mind when he was talking about maintenance was more along the lines of sharpening his axe or cleaning out the barn, chores which would have been much more attractive than dealing with paperwork.

In my opinion, the greatest theorist on the subject of paperwork was the great philosopher, Perry Mason….

….Perry Mason regarded the pasteboard jacket, labeled “IMPORTANT UNANSWERED CORRESPONDENCE,” with uncordial eyes.

Della Street, his secretary, looking crisply efficient, said with her best Monday-morning air, “I’ve gone over it carefully, Chief. The letters on top are the ones you simply have to answer. I’ve cleaned out a whole bunch of the correspondence from the bottom.”

“From the bottom?” Mason asked. “How did you do that?”

“Well,” she confessed, “it’s stuff that’s been in there too long.”

Mason tilted back in his swivel chair, crossed his long legs, assumed his best lawyer manner and said, in mock cross-examination, “Now, let’s get this straight, Miss Street. Those were letters which had originally been put in the ‘IMPORTANT UNANSWERED’ file?”


“And you’ve gone over that file from time to time, carefully?”


“And eliminated everything which didn’t require my personal attention?”


“And this Monday, September twelfth, you take out a large number of letters from the bottom of the file?”

“That’s right,” she admitted, her eyes twinkling.

“And did you answer those yourself?”

She shook her head, smiling.

“What did you do with them?” Mason asked.

“Transferred them to another file.”

“What file?”

“The ‘LAPSED’ file.”

Mason chuckled delightedly. “Now there’s an idea, Della. We simply hold things in the ‘IMPORTANT UNANSWERED’ file until a lapse of time robs them of their importance, and then we transfer them to the ‘LAPSED’ file. It eliminates correspondence, saves worry, and gets me away from office routine, which I detest….

[from The Case of the Perjured Parrot by Erle Stanley Gardner, 1939.]

In the book, Mason works on paperwork for about ten minutes before a new client walks into the office with another high-speed murder case. I should be so lucky. In my office, I plugged away all afternoon. I kept hoping that a client would walk in the door and want me to investigate a murder case. That didn’t happen, although the chair of the House and Grounds Committee did stop in for ten minutes to let me know how the various building maintenance projects were coming along.

By the end of the day, I had found lots of paperwork that had once been relevant, but was now so irrelevant that I skipped the “LAPSED” file and threw it right into the recycling bin. Such was the sad end of the case of the pointless paperwork.

1 thought on “The Case of the Pointless Paperwork

  1. UU Jester

    Ah.. paper shuffling and filing. The bane of my ministry existence.
    I am preparing for a filing/purging day myself.
    Glad to know our mutual hero had a similar distaste for this stuff.
    (He had Della. I don’t have a Della. You? I didn’t think so — and just so people don’t think I’m sexist, I wouldn’t mind having a Paul, either.)

    Forget rocket packs.
    When, oh when, will we get to the paperless age I was promised so many years ago.
    I just want people to stop sending me multiple paper copies of documents that are on their computer.


Comments are closed.