Clipping waste in the office

   Ms. Ferguson, my loyal office manager, had brought me a stack of checks to sign, the invoices attached, as always, with a paper clip.
   The invoice was for office supplies, and one of the line items was for the purchase of 300 paper clips. As I signed the check, I unhinged the paper clip and, eyes narrowing, stared at it intently as I flipped it between my fingers and thumb.
   What was happening to these little buggers? Why would we need 300 new ones every month? Last month we not only ordered the little ones, but 100 of the big ones as well!
   Something was very fishy. I hadnít filled my magnetic paper clip container for as long as I could remember. Every paper clip I used was replaced by an incoming. And I certainly never, ever threw any in the garbage.
   But someone was! (Cue "Dragnet" music.)
   The first suspect was, of course, Ms. Ferguson herself. I called her to my office and put it to her straight. I accused her of reckless use of company assets.
   "Donít you have anything better to do?" she replied, preparing to leave.
   "Ms. Ferguson, you are failing to grasp the importance of this issue," I said. "The cost of paper clips may be insignificant in the great scheme of things, but if you were carelessly flinging them into the garbage, it might only be the tip of the iceberg."
   "Do you mean," she asked, mesmerized, "it could lead to trashing rubber bands?"
   "Exactly!" I cried. "And who knows what would be next. This callous disregard for office incidentals could lead to the downfall of the American economy. Iíll bet Japanese companies of our size donít order 300 paper clips every month."
   "I didnít do it," she said, suddenly. "I swear. I would never throw a paper clip away. I care too much about our country."
   I believed her. She wasnít the type. Then who? In true American tradition, Ms. Ferguson fingered her shy, unassuming assistant.
   We called for Beth. She walked in, looking innocent enough. Easy to crack. Told of the crime, she fell to her knees, and we waited for the confession. But instead, she picked a paper clip off the floor, explaining that not only does she not throw them away, she recovers the lost ones.
   My general manager, Ralph, was next. Not the most organized person in the world, Ralph would likely throw cold hard cash in the garbage if he was distracted, which he usually is.
   "No way," he replied. "I would never throw out a paper clip. I even pick them up off the floor and put them in my magnetic holder."
   Oh, please, not the floor alibi again. Unfortunately, it was very convincing. If Beth and Ralph were conspirators, they had planned well.
   I was running out of prime suspects. I went around the company and grilled other possible defendants, but the answer was always emphatically the same. No one would admit throwing out a single paper clip.
   There would be no confessions. That much was clear. No one wanted to take the responsibility for the collapse of the American economy.
   I had no choice. Itís never been said that sleuthing was a pretty job. I had to go through their garbage.
   Luckily, it was mostly paper. Knowing paper clips would slip and slide to the bottom, I had to dig down deep through each wastebasket. I found nothing, not a trace of a paper clip, until I came to. . .
   Hidden at the very base, below the papers and half-eaten sandwiches, was a paper clip. And thatís not all. It was one of the BIG paper clips.
  "So, it was you," I said, holding up the infamous paper clip. "Do you have any idea of the consequences of your actions?"
   "It was only one paper clip," he replied. "Obviously an accident. Itís not like you found 300."
   He was right. I still couldnít prove it. But I was on the right track. Nervously, I pulled and tugged at the evidence in my hand, trying to find an answer.
  "Besides," he continued, "youíve already destroyed the evidence."
   The paper clip in my hand had now become a pointer. I looked at it, shrugged, and tossed it in the garbage.
   "All right," I admitted, "that would make two. How do you explain the rest?"
   The American economy wants to know.


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