Just in time for Christmas shopping, a letter arrived this week from the Harris Corporation, makers of the typesetting equipment we use at the Gazette to produce the words you’re reading now.

An introductory note explained that the Composition and Controls Division at Harris has cut prices on a number of spare parts -- “items which exceed our forecasted requirements.” We think that means nobody’s buying them.

Enclosed were 49 single-spaced com­puter printout sheets listing this month’s specials -- almost 2,000 items in all. Alert for bargains, we perused the list with a curiosity that eased into befuddlement and rapidly degenerated into bug-eyed terror.

Our Harris equipment works so delightfully well when it’s healthy, and goes just long enough between break­downs, that we often take the machines and the computer magic they work for granted at the Gazette. That’s as it should be: as some wit said on behalf of the computer trade, machines should work so people can think.

Then from Harris Corp. comes a list of 2,000 gizmos which, Murphy’s law being what it is, are presumably doing their electronic thing somewhere within our machinery, awaiting some snowed-in Thursday to break down. And with the list comes this disheartening advice:

“Please examine the list carefully. You should find that it contains many parts you have ordered previously.”

We remember reading somewhere that in theory, you could order an entire Chevy sedan through your local auto-parts department, but it would cost you more than $50,000, not to mention the bother of putting it together. Scanning down the Harris price list, we saw everything from nuts and washers at a nickel apiece to something called the DMA Interface. If that blows, we’re out $2,301.

Most frightening of all is the fact that, after more than two years of working with these computers every day, we can read a list of what occupies their innards and scarcely recognize a thing.

It’s on sale for only $78.47, but we’d just as soon never have been told that we’re publishing the news on machinery which contains something called a Compublab Interface Card Assembly. Further down the list we found a Butt Housing offered for $49.86, a mysterious Discrete Assembly for $3.93 and — bargain of bargains! — for only 30 cents, a Stud Retainer. We’re tempted to send for one of those just to find out what it is.

But we won’t be making an order from the Harris wish book this Christmas. We’ll go on muttering our personal prayers and imprecations each morning as we throw the power switches on our Model 1420 terminals, our Model 1250 Microstor floppy disk drives and our Model 3300 phototypesetting units. When something sizzles and stops we’ll try the few comforting tricks we’ve learned to try, then reach for the phone and call in the service technicians.

And when a tree falls across a power line in Chilmark and the lights go out in Edgartown, we’ll light candles and turn to our trusty finger-powered Royals and Underwoods and L.C. Smith typewriters.

And yes, Virginia, there will always be a Friday Gazette.