If you're the unpaid acting chief of protocol, how do you orchestrate your birthday gig?

Right to the letter, that's how, with the right place, the right people to say the right things and the right casual mood for a Monday evening.

To celebrate his day, Guy Draper, who has been doing the protocol duties for Washington on a pro bona basis since June, gave himself a soft-light party at the chic Club Desiree.Everything was just so.

Arrival Time:

In his exercise of perfect protocol Draper arrived an acceptable 45 minutes late, just as the bar got crowded enough to shake a few hands. "Well now that you're 26, how does it feel?" asked anchorman Jim Vance, whose hand was extended right in front of businessman William Fitzgerald's. True to diplomatic form, however, Draper did not reveal his age.

The receiving line:

In line at the bar, which was kept simple with only beer and wine, was Eddie Maddox, a member of President Carter's advance team, who had the first present of the evening -- a color photograph of Draper with the Carters. Draper glowed momentarily -- until he remembered that protocol favors a nervous air. Draper looked nervous the morning Mayor Marion Barry greeted Pope John Paul II. Last night, in tuxedo, the wiry Draper never stopped looking around the room. "I've never had a party before that I planned," he said. "Usually it's been a surprise."

The exclusive atmosphere:

The Club's doorman checked all the names off a master list and turned away a couple of crashers. All the guests found a leisure interest to suit their taste. Clifton Smith of Del. Walter Fauntroy's staff watched the football game, Rod Gaines of TWA's corporate office played backgammon, and attorney Sam Jackson caucused with other businessmen.

"Hey, Guy and I go way back," Gaines commented. "In high school in Los Angeles we had a singing group called the Marquees. That was the time Marilyn McCoo and the others were just out trying their singing." That said, Gaines sat down at the backgammon table with Amelia Parker of the State Department.

The tributes:

An essential element of protocol when the focus is on you is to make sure enough friends are around to say diplomatic, even complimentary, things. Stephen Danzansky, an attorney and president of the Washington Diplomats, was effusive about Draper's role in getting the 1980 Soccer Bowl to be played in Washington. "The day before the meeting in New York, Guy got up there and did splendid research on who the people were in the league and what their needs were. And when Marion came the next day he was well prepared," said Danzansky. "And those guys in the league are tough and don't applaud for anybody. But they stood up when Marion finished and the last time they had done that was when Henry Kissinger was elected chairman of the league."

The obligatory office rating:

As she passed by the buffet of cheeses and pastries, City Councilwoman Polly Shackleton praised the concept of a protocol office. "It's a very important function because Washington is an international city. New York and San Francisco have one and we're not any less important." Mayor Barry was noncommittal, saying, "We're working on it but I can't talk until we get some money."

Draper, who has earned his living by representing athletes and media personalities, as well as handling promotions, said he thought the mayor "will make a decision about having a permanent office by the first of the year. Buy my initial interest, doing the research and feasibility, has come to an end."

If you're the protocol chief you walk the line, especially if the future looks tentative.

The ceremony:

Even if you're the protocol chief, acting and unpaid, you can't guarantee perfect performance of the microphones. So Mayor Barry's funny line was lost in static. But the cake cutting was properly quick with Effi Barry executing a tow-hand swipe. Finished, she walked away, licking her fingers, and joined her husband in a slow boogie to one of Michael Jackson's latest hits.

The protocol chief followed suit.