The first thing retired Gen. Al Haig said when he stepped up to the microphone at Friday's Symphony Ball at the Sheraton Washington was a familiar "I'm in charge." There was a ripple of laughter though the elegant white-tie crowd at the phrase that caused so much criticism when he made it on the day in 1981 that President Reagan was wounded. Haig had come to the microphone at the ball to draw a number for one of the door prizes, but, seeing an audience, he apparently couldn't resist making a speech.

One ball guest said his rambling, angry political comments seemed to last 15 minutes but probably only lasted five. Others at the dinner, attended by several ambassadors and members of Congress, said they were embarrassed when Haig said that all the criminals aren't in jail, they are in Congress. He also made a comment that when he was secretary of state there were criticisms about backstabbing at the White House. Now, he reportedly said, they stab in the front. One ballgoer said, "This Symphony Ball will be remembered as the year Al Haig got up to speak."

Out and About

President Bush was at home with "a touch of the flu" last night and couldn't attend the annual "Christmas in Washington" celebration, held at the National Building Museum. But his stalwart substitute, First Lady Barbara Bush, was there to make apologies for her husband and represent the White House at the event, which featured performers such as Aretha Franklin, Reba McEntire, John Denver and Barbara Hendricks. They performed before some 900 guests, including several from Capitol Hill. The performance was taped by NBC for broadcast later this month ...

It's official. Media magnate Ted Turner and activist actress Jane Fonda will be married about a year from now. Turner himself confirmed it late last week in Atlanta at a private reception before a dinner in his honor. He said, "We're engaged. We are going to wait a year." He apparently did not explain why the couple are waiting, but it's probably not a bad idea since this will be the third marriage for both. Fonda did show off her engagement ring, explaining, "I've been married twice, but I never had one before." The ring was an early birthday gift for Fonda, 52. Her birthday is Dec. 21. Turner, the creator of the ubiquitous Cable News Network, is 51 ...

After stating that she would honor a commitment to perform in a musical play at the University of Arizona, Yolanda King, the 34-year-old daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., canceled her appearance Saturday. It "became increasingly apparent to me that my presence in Arizona could and would be misconstrued by some to be contrary to the goals ... of the King holiday," she said in a statement released yesterday. Arizona voters last month defeated a referendum that would have created a paid state holiday honoring her father ...

First it was Brooke Shields who wasn't allowed to go entertain the troops. Then Morton Downey Jr., the talk show mouth that roars, offered to pay his way to the Persian Gulf region to entertain them. He says the military never even returned his call. "I guess they were afraid I was going to insult the Saudis with my old image and interviewing style," he said ...

Vice President Dan Quayle may make a Christmas visit to the troops in the gulf, however. There is some concern, though, that the religious implications of a top American official making a Christmas visit to an Islamic country might offend the Saudis. According to Newsweek, that is one among other considerations, not the least of them being that Quayle is not the most popular figure among the troops, who reportedly have nicknamed him "Danny Boy." The old Quayle joke about him avoiding Vietnam duty by getting a safe National Guard assignment is said to be circulating among the troops. It goes: "Have you heard they're going to make a movie about Danny Boy's war career? It's gonna be called 'Full Dinner Jacket' " ...