Sure, you enjoyed the Presidential Inaugural Gala on TV Thursday night, in the comfort of your own home, where you could pop popcorn during commercials, leave the room whenever you wanted and congratulate yourself on saving $250.

But if you'd been at the Washington Convention Center - where the splashy event was staged - you could have been heckled by protesters, prodded like cattle through security gates, surrounded by teeming humanity, and asphyxiated by a mushroom cloud of perfume.Still, few among the 12,000 galagoers would have traded places with stay-at-homes. The prime-time extravaganza featured a lineup of celebrities from Broadway, classical music and country-western singing the praises of President-elect George Bush and Vice President-elect Dan Quayle.

There was another sort of show outside the center.

A circle of about 20 protesters formed a motley welcoming committee, chanting "Not for inaugurals, money for AIDS" and "Racism, sexism, anti-gay, Bush, Quayle, KKK."

They jeered at Bob Hope when he arrived under media and police escort. Police confined the demonstrators to a small area in front of the center.

Inside the convention hall, actors dressed as Teddy Roosevelt, George and Martha Washington, Mark Twain and Uncle Sam exhorted partygoers, "We want you to have a good time."

And from all indications, everybody did.

The arrival of George and Barbara Bush brought the well-heeled audience of Republican faithful to its feet.

When everybody sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," the platform beneath ticketholders in the higher seats swayed disquietingly until all were seated again.

Singer/actress Nell Carter was the first to entertain the 1,100 performers on tap for the gala. A swoon went through the audience when Julio Iglesias appeared a little later.

You know all those sincere-sounding speeches from Walter Cronkite, Chuck Yeager, Dina Merrill and Cheryl Ladd? The cue cards they read from were as big as freeway signs.

Other headliners included Frank Sinatra, ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov, the Oak Ridge Boys, Loretta Lynn and Michael Crawford, the original lead in Broadway's "Phantom."

Muscleman Arnold Schwarzenegger, dubbing himself "Conan the Republican," said it was a time for "new beginnings" and for Americans to follow Bush's leadership "toward a kinder, gentler nation."

At the end of the show, the president-elect mounted the stage and promised that "I'll work my hardest, I will do my best, and with the help of the American people, I believe we can get the job done."

Audience members weren't the only ones who shelled out big bucks for the opportunity to be on hand. Advertisers paid $350,000 per one-minute commercial.