muggy spring afternoon in Manhattan and David Patrick Columbia '62 has just strolled into Michael's, a crisply understated restaurant on West 55th Street, to a round of greetings. The wait staff. The maitre d'. As Columbia crosses to a table heads turn from conversations. Women at window tables nod and smile. A tanned yachty-looking man says hello. He's the publisher of a national tabloid. The women are Betsy McCaughey Ross, former New York lieutenant governor, and Polly Bergen, the star of Follies on Broadway.

The maitre d', Steve Millington, stops to take Columbia's order: cappuccino and Pellagrino.

"We've missed you," Millington says. "You must be very busy."

"I am very busy," Columbia says.

Indeed, he is. He has just left the Astaire Awards, a benefit Broadway performance at the Hudson Theatre, where he made several new acquaintances in the dance world. The previous night he attended an awards dinner at The Rainbow Room. That came on the heels of a Literacy Partners benefit at Lincoln Center, where columnist Liz Smith was the host. "You had what's his name, David Sedaris, and Anne Beattie and Tom Brokaw and Barbara Goldsmith reading from their books," Columbia said. "And then afterward you dine with these people. That's just special. It really is."

And for David Patrick Columbia, it's also all in a day's--or night's--work.

A former actor, stockbroker, clothesshop owner and biographer for hire, Columbia is the premier chronicler of New York society or, as The New York Observer put it recently, "society darling and scribe." Editor in chief of Avenue magazine, a glossy monthly dedicated to the world of black-tie benefits and celebrity weddings, Columbia is also the creator of NewYorkSocialDiary.com, a daily Web report on the comings and goings of the kind of New Yorkers who get their picture in The New York Times when they stroll into parties. It's a Fitzgerald-esque world, and Columbia, who once described his mean and modest western Massachusetts childhood as "Tennessee Williams up north," is an unlikely character to have emerged as its diarist.

Or is he?