What a Party!: My Life among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators and Other Wild Animalsby Terry McAuliffe, Steve Kettmann (With), Steve Kettmann
President Bill Clinton
"No one knows more about
"I thought I knew Terry McAuliffe as well as anyone, but this time he surprised even me. Who knew Terry could sit still long enough to give us a book this good? What a Party! is a must-read for all of us who love politics, believe in public service, and know that laughter is often the best survival strategy."
President Bill Clinton
"No one knows more about American politics than Terry McAuliffe. He gives us some remarkable insights and knows how to make his accounts both humorous and informative."
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What a Party!My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators and Other Wild Animals
By McAuliffe, Terry
Thomas Dunne BooksCopyright © 2007 McAuliffe, Terry
All right reserved.
I remember walking home from Bellevue Country Club in Syracuse late one afternoon when I was fourteen years old, and with each step I was more depressed. I had just spent five hours caddying, lugging two heavy golf bags up and down hills for a grand total of eight bucks. I didn't mind the work. I've never minded the work. No, what had me distraught was the math. No matter how I turned it around in my head, it was clear I had already thrown my life away. I was going to have to face the cold, hard truth that I was a failure. What else could I call myself? There I was wasting my time, working for a measly two bucks an hour. I was never going to put any capital together at that rate!
"I've got to start my own business," I announced to myself as I walked the mile home from the golf course.
I was aware there were certain obstacles to starting a business at age fourteen. I could not open my own legal practice just yet, most likely, and I probably couldn't sell insurance either. I kept asking myself: What would people hire a young kid to do? One answer was house painting, but that just wasn't me. I'd leave that to other guys my age. Then, as I turned onto Dundee Road toward home, I saw an older guy in front of his house sealing his driveway. He was allsweaty and irritated-looking, but he was stuck out there. The winters in Syracuse are so brutal that everyone has to seal their driveways often by putting down a layer of hot tar emulsion liquid, which is dirty, nasty work.
"You know what?" I said out loud, walking faster now. "They'll hire a kid to do that. Nobody wants to do it himself and get that hot black tar all over you."
I didn't waste any time acting on my idea. I hurried home and typed up a letter announcing my new McAuliffe Driveway Maintenance business to all our neighbors. The next morning I handed those out all over the neighborhood, and by the end of that first day I had six jobs.
"Mom, can we go to Kmart?" I shouted across the house. "I've got to buy five-gallon buckets of tar!"
If you've never sealed a driveway, let me tell you, there's not much to it. You take a broom and sweep away any dust or debris, then dump the hot tar onto the driveway and smooth it out with a squeegee. I had a little red wagon to wheel the bucket of tar from job to job. I hired friends to help me and mulled over my biggest problem--tar. It didn't make sense to keep buying five-gallon containers at Kmart. The next step was Agway, a huge agricultural collective where I could buy fifty-gallon drums of concentrated tar. You had to dilute it, four gallons of water for every gallon of tar, so it went four times as far and you could increase your profit fourfold. The trouble was, those fifty-gallon drums were huge--and heavy. I was going to have to come up with a way to transport them.
"Hi, Uncle Billy," I said over the phone. "Listen, I need help."
Billy Byrne, my uncle, ran Byrne Dairy.
"I've got to start buying wholesale," I told him. "This retail is killing me. I need to move a lot more tar around. Do you have any old dairy trucks? Can I buy one?"
Uncle Billy was having a hard time keeping up with all this.
"Well, we've got that truck graveyard out there in Cicero," he said. "We'll talk about it and see what you want."
Billy said to call him back later, but I couldn't wait. My buddy Joey Hartnett drove me up old Highway 11 to Cicero, just north of Syracuse, and we found Uncle Billy's fleet of more than fifty old Byrne Dairy milk trucks all lined up and rusting with the keys in them. I had come prepared: I had a battery, a can of gas, spark plugs, and quarts of oil. We found a truck we liked and I put in a battery, replaced the spark plugs, added oil, and emptied some gas into its old tank.
"Keep your fingers crossed, Joey," I said.
I turned the key and the old dairy truck actually started. To this day I can still hear the rumbling of that big old engine and feel the hum of that big steering wheel vibrating in my hands. Man, the excitement was unbelievable. I was in business! This was the start of everything for me. The next morning, when my parents woke up, they saw that old Byrne Dairy milk truck sitting out front in the driveway. They were almost as surprised as my uncle was when I called him later that morning.
"I found a truck I liked," I said.
"We'll talk about it, Terry," he said. "Why don't you come down next week?"
"Uncle Billy, you don't understand," I told him. "I have the truck here at the house."
He was speechless. It had never dawned on him that I would head out to the lot on my own. There were liability issues, title issues--all kinds of things to think about. I just blew through all that. Uncle Billy was taken aback, but I think he respected that I was a young hustler. I got the title and license plates and we found some old brown house paint to slap on the truck. We put lettering on there, too, so anyone who saw us coming would know we were mcauliffe driveway maintenance.
Eventually I decided driveways were not enough.
"Excuse me, I'm here to see Mr. Higgins," I told the secretary at the Syracuse Savings Bank.
Tom Higgins was the president of the bank, and his parking lots were in bad shape.
"I'm sorry, Mr. . . . ?" the secretary asked me, trying not to laugh. "Do you have an appointment?"
I was sixteen years old, a skinny kid wearing one of my older brother's hand-me-down dress shirts with a big, ridiculous tie.
"No, I don't," I said. "I need to see him. This is very important. This is life or death for his business."
I was so serious, the secretary finally did laugh--and then she ushered me in to see the bank president.
"Mr. Higgins, let me tell you something," I said, not wasting any time. "You're a prominent businessman in this city. I want to show you what your business looks like."
He was ready to shoo me out of there in nothing flat, but I'd brought one of those cheesy photo albums with me and I think I'd piqued his curiosity. I'd prepared a nice portfolio of the potholes, cracks, and ruts in his parking lots.
"This reflects on your company, sir," I told Mr. Higgins as he flipped through the pictures.
Then he got to the second half and saw all the shots of smooth, dark, picture-perfect parking lots.
"This is what's happening with other banks," I told Mr. Higgins. "They are better looking. Your competitors are gaining a competitive edge against you."
I got the job. We repaved all the Syracuse Savings Bank parking lots. Then I went after fire stations and we started repaving them, too. The business just kept growing. Our phone at home rang at all hours, with people wanting their driveways sealed.
"McAuliffe Driveway Maintenance," my mother would say every time she answered our phone, like she was in an office.
One time my mother, Millie, was riding along with me in the passenger's seat when the rotted floor of the truck gave out and all four legs of her chair poked through and scraped the road as we drove along. You should have seen the look on Millie's face as she bounced up and down driving along the highway! Another time the old clutch gave out coming up a steep hill and I hit the brake, which sent the rear doors of the truck flying open. A freshly loaded fifty-gallon drum bounced out the back and accelerated downhill fast, flinging superthick black tar all over the place.
"I've got a big crisis," I told my dad from the first pay phone I could find.
He heard me out, and then surprised me.
"Terry, it's your business," he said. "You get all the profits. That means you deal with any issues that come up. Like this."
I couldn't believe how much thick, gooey tar was oozing down the hill. I put down cones to block off traffic, whipped out my trusty squeegee and spent a couple hours smoothing out the tar across the street and getting as much of the excess into the sewer as I could. It was miserable work, but every time I drove past that street I could smile to myself at how good it looked and get a reminder that when you start your own business, you have to clean up your own messes. No one else can do that for you.
My sister-in-law Patty, Tommy's wife, still laughs at the first impression I made on her. I took some of the money I made with McAuliffe Driveway Maintenance and invested in a snowblower and started my winter business. I would get up at four o'clock in the morning during the darkest, coldest days of winter and blow snow off driveways and sidewalks. I'd usually get paid with single dollar bills, which I'd jam into my pockets, and by the time I got home they would be a wet, crumpled mess. I would have been embarrassed to show up at my new bank, Syracuse Savings, to deposit money looking that bad. So instead I ironed each and every bill, spraying on a little starch for good measure. By the time I was done, those bills looked like they had just been wheeled out of the U.S. Treasury's Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The first time Patty met me, I was in the middle of ironing a big load of dollar bills and she just burst out laughing.
I always loved selling. The year I turned twelve I got a great idea for Valentine's Day. I went to see my mother at Quinlan's Florist, where she worked as a salesperson, and arranged to buy a thousand red roses at wholesale. Then, through my Dad, I was able to set up in the lobby of the big MONY office building, and spent the day selling single red roses for five bucks apiece. By the end of the day I'd sold all one thousand, bringing in five thousand dollars for flowers that had cost me a few hundred. That worked out so well that on St. Patrick's Day I did the same thing with green carnations.
If it involved talking, I usually did just fine. For the life of me I can't tell you how I talked my way into a job emceeing the summer concert series they had in Syracuse's parks, but it was one of the greatest gigs ever. The city parks department paid me for forty hours a week, even though it was only an hour or two per evening. They didn't seem to mind that I was not what you would call a musical expert--I have never so much as picked up a musical instrument, and I know as little about music as anybody you'll ever meet.
One time in the late 1980s, I was at a dinner party at Pamela Harriman's Georgetown house, standing there in the living room with Illinois senator Paul Simon--the one with the bow tie--talking about his run for President. Pamela came over and said she wanted to introduce me to someone, so I followed her across the room.
"Terry, I want to introduce you to Paul Simon," Pamela announced.
I thought she might be yanking my chain.
"Great, great," I said, shaking the man's hand, acting just as thrilled as can be that I was finally meeting him, whoever he was.
"Are you Senator Simon's son?" I asked.
He did a double take to see if I was messing with him, but could see I wasn't.
"No, not at all," he said.
We both stood there looking around the room. He seemed friendly enough, so I kept the conversation going.
"Well, what do you do?" I asked him.
"I'm a singer," he said.
"Really, a singer? Have you ever had a hit?"
"Have you heard of 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'?" he asked.
"Sure," I said.
"Simon and Garfunkel?"
"Oh yeah," I said. "My wife loves their stuff."
"Well, that's me," he said. "I'm Paul Simon."
That was how much I knew about music. For years my executive assistant, Justin Paschal, and my staff at the DNC tried to make me somewhat musically literate, arranging meetings for me with P. Diddy, Beyonce, and the Black Eyed Peas, but eventually Justin and the others just gave up. I never had any idea who they were talking about. I'm still like that. But back in Syracuse, emceeing those evening concerts, I didn't need to know much, just enough to step up to the mike at the portable bandstand and read from the list of big band classics they gave me, like Tommy Dorsey's "Boogie Woogie" and Glenn Miller's "In the Mood." The crowd was mostly blue-haired older ladies, and I loved to dance with the older gals. I've been told my singing sounds like a sick dog howling, but I was the Lawrence Welk of Syracuse.
I always planned on getting my law degree and becoming a businessman, but my father was so passionate about politics, it rubbed off on me. He and I talked about politics from the time I was just a little squirt tagging along to local political events with him. My father, Jack, gave me a unique perspective on politics that has always stuck with me. He was treasurer of the Onondaga County Democratic Party for more than ten years and taught me about fund-raising from an early age. If you want to organize, if you want to put posters up all over town, you have to first raise the money to pay for it. Jack taught me young that money in politics was neither evil nor good: Money in politics was like gas in the tank, it was what you needed to get where you were going. If you had big plans to help people and to make a difference, you needed money to organize and to get people excited about your message.
Besides his work as a commercial real estate leasing agent, my father was always busy with some political event or campaign, including his own unsuccessful bid for the Syracuse City Council, which at that time was dominated by Republicans. I always loved going along with him to events, where he would usually take me up to the podium. I was with him on August 5, 1964, when Lyndon B. Johnson came to Syracuse to give a speech about the government of North Vietnam "flouting the will of the world for peace." I was only seven years old, and to me LBJ looked like a giant. Afterward, my dad brought me over to meet the President, and I was really nervous.
"How are you, young man?" LBJ asked me.
I moved my lips but no sound came out. That's never happened again!
"Great," I said finally. "Great to meet you, Mr. President."
My father was as thrilled as I was. He grew up in such a strong Democratic household that when FDR died in 1945, the family pulled all the shades down in the house and went into deep mourning. My father dedicated himself to the Democratic Party because he saw politics as a way to get involved and make a difference for the working men and women he knew in Syracuse. He understood that Democrats are the party of the people, and that was what made him such a big activist.
I worked my first fund-raiser when I was six. My father put me at the front door of the Persian Terrace Room at the Hotel Syracuse for the Onondaga County Democratic Party annual dinner and gave me firm instructions, which I always kept in mind later in life, much to the chagrin of many, many Democratic donors over the years.
"Terry, if they don't give you the money, they don't get in the door," my father told me. "No exceptions."
My dad taught me to go all out on every political race, no matter how small, and I took him at his word. A group of my buddies, including Duke Kinney, Marty Salanger, Joe and Steve Snyder, Jim Bright, Dave Mulherin, and Mike McInerney, had a great time with my campaign for student body president at Bishop Ludden High School. We dimmed the lights in the school auditorium, which was packed with more than a thousand students, and cranked up "Hail to the Chief." I drove up in a golf cart with a big presidential limousine sign, dressed in my best sweater-vest-and-tie combo. My buddies followed in another golf cart and were all dressed up like Secret Service agents with trench coats, sunglasses, and earplugs. We had put up so many signs, bumper stickers, and buttons all over the school, you couldn't move two feet without seeing "McAuliffe for President." I ended up with the highest vote total ever recorded at Bishop Ludden, a record that I'm told still stands and which probably had a lot to do with me promising free keg parties every weekend at the dirt road.
My dad loved sports, too, and was especially crazy about Notre Dame, which he graduated from in 1939. If my dad wasn't talking politics, he was talking sports or sitting in front of the TV watching sports. He was such a Notre Dame fan, my parents were married by Father Ted Hesburgh at the chapel on the Notre Dame campus. My big brothers and I were all sports-crazy and played whiffle ball in the driveway or wild football games in our neighbor's yard. When I was ten years old my big interest was boxing and I would go down to the YMCA and spar. I held my own, but I was never going to be dubbed the "Napoleon of the Ring" like my great-grandfather's relative, Jack McAuliffe, who was born in March 1866 in Cork, Ireland, where my family comes from, and moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and learned from the great Jack Dempsey.
Jack McAuliffe, who stood all of five foot six, was Lightweight Champion of the World in the 1880s and 1890s, one of the last bare-knuckled boxers. He once boxed Jem Carney of England for seventy-four rounds in 1887, before a riot broke up the fight. Another time, he went sixty-four rounds in a title defense against Billy Myer, despite having broken his arm early in the bout, and battled to a draw. Jack McAuliffe was one of only a handful of champions ever to finish his career undefeated. Like all McAuliffes, he was a man of strong opinions and railed against "the modern powder-puff punchers."
My father's other great passion was war movies, no surprise for a former World War II artillery officer. The night I was born, six weeks premature, my mother was away for the weekend at a Catholic retreat in Skaneateles, near Syracuse, and as she was being rushed by ambulance to the hospital she pleaded with the nurses not to call my father.
"Oh no, don't disturb Jack," she told them. "He's watching Thirty Seconds over Tokyo and he's wanted to watch that for such a long time."
What a change from today where they expect fathers to be in the delivery room and cut the umbilical cord. They did call Jack, of course, and he was there in the waiting room when I was born. There were complications, and four or five times the doctor said my heart had stopped. Finally I was born and the doctor held me up for my mother.
"Oh, what a beautiful baby," she said. "Too bad he's dead."
But then the doctor whacked me and I started bawling, loud even then.
"Oh my God!" my mother said, she was so surprised. "It's a miracle."
My parents couldn't agree at first on what to name me.
"Jack, I think he was a miracle," my mother said. "We should have something miraculous. I think we should go for something from Notre Dame."
"Let's name him Knute Rockne and everyone can call him Rocky," Jack said.
"God no, we can't do that to this little boy," my mother said. "Let's call him Terry after Terry Brennan."
So they decided on Terry in honor of the Notre Dame football player who ran the opening kickoff back for ninety-eight yards and a touchdown on their wedding day. That day's game was their wedding reception--complete with hot dogs and beer.
My father hoped I'd go to Notre Dame, but he was also happy when I decided on Catholic University in Washington, D.C., where I'd earned a scholarship and started in the fall of 1975. Jack's friend John Mahoney lined me up with a paid internship working for our congressman, Jim Hanley, and every Tuesday and Thursday I took the number 80 bus down to the Cannon Office Building and did research, filing, and constituent correspondence. My first week working for Hanley, I was walking across the Capitol and met the Vice President, Nelson Rockefeller. Three years later, because of my work starting a program to tutor prison inmates, I was asked to attend a seminar at the American Enterprise Institute and got to meet Gerald Ford. We discussed apathy among the young at that conference, and the former President told me, "I could never sit on the sidelines," which I admired, because I never could either.
Ford was the third President I'd met--after LBJ in '64 and Jimmy Carter in '76. My father and I went to New York for the Democratic Convention that summer along with a group including Syracuse Mayor Lee Alexander and Tom Lowery, the Onondaga County Democratic chairman. Six of us wedged into one room in a little hotel, some of us sleeping on couches. The closest we got to the fancy hotels was taking a stroll through the lobby just to see what it was like to be where the action was. My dad and I were people-watching in the Sheraton, looking for big Democratic names, when rumors started flying, creating a hubbub.
"Carter is in there!" someone shouted. "He's coming out any minute!"
This was a huge kick for me, even if my father and I had to wait in the jammed lobby for more than an hour. Carter finally came down and I got a chance to shake his hand and say, "Hello, Governor." It might not sound like much, but I was thrilled.
The summer after I graduated from Catholic, my buddy Duke Kinney and I flew to Ireland and I went off on my own and zipped all over Europe on a Eurail Pass. I don't remember much about the flight back to Washington, but I'll never forget going to the baggage claim to pick up my backpack and watching the carousel go round and round without ever spitting out my backpack. The airline had lost it. I went home to the huge old house that about ten of us shared on Newton Street, a real Animal House. One of the guys in the house was a friend of mine from Catholic University, Tom Donilon, who was working for Hamilton Jordan on President Carter's reelection campaign. He hooked me up with an interview. Soon after I came back from Europe, I got a call asking if I would be interested in a fund-raising job for the Carter-Mondale reelection campaign. Tim Finchem was the campaign's finance director then; now he's commissioner of the PGA.
"You bet I would," I told Finchem. "When can I start?"
"How about tomorrow?" he said. "You'll be a national fund-raiser, traveling all over the country. We can pay you thirteen thousand five hundred dollars a year. Any questions?"
Ah, heck, I thought, I can always go to law school.
The airline still had not found my backpack, so I had to go down to the Carter-Mondale reelection headquarters in the only clothes I had, which were a white T-shirt, gray gym shorts, and sneakers. The place didn't look much better than I did. I got up to Finchem's office for my appointment and they didn't even have a chair for me. I got a look inside the office and there was nothing inside except a single desk in the middle with no chairs around it, and then I sat outside waiting. None of that bothered me. I was thrilled to be there and ready to wait all day, if necessary. I'd been out there awhile when a group from Florida arrived to talk to Finchem. The main guy was Carter's finance chairman for Florida, Richard Swann, and he seemed kind of mad at Finchem.
"Tim, you know I have an event with Rosalynn Carter coming up in September, or have you forgotten?" Swann said.
"No, no, I remember," Finchem said.
"So where is all this help you promised me?" Swann asked.
Finchem sat there scratching his head. I was craning my neck to watch as much of this as I could and Finchem saw me.
"There's a young kid out there," he told Swann. "McAuliffe. You can have him."
So they waved me into the room and I sat on the floor answering a bunch of questions. It was kind of a joke, but I just tried to sound serious and act confident about raising money, though I'd never raised a dime. Finally, Finchem turned to Swann.
"Will he do?" he asked him.
"Sure," Swann said, looking unimpressed. "Better than nothing."
"Terry, you're flying down with him to Florida," Finchem said.
I kept nodding and smiling, hoping no one said anything about my gym shorts.
"I'll meet you down there," Swann said. "You can stay at our house."
I was hoping Swann would be at the airport to meet me when I arrived two days later, but no such luck. I caught a cab and sat in the backseat staring at the meter the whole way to the Swann house in Winter Park, a suburb of Orlando. I ended up paying twenty-five bucks.
Jeez, I'm losing money already, I thought to myself.
Doris Swann and I hit it off immediately, even though Richard had forgotten to tell his wife that I'd be showing up with my suitcase and staying with the family for three weeks. She warmed up some pot roast and we popped open a couple of beers and made each other laugh trading stories about people we knew in politics. I met the dog and all four of their kids, including their oldest, Dorothy, who at the time had just turned sixteen. Richard got home late that night and couldn't figure out who his wife could be laughing with so loudly at that hour. He'd forgotten all about me.
After that I became almost part of the family. I arrived on August 30, and the fund-raiser at the Luau Hut at SeaWorld was only three weeks later, so Richard and I threw ourselves into the work and tried to make up for lost time. They gave me fat issues books that I read cover to cover, and I boned up on election law. Then they basically gave me a phone book and said: Go get 'em, and I would spend twelve hours a day on the phone. Lucky for me, I was a natural-born salesman. I could talk, Lord knows I could talk. If someone had a question I couldn't answer, I would say, "Well, we'll get back to you later on that issue, but are you going to raise us the ten thousand dollars?" I kept talking and we kept making money. In the end we cleared more than three times the goal for the event.
I was only twenty-two and it showed. I knew I had to do something about my wet-behind-the-ears look, so I started wearing fake glasses to make myself look older. They were just clear glasses, but I thought they made me look more dignified and professional. There is even a caricature on the wall at the Palm Restaurant in Washington showing me in those glasses in 1980. I still take a look sometimes when I'm in there, just to give myself a good laugh. My other trademark back then was the loud polyester suits I used to wear. Thank God no one got a match near me. I'd have gone up in flames.
Word spread quickly about what a great success the Luau Hut event had been. A lot of people in politics would have taken credit for themselves, but Richard Swann wasn't that way. He kept telling everybody I'd done a great job. He and I were already close, working together and spending a lot of time at the house on Lake Virginia in Winter Park, waterskiing or just hanging out with the family.
Around this time I was down at the lake waterskiing with the Swann kids and Richard was home reading the paper. Doris came up from the lake and found him there in his study.
"Richard, I have figured out who Dorothy is going to marry," Doris said. "Who do you think it is?"
Richard kept reading his article.
"I'm talking to you," Doris said.
She ripped the paper out of his hands and tossed it onto the floor.
"Okay, who?" Richard said halfheartedly.
"I'm not telling," Doris said. "You guess."
"I don't know," he said. "The kid down the street? The school quarterback?"
Doris cut him off before he kept going.
"No, stupid," she said. "Terry!"
"Terry? Good Lord, he's old enough to be her father."
"Don't be silly," she said. "He's twenty-two and she's sixteen. By the time she's old enough to get married, it will be an ideal age difference."
Copyright 2007 by Terry McAuliffe and Steve Kettmann. All rights reserved.
Excerpted from What a Party! by McAuliffe, Terry Copyright © 2007 by McAuliffe, Terry. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Terry McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, legendary fund-raiser, and confidant of Presidents, lives in McLean, Virginia, with his wife, Dorothy, and their five children.
Steve Kettmann has written for publications including The New York Times, The New Republic, and Salon.com. The author of One Day at Fenway, Steve cowrote the #1 New York Times bestseller, Juiced, with Jose Canseco.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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The book was hysterical. The author tells it like it is and he has no apologies for it. If you want to understand how politics works at the highest levels, this book tells it all. Could not put it down and read it in 2 days. Could not stop laughing!
Most read book McAuliffe is a great Democrate and is a man who should be in the White House.
This book will help restore your secretly held notion that some people in politics are down to earth genuine good guys, who can - with your help, of course - make things better in the world. Recommended for all libraries. A treasure!
Could not put the book down. Laughed on page after page. The guy is very straight forward and blunt about American politics. He should have a TV comedy show. Bought it after I saw him on TV and glad I did. A must read for anyone who follows Politics.
While I am grateful to the author for the many millions he raised for the Democratic Party, he comes across here as an insufferable, ego-driven operative who is convinced that if only politicians would just listen to him, everything would be just fine.