In those days, whenever you had a problem you knew where to take it. You took it to the whales: Lyndon Johnson, Sam Rayburn, Everett Dirkson, Bob Taft, Dick Russell. Now, Dean Rusk has told friends, the problem is there are no more whales in Washington.

Well, not quite.

"You see, part of Carter's problem is that he really doesn't know the little characteristics of our colleagues up here. You've really got to know what makes 'em tick. You've got to know their wives, you've got to know their families, you've got to know their backgrounds. Johnson had - you know, I used to say that he was a personal FBI. And he was. The son of a gun was incredible. But so was Kennedy. In a sense, so was Ford. Ford had lots of connections up here.

"Now here comes Carter and he's a new boy in town. We haven't, institutionally Congress hasn't, sized him up yet. He really still doesn't know all the players here in the sense of their idiosyncracies, their characteristics. He gets the stereotypes. He knows that Humphrey is garrulous, for example, see. Or he'll know that Russell Long can be a good storyteller, and so on. But he doesn't know all these little things that make 'em tick, and that's the key around this place.

"How do you learn how to handle people here? I mean, how do you learn how to understand them? I'll give you just a simple little example.

["A certain Democratic senator], I know he's got a quick temper, particularly in the late afternoon, for some reson or another. [A quick gesture to the face, indicating a quick drink or two, with a sipping sound]. Now you've got to watch that like a hawk if he's got an amendment. And I never let him get to the point of really getting on that amendment until I get a smile out of him. I work on him until I get that face loosened up. And then I say, 'Look at the contenance of that friend of mine from .' Just a little joke, kind of soften him up a little bit. But you've got to know each one of these people. Some people are no-nonsense. Some people like a little nonsense.

"A lot of cloakroom talk. Now you see, Carter has never engaged in cloakroom talk with us. Now cloakroom talk is like in a golfer's locker room. It's bawdy. It's rough and risque at times. Lots of storytelling laughing and hootin' and hollerin'. That's when you get to know people."

"A lot of cloakroom talk. Now you see, Carter has never engaged in cloakroom talk with us. Now cloakroom talk is like in a golfer's locker room. It's bawdy. It's rough and risque at times. Lots of storytelling, laughing and hootin' and hollerin'. That's when you get to know people."

Hubert Humphrey had dropped into his small private office in the Capitol for a period of relaxed conversation. It was late afternoon and he was nearing the end of a typical day: two congressional leadership meetings, a leadership meeting with Jimmy Carter in the White House, a luncheon with the President's national security affairs adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, two congressional committee meetings, leadership of a key administration bill on the Senate floor, interviews, a speech and a private dinner. He pulled out two small cards on which his appointments secretary had typed his day's schedule and said:

"You know, I tell Ursula, goddamnit, she never understands that I'm a senator. She thinks I'm a gigolo."

Humphrey wasn't angry. If anything, he was expressing delight at the pace he sets and the new role he enjoys. After recovering from his major surgery for cancer of the bladder last year, he finds himself today with more influence and more respect than at any time in his life. As he says, it's a different kind of influence, less direct, less flamboyant, but stronger and surer.

Humphrey's free now, entirely so, and everyone from Carter down recognizes it. For the first time, he's not a contender. He has no reason for ambition. "I'm not a candidate for anything," he says, "and that has given me new strength, new influence. That's why I feel I can talk very candidly to people."

There's no doubt about the candor. To be with Hubert Humphrey today is to hear a range of pithy remarks, part civics lesson, part salty commentary, part boisterous reminiscence, part exposition of Washington realities. And part, perhaps the central part, purely personal, and formerly uncharacteristic, introspection.

"What I want more in life than anything else now is respect," he says, "which I think I'm beginning to earn, and get. I don't want to be President. I don't want to be Vice President. I don't want to be Secretary of State or Majority Leader. I know that these things are not to be mine, and I have put them very neatly aside, without remorse. But what I do want is to be known in the history books - and I am interested in that as an effective man in government: that I was a decent man, that I knew my job, that I knew how to get things done and that I did important things in government."

There's more than a touch of pride when he says:

"I told my staff, 'Now don't schedule me too tightly.' I said, 'Let me tell you something. When I come back from the Senate over here I'm a walking historical object; I'm a piece of the history of the capital. I'm a part of the history of some of the most turbulent years in this country.'"

So he is. And no one knows better, nor is better able to express, how Washington and its politics and personalities have changed.

It's all different now, he says, and nowhere more so than in the relationships between Capitol Hill and the White House, between Congress and Carter. How Humphrey hears people saying things they never used to out loud: about how Presidents come and go but the ill people are still here wielding power, about not worrying what's in his budget, but what's in theirs.

And never, in all his years in Washington and all the Presidents he's dealt closely with, has he experienced such extraordinary candor as in the meetings between Carter and the congressional leaders.

Such as:

"Mr. President, look, it's easy for you to send down messages, send down your bills, but we've got to pass 'em, and we don't want to have a flood of legislation coming down here that we can't handle to make us look bad. It's not good for you, and it's not good for Congress. Not only that, we've got an election up next year, Mr. President, and we don't need a lot of bad publicity. You can look good, but we've got to process this stuff with 535 members."

Or:

"Bob Byrd doesn't look at the President, has his little chin tucked down here, and he says: 'Mr. President, that decision on the water projects is the most stupid decision that I've ever heard of since I've been in Washington, and I've been here 25 years."

Or Humphrey quoting himself:

"I told him one time, 'You inherited a $75 billion deficit, 7 per cent inflation and 8 per cent unemployment.' I said, 'Now, Mr. President, if you can balance the budget between now and 1981, and get full employment and get the gross national product up like Charlie Schultze says you can, and have the revenues that you say we can, we're gonna get you a brand new book in the Bible. You're gonna have one all you own.'"

Out of this, Humphrey says, a healthier relationship is emerging. Carter's demeanor encourages such candor, and he's demonstrating that he wants to consult more than past Presidents. That, and something else - like Hubert Humphrey himself, Congress feels freer than ever these days.

"I try not to think about my illness because it doesn't bother me much. But I do have to recognize that cancer is, like my friend, a cancer specialist out at Rochester said, 'Hubert, cancer is like a thief in the middle of the night. It can stab you in the back anytime. You never know it.' So what is my theory, my philosophy? Live each day, do what you want to with whatever strength you have. Get the most out of it. Look ahead as far as you can. Don't worry. There's not much I can do about it.

"As I told those doctors the other day, 'Listen, if you let me die it's going to cost you millions of dollars 'cause I get you more for your cancer research projects than you'd ever believe possible. Keep me alive.' So I joke with them about it."

Perry Spriggs, Humphrey's driver, was standing by the black Fleetwood Cadillac alongside the steps of the Senate. A high school student from Marietta, Ga., walked over, examined the phones in front and back, and asked what the car cost? Twenty thousand, he was told. A Capitol policeman came by, asked whose car it was. Senator Humphrey's, Spriggs said. The cop nodded and moved off instantly.

Jusy then Humphrey strode briskly into view, carrying a sheaf of papers. "Let's go, boys, we've got lots to do," he said as he got in and drove off.