Why Helga Pataki Is My Idol
My favorite television show growing up was Hey Arnold. I loved the jazzy music, the grungy animation, the diverse characters ranging from Jews to urban red-necks. But most importantly, I loved Helga Pataki.
I idolized Helga. People always think I’m joking when I say this, like I’m trying to make an ironic statement on childhood role-models. But no: I genuinely thought she was cool. And now that I’ve recently rewatched the entire series, I can safely say my love for her has stood the test of time.
She was a little rough around the edges, its true, but who can blame her? Her dad, Big Bob, was a total douche and the reason I started questioning capitalism at a young age. Her mom, Miriam, put more Tobasco sauce in her morning drinks than can be had in something non-alcoholic. Her sister was an over-achieving perfectionist who had a high-pitched voice and wore too much mascara. Gross.
She had a complicated realtionship with Arnold, who seemed to represent for her the reason and stability she was missing in her home life. But they were only nine years old. She “like-liked” him, while he was hung up on girls like Ruth and Lila: simple, one dimensional bores. Her idolization and stalker behavior of Arnold may have been extreme, if not a bit creepy. But I think Helga was surprisingly wise to not confront Arnold with her feelings. Her confessions would’ve only created an awkward situation or ended in a flat-out rejection that might have closed the door on their happiness later in life, when he would be mature and less susceptible to girls with freckles.
Her poetry was sublime. It was admittedly over the top, but it accurately captured the frustration of being a nine year old in “love.” It certainly beat out all the poems I wrote when I was nine, about a kid name John in my class. My poetry was exclusively acrostic.
So why do people think I’m joking when I say I idolized her? Perhaps it’s because (I seem as though) I’m fairly well-adjusted. I don’t kick garbage cans and I don’t punch guys who have crushes on me. Usually. I don’t have a unibrow, and my pigtails won’t stay in place without elastic. In fact, Helga and I have little in common when it comes to specifics. My father is not a beeper-king, my mother is not an alcoholic, and I live in the shadow of no older sibling.
Looking back, though, it’s evident that Helga was the true protagonist of Hey Arnold. She was the one in the opening sequence of the show, shouting the show title repeatedly. She was the only one with emotional depth. She was dynamic. She was a clever, passionate writer. She was wily, always scheming to gain power or cover up her true feelings for Arnold. She knew how to spell the world “qualm.”
Helga was a badass. I want to be just like her.
Every single time I watch the Christmas episode, where Helga sacrifices her expensive new Nancy Spumoni boots to secretly help Arnold find Mr. Hyunh’s daughter, I cry. Every single time.