Angela And I Don’t Want The Two Dollars Back

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I finished only one book while on the road this summer, Harriet The Spy, but Harriet proved to be a most enlightening traveling companion — the perfect book at the perfect time. And, as it turns out, arguably the best book I have ever read about writing and living and what it really means to grow up.

11-year-old Harriet is a spy and a writer. Her meticulously honest observations fill notebooks. But Harriet’s cozy and well-ordered world falls to pieces when first, her nanny moves out, and then, her very private notebook is discovered by her classmates. These events effectively mark the beginning of the end of Harriet’s childhood.

As things spin wildly out of control, Harriet falls to pieces — she has to start learning quickly how to reconcile the demands of her muse with the demands of everyday life. This is a letter Harriet receives near the end of the book from her former nanny, Ole Golly — the kind of wisdom we should all be so lucky to have someone impart to us at any age:

Dear Harriet,

I have been thinking about you and I have decided that if you are ever going to be a writer it is time you got cracking. You are eleven years old and you haven’t written a thing but notes. Make a story out of some of those notes and send it to me.

“‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ — that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

John Keats. And don’t you ever forget it.

Now in case you ever run into the following problem, I want to tell you about it. Naturally, you put down the truth in your notebooks. What would be the point if you didn’t? And naturally those notebooks should not be read by anyone else, but if they are, then, Harriet, you are going to have to do two things, and you don’t like either one of them:

1) You have to apologize.
2) You have to lie.

Otherwise you are going to lose a friend. Little lies that make people feel better are not bad, like thanking someone for a meal they made even if you hated it, or telling a sick person they look better when they don’t, or someone with a hideous new hat that it’s lovely. Remember that writing is to put love into the world, not to use against your friends. But to yourself you must always tell the truth.

Another thing. If you’re missing me I want you to know that I’m not missing you. Gone is gone. I never miss anything or anyone because it all becomes a lovely memory. I guard my memories and love them, but I don’t get in them and lie down. You can even make stories from yours, but remember, they don’t come back. Just think how awful it would be if they did. You don’t need me now. You’re eleven years old which is old enough to get busy at growing up to be the person you want to be.

No more nonsense.
Ole Golly Waldenstein

The song below was recorded at Stuart’s, in San Francisco. At the time I was hanging out a lot with a girl known as The Travel Agent. She only listened to old standards, mostly on this musty AM radio station whose call letters I forget. We would listen as we drove around, and I would always turn it up for the Jo Stafford version of “You Belong To Me.” (The Travel Agent’s favorite was “Swinging on a Star.” When the song goes, “Or would you rather be a fish?” she would always unfailingly answer back, “Um, how long do I have to decide?”)

You Belong To Me (Pee Wee King/Redd Stewart/Chilton Price)

9 Replies to “Angela And I Don’t Want The Two Dollars Back”

  1. Great song…One of the vocal groups (Capris? someone else…I’ll check later) did the version that we ended up using as our wedding song. In retrospect, tough to find a more parsimonious paean to spousal ownership. “Ef those pyramids, B, you belong to me! And send me souveniers while you’re at it!”

  2. That letter from Ole Golly still makes me sad. I don’t want to grow up, wah.

    Next summer might be a good time for the sequal, The Long Summer. Harriet goes to Montauk, solves a mystery, meets an incredible array of characters and in doing so discovers a deeper humanity.

  3. “Angela and I don’t want the two dollars back…”
    I can barely express how those words transported me back to early high school when my new friend (and future long time great friend and singer, Sonnet) taught me that song and we sang it endlessly for weeks, finding new harmonies, then breaking it out in older years and giggling. Thanks for unknowingly reminding me of lighter times.

  4. Omigawd! I am damaged eternally by “Harriet The Spy”—

    Here’s what happened to us in that peculiar 60’s confluence of “Harriet The Spy”, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E”, and “The Lord Of The Rings”:

    My sister and I looked up Viking Runes in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, learned to adapt them as our “Spy” alphabet, and proceeded to spend long hours diligently and with great deliberation, spying not only on our siblings, but on all the neighbors on our short cul de sac of the clueless uppercrust in Montecito.

    We would dutifully write down all of our “Spy” observations in our notebooks, in our chosen cryptography of Viking Runes.

    And what was our most telling discovery?

    That people, eben when they are completely unaware of being observed, and could engage in all manner of exciting depravity, are generally so boring that they are not worth observing!

    The minor soap operas we witnessed that were never meant to be seen were so rote and uninvolving that we finally found it quite easy to disengage from the assumption that anyone in the human race actually had anything of interest to offer! This lesson has served me well throughout the remainder of my time on earth!

    But it has made me treasure the exceptions – like you!

  5. Hi, Philip,

    John told me about your blog and I’ve just found it.

    “Harriet” was my favorite book at one (very lengthy) point growing up…I still remember whole scenes by heart. I love the way she visualized the people she heard talking in the diner and then was often correct in her assumptions…Funny, but I always sort of hated George for taking Ole Golly away from her…I suppose I grew up to be Harrison Withers! xo Madeleine

  6. Hi, Madeleine! So nice to hear from you! How are you?

    You know, I still sing “I Want That Man” live from time to time, and I always think of you — it was definitely you who turned me on to any post-KooKoo Debbie I ever heard or liked.

    So…Have you forgiven George yet? And, do you have cats?

  7. I’m fine, at work…how are you?

    Upon further consideration, I realized I wanted Ole Golly to be happy since she probably had a lonely childhood with her crazy, sad mother…So, I forgave him, but I remember wishing she’d come back to Harriet even if she stayed married to George…That book had a really dead-on, cynical view of people. (I’m suddenly thinking of the lady that wouldn’t leave her bed and the creepy couple with the giant baby statute who don’t speak to each other).

    I do have cats ~ 6 of them. I feel the same way Harrison did when he looked at the kitten at the end of the book. 🙂

    I’m glad you got into solo Debbie! I loved your version of “I Want That Man” – that’s so cool that you still play it. Do you like any of her other stuff?

    I think she’s had some really good songs in her solo career. Have you heard “Two Times Blue,” her latest single? It has a fantastic video of her being strangled by plants. I also love the song she did with Moby, “New York.” The best part is where she sort of laughs at the beginning. I love her!

    You should do a cover of “Undone” from the last Blondie album, that’s a cool song ~~

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