The story follows both Ruby and Sophie through a perilous time when the Blacklist ruled in American life, and made entertainer's lives especially miserable. Because Sophie's mother is accused of being "unAmerican," both she and her daughter have to leave New York and try to survive while far away from everything and everyone they know and love.
Under a Bridge
Sophie is missing.
I don’t know for how long, but I know she’s gone.
Soph is my best friend in the world, since forever. Not exactly a Beat ‘cause her mother was rich but she was the best comedy writer in town and the best mom to Sophie. (Don’t tell anybody, but sometimes I wish she was my mom).
If you want to help me look, her name is Annie Tanya. I call her Mrs. Tanya because, you know, that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re talking to a friend’s mom.
I say she was rich because the money Mrs. Tanya made is gone, and that happened because they fired her at her job. Something about the Blacklist, which is dumb because Mrs. Tanya doesn’t care about politics.
Funny isn’t easy, she always says, but she makes it look that way. She’s written for a ton of TV shows and is mainly the only lady comedy writer in the world. She worked with some pretty amazing writers like Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and Neil Simon and a few years back wrote for Your Show of Shows with Sid Ceasar and Imogene Coca. A producer named Max “discovered her” and brought her into the business, pretty much. I know every big shot in town is named Max these days, but that really is his name.
Sophie’s mom is also beautiful, by the way, like a dark-haired Doris Day, and I always thought she could be a great actress. But Sophie’s the real actress in the family. And since both of us were little, Mrs. T tried out her jokes on us and made us laugh.
Here’s what I learned works best when you’re trying to be funny:
· Bad jokes work best in the middle of an argument.
· Hiccups can be funny, but not as funny as you think.
· Jokes about politicians and people and things we know
· Things we think and never say
· Saying them in funny voices (Sophie’s specialty)
But no one knows if Mrs. T is going to get the chance to be funny any more because of the Blacklist—which isn’t something you can find laying around, but it exists the same as we do. You can only mostly get on the list if someone in Congress accuses you of being a Communist and un-American. I think that means they think you’re conspiring with Russians or something and scheming against the U. S.
And it didn’t just happen to Mrs. T. this year—it happened to a ton of people. Her producer Max is in trouble too. The weird thing is, nobody thought this stuff could even happen in 1958. The Blacklist has been going on for like ten, twelve years after it was started by Senator Joe McCarthy. He picked out these 10 actors and scared them into naming their friends and labeling them Communists.
If YOU’RE on the list, you lose your job. And it’s probably impossible to get anyone else in movies or TV to hire you.
Plus some people even go to jail for it.
You might have neighbors ganging up on you – especially in suburbs with all those people who want everyone to CONFORM, which means going to work and wearing ties and if you’re a woman, staying home in a dress and making JELLO.
In Greenwich Village, here, Beats try to do the opposite of conforming. But everyone knows the blacklist is really about people like Joe McCarthy trying to make himself look powerful. It’s gone on so long, though, some people really believe it.
Other people are getting sick of the list and some writers are starting to get hired again. So the last thing anyone expected was for Mrs. Tanya and her producer Max to get canned.
For as long as I’ve known them, Sophie and her mom were going gangbusters through the world. Mrs. Tanya was making pots of money. That’s why Sophie got to live in a really cool apartment down here.
They lived in the Village because Mrs. T. really loves the old buildings. And even if she wasn’t exactly a Beat Generation lady, she was an outlaw, in a good way, not a blacklist way. She didn’t do anything you were supposed to do if you’re a lady, like having a husband or being a housewife or anything like that.
Sophie wants to act in TV shows, like Imogene Coca or Lucille Ball. Everyone thinks she’ll be really good at it, because if there’s one thing Sophie knows, it’s how to make you laugh. She can tell a stale joke and have you on the floor howling in three seconds flat, just because her delivery is so funny. She kind of makes her mouth flop and tilts her head, and opens her blue eyes wide behind her glasses and you’re just laughing—even if you have no idea why.
But neither Sophie or her mother have been laughing a lot lately. Mrs. T. lost her job about a month ago, two months after my birthday on April 12. She’s been trying hard to find some other kind of writing job, ‘cause there ARE writers on the list working on the Q-T, underground, so to speak. That means they write something and no one knows it’s them. They have a pen name, but they still get a pay check.
Except most of the writers are cats—I mean guys—not ladies. So Mrs. T. just can’t find anything. She started waitressing, but it hardly gave her near enough what she needs to pay bills. Plus (between you and me), she’s a pretty bad waitress, which makes sense, because she never did it before.
When Mrs. T. had to stop working at the TV station, she couldn’t pay her rent and Sophie and her mom had to leave their apartment. And without a husband to help, Sophie and her mom are in a pretty bad way.
Of course Nell-mom said they could crash at our place for a while—I’ve got bunk beds now and there’s a fold-out in the living room—and they were here for a couple of weeks. Mrs. T kept trying to be a waitress, but customers complain she’s slow and instead of giving her a chance to get better, they fired her.
Mrs. T. told my mom they couldn’t impose on her any more, even though Nell-mom said we were in no hurry to get rid of them, which I didn’t like because it sounded like they were pets or something. But then Mrs. Tanya said she thought they should go to New Jersey because they have relatives there. Except Sophie told me later that’s a story.
Now it’s June and school’s out, which is good, because Sophie and me and our friend Gordy were really looking forward to being free for the summer. This year was the first time any of us had ever been to a real school because our parents let us learn stuff from the owner of a store called Blue Skies in the neighborhood.
I’ve told you before Beats don’t usually do what everyone else does, unless a social worker makes us. Which is what happened and why we had to start school. But today was our last day and Gordy wanted to get sodas at Rocco’s to celebrate, even though we’d only been in school for a month and half. I think I can speak for everyone and say that was more school than any Beat should put up with and we wish we didn’t have to go back in fall.
Sophie said she’d see us later ‘cause she wanted to go home and see her mom. That was the last I saw of her, walking down Bleecker heading over to Charles, getting smaller and smaller as she walked away.