Novelty Tunes Under the Big Sky

Posted on 01.25.08 11:18PM under The Everglades Room

I’ve got nothing against Philadelphia, let me make that clear. I’ve also never lived there, but did spend a few years there on several weekends, to paraphrase W.C. Fields. And even though cold, grey, rainy days could remind me of New York or Baltimore, where I actually have lived, they always make me think of Philadelphia in wintertime. Like today, when Southern California is anything but sunny, where intimidated drivers creep through rivers of standing water while daredevils swerve around them, wheels deep in the muck, throwing up rooster tails like offshore power boats, just before they lose control and start sliding sideways down Ventura Boulevard. Thank God it doesn’t snow here. I’m eager to get back to Miami.

My nine-year-old is with me in the truck, on our way back from his friend’s house. He’s chanting a rap lyric about an ultimate showdown of cartoon heroes and tough guys. Over and over again. He’s been chanting it since last weekend, when he learned it from his teammates at a soccer tournament in Corona (not the one in Queens where the best Italian ices come from). No, this Corona’s out near Riverside, on the edge of a huge valley between mountains that really do turn purple with the sunset. When you get up on the Westbound I-91 ramp in the dark, the scale of it all just smacks you in the face, especially if you’re an East Coast boy like me. There’s a vast valley floor, covered with a bed of lights, all at the same height, spreading like Georgia kudzu to the bases of mountains all around. No high-rises out here. Don’t need ‘em. This is big country, with plenty of floor space.

Until last weekend, the only data point in my head about this Corona was a Phil Hendrie character who lived there, the oft-humiliated and always litigious Steve Bosell. I now know that Corona’s also home to the best bagels I’ve had in years, from N.Y.P.D. (for pizza department). The owners used to own the Bagel Oasis on the Horace Harding Expressway (fancy name for a service road if you ask me), in – you guessed it – Queens, where I used to stop and stock up on my way back to Manhattan from band rehearsals, long about thirty years ago. It’s a small world, by cracky, even under the big sky.

Meanwhile, my son’s still chanting his latest favorite “novelty tune,” as we used to call them. I was mystified when he and his mates became Weird Al fans a year ago, and rewarded them with a seminar on Roger Miller, Jim Lehrer and Ray Stevens that made their eyes glaze over. These days, folks don’t seem to work so hard on satire, delivering the large-type edition, dumbed down to make sure the audience gets it. Doesn’t mean it’s not funny, just not so original. I mean, where’s Ian Dury when you need him?

It’s still raining, but we’re almost home, and my son’s almost done (timing is everything). He’s reached the climax of his ultimate showdown song, where Mr. Rogers slays everyone who isn’t already dead, then, for reasons I’ll never understand, commits hara-kiri. Maybe we are Devo, after all. I remain hopeful, though, whenever I see my son cracking up over a smart Monty Python sketch, like the soccer match between the Bournemouth Gynecologists and the Watford Long John Silver Impersonators. Then again, those guys also did the fish-slapping dance.

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Alan H. Rolnick has practiced law in Miami for twenty years and has appeared in numerous high-profile cases. His first novel, Landmark Status, received such ecstatic reviews he wondered if his publicist had scandalous pictures of the reviewers in her safe. Alan consults on legal matters for the entertainment industry, provides trenchant social commentary in any medium, and is Executive Producer of the independent film Canvas. To learn more, visit or e-mail

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