James's Beard

A place for me to write.

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

Just a young man trying to make it on sheer wit, guile, and dumb luck.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Miller Lite: Man Down

Know what I’m tired of? This:

Now, I have numerous problems with this commercial (the whole series of Miller Lite commercials, actually). These go well beyond my usual problems with beer commercials - that they aren’t funny, they relies the men are idiots and women are sex objects stereotypes that haven’t been particularly fresh since at least the nineteenth century, that the beer sucks, and, seriously, they’re not funny. There’s so much I hate about this commercial I actually made a list.

1. What’s wrong with that guy’s swimsuit?

Seriously. I know that as a heterosexual American male, I’m supposed to fall over laughing like a braying donkey at the mere thought of a man wearing a skimpy bathing suit, but I’m past it. I’m sorry Miller Lite. I’m not nine anymore. I’m an adult and I’ve gotten to the stage where I’m pretty comfortable with myself. I go to the gym. I shower there if necessary. I’ve seen more. It’s not the end of the world. And it stops being funny after a bit. That guy’s suit isn’t even that revealing. Anyone who has ever vacationed in Europe or where Europeans vacation has probably seen skimpier. It’s not like the guy has a terrible body. He’s not exactly rocking a six pack, but how many women in bikinis look like supermodels? Instead of making fun of the guy, they should be giving him respect. He’s comfortable with himself and that’s awesome. After the bartender made fun of him, I wish he would tell her off and get with the brunette next to him. Now, that would be a commercial I can get behind. And he should totally have high-fived that European guy in the same suit.

2. That guy’s friends are dicks.

Way to have your friend’s back. He’s the one in the group with the most self-confidence. You’re at the beach and he’s in a sweet European suit while you guys don’t even have the balls to take your shirts off. What are you guys, the fat kids in swim class?

3. The Term “Man Up”

“Man up” is a phrase idiots say to fire-up other idiots. If anyone ever tells you to man up, you can safely assume that person has an IQ in the low 70s and should be ignored. I can guarantee, any “manly” feat through history was probably accomplished without any participants being told to man up. It’s not like Teddy Roosevelt had to tell the Rough Riders to man up. That guy wore a monocle and said “bully” and still managed to be a complete badass. Now that’s self-confidence.

4. The beer sucks

I know it’s not fair to judge a commercial based on the product. A lot of terrible products have had effective, interesting commercials, but I can’t get past the fact that beer is terrible. Let’s be honest. All light beers taste pretty much the same. I challenge anyone to take a blind taste test with the major light beers (Miller, Coors, Bud, etc.) and pick out their “favorite.” It all pretty much tastes like water with a little beer flavor in it. So let’s not kid ourselves that one has more taste while choosing the others makes you less of a man. Your choice of beverage in no way affects how much and what kind of a man (or woman) you are. There are guys out there drinking down chocolate martinis that are more man than most beer drinkers. Oh, and you know what other beer is “triple hops brewed”? All of them. That’s how the brewing process works.

5. Does that girl work for tips?

This bugs me the most. Does she really expect a tip? Does she have something bitchy to say to everyone who doesn’t order a Miller Lite? Does she know how customer service works? Doesn’t she like money? I’ve never tended bar before, but I most certainly have patronized my fair share. If a bartender ever talked to me like that, there’s no way I would tip her (or him). I would make it a point to let them know explicitly that I was not tipping, lest they think it had simply slipped my mind. I would leave a penny, and maybe a stick of gum (unless I had some really good gum). I would write a little note explaining my decision. It’s simple customer service. You treat the customer well. It’s not like the guy did anything to her. All he did was have the self-confidence to wear a completely balling swimsuit. He wasn’t doing anything to her. He wasn’t in violation of the bar’s rules. Sure, I’m not sure where he was keeping his money, but I’m sure he had the wherewithal to pay. And this stupid bitch has the nerve to call him out. It’s not any of her damned business what beer the guy orders, or what trunks he put on this morning. All she has to do is smile and hand over the beer and she gets paid. What a bitch.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Scenes I Would Like to See in The Eventual "Maximum Overdrive" Remake

A family of a father, mother, and two young children are having a pleasant night bowling when suddenly the ball return stops. Several frantic attempts at hitting the reset button do nothing. Eventually the pimple-faced counter boy is sent back to fetch the lost ball. The family listens horrified as the counter boy is horribly mangled. Blood falls from above the pins and the pin guards move up and down as though the machines are laughing. The machines hurl bowling pins at the customers killing everyone else in the building.


A barista is making a caramel macchiato for a customer. Suddenly, the cappuccino machine sprays his eyes with burning hot steam. He lunges toward the register only to have the drawer open with incredible force. First, it hits him in the crotch. Then, after he falls to his knees, it opens again and hits him even harder in the head, decapitating him. Then, the ice machine shoots ice cubes with bullet-like velocity killing all the customers in the shop, even that one really cute bohemian girl.


A math teacher is writing an equation on a transparency for an overhead projector. The overhead projector waits for him to be directly in the light and then instantly heats up to the temperature of the sun burning the teacher to a crisp. As the children scream in horror, the electric pencil sharpener on the teacher’s desk shoots razor sharp pencil shavings through every student’s neck.


At a wedding, just as the DJ is about to announce the wedding party, the volume on his equipment goes louder than ever before possible. The system plays ‘Funkytown’ so loud that everyone in the room’s head explodes. When the wedding party enters to see what happened, the CD player shoots CD’s at them like throwing stars, killing everyone.


A family is trying to take a family photo with their new digital camera. The father becomes increasingly confused as camera seems to be clicking faster and faster. The camera is clicking so fast and hard it begins to sound angry. Much to the father’s shock the digital display begins to read, “I hate you and am doing everything I can to kill you!” The camera continues to click and flash at an even more alarming rate. The camera is becoming irate at it’s own impotence at killing people. “Oh,” the camera thinks, “If only I were the lawn mower. Then these bastards would die.” Suddenly, a backhoe breaks through the wall and crushes the family. The camera’s display reads, “Thank you.” The backhoe lets out a little toot as a welcome.



Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Masters of the Terrible

When I was four, I thought the absolute epitome of cool was the Chicago Bears in “The Super Bowl Shuffle” video. I know it is cheesy, dated, and embarrassing. In my defense, I can only say that I was four, lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, knew nothing of cool, and, finally, screw you, Jim McMahon wore his sunglasses, even inside. That’s cool. This is where I considered noting that “The Super Bowl Shuffle” was nominated for a Grammy, but I fear that speaks more to the quality of the Grammies than “The Super Bowl Shuffle”.

For a brief period in the mid 80’s, people, not only four year-old military brats, actually thought football players fumbling through a simple rap beat in a gauzily produced video seemed cool. Making poorly produced videos became the cool thing to do. Other teams jumped on the bandwagon. The New England Patriots – the Bears’ eventual Super Bowl opponents – produced their own response, which quickly became lost to history. This happens when you lose the Super Bowl by roughly 700 points. Eventually teams such as the Miami Dolphins and the (then) LA Raiders put out their own music videos. Even the NHL was not immune from the allure of making its very own music video.

By far the most bizarre of the sports related videos released in the wake of “The Super Bowl Shuffle” is Masters of the Gridiron featuring the Cleveland Browns. Masters of the Gridiron is the product of lunatic ambition. While most of these sports videos were content to produce a crappy song and point a camera at the team swaying off-tempo in a studio, the producers of Masters of the Gridiron were thinking on a much grander scale. It was as though someone in the Browns organization thought, “A music video? A Music Video?! We’re the MF’ing Cleveland Browns. We’re better than any MF’ing music video. Screw the music. I’m going epic. I want to make the Citizen Kane of poorly produced sports team videos.” And that’s exactly what happened.

Masters of the Gridiron casts the Cleveland Browns in a full fantasy epic. You can tell it’s a fantasy because it features wizards, swords, and the Browns winning a Championship. It speaks volumes about Masters of the Gridiron that casting the Browns as a band of quasi-Medieval warriors is not even the most insane part of the video. The producers – after wracking their brains for what could have been weeks – finally found the perfect actor to portray the video’s villain, the evil wizard the Lord of the League. That’s right. The only actor who could lend this role the proper weight is Tiny Tim. Tiny freakin’ Tim. Somehow I assumed Tiny Tim must have been a Cleveland native and longtime Browns fan. This is not the case. Someone surveyed the entire galaxy of B-list celebrities, and said, “Bring me Tiny Tim.” As for why Tiny Tim agreed to do it, I guess playing “Tip Toe Through the Tulips” wasn’t exactly bringing in the cash.

Masters of the Gridiron is a master class in terrible 80’s video production. It’s hazy, out of focus, and shoehorns in a terrible music video for good measure. That’s Cleveland’s own Michael Stanley rocking it out in an empty Municipal Stadium while the rest of the Browns pretend to be barbarians, knights, and wizards in a battle with evil Tiny Tim. Somehow that description does not do justice to the final product.

While I do not remember knowing anything about Masters of the Gridiron growing up (not surprising since I did not live in Cleveland), obviously God, or fate, or whatever omniscient being in charge of the outcome of football games was watching. So great was the Brown’s affront to taste that Cleveland fans were not only exposed to losing, they were exposed to two of the most gut-wrenching losses in sports history in the two following seasons. Masters of the Gridiron is so bad only The Drive followed by The Fumble followed by years of losing and even enduring moving the franchise could appease the football gods. Based on watching Masters of the Gridiron, the people of Cleveland may have gotten off easy.


Thursday, November 05, 2009

James's Cover Letter To His Resume To Be The New GM For The Cleveland Browns

Dear Mr. Lerner,

I learned of the opening of the General Manager position in your organization on ESPN. I have been told by reputable sources that the Cleveland Browns do actually have a long, proud, and even occasionally successful history in the National Football League. I am well aware that most of this success lies well in the past – much of it before my birth. However, I believe your organization can once again rise to the level of competitive, and I think I could possibly be just the man to lead the way.

Now, I am sure as you peruse my resume you will be surprised to discover that I have no football experience, or even any experience working in sports in any capacity ever. I have never even played organized football at any level, not even little league or mighty mite or whatever it is they call football played by six-year-olds. Honestly, I don’t even play the Madden video games that are so popular. I have played football in my friend Joe’s yard on a few occasions, and, as he can attest, I am very good at picking teams. I have included Joe among my references. Feel free to call him, but don’t call before noon. Joe likes to sleep in.

So, you may ask, if I have no football experience, what makes me think I can be the GM of Cleveland Browns? Well, I am looking for a job in the Cleveland area (so I can move closer to my charming fiancée) and you have a job opening in the Cleveland area. So there’s that. On a more specific level, while I have no experience playing, coaching, evaluating talent, drafting, trading, or hiring personal in the NFL, I think I could do an okay job. Not a great job, mind you, but okay. And isn’t that a step in the right direction? You can’t just go from terrible to great in one move. You have to make a stop at okay somewhere along the line. That’s me. I’m just okay.

Also it’s not like I have absolutely no experience with the NFL. I have watched the games. I usually watch one to one and a half games a week. Not only do I watch NFL games, I usually watch good teams. As a Steeler’s fan I know what a good NFL franchise looks like. I’ve seen a good NFL team week in and week out for years. I think I know what I’m doing. I just have to make the Browns more like that. How hard could that be?

I do have a plan for how to get the Browns on the road to okay. Upon my hiring, I will immediately put into effect my two-step plan toward success. Step one consists of a process where bad players and coaches are fired. Then in step two, good players and coaches are acquired. After these two steps are successfully executed the Browns will be left with a good team.

Not only can I do this, but I am pretty sure that, if hired I will do this. So, Mr. Lerner, when you think of your new GM: think experience, think passion, think ability then change your mind and settle for me. What do you have to lose? Oh, and I will work cheap, very cheap. So, I have that going for me.


James A. Catullo

Thursday, October 08, 2009

I came. I saw. Ikea.

I am now, along with my lovely fiancée, Marissa, the proud owner of a beautiful house in the Ohio City section of Cleveland. Owning a house is, in one word, awesome. It is an overwhelming feeling walking into a house for the first time and knowing that it is yours. That it is not simply some house on the corner, but your home. Yours and yours alone. Marissa and I could have spent days just wandering through empty rooms, staring moonily at each other the way young lovers are want to do. Of course, that would not be much use to us, since we have a whole empty house, and we have to fill that sucker up.

This is where Ikea comes in. Ikea, for those of you not hip to the Swedish, is a store specializing in affordable stylish furniture, which Marissa absolutely loves. The only drawback to Ikea is that all the furniture comes in little boxes disassembled into roughly one million tiny pieces. The customer is then left with the herculean task of putting all of those pieces back together into a piece of furniture roughly approximating, say, a bookshelf. To aid the customer, Ikea only provides a manual made up of only pictures. There are no words in an Ikea furniture assembly manual. Apparently words don’t fit into the ultra-streamlined ethos of Swedish ingenuity.

Now, where most people may blanch at the task of piecing furniture one screw at a time, I rise to the challenge. I don’t want to toot my own horn or anything, but I am basically the king of putting together Ikea furniture. It’s not so much a skill as a gift. One can’t learn to be the king. One can only be born the king. And, buddy, I was born into that royal family. Just give me the tools – most of them are provided in the box – and some time and watch as a beautiful television stand slowly materializes. Truly creating Ikea furniture, as opposed to building it, is an art not a science. I am the maestro of this art. The picture filled manual is my sheet music. The guest to my home is my audience. Please, come in. Sit down on the couch. I assembled it. Oh, you like my television stand. But a flick of my wrist (and screw driver and allen wrench). If you sneak into my bedroom – strictly off limits to visitors – and want to lie upon my bed, rest assured you are in good hands. My hands. The bed is the fruit of my very own labor.

Unfortunately my gift for furniture assembly is an underused attribute. I do not buy furniture that often. I have little opportunity to assemble chests of drawers. Perhaps once every few years I can flex my Ikea muscle. Sure, I’ve considered sharing my gifts with the world. I’ve considered advertising my service. What? You don’t want to put together your expertly engineered European wardrobe? You wish there was some expert on the subject to swoop in and save the day? Why I could be that hero, for a small charge. I could put an ad in the paper or on craigslist. Set up shop. Go into business on my own. I could be James the Ikea King for a living. Travelling from home to home leaving ultra-stylish bookcases, headboards, and sofas in my wake. I have the skills. I’m just not sure if the world is ready for this business model. At the time, the idea of an Ikea Furniture Assembly Expert (IFAX) seems more like a vocation imagined by some hack screenwriter for the next overly quirky indie comedy. For all my dreams of Ikea fueled greatness are merely that dreams.

So, I lay back and observe the world going past me knowing I have a great gift living in my soul going largely untapped. It may kill me when I see a bookshelf leaning due to substandard construction, but I will have to bite my tongue. The world is not ready for a man of my talents. The age of the IFAX is yet to dawn. I will be content knowing my gift and utilizing it only on rare occasions. I know my day may be coming. Just not yet. Unless you have an end table still unassembled and wish for it to be assembled the right way. You can give me a call. My rates or reasonable.


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Book Review: "Candyfreak: A journey Through The Chocolate Underbelly of America" By: Steve Almond

Author Steve Almond really has a thing for candy. Not just the kind of thing where he blows 65 cents in the vending machine everyday. No, Steve Almond is a self professed freak when it comes to his sweets. He’s an obsessive hoarder. The kind of guy who buys a nuclear attack level stockpile of Kit-Kat Darks right before they got pulled from market. He takes a rare pleasure in experiencing new, unique candy, and feels a wrenching loss at the discontinued candies of the past. Almond’s sorta-memoir Candyfreak: A Journey Through The Chocolate Underbellt of America is his attempt to explain his candy compulsion while taking a sweet journey through small regional candy factories. Unfortunately the journey proves to be a fun read while the grafted on navel gazing feels undercooked.

The book is at its strongest as it delves into the history of the candy bar, and explores unique regional treats. Almond has a soft spot for the little guy, and for good reason. Smaller candy companies are at an increased disadvantage to the big three of Hershey, Nestle, and Mars. Few smaller companies can afford to pay the exorbitant slotting fees to get their product onto the shelves of the major chains. You know that impulse rack by every register? Companies pay top dollar to give their bars prime real estate. The better part of the book reads as an apologetic for smaller companies. Almond tours factories across the country, encountering such unique candy bars as the Twin Bing out of Omaha’s Palmer Chocolates, Southern favorite Goo-Goo Cluster, and the Idaho Spud (guess where that one’s from). These tours are fun. Almond pulls no punches as he lovingly describes molten chocolate enrobing various candy bars in near pornographic detail.

Unfortunately, Almond seems driven to make this more than a simple, fun survey of regional candy manufacturing and the harsh economic environment they encounter. No, Almond feels a need to make this a deeply personal journey. You see Almond doesn’t love candy because it's, you know, really freaking delicious. No, in Almond’s world his slavish devotion to candy is a manifestation of an unloving childhood. You see candy was the only thing he and his emotionally distant father ever bonded over. How does the reader know his father was emotionally distant? Because the author bangs the reader over the head with the information repeatedly. However, Almond never gives any real detail to flesh out his feelings toward his family. The only antidotes he shares seem fairly benign or sweetly nostalgic. Almond also weaves his personal reactions to the Bush presidency, his current personal life, and a false health scare into the narrative. However, he fails to connect the dots and make the reader understand what any of this has to do with candy. Almond mainly comes off as a whiny, petulant jerk. The reader is half tempted to grab him by the lapels and scream: “Enough with the group therapy talk. Tell me about Abba-Zabas already.”

In the end, Candyfreak offers a fun and informative look at a candy culture few people take the time to notice. There’s a certain thrill in hearing Almond rattle off lists of long gone almost forgotten candy bars, and a second-hand sugar high from descriptions of eating candy rendered in sensual detail. But when the author tries to graft a half-hearted memoir onto the proceedings, he bites off more than he can chew.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My McSweeney's Submission

About a month back McSweeney's Internet Tendency announced a contest for new columnist. I submitted an entry, but was not a winner (I can't believe it either). Since my column will never be published in McSweeney's, I figured I might as well post what I've written here for the world to see.


As a child who was pretty much raised on the sweet, intoxicating glow of television, I am a little ashamed to admit I have hardly watched any television over the past five years. I’ve been too busy. Now I’m tired of being left out of the water cooler talk. But where to start? Television series are daunting, time-consuming endeavors. Catching up is almost impossible. So, I’m not going to bother watching every episode of a series. I’m just going to watch one randomly selected episode from a television series I have never seen one minute of, and judge the entire run of said series based on that one episode. I call it Random Sampling Criticism.

Example Essay


Season 3, Episode 2 “I Am Not The Fine Man You Take Me For”

Going into this episode of Deadwood, the only things I knew about the series were that it is a Western (which I like) and that it is known for its excessive swearing (which I love). Judging from this decidedly limited criterion, I was expecting something in the Revisionist Western mold, the kind of Western which eschews the romantic cowboy imagery in favor of a more realistic depiction of the era. After all, you never really heard John Wayne swear. The opening credit sequence further cemented this impression as it juxtaposed images of a lone stallion, a standard image of Western romanticism, against dirty, rugged depictions of men doing hard men work, a standard image of pick-up truck commercials. I settled back into my chair ready for some good-old rough and tumble Western fun with all the fightin’ and cussin’ (and hopefully female nudity) HBO allows.

I didn’t stay settled for long. I was jostled out of my comfort the moment characters began to speak. Now, it was not the swearing that I found shocking. Swearing I was fully prepared for. Quite frankly, I was prepared for much worse. It wasn’t the coarseness of the language that surprised me. It was complexity of the language that threw me for a loop. These characters don’t just talk, they pontificate. They soliloquize. They throw out ornate poetry for small talk. The language on display here is almost baroque. I came expecting a Western by way of the gutter. What I got was a Western by way of Shakespeare (by way of the gutter). I wasn’t going to be able to sit back and enjoy the ride, I was forced to sit forward and engage the language. Damn you, Deadwood, for making me work.

Big doings are underway in the mining camp of Deadwood. The camp is in a stir as anelection approaches. The episode basically revolves around a series of power plays, be it the characters preparing their big speeches for political office or the more insidious grabs for property. The bar owner, whose name I gathered to be Al, is on edge as he prepares for an attack from the evil (I assume) landowner looking to take over his bar. Meanwhile, a woman lying dying in a hospital leaves all her property to her daughter instead of her husband. Another man buys a house to better position himself for his run for mayor. There is a real sense in the show that the political powers provided by office are not nearly as important as the powers of money, property, and cruel might. We’re in classic Western territory here as the “wild” West is slowly meeting the creeping civilization of political institutions. No matter who wins the various elections it is obvious that the real leaders of Deadwood are the people with all the money, muscle, and property.

There is a lot of stuff going on in this episode. Quite frankly, I’m not going to get into all of it. Clearly the creators of Deadwood are intent upon drawing a portrait of the entire camp. There are a number of threads moving all over the place. To describe them all would just lead to a series of “this guy did this and then this guy did that” statements. There were characters I was drawn to only because they seemed mysterious to my neophyte eyes. We meet Powers Boothe convalescing upstairs in a whorehouse, which seems a much more desirous location than a hospital. From all I could gather he was stabbed by a local pastor, which seems perfectly reasonable. Who hasn’t wanted to stab Powers Boothe at some point?

What really impressed me here were the little details, which rang true. From the doctor performing gynecological procedures with the aid of light refracted from a series of mirrors to the candidates’ speeches being met mostly with indifference, the details seemed carefully studied and thought out. While I have my doubts about the ornateness of the language – although I have a feeling it is more accurate than I first assume – everything feels legit. If I were to travel through time to the actual Deadwood, it might look an awful lot like this.

Of course, even a revisionist Western has to deliver some of the typical genre fair. We get a showdown in the saloon. Although, once the action arrives it is handled in a short brutal burst. There is no prolonged shootout at the OK Corral. The violence is not action, but only an unsavory means to an end. It also says something about the show that the ultimate showdown in the episode is more a battle of wills than pistols as the evil landowner threatens Al and eventually knocks him out.

While I find Deadwood ultimately engrossing (I may even watch the rest of the episodes one day), I do have one major quibble. Where are the horses? This is a Western. People ride horses in Westerns. That’s not even up for debate. It’s a fact. But in this Deadwood everyone walks. Everywhere. I didn’t see one person mount a valiant steed for the whole hour. They even have a horse prominently displayed in the opening credits. When the show actually starts…well, there’s not a horse to be seen. I feel like I’ve been lied to. I was under the impression there would be more horses.

Brief Descriptions of Three Additional Installments

Lost: I’ve probably heard more about Lost than any other show I’ve never seen. Smoke monster. Polar bear. Others. It all kind of sounds like a bad Dadaist exercise out of context. Maybe it would make some sense ever so slightly less out of context.

Battlestar Galactica: I seem remember the finale making quite a stir online a month or two back. I’ll tell everyone I want to get a taste of what made people so passionate about this, but in reality, I just want to see space battles, and Edward James Olmos. He’s in that, right?

Dallas: Why should I limit myself to TV I haven’t seen of recent vintage, when there are probably hundreds of shows from the past I have never seen one episode of? For almost my entire life I have been aware that someone shot J.R., but I have no idea who.