Chico’s Bail Bonds Player of the Week: Ahmad Abdul Rahim
“Don’t give me none of your honky bullshit, Buttermaker.” –Ahmad Abdul Rahim
Every once in a while over the last few months I’ve read to my wife’s belly. A friend suggested this would be a way to familiarize the kid in there with the sound of my voice. I recite from On the Road, at random, a page or so at a time. It is either my favorite book or one of my favorite books, depending on whether I’m in the thrall of one of my other bibles at a given time. When I first read it, as a seventeen-year-old freshly ejected from high school and with no marketable skills or college plans, it gave me some hope for the possibility of a joyous life. But I can’t really argue with anyone who would say that it is, as Ahmad Abdul Rahim might put it, at least if he was a grown-up extension of the incarnation of his character in the first Bears movie, honky bullshit. I would argue back that no matter how the book hits you, it’s at least a sincere attempt by the author to write what felt true, and taken in the context of the times it was a great leap forward in the pursuit of honest art, but it’s hard to miss now that it can also easily be summarized as a story of a bunch of white dudes with the privilege of that great but selective American power, mobility, careening around the country as tourists gawking at and romanticizing classes of people locked into societal positions that don’t allow mobility: south of the border or in the ghetto Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty “dig” the fellaheen masses. To their credit, Jack Kerouac and the protagonists in his book are pioneers of mainstream American culture in their championing—or even noticing—of people outside the margins of the prevailing popular conception of “real” America, that Leave It to Beaver fever dream. But the book entered that mainstream not on the strength of any reformative tendencies but because it tapped into and even defined a myth at the very heart of America, the road tale, breathing new life into the Whitmanesque lyricism of taking to the open highway just when the highway system was literally opening up the entire country, and just as the baby boom generation was on the cusp of reaching driving age. The book had great timing in proclaiming this message: the world is yours to explore. This message is why I read the book to the wriggling bulge inside my wife’s belly. The world should be open to everyone to explore.
Of course, the world is not open to everyone to explore, or rather there are varying degrees of openness, depending on who you are and where you are. If you’re a white guy, yes, certainly, have at it, explore. Who’s going to stop you? However, if you’re not white, certain restrictions may apply. You can try to explore, but at some point you’re probably going to be stopped, questioned, and in various other ways, some merely annoying and others terrible, reminded of the limitations of your mobility.
One of the reasons the Bears sequel resonated with me when I was a kid and still moves me now, despite its many flaws, is that it taps into that myth of the open road. More than that, it even could be seen to expand that myth to some extent, showing new protagonists at the wheel: children. This was more of a case of a film reflecting society than shaping it, however, as the movie was made primarily to continue cashing in on the success of the first movie, hence the decision to shape the plot to please the target audience: 9-year-old boys like I was at the time of the film’s release. Besides this profit-driven novelty of unsupervised youth loose on the road, the road narrative element of the movie was more or less inherited honky bullshit, a little white boy’s dream of unfettered, junk-food-glutted freedom. Unfortunately, Ahmad Abdul Rahim is no longer aware enough in his dumbed-down sequelized incarnation to make any kinds of cultural critiques of the going’s-on around him. In fact, practically the only moments in which his character is able to rise above the boisterous noise of the team chorus is when he squawks at various times that the Bears are about to get caught and will be “goin’ to the joint.”
There’s some aptness to his character, the only black player on the team, being the most aware that unauthorized mobility around America would seem destined to end up not in beatnick-style “kicks” but in the lockstep progression of suspicion, apprehension, and incarceration. Unfortunately, the “real” Ahmad Abdul Rahim—a sensitive and ebullient individual—is replaced in the sequel by a facsimile whose range of emotions has been diminished in most cases to a couple of broad strokes: wide-eyed enthusiasm and wide-eyed fear.
Underneath the limiting script, he’s still Ahmad. There are echoes of the liveliness of his character from the first film here and there, such as in his last at-bat of the Astrodome game when he smacks a triple, recites a Muhammad Ali rhyme at third base, and slaps five with probably the most awkward low-five slapper in history, third base coach Rudi Stein. An even better glimpse of Ahmad, perhaps the only true glimpse of the real three-dimensional Ahmad from the first movie, comes in the very beginning of the movie, when the new, militaristic coach of the team tells him that instead of bothering with Ahmad he’s going to be calling him Andy. Ahmad mouths the name to himself. Andy? You can see him thinking, wondering, worrying. It’s not easy to live in a world of honky bullshit.
Special thanks to nunyer for creating Ahmad’s card.