The following is from Jinwoo Chong's Flux. Chong received his MFA in fiction at Columbia University this year and is an editorial assistant at One Story. His work has appeared in The Southern Review, The Florida Review, CRAFT, and Salamander. He lives in New York.
Your line was always: “give me a reason.” Always. And forget the fact that it was and continues to be the cheesiest TV-pilot-gravel-voiced-detective-mystery catchphrase ever written. It was your thing, you were the guy who wanted everybody in the world to give you a reason, the reason, any reason, and for the most part, for most of the episodes through 1985 and 1986, people did. When you said it, the world was right. Your writers were genius. They kept us—kept me—coming back because, above all, we loved you too much to see you fail. That’s why the show worked. After the rocky pilot and early yarns, you found your footing with the Little China episode (season 1, episode 14, “Fractures of the Heart”), after which you were unstoppable. They loved your chiseled face, your dark aura and hard eyes. You were handsome, cunning, young—one of the youngest detectives on the force, you fulfilled the legacy of your dead mother and father, killed in a home invasion when you were a child (retconned as such season 2, episode 4, “Anytime, Anyplace,” from a house fire mentioned in the pilot). You got what you wanted, you nailed them, every time, you were a step ahead, a bar above. I loved you. For real, man, I loved you. I hate what’s become of you, what they say about you, that you’re derivative, that you’re toxic, because none of it is your fault. Because every day after school I was the kid busting out the tapes and watching the scratchy reruns from the ’80s until I was yelled at. I still have all the episodes, digitized and saved on a flash drive that I play on my laptop to fall asleep. My mother never liked the show, saying always it was too violent. She didn’t like the guns and didn’t understand that was just the way of your world like I did. You want a reason, Thomas Raider, a reason, the reason it all happened, and I’ll give it to you. This pisses you off; you want answers now, I’m sure, and to that I’ll say this: do yourself a favor, play a little pretend with me. It should be easy for you. You’re not even real.
The dumbest part about the way they’ve been tearing you down lately is that they’re all forgetting the fact that Raider defined an entire genre of television. Three years after Hill Street Blues, two after Cagney & Lacey, this was a show that played in the dark. You know why you only did two seasons? Your critics weren’t ready for you, they couldn’t take the blood and the bodies, too detailed, too ghastly for the 4:3 aspect ratio. Conservative pearl clutchers chided your drinking and sexing, the fact that you never smiled, not once, for forty-six episodes. Middle-aged nerds of today would’ve gone nuts for you, they would’ve dressed as you for Comic-Con and defended your abject womanizing to their wives and girlfriends. You dealt a rawness that couldn’t be glossed, the hard edges of those alleyways, your filthy clothes, that fucking jacket. You know, I’d kill for that leather jacket. You were a king when you wore it. Don’t forget the fact that Raider was one of the only shows putting Asians on TV. By season two you were almost exclusively among us, the shopkeepers and immigrants. We said more than unsubtitled Cantonese, we played more than kung fu masters or dragon assassins. They even gave you a son, that six-year-old street urchin, Moto (season 2, episode 6, “Mercy for the Damned”), who you rescued from a drug ring. I used to think I looked like that little kid. I’d imagine I was him and you were my real father come to take me away. It’s my favorite episode. It’s the promo they show every time some history special mentions Raider. You, trenchcoated, half shadowed, holding that little Asian boy in your arms, staring into the dark rain falling all around you and straight into my soul.
And still, as it happened, two seasons was plenty enough for Antonin Haubert, the actor who played you. By the end, he had movie offers, endorsement deals. He didn’t fight the network when there was cancel talk. He had a face that could play rough like he had on Raider but a mutability underneath that couldn’t be taught. He could play the wholesome friend, sadistic politician, principled lord, gay wizard villain. Typecast proof. Antonin Haubert was dark and sexy and on his way to further greatness, and—history will show—the wall of film, television, music, theater, and exemplary Presidential Citizens awards hanging somewhere in his cliffside palace near Malibu are nothing to scoff at. Forty years later, you’d be hard-pressed to hear Antonin Haubert even mention the show anymore. The guy was so entwined with American pop culture despite not even being American that one could barely think of movies without picturing his godly, symmetrical face. Still, time will always bend forward. He was seventy-one this year. He got the ovations at award shows but belonged to the cadre of legends now, taken both more and less seriously by modern folk. He’d pop in for brief, pivotal guest spots on prestige television shows and promote his memoirs and his charities without doing much of anything, these days.
We all moved on. This month’s cover of Metropol was a profile of Antonin’s son, Hadrien, an arthouse twink with huge eyes, at only twenty-two years old already one of the biggest stars of our age for playing a baby-faced serial killer in a terrible movie called Gorgeous Demons last year. He won thirty awards for it and trended every time he tweeted. I saw the mockup of the Metropol cover last week in the office, hanging on the window wall near the art department. He looked a lot like you, Raider, the lips were the same, and so was the scraggly hair. He was wearing a jewel-embroidered Gucci corset that hugged his skeleton ribs and a shag blanket hanging off his shoulders. The editing had been done so as to accentuate the circles under his eyes and gold leaf in swirls on his cheeks. In slick white font around his head were the words MAD ABOUT THE BOY. It was the gayest thing I’d ever seen. It sort of worked. Sort of.
I was picturing the innocent slope of those lips when I woke, moved my head, turning to my right, found Gil still asleep and breathing his feathery breaths into my armpit. I wasn’t much used to such close contact with him, at least without our dicks involved. I reminded myself that I did in fact like the way Gil made me laugh, also the way he paid for dinner. I didn’t believe it was a power thing. In the pit of my heart I knew Gil just thought paying for dinner was a sweet thing to do, which it was, and I liked him so much better because I knew he thought like this when I never could. I moved my arm down, slowly, and his eyelids fluttered. For half a second he noticed me in front of him, then roused himself awake, shimmying up around my shoulder to rest his head next to mine.
“Too early. Go back to sleep,” he mumbled.
You’d think he was sweet, too. I didn’t know this for sure, of course. There were no queers on Raider, not that I remember. You were a gruff straight boy prone to violence and a single word doing the work of ten, so maybe you would have looked at us curled together in my bed and felt rage or fear—whatever it is that moves people like the founder of Chik-fil-A or the Alabama State Senate to argue extermination. But I hoped you wouldn’t.
As though he’d been waiting for it, Gil propped himself on an elbow, squinting at me. He didn’t look six years older than I was. We’d have had more problems if he did. There were
minute but definitive differences between us: he’d always had big eyes, which he used often to convey meaning without fully realizing their devastating effects on people around him. Jewish, but on his dad’s side. He picked and chose when to indulge his bacon-and-egg sandwiches, and he wasn’t circumcised, either. His arms and legs were hairier, but I was in better shape.
“You’re not sleeping,” Gil said, observing me.
I shrugged. The light was bright and violent through the window above us, all white because of the snow falling outside. First snow of the year and it had almost invited martial law as the lights went out, one by one. Nevertheless, if it stayed on the ground another two days, we’d have the first white Christmas in who knows how many years. The thought made me happy.
From Flux by Jinwoo Chong. Used with permission of the publishers, Melville House Books. Copyright © 2023 by Jinwoo Chong.