Article — From the February 2010 issue

Lonely Hearts Club

A star-crossed obsession with As The World Turns

( 3 of 4 )

In May, I was on Marco Island, off the Gulf side of Florida, longing for a spliff. I was at Soapfest, which I’d somehow assumed would be like a weekend seminar on soap operas. But Soapfest, an annual charity event, is for fans to meet the stars in relaxed settings, from Saturday evening parties to a Sunday afternoon cruise in Gulf waters.

The actors are drawn from several shows, not only As The World Turns. Founded in 1998 by Pat Berry, Soapfest raises money for charities that help children and young people who have autism and learning disabilities. The stars come down a day early to meet the kids and to make paintings with them, which are then sold at Soapfest.

CBS had just announced the cancellation of The Guiding Light, a soap that had been on radio and television for seventy-two years. The Soapfest organizers were passing out mourning ribbons and getting up a petition. It was going to be all right to give in to the intensity of my adventure, because everyone else was in full-blown fan zone. There was an auction of items from studio wardrobes and a raffle for prizes, such as an autographed Frisbee. Also up for grabs, a tour of the As The World Turns set in Brooklyn with—I couldn’t believe it—Hansis and Silbermann. A trip to Oakdale, a trip to Oakdale—I dropped out of the bidding way past what I could have justified back home, but vibrated from the terror of having had Luke and Noah’s attention every time the auctioneer looked at me.

At the opening-night dinner attended by one hundred or more gleeful souls, my table was graced by Ewa da Cruz, the spectacular Norwegian-Egyptian beauty from As The World Turns. With her came her colleague Trent Dawson and his parents. I wasted time that night lurking in the shadows of my brain whenever I forgot that these gorgeous, wonderfully groomed human beings weren’t there to check me out; they were professionals donating their time, prepared to accept a certain amount of awkward scrutiny from me. Miss Cruz could not have been more perfect. She even has a degree in nursing.

Hours later, at a late-night bash on an off-season street, a few stars worked behind the bar, the drinks tickets and their tips going to charity. As the night got loose, some hunks ended up shirtless before the cameras that were everywhere. Hansis and Silbermann did not tend bar, but they thanked you with surprise if you ran up to where they stood in a grove of girls and thrust a Red Bull and Stoli into their hands and then ran off. There was disco, there was karaoke, and I saw many badges that proclaimed my same obsession: nuke forever. For the drinkers, maybe things were beginning to blur. Austin Peck, the well-built actor who plays Luke’s first cousin once removed, had to use both hands to pry himself from the grip of a pleading fan. The frothy black woman I was sitting with said that when she first started coming to Soapfest, young girls knew how to behave.

On the upper deck of the Marco Island Princess the next day, my last chance ever to connect with heaven, I met a forty-seven-year-old mother of four from my hometown, Indianapolis. We marveled that two black people from “Nap” could possibly not know anyone in common. But we had our passion for As The World Turns. I heard myself say that I was probably seeking out black women at these fan events in order to hide from myself, or from them, the black race, how hung up I was on Luke and Noah. Kim pulled down her shades and said that that was fine by her. I said they should bring back Luke’s older half brother, played by Akim Agaba, and she high-fived me on that.

Fans sat in the shade or sunned themselves, ate from the buffet, trailed the stars to the bathrooms, sprang in and out of various orbits. Kim asked Van Hansis to come over and talk to me. I really wanted to quiz him about the show, but I didn’t want to put him on the spot, so once again I couldn’t think of a thing to say. Michael from Chicago reassured me that if Jake Silbermann had noticed me filming the tattoo just below his left calf, he was being gracious about it. My experience of former students or the children of friends now grown up did not help me to feel that I’d bridged a generation gap with them, but then Hansis, with his B.F.A. in theater from Carnegie Mellon, and Silbermann, with his B.A. in theater from the University of Syracuse, are not like the young adults I know, because only they have the power to create Luke and Noah before my eyes.

I’d stumbled into the group behind the websites and It was moving to witness the sweetness of the rapport between the two young actors and the fans they’d come to know, and how protective those fans were of their trust. Quayside, they said farewell and knew how to let them go. I was honored when asked to a poolside after-party by this elite brotherhood or sisterhood. One of us.

Vicky from Fort Lauderdale said that a scene of The Boys jumping on a bed still made her cringe. She had sent the program’s executive producer a wall clock with the message it’s time painted on its face and images of The Boys for each of the hours. George from Boston successfully agitated for to put online a deleted scene showing Luke and Noah nestling on a public bench. I’d fallen in with a militant faction of the As The World Turns Fan Club, led by the likes of Sherry, a former Rockette in her sixties and the victor in the auction for the studio tour. They knew LukeVanFan as Andy and were sorry that he, a hero, wasn’t at Soapfest this year. I watched the sunset with a dozen members of this activist wing, friends reunited or email correspondents meeting at last, brought together by a mad feeling.

is the author of the novel <em>High Cotton</em> and, with Robert Wilson, the theater piece <em>Orlando.</em>

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