Life As a Soap Opera Doppelganger
Adam Chandler, my fictional namesake, returns to television
When I first learned that my namesake—Adam Chandler, the cunning, ruthless, womanizing character on the iconic soap opera All My Children—had run away with his long-time lover Brooke English and would no longer be on the show, I felt a deep, indescribable sense of relief.
This may seem like a strong sentiment. But I didn’t hear about the end of Adam Chandler’s storied twenty-eight-year run on the show because I obsessively watch All My Children. Or read the recaps. Or follow its myriad fan blogs. Or attend soap conventions. I found out because I handed my credit card to a cashier at Duane Reade, who after reading my name, gave me the scoop while a line of people behind me seethed with anger.
So goes the life of a soap opera doppelganger. Unlike the name-sharers of musicians or athletes, soap opera doppelgangers live in a cosseted universe inaccessible to most people—one in which despite poisonings, fake heart attacks, ridiculous affairs, incest, countless illegitimate children, and other insane life subplots, soap characters are still accorded fans so loyal they rival North Korean children. That the Adam from whom I got the rib of my pop culture identity, Pine Valley’s Adam Chandler, had nine kids (five of whom survived) and eight wives (although this figure is disputed) and shot his twin brother Stuart (who was declared dead, but somehow resurfaced years later after being saved by a cutting-edge experimental medical technique) only makes my encounters with All My Children superfans that much more uncomfortable. Adam Chandler is not just a manipulative and complicated character; he is conversational catnip for a generation of (potentially cat-owning) soap fans. And I never know when I’m going to encounter one of them.
A few years ago, I was running late for a flight home for Thanksgiving. At the JFK security checkpoint, I handed over my driver’s license and ticket to the TSA agent. As he gave me a once over, I began to get nervous in the way habitually tardy people do, even when they’ve done nothing wrong.
“Adam Chandler, huh?” he said, a bit menacingly.
At that moment, I began to worry that not only would I miss my flight, but I was also about to be physically violated by the TSA. The agent looked around before calling out to a co-worker at another podium and shouting my name to her. They both laughed at me before he waved me through. I made my flight, but only because it was delayed.
Of course, encountering fans of All My Children sometimes yields unexpected perks. Once while renting a car, a woman at the rental desk got really excited.
“Adam Chandler,” she said in wonder. “Like from my stories?”
“Exactly like from your stories.”
That afternoon I drove away in a shiny new Prius, upgraded from whatever economy car I had reserved online. On the envelope jacket of the rental agreement was a note from her: “U B good Adam Chandler.”
But the most surreal Adam Chandler-based incident happened a few years ago. One afternoon, I was flagged down on Twitter by a stranger. “Is your name really Adam Chandler?” she asked. Upon seeing her last name–Canary–I instantly knew that the barriers of order in the world were shrinking. The actor who plays Adam Chandler on All My Children had the same last name, the five-time Emmy-winner David Canary, and the person writing to me was his real-life, twenty-four-year-old daughter, who’d seen something I posted on Twitter about a concert in the city. We e-mailed back and forth a few times and she agreed to let me interview her. My girlfriend at the time, sensing a diabolical soap opera twist in the making, was not amused.
Armed with anecdotes and some research, I met her in the Village for coffee. I immediately noticed that she bore a strong resemblance to her father, especially her blue eyes. She had thick, curly blonde hair that only enhanced the mystique of her distant familial link to Calamity Jane Canary.
Quickly, she disarmed me with pleasant-natured charm. She told me stories about growing up the daughter of a famous soap character, we bonded over the intermittent weirdness it afforded each of us, and she told me stories about her father, whom, she explained, resembles the character Adam Chandler only in the way that he is the strong patriarch of his real life family. She described a scene of her family during the holidays, standing around a piano singing together, her father leading the way. When All My Children formally signed off in 2011 after 41 years on the air, I expected that my days of celebrity-based run-ins had likely come to a close.
But then I got the news. Adam Chandler was returning to All My Children, the show recast as a web series on Hulu. Then, this morning, I got a few curious e-mails of congratulations from strangers. My real-life doppelganger, Adam Chandler, had written a wonderful opinion piece for the New York Times.
A C-SPAN caller gets an earful from the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake