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by Andrew Lee-Hart


Chuck was a rarely seen "Happy Days" character who disappeared without explanation after Season 2, his disappearance giving rise to the pejorative term "Chuck Cunningham Syndrome" to describe TV characters who were dropped from shows without any explanation. In the final episode of Season 11, Howard comments that he's proud of his "two kids", indicating that Chuck never existed.



At first, they still spoke to me; mom, dad and my brother Richie, even my sister Joanie occasionally acknowledged my existence, with a sneer or a smirk. I smiled in return and tried to be polite. After all it wasn’t their fault that I was no longer a part of their family, that I had ceased to exit.


But now they have stopped greeting me, as if they had no idea who I am or haven’t seen me. The son who disappeared because he was not quite good enough. Richie is not too bad; he gives me money when nobody else is around, and pats me on the shoulder in an awkward attempt at comfort.  For mom and dad, it is as if I had never existed, whilst Joanie revels in my disgrace, whispering “loser” or “idiot” whenever our paths crossed.


More and more I sit in a cupboard, upstairs, out of sight, with a bottle of whiskey (no wine for the sporty, unsophisticated Chuck Cunningham), it is cheap stuff, but it gets me from one day to the next.  Downstairs, my family and their friend Fonzie goof about and have fun; I can hear their laughter, reminding me of what I am missing and leaving me to wonder what went wrong.



“Hi Chuck, I hear you are coming back in, part of the family again. That’s great news.”

“Thanks Richie, I appreciate it.”

“We have missed you; it isn’t the same without my older brother Chuck.”

And then we stood there, his lie too obvious for me to respond to, the smell of his deodorant and make-up a little overwhelming.  Eventually he wandered off; embarrassed or just having nothing more to say to me, but I did not care, as I smiled to myself and prepared to be welcomed back into the bosom of my family.


I had not looked in a mirror for awhile, so that when I did it was a bit of a shock; I had put on weight, and my face was flushed and soft, so that I looked like a drunken uncle rather than a clean-living older son.  How could I have changed in such a short space of time?  Too much drink, of course, and being out of the studio lights. I wondered if my clothes would still fit, and would I be able to play basketball like I used to do?


There was a seldom-used yard out back, and for the next three days I spent my time there running, shooting baskets and doing push-ups; trying to turn myself into the Jock that I had once been.  I was so out of condition, that even a couple of runs around the yard left me breathless, but I kept going as this was my one chance to rejoin the family, to be a Cunningham again. Even my cigarettes did not help with my breathing, making me feel worse if anything.




Fortified with a mouthful of whiskey I walked down the stairs; the first time I had done so for almost a year, but it felt like so much longer. Just as I stepped into the dining room – my shy smile already in place – someone handed me my old basketball, which they must have kept for me, I twirled it with joy, almost losing control of it, but managing to recover myself just in time. The audience applauded – some even cheered, God bless them - as I walked onto the stage. I was back.


“Look who’s back from College,” said mum as she gave me a hug and a peck on the cheek.

Dad shook my hand and then playfully punched me in the tummy, “you have put on a bit of weight whilst you were away; you need to lay off those chocolate muffins.”

Richie and Joanie both laughed (bastards), and Richie made some stupid quip about my spending more times in the club bar than on the basketball court. And I just stood there, an outsider; unable to compete with their retorts; the repartee of four people who have lived with each other for years, and who swiftly pick up on each other’s jokes. The sweat dripped down my back, and I felt too big and too awkward in the small front room, as the improvised dialogue buzzed around me.


“Well, I had better go out and practice,” I managed to say, when there was a brief break between wisecracks, “lose some of this paunch you all keep going on about”.

“See ya later Chuck” said Richie.

“Thanks for dropping by” grinned Joanie. As I left through the back door, there was The Fonze, waiting to come in and join the family; our eyes met for a moment before he looked away, and then he patted me on the shoulder in a semi-embrace, and I was gone; distant laughter and applause sending me on my way.



“Hi, I am Liz.”

At first sight she was pretty, with frizzy blonde hair and surprisingly large breasts, but on second look she seemed tired and unkempt, with a cloud of cigarette smoke everywhere she went. We shook hands, and there was a pause, as she looked at me expectantly.


“You don’t recognise me?”, she asked, and for a moment there was hope in her eyes, and I tried desperately hard to think who she might be, but to no avail.

“I was Richie’s girlfriend; there was talk of us becoming engaged…but then I just disappeared. You and I did meet briefly, but only for a moment.”

“Oh yes”, I said trying to pretend that I remembered her, but I couldn’t and she could see that.

“I tried to get back in…but nothing. And it is not as if he has another girlfriend since.” She shrugged; “people are beginning to wonder if he…. You know, prefers boys.”

“I’m sorry.”

“We were so good together, the boy and girl next door. But suddenly they did not need me anymore, no reason, although I suspect it is that Joanie, she is a bitch. Couldn’t stand not being the glamorous one.”

“Yeah she is devious” I agreed.


I held Liz’s hand as we walked through the endless rooms upstairs, her hand felt hot and damp, and she clung on to me tightly.

“I remember you of course; the handsome older brother….I was sorry that they didn’t make more of you.”

I shrugged, “that’s the way of it, just bad luck, I guess.”

“Tell me about it” she agreed, “some faces fit, others just don’t, and there isn’t much that you can do about it.”

“There’s a diner we can go to, it is usually empty.”

“I know it. Let’s go.”


We left the house and headed into town; a guy and a gal in nineteen fifties America, okay looking, but not film star material, something missing somewhere which meant that we were not good enough. Was it looks or confidence, or something more indefinable?  


Once in “Bill’s Diner” we drank milkshakes and munched on hamburgers and fries.  The place was empty except for us and the man who had served us, presumably Bill, who had also had his moment, but like us was now cast aside.

“What happens next?” she asked.

I shrugged, “sometimes I get mentioned; it is as if I am still half alive somewhere, just out of reach. I know that I am not coming back, not after last time…but it is something.”


She sat opposite me, looking lost in a dream.

“I still hope” she told me “deep down I still think that we can make it work. Richie and Liz. I dream of wedding bells; you can imagine it; the church, the dress and Joanie in the shade, jealous of me, but all she can do is smile.”

She held my hand, and I smiled in sympathy as we finished our burgers and fries in silence.



I don’t know why Joanie hated me.  Even when I was part of the family, she only spoke to me when she had to, and most of what she said was nasty or sly; I know little sisters can be difficult, but they are also supposed to be affectionate and cute, and she was neither.

“I wish Fonzie was my older brother” she told me once, camera on, the audience gasping slightly when they realised what she had said.

I looked at her baffled, that wasn’t in the script.

“I think you want him as your boyfriend,” I managed to respond, “but you are only a kid, he isn’t interested in you.”

She glowered at me and stormed upstairs, and for a moment I felt a touch of guilt.


“Be careful of Joanie” Fonzie told me, later on, “she might be only young, but she is your sister.”

I never minded Fonzie; I know that he replaced me, but I don’t think that it was deliberate on his part. In fact he was the only one I liked and trusted (well a little bit).

“Sure, you are right. Sorry.”

“Hey” and he ruffled my hair and walked off, probably off to ride his bike back to whichever Marlon Brando movie he had come from.


“Hey Joanie” I said later, “I am sorry.”

She looked at me, and her eyes were hostile, but underneath it was vulnerability and sadness. And suddenly I want to hug her, like an older brother should. I stepped towards her.

“Do us all a favour, fuck off.”

I looked at her in shock, and she held my gaze, no longer looking sad, just full of hate.

“You heard what I said; you don’t belong so fuck off.”

Perhaps I didn’t belong, but then neither did she, and none of the others either; we were all strangers put together on a lifeboat and paddling for dear life.  And then every so often one of us was thrown overboard, and we pushed on, ignoring their cries and despair, just thankful that it wasn’t us.


Sorry Joanie, perhaps they could have made something of you and me; a different kind of show, something darker and more unsettling, but also more honest. Perhaps it isn’t too late even now…



The light was too bright, shining into my face but I blinked and walked forward. I was part of a family, the Cunninghams, a picture of what America would like to have been like but never was.


In my hands was my basketball; rough and hard, I was throwing it up in the air as I breezed in.

“Hi Chuck…how was the game?”

“Basketball is not a game, it is my life.”

And they all laughed.

“Oh Chuck” said mom, “you are so loveable….”

“Thanks mom” and we hugged, which wasn’t in the script, but it felt right.


They were sitting round the front room, chatting and joking. I would like to have stayed with them; ditched my basketball, become a person, but there was nowhere to sit, so I stood awkwardly, not knowing what to with myself.  After a few moments of restlessly exchanging barbed comments with Joanie my basketball continually in motion, I turned to Richie.

“I’m off to shoot some baskets outside, do you want to come champ?”

“Thanks Chuck, but I have got a date with Liz” and he winked, “got to make myself handsome.”

The camera was off me, so I turned and left, Joanie sticking her tongue out at me as I did so.


As I threw the ball into the net time after time, I could hear them through the window; chatting and laughing, a happy family, my family, but just out of reach. I would have given anything to come in from the cold and join them, but I continued to play, the dull thud of the basketball against the studio floor.  And then the audience applauded and I heard them leave, and then the lights went out, whilst I continued to dribble and throw, already forgotten, even by my mom and dad.



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