The Ringer

( 2 )


Morton Martin Spell — a once-brilliant, now-infirm seventy-five-year-old writer — is sliding into delirium. He thinks Mount Sinai Hospital is an exclusive golf course and his catheter is a gym bag. His only link to reality is his thirty-five-year-old nephew, who makes his living as a hired gun for thirteen softball teams and still goes by the name College Boy.

But College Boy's body has begun to betray him — almost as much as his lack of ambition. (His only legitimate paycheck ...

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The Ringer

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Morton Martin Spell — a once-brilliant, now-infirm seventy-five-year-old writer — is sliding into delirium. He thinks Mount Sinai Hospital is an exclusive golf course and his catheter is a gym bag. His only link to reality is his thirty-five-year-old nephew, who makes his living as a hired gun for thirteen softball teams and still goes by the name College Boy.

But College Boy's body has begun to betray him — almost as much as his lack of ambition. (His only legitimate paycheck comes from a gig as a laugher on a morning radio show.) Not only that, the Dirt King, a small-time gangster who controls all the replacement soil in Central Park, is after College Boy. As their lives collide, College Boy takes refuge in the arms of Sheila — his uncle's cleaning woman and a part-time call girl.

And then it gets weird.

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Editorial Reviews

“Damn funny, and ultimately moving. Four stars.”
New York Times Book Review
“Scheft keeps the material coming at machine-gun pace....the jokes are plentiful and very high in quality.”
Trenton NJ Times
“Has to be the summer’s funniest novel....Fast moving fiction at its swiftest.”
Jeffrey Toobin
“Bill Scheft’s novel produces the kind of explosive laughs that can create an unsanitary condition.”
Bruce McCall
“A moving story about love between wounded souls that will linger in the mind far longer than the laughs.”
Tom Perrotta
“Bill Scheft has written a delightful first novel....The Ringer is a funny, big-hearted book.”
Larry David
“Funny, insightful, and profound....I’m outraged.”
New York Times Book Review
Scheft keeps the material coming at machine-gun pace....the jokes are plentiful and very high in quality.
Damn funny, and ultimately moving. Four stars.
Trenton NJ Times
Has to be the summer's funniest novel....Fast moving fiction at its swiftest.
Publishers Weekly
There is rarely even a snicker is this supposedly comic first novel by a monologue writer for David Letterman. And therein lies the problem: stand-up comedy material can sound good when delivered by a professional, while that same material on the page of a novel will appear forced and lifeless. Harvey "College Boy" Sussman is the ringer of the title; he is a 35-year-old goof who gets paid to play softball for a dozen or so teams in and around New York City. As College Boy's athletic prowess diminishes and his fondness for prescription drugs increases, he has no clue what he will do after softball, though he also has a gig as a professional laugher on a call-in radio show. Morton Martin Spell is his uncle, a long-retired magazine writer who, as the story opens, is rushed to the hospital suffering the effects of a long relationship with vodka and Valium. There is something smarmy about the narration of the irrational ramblings of this old man zonked out on drugs (and as if that isn't enough, he is saddled with prostate problems, Parkinson's disease and serious overmedication by incompetent doctors), which take up most of the novel and are decidedly not funny. Scheft also introduces a whore with a heart of gold; a petty gangster, the Dirt King, who controls all dirt movement in Central Park; and a loud, obnoxious radio talk-show host. These New York extras are well conceived, but even they can't keep Scheft's tale from falling flat. (July) Forecast: A blurb from David Letterman should attract a few hardcore Letterman fans, but don't expect Late Night$size sales. Author appearances in Connecticut and New York. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060512583
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/1/2003
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: First Perennial edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,505,222
  • Product dimensions: 7.82 (w) x 5.20 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill Scheft

Bill Scheft is the author of The Ringer and The Best of the Show: A Classic Collection of Wit and Wisdom. He spent eleven years as head monologue writer for David Letterman. He lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Don't flush too early. He always had to remind himself. At least make it seem like you're taking a piss.

As scores went, this was pretty good. Fifteen yellows, ten light blues. Enough to extend his stash at home for a couple of weeks, until the next time he and his uncle would meet for dinner. How could he do this to his uncle, a man he so clearly admired? A family member whose company he actually enjoyed? A man who lived a life to which he could only aspire?

Simple. Volume.

Don't flush too early.

He turned off the water and dawdled a bit, as he always did, to read the label on each decidedly non-child-proof-capped bottle. The Tower Chemists Gazette.

M.M. Spell


Valium 10 mg.
DR. Levitz
Refills: 4


M.M. Spell


Valium 5 mg.
DR. Levitz
Refills: 3

"Now there," he thought as he always thought. "There's a guy with a problem."

He flushed. He reran the water. Then he jostled a hand towel.

"Nice going, College Boy."

The neck was still a little cranky from the Riis Park double-header, which had ended three hours ago. He considered banging back a five-milligram yellow now and getting a head start with thehealing process, then decided against it. The second bourbon with the uncle would do just as well. Then the yellow for dessert.

"Okay, ready to go."

"Let me hop in there, doctor." His uncle sidestepped into the bathroom and made a move for the medicine cabinet before becoming distracted by the mirror. Phew. He adjusted the brim on his cap. Herringbone. Brown. Wool. Heavy, heavy wool. It almost went with the gray herringbone sportcoat. Wool. Slightly less heavy wool. A week to go until Memorial Day. The end of the heavy wool season for those who observed such things. Other people.

He walked out toward the door and stopped to pat the shoulders of his nephew's blazer with both hands.

"Nice padding, kid. Looks like you have enough in there for Arafat's winter headquarters." How long had his uncle been doing the "padding" line on him? At least twenty-five years. The tenants had changed as history dictated -- Nasser, Batista, Le Duc Tho, Bani-Sadr -- but there was always someone in the shoulders of his jacket, and it was always their "winter headquarters."

And he always laughed, even though he hadn't been a kid for almost twenty years. "Good one, Mort." It was the least he could do for a single, childless, seventy-five-year-old man whose idea of the family dynamic was not asking for help with the dinner check. Come to think of it, it was his idea, too. "Hey, where are we going, Ruc?"

"I think they're expecting us at P.J.'s."

He couldn't mean P.J. Moriarty's, the great chop hangout once three blocks away. The site of ninety percent of their dinners his first four years in New York until it had closed in 1982, three years before his first Valium heist. His uncle couldn't mean that P.J. Moriarty's.

"Do you mean P.J. Clarke's?"

"Christ no. I might bump into Gifford, and I'm all out of compliments. No, Moriarty's."

Do something. "Mort, aren't they closed? Some renovation?"

"Renovation, my ass," his uncle confided with the back of his hand to the side of his mouth, "I bet that haircut Lindsay rented the back room to look at cufflinks."

"Mayor Lindsay?"

"Ah, yes, quite. We should talk about him at dinner. I thought we'd go to Ruc. That seems to work out damn well for us."

"Fine." Whatever that had been was over. Seventy-five years old. It happens. "Ready to go?"

"What time do you have?"

"Seven twenty-five."

"Let's watch Vanna come out."

"Mort, it's Sunday."

"You're right on it tonight, kid, aren't you? How's the performing, acting, whatever it is that keeps you these days?"

"Well, you know."

"I think I do."

Now the door. Forty years at 301 East Sixty-fifth Street, and the apartment door and its locks still proved positively Gordian for his uncle. And he knew better than to offer his help. He did, however, move the large suitcase that was blocking Mort's angle of disarmament.

"You going away, Mort?"


"That's right, you are. This week. To get that award in L.A."

"The Dottie Sussman Breach of Confidentiality Ribbon. Don't rub it in."

"You don't like this fuss, do you?"

His uncle grabbed the knob for traction and the front door popped open.

"Well, that was too easy."

"Mort, I gotta go to the john again. Sorry."

He broke all his rules. He didn't run the water. He popped a yellow on an empty stomach and before a few drinks. He did not save it for dessert after the Prague Roast at Ruc. And he flushed way, way too early. "Let's go, doctor. Vanna is waiting." And it didn't matter.

The Ringer. Copyright © by Bill Scheft. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 19, 2010

    Didn't work for me

    I found the humor very stale. I could tell where the joke was and how it was derived, but it just always fell flat. For a book that is supposed to humorous it did not read well at all. I had no attachment to any of the characters and found myself skimming the last 20 pages just to finish it. I could have stopped earlier because I just didn't care how it ended. Obviously some people who reviewed it liked it. If you want to give it a read don't pay more then bargain price for it, and don't expect much. I'll forget this book even existed in about a week.

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  • Posted April 7, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Just OK!

    I found that Mr Scheft's writing style was a little strange at first. I felt the need to reread a few paragraphs. After i was able to get the style down and read with some flow the story was good. The characters are the biggest part and I found that i fell in love with all of them for different reasons. Although not as funny as i had hoped this book still had some laughs and generally kept me entertained

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2002

    Worth Reading Twice

    This book is flat out funny that a great story line often gets lost in the laughs....Read it once for the humor and twice for the tale...I throughly enjoyed it.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews

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