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The Girl Watchers Club

The Girl Watchers Club by Harry Stein
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Harry Stein gives us the conversations of a group of older men who meet every week for lunch to reflect on their lives and the state of the world.

What is a well-lived life? What is honour, and does it have a place in our society? A profound and poignant meditation on the meaning of honour, told through the words of men who lived life according to the forgotten rules of trust and responsibility. From these conversations, Stein shows us men who lived their lives according to values that have since been declared relative or obsolete: honour, responsibility, decency, and an uncynical commitment to being the best men they could be. Stein presents the stories of this remarkable group of men who lived through the difficult time of the mid-20th century and all its wars and social upheavals.

We meet Moe Turner, Stein's father-in-law, a mathematician involved in research on the H-bomb who is Stein's connection to the group. We meet Boyd Huff, a survivor of the Nazi prisoner camps, whose youngest son was killed in a gun accident and oldest is a hospitalized schizophrenic. We meet Gene Cooper, an electrical engineer and the emotional centre of the group. These three men, and the rest of the club, have had difficult lives and plenty of trying moments, yet all of them have survived with their sense of right and wrong, of honour and love, fully intact. Stein connects their background, stories and lives, to the valuable views and ideas they share with him now. What the reader comes away with is a renewed sense of purpose, a new confidence in the strength of courage and conviction in your beliefs—even as those of the world change around you.

HarperCollins; October 2009
345 pages; ISBN 9780061497438
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Title: The Girl Watchers Club
Author: Harry Stein

Chapter One

The Count of Monterey

First things first: there probably would be no Girl Watchers Club, at least not in its current form, were it not for my father-in-law. Though Moe wasn't among the handful of original members in the midsixties, for the past couple of decades he has been the one who has arranged the meetings, deciding which of the area restaurants they'll congregate at this week -- the Del Monte Golf Club coffee shop, the Thunderbird over in Carmel, the Sea Harvest near Cannery Row, or Chef Lee's on Freemont -- and more to the point, he is the one who keeps in closest touch with the other members in between.

Moe's devotion to his friends is a wondrous thing to behold. Generally given to a certain gruffness, in their presence he is perpetually on the verge of laughter; bored to distraction by most of what passes for popular entertainment, with them he'll sit for hours telling stories, sharing views, and generally figuring out how to cure the world's ills. They are everything to him.

This is why, the first time I called my father-in-law from New York with the idea for this book, his reaction was so guarded.

"I don't know," he said, with characteristic imprecision, "sounds pretty goofy to me."


"I really don't know if the fellows will be interested."

"Well, would you be willing to sound them out?" Over the years I had come to know some of his friends reasonably well, but others were virtual strangers.

"Why should I?"

I don't know -- maybe because his son-in-law was asking him.

"Maybe because they'll want to," I said. "Maybe because what they have to say might be of interest beyond the group."


"Never mind, Moe. I'll call them myself. Will you at least give me their numbers?"

"Oh, hell, I'll do it!"

But Moe is nothing if not an open book, and it took just a few minutes for the real reason behind his ambivalence to come out. I had told him that my hope was to focus on six men, sitting in when they got together as a group and coming to know them as individuals. But all told, between regulars and part-timers, as many as fifteen guys are liable to turn up at the Girl Watchers' regular Friday luncheons. He was worried about those who would not be prominently featured.

"What about Smitty?" he demanded now. "And Len? And how about Alex Grba? They're all neat guys."

"Look, I know, but there's no way to keep track of that many people in a book. A half dozen will be hard enough."

"That's the dumbest thing I ever heard; that makes no sense at all." He paused a few seconds, then did what men of his age and disposition often do when faced with emotionally fraught situations: he changed the subject. "So tell me," he said suddenly, "what's that granddaughter of mine up to?"

Moe's friends, for their part, return the feeling in kind -- though when they talk about him, even in his presence, it is often as one might discuss a naughty but very precocious child. Moe is not an easy man to understand and, as the other Girl Watchers know, an extremely easy one to misunderstand if certain allowances are not made for his distinctive quirks. As Gene Cooper, who has been closely observing my father-in-law for nearly half a century, at work and at play, said when I finally did approach him about this project. "All I can say is you've got your work cut out for you -- no one'll believe Moe is for real."

But that's the thing. Moe is entirely for real; a full-blown eccentric who (for this is the trait that fully confirms the fact) genuinely doesn't give a whit what others think of him. Sure, he knows he has some wires crossed -- or, at any rate, fully appreciates that a lot of other people think so. But when he bothers to reflect on it at all, it is only to wonder how so many of them manage to get so many things so consistently wrong.

To start where most people will, there is the matter of my father-in-law's appearance. His sartorial taste runs primarily to mismatched, thrift shop clothes, brilliantly colored socks (a nickel at the Navy School thrift store) and sneakers, though you can never tell when he'll throw in something odd even by his own standards -- including, once, a pair of pleated women's pants. (His explanation: "What does it matter?")

More than twenty years ago, nervous when I was about to meet my fiancée's father for the first time, Priscilla gave me a crash course in Moe. Studying his photograph, struck by the craggy figure staring back imperiously through deep-set eyes, his face topped by a mass of unkempt white hair, I thought I would please her by remarking on her father's resemblance to Andrew Jackson. For an instant she looked startled, then cracked up. "Jackson never had that bad a hair day." She laughed again. "And I don't want to think of what my father would do if he was even close to that kind of power. Because, believe me, he'd use it."

To put it simply, Moe, wholly unbound by traditional constraints on thought or behavior, has extremely strong opinions on almost every subject and has never been shy about expressing them, even if he is the one buried by the falling chips. One of the early stories Priscilla told me about her father was set just before the start of the June 1967 Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Growing up in Arkansas, Moe did not knowingly meet a Jew for the first twenty years of his life ...

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