It was a pleasant walk, except for Jeff’s constant belching, which I told him was disgusting and he told me was a sign of health and I told him was probably a result of the five pounds of barbecue potato chips he’d swallowed.
“Yeah,” he said, as we paused to admire the view of fog rising over green hills, toward more green hills and the distant horizon.
“My wife never would have let me buy those.”
“What do you mean?” I said. “How would she have stopped you?”
“She would have seen me grab them in the grocery store, and she would have looked at me and she would have said, “You are not buying those. Put those back.”
I turned to look at him. Through the double layer of mosquito netting, it was difficult to ascertain sincerity, but I was pretty sure he was telling me something important.
“So that’s how you lost all that weight?”
“Of course it is,” he said. “She’s my regulator.”
“So every time you come to New York, we go out to eat pizza and ice cream and we see war movies and go to steak houses, and you go back home and you have a regulator and I keep spinning out of control. And now I have gout and you’re kind of slim? That’s not fair!”
“Hey, I’m not the one going out with a different little chippy every few months,” Jeff said.
“I need a woman who’s a regulator,” I said.
“Of course you do,” Jeff said. “We all do. It’s the natural way.”
“I need to find a woman who’s a regulator,” I said.
“They’re all regulators,” Jeff said.
We hiked some more, and we stopped for lunch, and I apologized for telling Jeff to man up 12 years ago, and he apologized for calling some of my former girlfriends chippies, and he admitted that he actually kind of liked avocado-and-cheese sandwiches, and then we grunted and cursed and lugged our middle-aged bodies upward as we discussed Hemingway and Fitzgerald and theorized about why women weren’t as constitutionally honest, or as brave, or as spiritually inclined as men, and just then a trio of women came around a bend from the direction of our campsite and passed us, heading uphill.
We both said hello and the women said hello back, and when they had marched away toward Panther Mountain, Jeff and I looked at each other.
“I wonder if they heard us,” I said.
We exchanged meaningful looks through our mosquito netting.
“They move like panthers,” Jeff said.
“What’s wrong with us?” I said.