SEPTEMBER 17, 2013



IN LAST WEEK'S REVIEW: Pursued by the waiter of a secret gelato society, A. Pontious fled New York in a food truck whose pastrami he considers only fair to middling, but whose smuggling skills he can heartiiy recommend. Please note that Mr. Pontious cannot reveal exact locations in this week's review.


Smelling of cured meat and desperation, I took Metro North to visit a friend upstate, explaining succinctly that I needed to get the hell out of town. “Of course,” she said, offering me the keys to her station wagon, because apparently I have friends like that. If this were a novel, no doubt some ghastly fate would befall her for helping me, and so I immediately felt incredibly guilty.

I attempted to explain what had happened at Museo, but she didn't look up from her painting. Helen’s an artist who paints. Paintings, mostly, typically abstract studies in light and color that most museums abandoned years ago in favor of depictions of copyrighted cartoon characters and video games. But maybe I’m the philistine!

“You've been working verrrrry hard,” she said, patting me on the arm after I had finished babbling.

“Not hard enough,” I replied, “Thirteen restaurants named after trees opened up in Manhattan and Brooklyn and I’ve only sampled the deciduous ones.”

“Sure they did,” she said, “Just remember to bring back the station wagon in one piece. It has to pass inspection in two weeks.”

I assured her that I would return in ten days time, once this whole gelato museum thing blew over, but really, I had no idea how that was going to happen.

"Make sure you go to White Plains to see the Kale Gardens!" she told me. I had no idea what she was talking about. But I thought going further upstate was a good idea.

All-night diners are scattered throughout Westchester county like an asteroid belt in a distant galaxy. You can barely drive ten miles without encountering the Sawmill Diner, the Mill Saw Diner, the Starshine Diner, the Starlit Diner, the Moon Diner, the Moonstone Diner, the Moonlit Diner, the Moonshine Diner, the Milky Way Diner, the Planet X Diner, the Man from Planet X Diner, the Beyond Planet X Diner, the Pluto Diner, the Black Hole Diner, the Diner Diner, and the BQE Diner, which is located off the Hutchinson Parkway.

They all offer the same roast beef sandwich and french fries, which I imagine comes from the same kitchen, located at the center of all these diners, like the sun. I like it with swiss cheese and nothing else. The roast beef sandwich, not the sun.

I would like to tell you that I found something new on these menus, I would like to tell you that I discovered a secret new cuisine in these chrome-plated facades, and I wish I could tell you that there was a slight nuance between the sandwiches and fries that I ordered, but I cannot, and I resent your asking such things of me. I am on the lam. And that means I am on a lam diet.

But while orbiting either the Venus diner or the Venus de Milo diner, I cannot recall which one, I remembered what Helen told me. It was something about the Kale Gardens. Where were those?

There was no mention of them online, which is very, very weird to me. None of the waitstaff had heard of them, or else they had vowed never to tell anyone. Had Helen imagined them?

Just as I was about to give up, I saw a group of students, at least I assumed they were students given that they were eating variations of things with melted cheese and had bits of what might have been art projects stuck to their sweatshirts.

Explaining that I was not a police officer, because that sets college students at ease, I asked if they knew about any kale gardens, and I am relieved to tell you that they didn't think I was insane. But they did tell me that I was looking for something called Kalehenge.

Kalehenge is in the woods just outside SUNY Purchase, that strange no-man's land that borders Connecticut, and is most likely a student installation although no one has yet taken credit. Whoever they are, they are presumably very healthy and also, insane.

Towering wooden kale leaves form a kind of outdoor catacombs, their veiny leaves done in a bas relief that must have taken forever, with inscriptions of oddball information about kale written on the back of each leaf: recipes for kale muffins and kale stroganoff, kalesagne, and kalepops, which are kale leaves that you freeze and then eat.

“Kale has been farmed for more than 2,000 years,” read one giant leaf, which is a fact that is not nearly as impressive as how damned big these leaves are. They’re at least twelve feet tall; the installation might be about half a square mile all around. These leaves could easily crush the wafer-thin health enthusiast who might frolick underneath their towering toweryness. “You can easily make kale chips as a healthy alternative to potato chips!” says another Kale leaf. Sure! And I could be buried in kale leaves as a healthy alternative to a traditional shroud!

Wandering in the shadows of the kale, I found myself wondering who might be lurking under this construction, a fear that was only heightened by what I found at the center of the site: a group of kale leaves bound with twine, clearly a vegan sacrifice. What dark rituals must take place in these leaves when the moon aligns with the most northernly kale leaf?

But the thing about discovering a secret gelato museum underneath Manhattan is that everything afterwards seems a bit suspicious. What had happened to me was not typical of, well, anything. “This is just something very strange that will soon be resolved,” I told myself. And then, in the distance, I could see various forms in green cloaks approaching Kalehenge, chanting something about antioxidants.

I ran all the way to the car, screaming.


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A. Pontious Goes on the Run