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Balloon Pop Outlaw Black by Patricia Lockwood


from WHEN WE MOVE AWAY FROM HERE, YOU'LL SEE A CLEAN SQUARE OF PAPER WHERE HIS PICTURE HUNG

The oldest living cartoon character is the word "popeye." A cartoon character works this way: it is written so many times, with minor variations, that it appears to walk, to cast a shadow, to eat green leaves. Here are the known facts:

His pants are not white, they are empty. His face is not white, it is empty. His arms are not white, they are empty. When we say "pants, face, arms," what we mean is "where the ink ends and the rest of him begins," or "the him that the ink contains."

His parts are letters. Letters make up his mind, and also emerge from it. And the point where a needle touches his thought bubble to burst it is a letter also.

When he fights his number-one enemy, he undergoes a transformation: he smiles hugely, his teeth turn to rows of movable type, and then rearrange themselves to form an ultimate insult. The enemy then begins to cry, and "popeye" is the winner.

He does not eat, exactly, but the existence of bite-marks in pen-and-ink apples is enough to keep him from going hungry. "Grainy," he often complains.

When he develops goosebumps, when he forms a knot on the head, when his legs fly apart and form a fast-moving cloud, his line suffers. When his line suffers, it is said that he is "in pain." Whenever he is "in pain," a doctor appears and injects him with a straight line, and he sighs with relief.

Much as gold injections are used to treat lions with arthritis.