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The Strange Case of Theodore Roosevelt

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Chapter 1: Rough Rider from Birth

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. was born kicking and screaming in a modestly-sized apartment in New York City on October 27, 1858. The ten-pound baby make the building quake, the nurse said. Otherwise it was an OK day.

“Teddy” was a force to be reckoned with from the very beginning. His mother, Martha, would later claim that he beat his father, Theo Sr., at arm wrestling when he was two years old. This was just some good-natured ribbing at her husband, but it could have been seen as truth if one were to see the lad at the time. The boy would eat a horse if he could. In fact, he would eat anything if you put it in front of him.

The young man was a feisty scrapper from the very beginning. However, despite his eagerness to engage in “sport”, he still retained an appreciation for the more technical aspects of both boxing and wrestling, both of which he engaged in. Theo idolized Abraham Lincoln for his wrestling proficiency and worked hard to hone his own abilities. His focus was on technical ability, as his prodigious strength needed little improvement. The man stated that he wished that he could have had the honor of building Lincoln’s log cabin – with his own two hands, of course.

Theo would occasionally try out “the flavor of the month” in between fights to see if any other physical activity would interest him if he were to tire of boxing and wrestling (although he doubted he would – just to be sure). In 1878 one of Theo’s friends convinced him to try a round of “football”. He was skeptical after trying out one of the old “flavors” – Rugby – but gave his friend the benefit of the doubt. He had a gut feeling that this activity would disappoint as the others had before it.

Shortly after their arrival on what was generously called a field, two of the other young men were seen laying on the ground, motionless and soundless. The two had earlier collided while preparing for the day’s events, striking their heads in the manner of two fighting rams. The collision rendered the two unconscious, a condition from which they never awoke. Their deaths caused outrage in the NYC community.

Theo politely declined to participate. He was rumored to be able to catch a bullet with his teeth (and then subsequently crush said bullet with said teeth), but he was no fool. He and his friend John left the field in disappointment that the sport had claimed the lives of two promising young men. They knew that boxing was by no means a safe sport, but at least that came down to two men who were ready to engage in such a violent manner. Boxers weren’t hurling themselves at each other in droves as though they were charging with bayonets.

The outrage caused by this event would snowball over the next few years, until the mayor of New York City banned the sport. Other cities around NYC soon followed, with the rest of the country eventually deciding to ban as well.

In 1884 Theo enlisted in the army, ever eager to serve his country. After one year of dreadful peace...er, boredom, he was discharged due to constant “contests of gentlemanly sport”.

Theo returned home without a clue of what to do next. His friend, John, was also wandering aimlessly at the moment of his good friend’s return, having failed to perfect his formula for a drink he had been tinkering with for years.

Although a certain book would soon change that, engaging the pair in a new venture that would make a “Mr. Topffer” say “what took you Americans so long?”

Chapter 2: Tough Sell, Tough Crowd

In 1885, Theo was at a crossroads in his life. He had no current goal and no goal was visible to him. Nothing exciting was happening around him. Well, some Frenchy statue arrived in NYC, but Teddy wasn’t really paying attention to international affairs as much as he was his own future.

A glint of light appeared in 1886 as he read a thought-provoking story – The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - penned by one Boston, Pennsylvania native by the name of Robert Louis Stevenson. Pennsylvania had already acquired a reputation as a place where strange happenings occurred – if an author were to write a ghost story, they were likely to place it in “a small, forgotten town” found in the depths of the state. The citizens of the state provided enough “ghost” sightings as it was, so it wouldn’t seem unusual to set a story there.

(Note: OTL New Jersey is instead part of Pennsylvania and is the equivalent of OTL Massachusetts, with Boston maintaining its historical importance and location on the coast.)

A short time after digesting his literary meal (as Theo devoured all things), he spoke with his friend, one John “Johnny” Pemberton, about the experience.

“Hey, you’re pretty handy with the pen, right?” Theo continued to pester his friend to draw a picture of the gnarled and grim visage of this Hyde fellow. Johnny – he hated his nickname, but Theo wouldn’t stop – was indeed quite talented with artistic matters. He had only chosen a career in medicine at the insistence of his father. Although he found money in such employ, he wasn’t particularly thrilled with it. He only really got a kick out of irritating Theo with constant caricatures of him in various situations, which usually earned him a good (but friendly) roughing, or at least a headlock.

In 1887 Johnny penned a rough draft of his…he didn’t know what to call it. Other than the uninspired “illustrated book”, but that wasn’t creative enough for Theo. Johnny note to self – come up with name before another headlock.

Speaking with several friends earned various reactions – “how novel!”, “what tripe is this?” and “would the author allow this in the first place?”. That last one caused Theo and Johnny to look at each other in disbelief, the two completely dumbfounded that they had forgotten such a simple matter. Luckily, Mr. Stevenson was a congenial fellow, and allowed these two upstarts to use his work in such a manner, as long as he was credited and given his fair share of royalties. Theo and Johnny agreed, and their work was continually refined over the next few months.

Several publishers turned the dynamic duo down, all being aware of the recent international copyright convention that had just taken place. The convention set down the rule that someone using the work of another in any manner in any nation must obtain the permission of the original creator and the creator’s publisher. Already having obtained one, several months of legal wrangling ensued until the other was secured.

“Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: A Graphic Novel” was put into circulation in the early months of 1888. Although Johnny took great pains to make the work as inoffensive as possible (after all, one does not have to imagine pictures, they already appear before the viewer), backlash was almost instantaneous. Most people confused graphic –“picture” - with graphic – “containing vivid and detailed descriptions of violence and other such matters”. Others were quick to complain about “those damned words covering portions of the art” (speech bubbles). The “graphic novel” was condemned – “you would ban football, but not this?”

Much of the public’s reaction was, well, overreaction. Johnny had indeed created a product that was no more “indecent” that the original work itself, and that had sold plenty to the same public. And sure enough, as time passed, this same public began to buy more and more copies of the graphic novel – it was “flying off the shelf”, as one might say.

The general concern remained, leading to the passing of the “Literature Standards and Decency Act”. The act stated that one cannot directly show “acts of great violence” (including grievous injury and death) nor “matters of a sexual nature”. One may only depict great injury or death through indirect means – one might depict the strangling of a murder victim through the use of shadows, lit by dim candlelight on a dark night. Works with such content must also have a disclaimer on their cover, as well as a first page that also serves as such a disclaimer.

Upon hearing the news of these developments, Swiss artists and cartoonist Rodolphe Topffer jokingly welcomed the Americans to “the age of modernity”. Many, many years ago he had created the precursor to Johnny’s “graphic novel” (the comic strip). Rodolphe wished he could stick around to see what would become of the American’s work, but at the ripe old age of 89, he wasn’t sure how much more he would experience. Unfortunately, he passed away shortly after hearing the news of America’s newest fad.

Chapter 2.5: Still Not Sold...?

Johnny sorely desired to open his own publishing house so that he didn’t have to go through a middle man just to sell his books. In an attempt to build capital he had sold his failed formula for a carbonated beverage to a man named Charles Morisson, a man who was attempting the same feat and had met with a similar impasse.

This Morisson fellow spent several years tweaking Johnny’s work until he came up with a beverage with which he felt satisfied. Each taste test at the pharmacies and small-time restaurants around his NYC neighborhood had helped him refine and refine until he could refine no more. Eventually he struck gold – or brown, rather, as that’s what color the beverage ended up being. The combination of the flavor and carbonation won over almost all tasters who sampled it, leading to Morisson scrambling to find an appropriate name for his concoction.

At first he suggested “Dr. Pember”, in honor of the man who had provided him with the groundwork for his success. His friends disliked the idea, so he looked to the advertising slogan he had created for the drink –

“It puts a pep in your step”

Thus, Pepsi was born.

Theo and Johnny would latter try this new beverage, with Theo saying that it was one of the worst things he’d ever tasted.

“Theo, the things you’ve eaten and drank are endless. I’m afraid to guess what you’re comparing it to.”

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