Mr. Contagious

Robert Daniels is a prisoner. His crime is tuberculosis, and it’s going to make him a celebrity if it doesn’t kill him first.

Early this year, when life in the isolation chamber got really bad, Robert Daniels realized that he could no longer call up a mental picture of his own face.

He hadn’t seen it for months. He didn’t have a mirror in his hospital room, and because the guards were afraid that the slightest wisp of his breath could infect the adjacent hallway, and the other floors of the hospital, and the city beyond that, and maybe even the whole country beyond that, he was never allowed to leave. The door to his room stayed locked. He couldn’t take a shower. His entire world, night and day—although at this point it was getting hard to tell the difference between night and day—consisted of the contents of Room 15 on Ward 41 of the Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, a room whose décor could only be described as spartan.

White brick walls. A linoleum floor. A hospital bed with an array of buttons and gears on it. A side table where the nurses laid out his heap of pills. And a shiny metallic bathroom that made him think of a giant ashtray.

Daniels, a 27-year-old man who was diagnosed last year with a rare strain of tuberculosis, and who was known in legal documents as “the afflicted,“ was living in a void. Although he was an American citizen, he’d spent most of his life in Russia, where he was born, and his wife and son were still there. But he hadn’t heard their voices in months. There was no working phone in the void. No television, no radio, no computer, no newspapers, no view of the surrounding Arizona landscape, no fresh air.

He could lie in bed. He could pace around the room dragging his IV apparatus behind him. He could wait for the nurse to come and give him his meds. He could clean off his skin with wet wipes, and when he was lucky, he could get down on his knees and hold his head above the shiny toilet, and the nurse would bring in some warm water so that he could pour it over his scalp to wash his hair. Then the nurse would leave, and a little bit of air from beyond the void would come whooshing into his room. The room was equipped with reverse-airflow vents and filters that prevented even a particle of his contaminated breath from floating outside the membrane of his chamber. A surveillance camera watched him; a light in the room never went out. He could protest the conditions only to the masked medical attendants who puttered into the void to dose him with toxic antibiotics. After they left, the meds that went storming through his guts gave him a diarrhea so wet and fast that if he didn’t keep his ass perched right on the edge of the shiny metallic ashtray, he’d soil his hospital gown. Sometimes he would sit on the bed for hours, “crying,“ he says, “like a pussy.“

Sometimes, between the visits, Daniels would walk over to a window that had been frosted over with industrial paint. He’d stand next to it listening to the pigeons scraping and cooing on the ledge outside. He couldn’t see the pigeons—just their silhouettes, which bobbled around like Balinese shadow puppets behind the scrim of paint.

He had been in the void since July. Back then, the bug had shriveled him down to 108 pounds, but being cooped up in the void and brined in drugs had made his face puffy and sallow. I was a pretty beautiful guy, he thought. Handsome. I knew myself. I knew my face.

He wondered, of course, when he would be able to leave. But it wasn’t a good idea to think about that in the void, because there was a chance—slight, yes, but still plausible—that the answer was never. There was a chance that Daniels would be locked up in the void for the rest of his life.

Even though Ward 41 is on the fourth floor of a hospital, it is not, jurisdictionally speaking, part of the hospital. It is an area set aside for inmates—including murderers, rapists, drug dealers—who happen to be sick. Ward 41 is subject to the strict rules and regulations of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a man who has put a great deal of time and energy into branding himself as “America’s Toughest Sheriff.“

All of which means that even though Daniels hadn’t been charged with a crime, he was in jail.

In the middle of his locked door was a square glass porthole through which Daniels could see the guards, the nurses, and the cleanup crews passing by the void, going about their lives, waving to him, speaking in muffled voices. If he peered across the hallway, he could see other inmates, the criminal ones, drifting around or lying in their beds. Those inmates had it easy. They knew when they might be getting out of jail. Daniels did not know, and as far as he could tell, he could escape from Ward 41 only by accomplishing one of two things: Either he would rid his body of a bug that had proved resistant to some of the strongest drugs in the medical arsenal, or he would die.

Ever since his family had come to the United States, during the Gorbachev years, he had seen America as a place of plenitude and freedom. So it was hard to grasp how he’d wound up in a place like the void, and he had a number of gnawing concerns. First was the concern, as the days and nights blurred by, that he just might be losing his mind. And second was the question of why he, “the afflicted,“ an American citizen who’d had the misfortune of catching a deadly disease, was being treated like a prisoner of war.

Dr. Bob England is the director of the Department of Public Health in Maricopa County, Arizona. He is the man who signed the court order to confine and isolate Robert Daniels. He does not, when you meet him, give off the impression of a sadistic gulag master. He is gracious and calm—a western hippie in repose. He’s lean and fit from riding his bike to the office. He wears his hair in a graying ponytail.

He says that tuberculosis is not easy to catch, regardless of whether it’s a rare strain or a garden-variety one. “It is not wildly infectious,“ he says. “You can swallow TB germs and it won’t make you sick.“ To come down with TB, it helps to be tragically unlucky. You generally need to land yourself in a small, enclosed space—preferably for a sustained period of time—where TB sufferers have been coughing for a while. Time allows the particles to break away from the sputum in smaller clusters, which subsequently gives them a chance to lodge deep enough in your air sac that they can roost. Even when they do, you still might have only a 10 percent chance of getting sick.

The problem is that if you do get sick, you’re getting sick with a gargoyle of a bug. You’re getting sick with something that can easily mutate, if it’s not treated correctly, into an illness that’s a bitch to cure. There is normal tuberculosis, which is bad enough, but then there is multi-drug-resistant TB, or MDR-TB, which has mutated into a strain that can be eradicated only by the kind of drugs that turn your liver into oatmeal. Even worse is XDR, the extensively drug-resistant form of TB. If you get XDR and you have a compromised immune system, you will probably die.

Daniels does not have that strain, though early, hysterical news reports suggested that he did. Daniels has MDR. The catch is that if MDR is not treated properly, with a ruthless barrage of antibiotics, the bacteria will have a chance to evolve, and when they evolve far enough, they could become XDR. And XDR is something we’re not supposed to have here in the United States. Dr. England has a vision of an America that is free of such contagions—free of the mutant and untreatable globo-bugs that could destabilize a society. “It’s crucial that we not let multi-drug-resistant TB spread,“ he says, “or we will lose our control over the disease, and we will slip back to the battle days. And much of the world is already there.“

England is barred from talking specifically about the Daniels case, but he can say a few general things about why a person might need to be isolated and confined for being sick. “We very rarely need to use any kind of legal authority,“ he says. Normally, a patient has to be diligent about taking his medication and he has to wear a mask over his face in public. If he doesn’t do this, officials from the Health Department will talk to the patient. If he still doesn’t comply, then the patient will be warned in writing. “And if it all doesn’t work,“ England says, “then it is Public Health’s absolute responsibility to protect other people.“

The patient in question was born Robert Danielov, in Moscow, in August 1979. His father, Igor, moved to the United States in 1990, when the Soviet empire was falling apart and Russians finally had a chance to leave. Robert’s parents had split up, so the boy stayed in Russia with his mother. One year later Igor, then living in Arizona, sent for his son, so Robert and his aunt Irena and his cousin Eugene boarded a plane to Washington, D.C.

It was the Fourth of July. Since they didn’t have much money, they took a Greyhound bus all the way to Phoenix. Robert would later remember small things about the trip. He’d remember how he and Eugene dashed off to hug the first palm tree they saw, how they marveled over a soda vending machine, and how he grabbed a handful of sugar packets when the three of them went to a rest stop for lunch. He thought he was stealing the sugar. Somebody later told him that it was free. This was how he saw America: a place where you could have all the sugar you wanted.

Nevertheless, his teenage years were a bummer. Daniels says he was an outcast at Arcadia High School in Scottsdale. He ditched class. He smoked pot. To this day he has a mixed accent: It’s half Russian and half desert-rat dudespeak. In Scottsdale he felt shut out by the socially prominent people on campus. He was either suspended or expelled, he says—he can’t remember. He had a falling-out with his father. Eventually, when he was 17, he moved back to Russia.

Daniels has, it seems, the Russian talent for inebriation, and once, when he was locked out of his flat in Moscow, he decided to get back in by throwing down a rope and lowering himself into a window from the roof. “So I wouldn’t be afraid I drank a little vodka, obviously,“ he says. “You know, Russian-style. And I drank so much that we didn’t even give a fuck: rope, no rope. It just snapped and I remember flying down on the asphalt. The doctor said I was really lucky. Thank God I was drunk.“

He kicked around in Moscow and in Kursk, a city east of Chernobyl, and at one point in Kursk, late in 2000, he made the absentminded mistake, he says, of putting a small amount of marijuana, “1.6 grams or something,“ into his pocket. He was arrested and imprisoned for this—three months, at first, for the charge, and then another nine months in a penal colony because he failed to report to the probation authorities and piss into a cup. He has unsavory memories of his bunkmates. “Underneath me—you won’t believe this, but this is true—underneath me the guy who was sleeping had a case of cannibalism,“ he says. “The guy ate his wife. I was freaked out. I wasn’t sleeping a couple of weeks because I was afraid.“

It was in one of these claustrophobic, cockroach-infested cells in Russia that Daniels most likely caught tuberculosis.

In January 2006, Daniels returned to the United States. By now he was a husband and a father. He’d met his future wife, Alla, when he was at the height of his adolescent-hooligan phase in Moscow and she was a graduate student in linguistics. “We met by chance in the street,“ Alla remembers over the phone from Moscow. “I was carrying a heavy bag and he offered his help. At that time I didn’t think that he would have serious intentions because he was 18 and I was 25.“ They got married in Russia in 2001, after Daniels got out of jail, but the years that followed didn’t allow for much of a honeymoon. Daniels bounced from job to job; he got coughing fits; in late 2000 a doctor diagnosed him with TB; his illness intensified; there were squabbles with his stepfather about the ownership of a flat in Moscow. Since he was running out of ways to support Alla and their son, Dimitry, he decided to make use of his American passport.

He returned to the land of palm trees and free sugar. He flew from Moscow to New York to Phoenix. He got a construction job, but within a couple of weeks he realized that his luck was getting worse. He was wasting away. He was exhausted. He had no appetite. His lungs were all shot up with a hacking cough. Later, his aunt Irena noticed that when he spoke, his voice sounded like a whistle. Daniels checked himself into an emergency room in Scottsdale, and it was shortly after that visit, according to legal documents, that he learned that he had a multi-drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis. Daniels disputes this. He knew he had TB, yes, but he insists that the doctors didn’t tell him that he had MDR until after he’d been locked down in the void.

The Department of Public Health placed him in the Monroe House, a row of quarantine barracks in a seedy section of downtown Phoenix. Monroe House is a kind of way station for poor people with TB. The doctors hammered home a simple directive: Daniels had to wear a mask. Anytime he passed through the chain-link fence and went for a stroll to the nearby stores, he was supposed to use an N95 particulate respirator mask to cover his mouth. He did not do this.

“The real thin guy? Did he die?“

Pat Sheikh is the manager at the 99-Cent Super Center up the street from the Monroe House, between the Jalopy Jungle and the adult-video store. She’s blunt and sixtyish and world-weary, and she’s happy to talk about Robert Daniels. Last year, before he was locked up, he’d come in here every day to buy cigarettes and phone cards so that he could call his wife in Russia. “Oh, he’s a nice kid,“ she says. “I used to chat with him all the time. Funny—a sense of humor. Skinny. Oh my lord, he was a stick.“

The dime store is teeming with people. Mexican families, mostly. A lot of kids. Did the Russian guy ever wear a mask?

“No,“ Sheikh says, “I never saw him in a face mask.“

Daniels was worried that people would mistake him for a robber. “Can you imagine standing outside of a store, especially in a dangerous neighborhood, and I would put a mask on before walking into the store?“ he says. “The people down by the counter would get a hold of a rifle and shoot my ass. Anybody would do the same thing—a normal guy, not a wimp or a pussy. I’m serious. Nobody would put on the stupid mask.“

One day last summer, Daniels was summoned to the hospital. He was told not to bring his car; the Public Health people sent a taxi for him. That was strange. When he got to the hospital, he waited alone in a room for a long time. Eventually, masked attendants came in and put him on a stretcher. They hauled the stretcher into an ambulance that had all its windows open, and they zoomed through the streets of Phoenix with a police car as an escort. Not long after the ambulance arrived at the Maricopa Medical Center, Daniels was brought up to Ward 41, and there he entered the void. Why are officers going by the door? Why is there bars on the window? he wondered. And then, after a few days had passed: Where the fuck am I?

Ever since he was first elected, in 1992, Sheriff Joe Arpaio—everybody just calls him Sheriff Joe, and there’s no point in resisting it—has been keeping himself in the national media spotlight by punishing crime with a series of strange and Draconian innovations. He has brought back chain gangs. He houses many of his inmates outside, in tent cities—even when the desert heat is blistering past 120 degrees. He makes the inmates wear pink socks and underwear, and he feeds them two 15-cent meals a day, the most notorious of which is known as “green bologna.“ Inmates have died in custody, too, but not even the prospect of having to pay out millions of dollars after an ugly lawsuit is enough to get Sheriff Joe to rescind his vow of toughness. Tough is what he does, and he’s not about to stop.

So while it was unfortunate that Daniels came down with drug-resistant TB, it was a cosmic stroke of bad luck that he came down with it in Maricopa County. Ward 41 belongs to Sheriff Joe, and these days Sheriff Joe is not feeling inclined to treat Daniels with an abundance of sympathy. Somewhere in the middle of Daniels’ incarceration, concerned nurses on Ward 41 did manage to bring a computer, a TV, a cell phone, and a boom box into Room 15, along with a few CDs by Air, the French electronica duo—Daniels says he likes to listen to “weird music.“ There was even a hearing in February to discuss whether Daniels should be moved to a less restrictive room in the hospital, but after another emergency hearing three days later, the patient’s media gear was deemed a security threat and whisked away. In the middle of April, by the time CNN and Good Morning America were calling and the ACLU had stepped in to fight for the afflicted’s constitutional rights, Sheriff Joe decided to bend his rules and let Daniels have a TV and a cell phone.

At this point he just wants Daniels to stop whining.

“He’s got good food!“ Sheriff Joe says at his desk on the 19th floor of the Wells Fargo building. His book, America’s Toughest Sheriff, is perched on a little stand behind him. Sheriff Joe speaks in a slow, hammy voice that sounds like John Wayne taping an Olive Garden commercial. “He’s got his TV back that nobody has! His cell phone that nobody has! He’s got personal sponge baths. He’s got his own big room. So what’s the guy complaining about?“

He goes on. “I think he should be very thankful. Because he’s getting good medical treatment, free of charge, and I don’t think he should be complaining about a little TV or a cell phone or computer.“ His cell phone goes off. The ringtone is Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.“

I ask Sheriff Joe whether Daniels lost his gadgets after the emergency hearing because he was threatening to contact the media. “I don’t punish people for contacting the media,“ the sheriff says. “Fact, I should give him an extra bologna sandwich, especially if they blast me. Because every time they blast me, my polls go up. And I don’t care about the ACLU. I love it when they sue me. Because my polls go up. I’m not the typical politician that squirms and is scared when people blast me. Let ’em blast me.“

But the case has kicked up an unusual amount of drama . . .

“Might be more,“ Sheriff Joe says ominously. “Might charge him. We’re looking into it.“

Charge him? With what? “Eh . . . endangerment,“ he says. “You endanger the public—we’re lookin’ into it. Then I’ll take his TV back.“

If it’s possible to take an even harder line on Daniels, that line is taken—with unabashed red-state vigor—by Jack MacIntyre, one of the sheriff’s deputy chiefs. Looming over the end of a conference table, MacIntyre tells me that there’s only one person to blame for the afflicted’s sad state of affairs, and that is Daniels himself.

“Would you feel any more great empathy if he were carrying bubonic plague or avian flu and decided that he wanted to go out and socialize, or attend Little League games, or go into the movies and cough—knowing that that’s all it takes for him to spread the infection?“ the deputy says. “What a cavalier attitude that is. Nobody asked him a great deal other than to cover up if he had to go out. He didn’t care enough to do that. He didn’t care enough about running into somebody who may have a complete loss of immune system—a person that he could kill with this. A person that he could kill rapidly and readily. Quite honestly, I don’t know why he hasn’t been charged with something criminal. If we had a basis for extraditing him, I would move to extradite him in a heartbeat.“

Sheriff Joe is the one who gave Daniels his TV back. Deputy MacIntyre didn’t want to. “I’ve never seen any published opinion from any court,“ he says, “that says access to television is a constitutional right.“

Before I leave the Wells Fargo building, Sheriff Joe gives me a copy of his videotape, Sheriff Joe Arpaio Does It “HIS WAY.“ He also gives me two 8-by-11 portraits of himself. He also asks for the names of my kids, and then he autographs some crime never pays posters for them, and then he tosses a rubber band across his desk so that I can roll up the posters for the flight home to New York. Sheriff Joe autographs a poster for me, too, and when I get back to my rental car I take a look. It’s a picture of him standing with a clenched fist and a wagging finger in front of one of his infamous tent cities. “To Jeff,“ he’s written along the top. “Robert Daniels should be happy he’s not in these tents.“

The guy might be a publicity hound, but people in Maricopa County just love their Sheriff Joe. They talk about him the way you might talk about a comically deranged member of your family. Support for America’s Toughest Sheriff crops up where you least expect it. Irena Peart, the aunt who traveled across the country with Daniels back in 1991, sits on a leather couch in suburban Phoenix showing me old photos of her nephew. Her son, Eugene, watches ESPN on a massive TV. Eugene’s 23 now and has grown into a handsome, all-American management trainee at Chase. Irena dumps a few snapshots out of an envelope. In the first one Robert Daniels is 11 years old and he’s holding a giant bag of popcorn. He’s got a look on his face that says, Can you believe this freakin’ country?! “That’s the first week,“ Irena says, “when we just arrived in United States.“ As I flip through the snapshots, a picture of Sheriff Joe pops out. An autographed picture. It turns out that Irena met Sheriff Joe at the airport recently. She’s crazy about him. “This is the guy who put Robert in jail cell,“ she says coyly. “I have great respect for him. I didn’t even tell him that Robert is my nephew, because it’s embarrassing. The point is Sheriff Joe is trying to clean up Arizona. I support that. I support that he has some rules, and I like his rules. I don’t like when people can just walk through the border and do drugs. Maybe Robert is not a criminal, but he broke the rule. You break the rule, you have to be responsible.“

“I was just thinking: You’re nobody,“ Daniels is saying, thinking back to his worst stretch in the void. “I felt like a person that is going on electric chair. I am going through mental destruction. I guess you can say that. Because this is almost impossible to bear.“

In spite of the existential horror of what Daniels has been through, the more you talk to him, the more you realize that he’s not precisely the innocent victim of a Kafka-esque bureaucracy that the early media glare made him out to be. When the doctors started dosing him up at the Monroe House, he and another TB patient broke the rules and shared a bottle of red wine, which can interfere with the meds. “I’m a Russian guy,“ he says. “After three months of not drinking, I kind of missed it.“ In April the guards on Ward 41 issued him a reprimand. Apparently a female prisoner had been dancing naked outside his porthole, and Daniels stood there watching, gesturing, egging her on. “You can imagine myself going months without any porn magazines or anything like that,“ he says. “I mean, obviously I’m going to be watching. It’s, like, normal.“

To punish him, guards covered his porthole with a portrait of Sheriff Joe. “They’re really pissed,“ Daniels says. “They’re just looking for revenge. They’re pissed because they’re losing. It’s like a war for them. So they’re going to start doing some crap. I can feel it.“ Even though he knows he’s up against one of the most inflexible law-enforcement regimes in America, Daniels doesn’t give any indication that he’s planning to scale back his acts of defiance. “I mean, right now I know Sheriff Joe is very angry at me because this all started and he was shown as a jackass on TV. He showed his bad side on television. He knows that, so he’s probably looking for something to get me somehow. But he won’t find anything.“ People have told Daniels that it might make sense just to, you know, say something nice about the big man who holds the keys to the void. Thanks for the TV, for instance. “But I really don’t want to say that,“ Daniels says. “I don’t want to be a dual-faced motherfucker like everybody else. I’d rather suffer, but I’ll say the truth, dude.“

The question is not whether Daniels should be isolated. Almost everyone involved in the case—even the guy’s own wife and lawyers from the ACLU—concedes that he probably should. “You don’t want the plague in town,“ says Dan Pochoda, the legal director of ACLU of Arizona.

It’s a little-known fact that the government is legally entitled to lock up people who pose a bacterial threat to the public. Right now in Texas, for example, nine people with tuberculosis are cooling their heels in isolation because a court determined that they were contagious enough to be dangerous. The conundrum is: Since Daniels has never been charged with a crime, does he deserve to be subjected to the same conditions as an inmate? Does a man who is not a criminal, even a sick man who rather moronically refused to wear a mask in public, deserve the void? “You can’t keep that person in a punitive manner,“ says Pochoda, a Harvard Law grad who made his bones, in the seventies, working on high-profile cases that came out of the Attica prison riots. “There aren’t people in jails who aren’t charged with crimes. That’s illegal.

In April, after learning that there was a hearing coming up in Maricopa County to hash out the Daniels case, the ACLU stepped in temporarily to represent Daniels as co-counsel. Daniels has a court-appointed lawyer, a preppy, pint-size suburbanite named Bob Blecher, but Daniels openly gripes that Blecher has been less than aggressive in his defense. “He got this case only because he thought he was going to get money by not doing anything,“ Daniels says. “He took the case, and he really didn’t represent me when there was a court order or something. He was just quiet. He was just doing shit.“ It’s worth pointing out that Blecher is getting paid a base fee of $200 for his labors. “He’s frustrated,“ Blecher says with delicate, barely suppressed snippiness when asked about his ornery star client. “There are times when you just let him ramble. He doesn’t really understand the process. He also doesn’t understand that things don’t happen overnight. It’s frustrating for him. He’s the one sitting in there.“

Tuberculosis is by no means the only disease that’s grown eerily resistant to traditional antibiotics. With other monster bugs on the rise, isolating sick Americans could become more common in the 21st century. According to Pochoda, the courts need to set clear standards about which practices are constitutional and which are not. Pochoda says the afflicted has a right to receive mail that hasn’t been ripped open, to goof off without being given a reprimand, to look out a window, to take a shower.

And if a place like Maricopa County says it just doesn’t have a nicer, safer, less restrictive place to put the guy? “Not an acceptable answer,“ Pochoda says. “It’s their responsibility to house him. They have to get a facility.“

Old, shabby, utilitarian, and ringed by a neighborhood of sad bungalows, the Maricopa Medical Center would not look out of place in Vladivostok during the Brezhnev years. On a warm, cloudless afternoon in April, I take an elevator to the fourth floor, where a surprisingly cute female guard, identified as Sergeant Metzler, ushers me through a barred gate. We walk a couple of steps down the hallway and there he is: Through the porthole of his door I see the afflicted lying on his bed in the bluish light of the void.

Sergeant Metzler lets him know he has a visitor. He rolls slowly out of bed and drags his IV gear across the linoleum floor. He’s got bags under his eyes and stubble on his face, his hair is flopping around in a lopsided shag, and he’s wearing his hospital robe backwards and open at the chest, like a kimono. He looks like Kurt Cobain starring in an off-Broadway production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

He’s loopy on painkillers and he makes no attempt to hide how thrilled he is to get a drop-by from the winsome Sergeant Metzler. “When she passes by, everything is blooming and it’s sunshine again,“ he tells me. His pale, stubbly face breaks into a smile. He jokes—loudly, and well within range of the guards—about orchestrating a jailbreak. “If you can,“ he tells me, “send me a cake with something inside. A loaf of bread with a chainsaw inside. Like in the cartoons.“

“You’re having too much fun,“ someone calls at him from down the hall. “He is,“ says Sergeant Metzler.

So, yes, life in the void was grim and sad, and Robert Daniels reached a point at which he could no longer identify his own face. But life in the void gave him a new face, and as the days wore on, and as the ACLU fought for his constitutional rights, and as the TV producers called his new Cricket cell phone with that lilt of understanding in their voices, well, Daniels got to a place where he didn’t mind his new face all that much. You couldn’t help but marvel at the way that an American—any American, even a shiftless dude in jail for being sick—could find redemption by becoming a celebrity.

He still didn’t know when he would leave the void. Late in April his captors held another hearing to talk about whether he should be moved to a less restrictive room. A doctor named Maricela Moffitt spoke for over an hour, saying that Daniels couldn’t be trusted and that his test results wouldn’t be available until at least July. She also suggested that Daniels had been spotty about taking his meds at the Monroe House, a charge that Daniels has vehemently denied, but the afflicted was barred from testifying over the phone. “I didn’t even get to say anything,“ he complained to the Arizona Republic. “I’ve been embarrassed in front of the whole nation.“

The truth was that Daniels had finally got what he’d first yearned for when he rode across the land of free sugar. This was America, and he had a future.

He took to musing on the bizarre predicament of becoming a celebrity germ carrier: “A guy with deadly tuberculosis can’t be famous, you know? CNN said, ‘We’re gonna come over and do an interview that you’re a hero, that you survived this fuckin’ TB, and wow!’ And I thought, Here we go again. I think that there’s going to be two stories. One that I’m dying, and one that I survived.“ Daniels had been thinking of moving to New York—maybe he’d save up enough money to bring over Alla and Dimitry. They were healthy, after all; they had tested negative for TB. Then again, maybe he’d sock away some money and buy a condo back in Russia. “Moscow is like a real free city,“ he said. “It’s more free than America.“ He was considering writing a book. A friend had told him there might be a movie deal in this thing. People were offering him money. It was all so amazing! For the first moment in a very long time, Robert Daniels had plans. “I’ve got a lot to do,“ he said. “I’m still alive.“ Someone had once told him something when he was a little kid from Russia, and it had turned out to be true: That American sugar? It was free for the taking.

You Might Like

Powered by ZergNet