William had been homeless for about 20 years when he received a $200,000 legal settlement. One of his first actions was to do what many would applaud: he got off the streets and out of the broken-down hotels of Los Angeles and rented an apartment. What he did not do was bathe, wash his hair, change his clothing, wear shoes, or alter his lifestyle of keeping all of his possessions in shopping bags.
The very day he moved in, the leasing agent left soap, shampoo, towels, and a change of clothing in his apartment. William was insulted and disgusted that his home had been “contaminated.” By the next week, neighbors were making complaints about the foul odor they said was seeping from his unit. A veritable battlefield of potpourri and deodorizers was laid out between his door and the next and eviction threats began.
Read the full story on the LA Weekly site: The Man Who Smelled Too Much
I couldn’t help think of a piece by Bourgeois (From Jibaro to Crack Dealer: Confronting the Restructuring of Capitalism in El Barrio) that we read in Anthropology Theory this week. The “common sense” of the other residents of the nice apartment building is foreign to William. If the problem is the odor leaving his home, then fine: he squirts some peppermint soap under the door and calls it good. His neighbors, the building management, and the eventual jury he faces can’t comprehend why he doesn’t simply bathe, put on shoes, and change his clothes. The foreman is baffled why William won’t cut his hair, since “it grows back.” There is some victim-blaming going on, but what about the rights of his neighbors? The comments on the article make for an interesting read, as well.