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The Right to Smell? Readers Respond to Our Cover Story 

Thursday, Nov 15 2012
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Home Sweet Home

Some things have changed in California since we last checked in. Jerry Brown has a new tax. The Lakers have new coach. People with three strikes are no longer out. But some things remain the same: Obama cruised to re-election. A host of silly ballot propositions fell to defeat. And women continue to lust for alpha males and five-star generals (didn't we learn anything from Gov. Schwartzenegger's screwups, America?).

Back at the L.A. Weekly, our mailbag is bursting — mostly thanks to Gendy Alimurung's poignant cover story about a formerly homeless man whose life got much worse after he moved into a downtown loft ("The Man Who Smelled Too Much," Nov. 9). William Nowell's distinct odor — and penchant for walking around shoeless — upset his neighbors to the point that he ended up being evicted.

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"Hmm. Sounds like management wanted to fill a unit, and only remembered after the fact that they didn't actually like the man they were renting to," Sunnie concludes. "Sad."

"It sounds more like someone took pity on the man and expected him to clean himself up now that he wouldn't be homeless anymore," Peabody3000 snipes back. "The fact that the man wouldn't do that makes him an unfit neighbor. Restaurants can deny service to people who don't wear shoes, but an apartment can't enforce minimal hygienic standards? Do you want to be forced to smell him eating at the table next to you since the law doesn't define what poor hygiene is?"

Hplant says he was initially sympathetic. "I live in this building, and I yelled at a few of my neighbors for pitching a tantrum at the front security guard when this dude first moved in. I believe their comments were 'DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW DANGEROUS THIS IS? WHO THE F*** LET HIM MOVE IN?' I called them spoiled yuppies and said they should move back to West Hollywood if they can't give a man a chance downtown.

"I began to eat my own words in about a month. Every time William came down into the lobby, the entire 3,000-square-foot space would fill with a smell I can only describe as a person fermenting in vinegar. Even after he left, the smell would persist for about 10 minutes — that's straight-up wizardry! Now we live downtown, where human feces, vomit, garbage, desperation and dog pee are all odors that assault your face on a daily basis. I bet you can't even fathom a smell that would make you second-guess your own human decency."

Margareteatwood — whom we can only presume has no relationship to the Canadian novelist of the same name — writes, "This is pretty horrifying. Shouldn't social services have reached out and helped him manage his money and life more effectively? It appears he had money yet no one around to help him regain life skills. Depressing."

A commenter who says he's a tenant at a different building managed by SB Properties remembers Nowell touring his building. "I thought the article was a great read and fascinating to me since he could have been a neighbor," he writes. "But simply put, mental illness aside, a person's rights and freedoms end when they start infringing on mine. If you have ever had a neighbor who blasted music late at night, or had a dog bark incessantly all day long when they were out, or left garbage in the hallways, you know how awful that experience can be. Apartment living is, in large part, a communal experience, and if someone doesn't bathe — for whatever reason — and the odor becomes something awful that you have to deal with every day, something that you smell when you get out of the elevator and seeps into your living space, that is just unacceptable.

"My heart goes out to the guy, but getting a loft in basically a high-rise building filled with other tenants was a terrible decision. For the price of his loft he could have tried to rent a small home in another neighborhood, where his eccentricities would not have affected others. It seems like bad judgment on the part of SB for renting to him, but if he had the money and signed the lease, I don't see how they could deny him the opportunity. Blaming this on the building manager does not seem fair — it seems like she and management tried to help him."

Croupier is less sympathetic. "So let me get this straight," he writes. "This guy gets $200,000 from the city and prefers to give most of it to lawyers rather than take a bath. Am I missing something here? I will never see that kind of money in my lifetime, but if I did, the first thing I would do is move out of this godawful city. I'm all about standing up for your rights and individuality, but this guy is just plain STUPID."

We'll give the last word to Eric Andrist, the jury foreman who was quoted in the piece and who tried to help Nowell after he was evicted. "This article has a message to tell about a wonderful man who has been wronged. It's so awful that people feel the need to come here with their misguided opinions and slam him when they don't even know what they're talking about. Criticizing William based on your dime psychoanalysis of him is just cruel. What a shame that you've missed the point of the article.

"Instead of allowing yourselves to see how poorly some humans treat others, you've jumped on the bandwagon and thrown your own stones."

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Please send letters to L.A. Weekly, 3861 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. Or write us at ReadersWrite@laweekly.com. Full name and contact info preferred.

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