April 25, 2010
A minor story that didn't pass my smell test
When I read this story I suspected there was more to it than was being reported:
(04-21) 18:28 PDT Bellingham, Wash. (AP) --Common sense suggested that this was not an ordinary "customer" with "body odor." Store customers would not go to the trouble of complaining about regular body odor (such as sweaty armpit smell) on another customer. They would likely ignore it and go on about their business.
So I suspected that the man must have been emitting an overpowering stench -- the kind not associated with normal people or with regular, even unpleasant body odor, but the kind associated with people who are incapable of caring for themselves on the most basic level. Like the guy I encountered in the New York subway who made me realize that we give preferential treatment to suffering dogs:
I remember riding the New York subway once and being overcome by the stench of a man who was sleeping on five or six seats. The car was nearly empty, and people kept moving out of it and into other cars simply because the foul smell of rotten vomit and fecal material was strong enough to make a normal person wretch. (Really, the people leaving looked like they were going to get sick if they stayed.)I suspected that the "customer" in the store was probably no more of a customer than the man in the subway, and that his body odor was probably that same sort of overpowering stench that would make you want to vomit.
Not only should a person who neglects himself to that point get help, but customers should not have to put up with anything that unhygienic in a stores -- especially stores like Costcutter where food is sold, and where public health laws prohibit even the cleanest dogs and the cleanest bare feet for public health reasons.
Anyway, it turned out that my suspicions were probably right. The man was in there stinking up the store for four hours and (If the commenters to this local story know what they're talking about), he is mentally ill, and has a long history of arrests for typical homeless person type charges.
Boehringer apparently was in the store for about four hours Sunday when the complaints were made by other customers. When he returned to the store Monday, the employee approached him, either to talk about the complaints or about loitering in the store -- police reports are unclear on that.I feel really sorry for the owner of the store, for the employees, and even for the arresting officer (who undoubtedly did not want the poor wretch in his nice clean police car). There really isn't much anyone can do, other than play "let's pretend that we're dealing with a normal rational person and hope the courts do something." No one wants to do anything. They don't want him in the store, the police car, in court, or in the prisons. And of course the mental hospitals will only hold him for a few days, and then he's out, and free to go back to his favorite store where he can wallow in his filth all day, yell at the products on the shelves (which is how some commenters characterize the problem) and drive away customers. I think this one probably hit the nail on the head:
Since we closed Western State mental hospital, we in this state have been paying for it daily.The strict Thomas Szasz Libertarian approach is simply to treat the mentally ill the same way we would treat normal people. The problem is, that does not happen. We can't treat them like everyone else because they aren't like everyone else. If I went into a store and punched out a clerk, I'd be charged with assault and battery, I'd show up in court to face charges, and if convicted I would get probation or prison. On a fourth offense, I would most likely be sent up for a period of time. The problem with mentally ill people is they don't show up for court dates, judges don't want to send them to prison because they don't belong there and will be victimized, and everything just gets deferred until they really do something bad. (Like, saw open someone's chest.) And so, while I would agree that it's inhumane to send someone like that to prison, where should they go? It's completely dysfunctional to just pretend they're normal. (Just a regular old customer with body odor who lost his temper....) Same thing with the term "homeless" -- the implication being they're just like the rest of us only they lack housing.
It's just a minor story, but it reflects massive denial.
posted by Eric on 04.25.10 at 12:39 PM
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