Does it sound loony to think "Luv Guv" Bentley might be at the heart of our struggles in the Midwest ? I'm sure to some folks, it does. But we learned one week ago that Bentley has appeared before a special grand jury convened by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. Now, get a load of what Carol and I have been dealing with in that time frame. Here's a hint: It involves bed bugs.
First, we need to point out that I broke the Bentley-Mason story in a post dated August 31, 2015. Nine days later, on September 9, we were unlawfully evicted from our apartment in Springfield, Missouri, even though we had filed a notice of appeal that put an automatic stay on an eviction procedure. Despite the stay, of which all lawyers involved were notified in advance, Greene County deputies burst through our door, pointed multiple assault rifles and handguns at us, and wound up shattering Carol's left arm so severely that it required trauma surgery, and she is likely to regain only 80-percent use of it. Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott was present at the eviction, and immediately after three deputies had roughed up Carol, he pointed at her on the ground and claimed she had "assaulted a police officer." Carol even was taken to jail, only to be released when someone noticed her purple arms and ordered X-rays that showed the left one had been snapped like a twig, just above the elbow.
So, what's going on now? This one is almost funny, even to me. But the humor tends to dissipate when you and your spouse play the role of victims.
Since last September's unlawful eviction, we've been living at a pay-by-the-week, fleabag motel that we have come to call the "Shiftless Drifters Motel." It's real name is the Cloud Drift Motel. Photos on the Web suggest the Cloud Drift once was the kind of inexpensive, down-to-earth place that was popular in the '50s and '60s. You might say it possessed a touch of Americana.
But that's not the case anymore. The Cloud Drift Motel has fallen on hard times, and it apparently has been on hard times for quite some time. The clientele now appears to be down-on-their-luckers, including alcoholics, drug dealers, meth manufacturers, and folks who appear to have serious health problems and no family to help them. We've seen a number of oxygen tanks on the premises.
About two months ago, when the weather turned fairly warm here, we started noticing an occasional bug in our bed. Neither of us recognized what they were, and since they were few in number and didn't appear every night, we figured it must be some sort of seasonal creature that soon would disappear.(That's called, in the medical literature, "wishful thinking.")
Carol first raised the issue, "Could they be bed bugs?" I, not being an expert in entomology, said, "Oh, I'm pretty sure bed bugs are microscopic; you can't see them. We can definitely see these things, so I don't think they could be bed bugs."
Well, was I wrong about that. I might know a thing or two about the law, but it seems I'm pretty clueless about bugs, especially ones I've never seen before.
After researching the matter online, we became convinced they were, in fact, bed bugs. The question then became: What on earth do we do? Do we try to come up with a solution on our own? Do we contact management and let them give it a go? Our research indicated that eradicating a bed-bug problem can be a tricky and expensive exercise -- and we had neither the knowledge nor the finances to handle it.
That's when Carol notified the manager -- a woman named Allison; we don't know her last name -- only to be informed that we had caused the bed-bug problem, and we likely were going to be kicked out because of it.
I went with Carol the next day to see if I could figure out what was going on with the management's strange reaction to notice of a bed-bug problem. Among the first words out of Allison's mouth were: "You brought the bed bugs in, and you didn't notify us when you should have."
|A postcard of the Cloud Drift Motel, in its better days|
I should note that we've never seen a lease or any other piece of paper that provides details on a tenant's obligations should they see bugs. We never were given any guidelines about how to respond to a bug problem.
Allison admitted that bed bugs can move from one unit to another in any multi-family facility -- and we have other units on three sides of us, plus one above us. She also admitted that the motel's pest-control guy had not checked our unit for bed bugs, as he is supposed to. This is what Allison actually said, "You guys make your bed real nice, and he said he didn't want to bother it to check for bed bugs." In other words, it was our fault because we make our bed and try to keep our apartment clean.
According to Allison, and a guy who works for the company that owns the place, we would have to leave the premises for 12-14 days while they conduct a heat treatment to kill the bed bugs and then check to make sure they are gone. We understand that we would need to get out for a few days while the treatment is done -- and they claimed they had no other unit to put us -- but two weeks or so? Our research indicates a bed-bug treatment normally doesn't take that long.
I asked Allison, "Are you saying you want us to leave and not come back?"
"Yes," she said.
"Why is that? We've been model tenants, always paid on time, etc."
"You're not welcome. You brought the bed bugs."
"You have no way of knowing how the bed bugs got there."
"Well, I'm an expert, and I know you brought the bed bugs. Plus, you're not welcome because you're arguing with me."
"I'm arguing with you because you are trying to kick US out because of YOUR bed-bug problem. You can't begin to know how they got there. But it's your property, so the bugs are your responsibility."
Being a legally minded guy, I noted that Missouri law holds that landlords and hotel-motel managers operate under a "warranty of habitability." meaning they have a duty to make sure premises are relatively clean, operable, and habitable. Allison must have taken this as a threat of a lawsuit because she said, "Well, you would lose that like you lose everything else."
That certainly was an interesting comment. Where did she get that information? Does she make it a habit to check Alabama legal records? Or is it possible that someone with knowledge of the repeated cheat jobs we've experienced in court has communicated with her? If so, who was it? Does this establish an Alabama-Missouri pipeline that explains the abuse we've experienced in the Midwest?
We're not sure about the answers to those questions, but we intend to find out. We're also not sure how the bed-bug issue will play out, although I'm quite sure we have grounds for a lawsuit if they kick us out permanently and continue with their efforts to blame us for their problem. Would we pursue such a claim? We're giving that some thought.
Bed bugs aren't the only concern at the Cloud Drift Motel. The place might be charitably called a fire trap. In July 2011, a fire at the Cloud Drift apparently was caused by individuals using a meth lab. One person was treated for smoke inhalation, but there were no other injuries. In October 2012, a man died in a fire at the Cloud Drift when he apparently was smoking in bed near oxygen tanks.
Despite its rather seedy and dangerous environment, we've enjoyed our stay at the Cloud Drift Motel for the most part -- at least until the bed bugs arrived. It's sort of a rotating cast of characters in most units, so it's hard to get to know neighbors. And I'm not sure we want to know some of them. But one neighbor and his wife have been particularly nice and helpful. You really appreciate little kindnesses when you've been dumped on for 16 years the way we have been.
|A feral cat at the Cloud Drift Motel|
Perhaps the nicest feature of the Cloud Drift is that it's long been a dumping ground for feral cats. Normally, that's not a good thing -- and it pains us to be surrounded by cats who have no homes. We so wish we could do something about the problem, especially since many of these cats have been around people at the Cloud Drift enough that they are almost tame. Five or six of them have gotten to where they let us pet them, or they rub up against our legs.
We sometimes hear cat fights outside our door in the middle of the night. But for the most part, these "fur babies" are pretty well behaved. And I think most of them, with a little vet care and training, could be suitable pets.
Whether we leave because of bed bugs or we decide to leave on our own, we certainly will miss the feline friends we've made at the Cloud Drift. The motel, it turns out, is like a lot of places -- the animals (except for the bugs) are great, but some of the people suck.
Here is a story and video from a Springfield TV station about the feral cats at Cloud Drift Motel: