AND THEN THERE WAS THE TIME ...
NO WAY OUT
When most Americans think of Israel, they probably don’t envision wild nightclubs and flesh-filled beaches. But there are several nightclubs and they are wild. And there are many beaches and they are flesh-filled. There are, however, parts of Israel that represent what most people do envision when they think of this tiny Middle Eastern country. One is the Old City of Jerusalem, the walled section of Jerusalem – located in East Jerusalem – and the site of numerous ancient holy places. It is adjacent to the modern part of the town, West Jerusalem (the new city). The Old City, won back by the Jews from the Arabs in the Six-Day War of 1967, is divided into four sections – the Jewish, Christian, Arab, and Armenian.
During parts of my two-and-a-half month visit to the Promised Land in the summer and fall of 1993, I lodged at a place in the Jewish Quarter called Heritage House, a hostel for visiting Jews – the men’s building, of course, separate from the women’s. Because of its sacred surroundings, Heritage House implemented various policies, one of which was a Saturday night – actually, Sunday morning – curfew of 1 a.m. (the fact there was no fee to stay at the hostel made the curfew tolerable).
On one particular Saturday evening (again, Sunday morning), two hostel mates and I returned to our sleep place at approximately 1:05 after a night out in the new city. Just as Mike, Richard, and I approached the front – and only – door to the building, Steve, the live-in employee (janitorial, handyman duties, etc.) there, slammed it in our faces.
“Whattya doin’?” I asked Steve, who was known for mindless acts that made life at the hostel maddening at times, through the steel bars of the outer door (no, it was not a prison).
“It’s after one o’clock,” he slurred, head swaying and eyebrows raised, sounding well on his way to the Inebriation Hall of Fame. “You guys knew you had to be in by one. ... We’re closed. We open again in the morning.”
I couldn’t believe it. He’s not gonna let us in ‘cause we’re five minutes late?! My buddies and I argued back and forth with Steve for a good half hour, first through the outer door, and after he shut it, via the open windows upstairs in the front of the hostel – trading insults about one another’s family members and using language not exactly appropriate considering our surroundings, jargon that would make Eddie Murphy blush.
Richard decided to take the James Bond route and climb a ladder connected to a side of the building, which led to a deck leading to one of the rooms. When he made it to the top, none other than Steve was waiting for him. He wouldn’t let Richard in, and made him climb back down. As the three of us stood there pondering our next move, along came a tidy-looking young gentleman walking toward the hostel. Who is this guy?
The young man stopped at the front door and removed a set of keys from his front, right pocket. He’s got a key!
He placed one in the doorknob.
“Could you let us in?” we asked him simultaneously.
“Sure,” the man said.
Either this guy didn’t know the rules, or he didn’t care about them. ... My kind of guy. As we entered the building, I was relieved but panic-stricken. I get caught, I’m outta here.
Unlike my two comrades, who just stood in the foyer, my instincts took over as I darted down the hallway, into the bathroom. These weren’t nature’s instincts calling, either. … They were those of survival. As I rested on a commode in one of the two stalls, I reached to move the latch in order to lock the door. I was barely able to hear what was happening in the hallway.
“Where is he?” I heard Steve, who apparently had shown up just after I’d disappeared, ask Mike and Richard, clearly inquiring about me (I was the most outspoken when the insults were flying back and forth).
Please don’t tell him. I was so nervous, it was probably a good thing I was where I was.
“Yer outta here!” Steve snapped at them. The front door slammed.
He kicked ‘em out! ... He actually kicked ‘em out! He knows I’m in the building. Now he’s gonna come lookin’ for me! He’s prob’ly searchin’ every room in the hostel!
As I anxiously awaited Mr. Madman to come charging into the bathroom and start banging on the door to my stall, I noticed in addition to the door, three brick walls surrounded me, seemingly a lost cause. I felt like the young boy hiding in the airport restroom stall in the movie Witness – that is, until I glanced upward. There’s room up there! As I climbed toward the ceiling after hoisting myself from the toilet, I realized if Steve did come looking for me and found the door to an empty stall locked, he’d wonder. So, after descending and quietly moving the latch back, I made the full journey to the top, finally resting on the brick wall separating the two stalls. It wasn’t the widest – or safest – of surfaces, but this was no time to nitpick. It would have to do. Ten minutes passed, then 20. No sign of Steve. I did hear some laughs coming from the lounge, though. He must have some friends over. ... Maybe he forgot about me! I could crawl under the door and sneak upstairs! ... No, too risky.
When the clock on the wall, which was actually parallel to my eyes due to my elevation, read 2:15, I was exhausted ... and hot. So hot that sweat was dripping from my face. Fearing Steve would hear the perspiration drops smacking the floor (they were that loud, believe it or not, due to my altitude), I pulled my shirt out to shield them. Moments later, I heard footsteps. Shit, it’s him! It was – guess who? – stumbling into the bathroom humming a melody not even the finest Name That Tune contestant could possibly identify. What followed is not exactly one of my fonder memories. As Steve urinated some 10 feet beneath me, I realized it’d never occurred to me someone actually might have to use the facilities while I’m up there. It was time to surrender, time to raise the white flag. Although a tense moment, it was amusing too. Here was the guy who wanted me out of the building, relieving himself beneath me. It took all the restraint I had to keep from bursting out in laughter. I’m dead.
Luckily, Steve did not happen to glance upward, for if he had, not only would I have been
thrown out of the hostel until it re-opened after dawn – and perhaps permanently – but the resulting rumors that may have surfaced might’ve prompted me to shorten my stay and catch the soonest flight back to the States. Steve returned to his friends, and when 30 more minutes passed, not only was I hot and tired but irritated too. As the partying and carrying-on continued, I began to wonder if this night – er, morning – would ever end. Isn’t he ever gonna go to bed? Is this really worth it?
Actually, I was beginning to look at the situation as a challenge, a quest, to see if I could persevere without getting caught, but also get some shuteye. Suddenly, I heard footsteps, then some “goodbyes” and “good-nights.” After the front door slammed, I heard someone heading upstairs. It’s gotta be him. He musta given up ... or he’s too smashed to remember. He forgot about me!
Waiting until complete silence filled the air for 15 minutes, assuring me the coast was clear – that Steve indeed had called it a night (again, morning) – I lowered my sore legs and aching back to the floor. At a quarter after three, I opened the door and exited. I feel like I’m gettin’ outta jail. After tiptoeing upstairs – past Steve’s room – I entered my quarters and finally laid down to sleep.
Some five hours later, at a quarter past eight, I was awoken by a familiar-sounding voice that turned out to be the long lost Richard’s: “Look at him!” He and Mike were standing in the doorway, clothes ruffled, hair disheveled and both in dire need of a shave, staring at me with rings under their eyes. “We knew you went into the bathroom last night,” Richard continued with a hint of annoyance but also a grin.
“You’re lucky we covered your ass,” Mike added. “We end up sleepin’ on a coupla goddamn benches, and you ... you get a good night’s sleep!”
Moral of the story: Don’t break curfew.