Trapped on the second-floor of a Jerusalem bookstore, two customers appealed for help to the owner on Facebook, in a 2016-style true-to-life adventure. Unbeknownst to the owner, Leor Holzer, two Americans, one book lover and one who was dragged along, found themselves in deep conversation when the lights suddenly shut off and door locked up for the night. It was then that they discovered that every child’s fantasy of after-closing hours life in a library or museum, is a little closer to a nightmare than a dream.
Their story unfolded in this way.
Bernard: Last night I found myself getting to live that childhood fantasy. But I came to realize how utterly foolish I was as a child, because, unless you find a sweltering vintage bookstore without a bathroom and electricity an exciting place, then staying after hours is terrible idea.
This is the problem with growing up, more and more I find out how right my parents were.
Meira: There’s this great little used bookstore off Yaffo street– Holzer Books. It’s easily overlooked as you walk down Yaffo. It’s tiny, two stories high, and absolutely covered wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling with books. I’d come across it before, and after working late, we were about to pass it, so I thought I’d show my friend this gem of a place.
Bernard: I probably could have kept walking, I probably should have kept walking. But who am I to say no? What did I have to lose?
Meira: The best part about this bookstore is the reading room on the second floor. As you make your way up rickety stairs, there are more books lining the walls, and then the hall opens up into a room lit with lamps that cast a soft glow on the mismatched overstuffed armchairs, colorful cushioned benches, an old typewriter, a lone guitar and frayed rugs.
Bernard: Wandering thoughtlessly and, as I would later find out, unnoticed, we made our way upstairs to Holzer’s reading room.
Meira: I plopped down in one of the large armchairs in the room, and we started discussing what we’re working on, not realizing that closing time was fast approaching.
Bernard: My friend and I talked, about work, then other things, then work again. We were the only two in the upstairs section of the bookstore. We were in the middle of conversation when the lights suddenly went off. “Oh, it looks like they’re closing,” she said. And almost as a response I hear the downstairs door lock and slam.
Meira: Were we actually locked in?
Blinking in the dark, I started to–obviously– laugh at the absurdity of that possibility. The owner saw us go upstairs, or so I thought. There’s no way he forgot we were here!
Bernard: At this point there was probably a window of opportunity when we could have screamed out of the barely open window from the reading room of the second floor. But instead we laughed. Because the possibility that an owner would lock us in their shop seemed ridiculous. Laughable even. And after laughing at the absurdity that was now a reality, we casually walked downstairs, assuming that since this was such an absurd scenario it must be easily remedied.
Meira: The power seemed to have been shut off completely, because as we headed down the stairs, the previously warm shop now became fairly sweltering.
Bernard: I made a beeline for the door, because doors are often the way out of places. And though it was a door, it was also a door with a lock. A lock that I believed I could overcome in my brief moment of desperation by turning the door handle. Won’t budge? Try harder, I thought, almost forgetting that they’re designed to stop this kind of thing.
“It won’t open,” I said, stating the obvious. “It needs a key.”
Meira: He was frantically shaking the door at that point. Beads of sweat began to roll down my forehead. “Maybe the owner’s cell number is in the front desk somewhere,” I said calmly, sitting down and rifling through the business cards piled by the computer.
Bernard: My friend didn’t respond, assuming probably that statements of facts don’t always need a response. She was looking at the wall instead. “Yo, I think these are keys,” she said raising my hopes only to shatter them when instead she pulled what looked like some big metal rings. It was dark, I didn’t blame her, I had just spent a few minutes proving I had forgotten how doors and locks work.
Meira: I looked at my phone. 37 percent battery left. Great. I dialed the number I saw on the business card for Holzer Books, praying that it was the owner’s cell number and not the store’s landline. Putting my phone to my ear, I didn’t hear any ringing. “It didn’t go through,” I said.
Bernard: “Nothing,” she said after a few attempts.
Meira: 36 percent battery left on my phone. But I had to document this, obviously. So I turned to Snapchat.
Bernard: “Dammit,” I said to myself. Partly coming closer to terms with staying in this hot book store all night and partly coming to the realization that I hadn’t seen any doors that could lead to bathrooms.
“Hey, look for a way to turn on the lights,” she said. I flashed my cellphone light in every direction. Reaching the back, I noticed an empty bottle of water which might as well have been labeled ‘bathroom’, because that was all I was thinking about.
“Well, at least I won’t have to compromise the carpet.”
Happy that I had an emergency bathroom plan in place, I walked back. “No lights, seems like he turned off the power,” I said.
“Makes sense, it looks like the number was to this phone,” she said, pointing to the landline next to her. At the end of that conclusion it seemed like she arrived at another because as soon as she finished she got up and started walking upstairs.
Meira: I started heading up the rickety stairs, thinking that maybe we could climb out of the open window I spotted in the reading room. Honestly, though, that guitar I spotted earlier seemed more attractive if we were going to be trapped.
Bernard: She took a seat in one of those stuffed armchairs, and almost happily said, “yes” as she reached for the guitar. I said almost because we were stuck in a sweltering bookstore with a 9 a.m. meeting scheduled for the morning, so how could anyone be so nonchalant?
To my bewilderment, she started playing. At this point we had just finishing calling a number to a phone that wasn’t turned on, failed to turn on the power and absurdly tried to open a locked door. Not an impressive checklist, but nonetheless here she was strumming the guitar and not talking.
Meira: I started strumming the guitar, debating what our options were at the moment. Calling the police seemed kind of drastic. Climbing out the upstairs window looked fairly complicated, and I knew I’d break something – either my leg or the window.
Bernard: It was only later that she told me what she was actually thinking when she was strumming the guitar, assuming that I somehow was privy to exactly what was going on in her mind. And as she sat there playing, she began closing her eyes slightly.
“Oh no.” I said trying to jostle her awake. “Hey, we need to figure out options here.”
I continued, “Look, we should probably try to get out, we have a few options. Call the police, break a window, call our friends.”
She responded by mumbling something back.
Meira: He then urgently listed drastic options. “Maybe we should just break a window,” he said. “Calm down,” I responded, I was obviously trying to think of something to do, but panicking never gets anyone anywhere. Rolling my eyes, I glanced at my phone. 35 percent battery. There are definitely worse places to be trapped, I thought to myself, glancing around and admiring the stacks of books lining the walls. But it definitely was way too hot in the room, and I had a 9 AM meeting to make the next morning.
I checked my snapchat story documenting our predicament. Then a possible solution hit me.
Bernard: “We’re stupid” she said, strange thing for a person to say while nearly falling asleep while playing a guitar and ignoring me. “We have social media. I’m going to find the guy who owns this place.”
Meira: I immediately began my digital mission. I knew the name of the bookstore. So I started Googling.
“Holzer Books owner” got me nowhere. I then got on Facebook. Secret Jerusalem, the best Facebook group around– finally– got me the name of the owner. Yes! Leor Holzer.
Bernard:“ I found him! I just sent him a message,” she said turning her phone to me.
Meira: “Let me try messaging him in Hebrew too. Not sure he speaks English,” I said, typing quickly.
Bernard: Hebrew University? Probably speaks English. Owning a bookstore should qualify, I thought. But he did just lock two strangers in the place where most of his income comes from. Not betting on this guy.
Meira: “He’s not going to see my messages for a while,” I realized. “I should just send him a friend request on Facebook so that he sees.” Friend request sent. Now, the waiting game…
Bernard: “He just accepted my Facebook request!” She said. “Wait, did he respond to your message?”
“No,” I said.
“Oh my God, he posted on my wall!” she exclaimed.
Posts on her wall, accepts her friend request, but ignores me. That’s cool, I almost just ruined this guy’s carpet, but whatever.
Meira: Unsure why, but grateful that he posted on my wall, I quickly comment back on his post,
Bernard: “What are you doing?!” I said. “Go back there and put an exclamation mark! He’s going to think we’re joking!”
Bernard: “He responded to my message too!” she said.
“What did he say?”
“What?!” I said.
Meira: Success! Facebook to the rescue.
Leor came all the way back to his bookstore to get us out.