I’ve been asked this question a few times, what was the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you?
Well a lot of scary things have happened to me, some of them I have deliberately caused due to my own mistakes, sins, actions, and failures. I will readily admit that much, since I am no longer a youth, it gives me some amount of pleasure to look back and think of all the wild and sometimes stupid things I have done and seen in my life.
I have kept off a cliff deep inside the Angeles Crest’ mountains just north of LA county. When I landed in 8-10 feet of water I realized that this shallow water was not enough to soften the blow to my feet and back upon impact. I nearly broke my back and severely hurt my foot. Thank God I did not break a bone or permanently injure my spine or back. I was very lucky.
I’ve been pulled underwater by a parasailing mishap in Mexico that nearly killed me in the summer of 1999. I will write more about that incident later in the book since it brought me a lot closer to God.
I’ve been involved in several fist fights in my youth, many times making friends with those same guys later in life. I’ve also had some trouble with the law. I’ve been chased by helicopters once and sped away in a BMW 850 (they don’t make those anymore), which had a top speed of 170 mph. It was a heavy car so it took me about 20 seconds to get there, but I did get there. I got away that time.
But not in Pasadena, when I was involved in another police chase and this time, because I had some friends with me that were afraid, I did pull over and later I got probation for it. Once I was at a mansion house party in South Pasadena and there was a gunfight that broke out where bullets and chairs were literally flying everywhere. For some reason when you are young, you think you’re invincible. So while we were a bit scared we were more amused, thinking we were in some sort of cool film or something. And just walking away while the cop cars and helicopters came just made it seem so cool. I once did a small stint in Twin Towers for cheating on the LSAT (long story).
I am not proud of these things but they did happen, and today, as a mature businessperson (at least I’d like to think that I am), I am very thankful to God that He kind of watched over me and made sure I survived all of these things, and many more things that are probably not fit to be written inside a business book.
But none of these things really scared me. There was only one time in my life where I was terrified. There is only one incident in my entire life where I felt as though even the word “terrified” could be used. And that was the result of a house fire.
Our house in the Glendale Hills was burning, probably because my younger brother Ara either left a candle or a joint lit in the room and closed the door behind him, not knowing that the small flame could ignite the entire freaking house.
All I remember is someone yelled. “Smoke, fire!” Now most people would just exit the house to safety. Not me. For some reason adrenaline kicked in and I ran into the smoke downstairs in some kind of Superman-like stunt in order to stop the flames and save my house. Now I would never, ever ask you or anyone else to do the same thing because this is very dangerous. You can easily pass out due to smoke inhalation, and all your brain needs is 5 minutes without oxygen for you to a become a brain dead vegetable for the rest of your life. So I don’t know why I did that; probably because I was both scared and excited and I just didn’t think and jumped into action right away, something like a reaction not an action that God has put in all of us when we’re confronted with emergency situations. Fight or flight kicks in and we become like passengers to our own built-in auto pilot responses in conditions like this.
Anyway, I ran downstairs, into the smoke, and holding my breath and with my eyes burning, opened the glass door downstairs and walked out, all of the gray smoke following me. Outside I found the small room that was on fire, which was adjacent to the beginning of the pool: it was the smallest room of the house. Now believe me when I say I was not just scared, I was terrified. Terrified of these flames and that someone would be injured, terrified of losing my house, and scared about the smoke going upstairs or hurting someone else in my family. I was hearing yells and screams from upstairs but I could not make out what it was. Later I discovered it was my mother and father yelling our names, making sure we were all still alive. I did not answer because naturally I was busy fighting this damned fire.
I took the garden hose, turned on the water as fast as I could and started fighting the fire. First I wet the walls from the left, then the ceiling, the upper wall to the right, then to the right, and finally the bed and mattress. Right as I was doing this the window to my right blew out with a loud “Booof!” sound, just like in the movies. I was blown back a bit from the heat and the impact of the explosion, but thankfully none of the glass or shards hit me. I continued to put the flames out. Now one thing about me, I love fire, I love flames, I love fireworks, so I have always been drawn to the fire. I’m somewhat of a pyromaniac in a lot of ways, I enjoy playing with fire, doing magic with flash paper, and things of this sort. But nothing would ever prepare me for the terrifying power a large fire has over our life and death. I remember thinking, even in that moment, “Wow, I have never been this scared in my life.”
After about 22-25 minutes I put the entire fire out and the room was safe. The only flames I could not extinguish were those underneath the mattress. Down the mattress stuffing proved to be a lot of fuel for the fire, which was made up of the mattress itself and the blankets. They did not seem to want to stop burning, but by then the brave guys from the Glendale Fire Department showed up. They had gas masks on and fearlessly walked into the room after preparing themselves to do so for about 5 minutes, with gas masks and axes. Luckily for them (and for us) I was able to put out 95% of the fire before they got there.
Say what you will but when your own house is on fire, you really want to fight it. You think of the pictures, computers, clothes, memories. Everything that is in the house that makes it not a house but a home. We fight for that. By then we had one guy from the news outside nobody wanted to talk to, and we had about 3 insurance company agents which specialized in helping get us money for the fire damage.
In that moment I thought of them like vultures surrounding a dead prey. We were all in no mood to talk to them. Later, though, I was very thankful they were there because one of them helped us get a lot of money from our insurance company. This was the money we needed to repair the damage that the insurance company would otherwise not have given us.
We used the insurance money to fix the damage, and later we were also able to get a nice house 2 homes up from that location. What I learned is that everything happens for a reason. When you’re in a fight with a fire that is threatening to consume your home, your family, and your life: fight and fight hard. Never give up. Help is coming.