Yes, that’s right. In the afternoon of Saturday, June 7, 2008, an explosion causes a massive fire that started in my bedroom, triggered by a spark from a faulty electrical outlet. The fire took place on the same day my roommates and I planned a huge party in our apartment. But, no one was in the apartment at the time. As you read the story below, there were many other coincidences that make this story truly miraculous. Today marks the anniversary of that fire, and I invite you to read my incredible story below.
On June 7, 2008, my roommates Sunny, Jon, and I organized a huge party at our apartment. We were all close friends and decided to throw a big party for all the friends we had made in the several years we have been living in NYC. We invited over 5,000 guests on Facebook, and over 300 people confirmed the invitation. We named it “6/7/8 at 9”, as the party was scheduled to take place on Saturday, June 7, 2008, at 9pm. As a matter of fate, the fire happened just hours before the party was scheduled to begin, and miraculously none of my roommates or I were in the apartment at the time.
Here’s what the apartment looked like from the outside. The apartment is located at 143 East 35th Street, New York, NY 10016. I currently live only a few blocks away.
Here’s what the apartment looked like shortly after the firefighters tackled the blaze. You are looking through my bedroom and into the living room. The walls were burnt and melted, and what remained was a skeleton of metal frames and wiring. The windows were broken by the firefighters to let a tremendous amount of heat and smoke escape, and the windows were now boarded by wooden planks. The floors collected massive amounts of black, charcoaled soot, and the floors were wet and soaked from all the water the firefighters hosed into the apartment. The white wire dangling from the ceiling in the middle of the picture used to hold a disco ball I had hanging from the ceiling of my bedroom, as I love disco music from the 1970’s. I can only imagine my disco ball’s “last dance” was in a “disco inferno”.
On a more serious note, the Fire Marshall from the FDNY told us that within two minutes after the electrical explosion, the temperature of the fire was over 2,000 degrees, as the heat and pressure created a furnace, trapped in between the concrete floor and the concrete ceiling. He told us that if anyone was inside the apartment, they would have not been able to survive, as the explosion, fire, heat, pressure, and smoke, would have likely disoriented, suffocated, burnt, and ultimately killed everyone inside. It even took the firefighters hours to fight the blaze from the outside, and all of them risked their lives eventually going inside the apartment.
Just as the fire was starting we had another friend Ted, who lived in the apartment above ours that smelled the smoke, and realized our apartment below was on fire. As he dashed through his apartment, he grabbed his backpack and guitar and fearlessly made a 2-story jump out the back window. There was no fire escape and he had no other means of exit. Luckily he wasn’t injured, but he was taken to the hospital. There was no one else in the building.
Here’s another image of the apartment after the fire. You are actually looking through two bedrooms and the living room. My bedroom was in the middle of this photo.
As you can imagine, we lost everything, and my roommates and I were immediately left homeless. Everything I had in that apartment was everything that I had at that point in my life: all the most important possessions when I was a kid that I brought to NYC from my childhood home, everything that I had from college, and everything that I had in NYC, including an expensive IWC Pilot’s Watch I recently purchased as a gift to myself (I always wanted to have a nice watch, and I spent many months researching the one that felt right to me. A watch is one of the few items a man will always wear, everyday, so it’s important to pick the right one that will last for decades).
But at that point, the thought of having to buy new things was the last thing I wanted to do after losing all my old things, but buying new things was what was required. We didn’t have renters insurance, and we never received any compensation from the building. But, I had to at least have the basics of survival, and the first items I bought were packs of white t-shirts, underwear, and socks. I will always remember making that purchase at the Kmart on 34th Street and 7th Avenue. Hanesbrand is one of our clients for WindowsWear, and everything I bought was Hanes. I was also dating a girl at the time who worked in luxury fashion, and she generously contacted all her friends across the industry to get them to send me clothes and shoes. Almost everything I received fit me perfectly, and I was getting packages of shirts, shorts, jeans, and pants from Bergdorf Goodman, shoes from Hogan, ties, and belts from Ferragamo, and more. My wardrobe and my mentality at the time was certainly a mix of both homeless chic and high fashion. I also got other packages from other friends, and will always be grateful of everyone’s generosity.
So why was no one at the apartment? As mentioned previously, we had organized a huge apartment party, with the name of the party being the date of the party. My roommates and I were all supposed to be at the apartment, getting it ready for the evening.
Well, about a week prior, one of my roommates remembered he had a family function he needed to attend on the day of the party, and told us roommates that we had to postpone the party. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe he forgot about this, as we planned the party for months, with thousands of people invited, and hundreds planning to attend.
He wanted to reschedule the party, and I argued we absolutely could not. “How can we change the day of the party when the title of the party is the date of the party?”, I remember asking. He was very steadfast on changing the date of the party, and after many heated arguments, I thought to myself, why are you arguing with one of your best friends, it’s not worth it. I remember thinking how stupid it was to change the date of the party so abruptly, and how embarrassing it would be to tell everyone, but now I forever thank him for doing it. Even still to this day I don’t remember ever arguing with him before, no have I ever had a major argument with him since.
So, we postponed the party and notified everyone to not show up to our apartment on June 7, 2008. With the party postponed, he ended up going to the family function, and my other roommate took the day to spend time at Central Park, as it was a sunny, hot summer day (NYC had a record heat day that day, and it may have caused an electrical surge which caused the faulty outlet in my bedroom to spark and explode).
For me, my mom was moving to Israel, and she was in the process of selling our home in Maryland, which meant that we had to get rid of everything in the house in order to sell it. I decided to take the weekend and helped my mom organize a huge garage sale to help clear everything out.
So, on June 7, 2008, I was in Maryland at the home that I grew up in and that my family lived in for over 20 years. Here’s an image of the house below.
Every item in the home had a story to it, and she was in the process of letting it all go. I could tell my mom was sentimental about everything, from a toy I once played with, to the plates, cups, and glasses we used, to even a moose hat that I didn’t even know we had. She was getting nervous about letting everything go, and even was suggesting to cancel the garage sale.
That morning, I decided to give my mom a pep talk, one I will never forget. I told her that it is important to have the garage sale, and if someone wants to take something, even for free, then they should take it because soon everything will need to be disposed of. I also told her that if everything in my apartment in NYC burnt down, I would be okay, because I have my life, and that’s the most important thing, and that she should let everything go. A few hours after saying that to my mom, I get a phone call that there was a fire in my apartment and that I had to immediately go back to NYC.
On the way back to NYC, I wondered what it meant that there was a fire in my apartment. I imagined a sheet of paper, with the corner burnt off. That’s what I thought it meant by there being a fire, that there was something in the corner burnt, and everything else was fine – I couldn’t imagine the devastation until I witnessed it for myself. I also recall my statements to my mom telling her that if there was a fire in my apartment that I’d be okay, because I have my life, and it’s okay if I everything I had was let go.
Yes, this is a true story, and it’s one that could not have happened by chance: the date of the party being the day of the fire, the fire instantaneously starting through a faulty electrical socket, the sudden cancellation of the party, telling hundreds of people to not come to the apartment on that day, me telling my mom that if I had a fire in my apartment in NYC I’d be okay, and that it’s okay if everything you have is discarded.
A few weeks after the fire, I also left Lehman Brothers. It was my first job out of college, and I was an investment banking analyst there for three years. I joined a distressed debt, activist hedge-fund called Aurelius Capital Management. The fire occurred in the middle of the process of interviewing with the firm. Aurelius had not made a single hire before me in over 6 months, and I was the only one in 6 months to score high enough on their rigid Calipher test, after hundreds of others failed. I took that test the week after the fire, and actually had to buy a new suit just to show up to take the test at their office. A few months after that, Lehman Brothers collapsed, and I further escaped destruction – my timing to leave Lehman Brothers was perfect.
At Aurelius I worked with some of the smartest, most talented people I’ve ever met. Working with Mark Brodsky and the team at Aurelius gave me the skills to think like an entrepreneur, and not necessarily someone who just gets told what to do, but how to think about what to do, and how to get the information you need to achieve your goals, and how to properly analyze the information you have, and how to get others to align to your interests, in this very uncertain world around you. I was there for about 2 years, and I always felt like I was working for a top-secret intelligence agency like the C.I.A.
I would not be where I’m at today without the knowledge I gained from working there. Mark always wore a black Bell & Ross watch with a blue face. I’ve never seen that watch before, but when I saw it when I was interviewing with him just a couple weeks after the fire, I knew it would serve as the replacement for the watch that burned down. I ended up liking the black watch with an orange face better, and every time I think about or someone highlights my watch, I remember my time at Aurelius and it is the one special gift to myself I bought after the fire.
There’s another twist to this story that my mom, Leia Shahar, discovered! My grandfather (whose name is my middle name, Mordechai Shahar), passed away on Friday, May 31, 1968, which is the 4th of Sivan, 5728 (ד׳ בְּסִיוָן תשכ״ח). My middle name is Mordechai Shahar because I have my blue eyes from my grandfather, and I’m the only child in my entire family (both from my mom and dad’s side, to have blue eyes), and thus he’s where I get my blue eyes from. The day of the fire was Saturday, June 7, 2008, which is the 4th of Sivan, 5768 (ד׳ בְּסִיוָן תשס״ח). It’s the same Hebrew date of the fire, exactly 40 years! Further, if my grandfather had still been living, then he would have also been 100 years old, as he was born in 1908. The name Mordechai is also the name for Mark in Hebrew. The coincidence of the day of the fire, the blue watch was worn by Mark, might have been all a reminder from my grandfather.
As you see, losing everything was a very humbling experience, and still is a
humbling reminder for me. It also showed me the power of the universe, with June 2008 being a month of a lot of major activity. I also realized the universe is there to help guide and protect you in ways you can’t realize until they actually happen.
I realized how everything can instantaneously vanish, but out of losing everything I have gained everything that’s important. It also caused me to want to build even bigger, and even stronger. It’s also the reason why I’m sharing this story. At the end of the day, our stories, our memories, and what we create and how long they last are truly the most important, and they will always live on as long as there are others to share them.