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Cover story

L.A. wedding
"This was bigger than Princess Di's"

By Hamid Taghavi
May 31, 1999
The Iranian

My friend Faramarz recently asked me to attend a Beverly Hills wedding, one which his friend Fred was arranging in order to discuss a business proposition. Faramarz himself couldn't go because he was due at a support group meeting, "Procrastinators Anonymous". He said he had been meaning to go to there for years but he had always put it off. Since my girlfriend Becky always wanted to see an Iranian wedding I reluctantly took her along.

As we walked into the palatial banquette hall, I noticed a few large 18 wheelers parked outside with the words "L.A. Catering" in English and "katering-e ebrahim" in Farsi. A big crane was unloading the containers of food onto a loading dock where teams of laborers, each team wearing a different color vest, were hauling the boxes of fruits and food inside. The red team was carrying boxes of fruits while the green team was taking in the cold cuts. That was my first time at a wedding where forklifts were involved. In the lobby, well-dressed hall managers were barking into their walkie-talkies, directing the crowds, while men in black shades were keeping an eye on the crowd. For a minute I couldn't tell whether this was a wedding or a Ricky Martin concert. This was bigger than Princess Di's wedding.

We lined up at the registration table. There, the lady in charge asked for our invitations and two picture IDs. After she verified the authenticity of the invitations on her computer we were finger-printed and photographed. Afterwards, she asked if we had any gifts to declare, whether we had bought the gift at the bridal registry and if not, why. She also asked if we had the receipt and whether we were willing to turn it over to the bride in case she wanted to return the present. She made us fill out a questionnaire that asked how we knew the bride and the groom, whether we were related or friends, had heard about the wedding through the word of mouth or had seen their infomercial on TV, whether we had been invited in a civilized way or had used bribery, extortion, blackmail, or the threat of exclusion from our own parties. She also asked if we were carrying in any packages which we may have accepted from a suspicious looking guy who may have been the bride's distraught ex-boyfriend.

After all that, she finally cracked a smile, handed me a package and said:

"Welcome to Bijan and Manijeh's wedding. Here is your welcoming kit. In there you'll see a brief biography of Bijan and Manijeh, a photo history of their families, their homes in northern Tehran, their fabled journey to America, how Bijan met Manijeh, whether she was wearing make-up when they first kissed, as well as maps to the restrooms and your table. By the way, for a fee you can upgrade your table to first class and eat with the bride and groom."

At this point, another guy who had just opened his welcoming kit turned red and began bickering, trying to change his table closer to the dance floor. He yelled that he was a doctor and his father was once a minister during the Shah's regime and that his sports utility vehicle was newer than anyone else's at the wedding. He must have been assigned to one of those remote seats located at the periphery of the main hall back against the door where every time the door opened your chair would be the doorstop. He said he didn't want to use binoculars to look at the live band, nor walk half a mile to refill his plate during dinner because, he claimed, he was diabetic and had to be near food otherwise his blood glucose could dip. He warned if he died, the party people would have blood on their hands. Becky who knows a few words of Farsi asked me if the guy was from the city of Hert, because he had made several references to "shahr-e hert." Fortunately, just as he was getting upset enough to show some Kung-Fu-looking moves, Fred, the organizer of that kingly event found us and got us out of there before there was serious trouble.

"So, doctor joon, I'd like to show you around."

"That's nice, Fred, but I'm not a doctor."

"It's okay. That'll be our little secret."

Once we opened our kit and saw that we were assigned to table 744, I realized the whole town had been invited to this momentous occasion. Fred checked out the map to our table and exclaimed with satisfaction:

"That's a very good table, doctor, because it's near the dance floor. Mr. Bijan must really like you. Does he owe you money or did you save his life?"

"No, Fred. Bijan was trying to unload his nasty ex but he just couldn't. Unknowingly, Faramarz started dating her and that consequently paved the way for Manijeh. By the way, is Fred short for Fereidoon?"

"No. It's short for Ebrahim, doctor."

I took out my pen and made a note. I have a special notebook where I keep track of what American name matches a given Persian name. Some day I may want to have a kid, and all other dual-use names may already be taken by relatives.

Fred led us to the "hospitality area", a euphemism for "how much can you stuff your face before the bride and groom get there." Becky wanted some coffee and Fred took us to the hot-beverage hall, which was next to the cold-beverage bar, which was next to the non-alcoholic-cold-beverage area, which was next to static-free-cell-phone calling area where people were making calls to other places telling them why they were at this place and not the other place. There, a beautiful American girl dressed in a local Iranian costume was sitting on a large spread flanked by two large samovars serving hot beverages. Becky was offended as she took this to be symbolic of the Iranian community having officially completed the conquest of L.A. and enslavement of the indigenous Anglo population. I had to reason with her at length to calm her down. I made up some lie about that girl being really an Iranian who was a wizard with make-up.

Outside, there was a huge pile of fruits by the wall. Let's call it Mount Fruit for brevity. There were fruits there that I know and like. There were also fruits there that even science hasn't discovered yet. They must have been especially grown for Bijan and Manijeh. An elderly gentleman who looked like he had difficulty walking was so inspired by the size and variety of Mount Fruit that he was climbing it to get to that one perfect peach at the summit for his wife who kept insisting he'd make sure the peach was ripe.

We walked back to the hospitality area. While I began to sample the food, we stood by and admired everybody's standard issue black attire. All of a sudden, a lady who must have seen another lady in an identical black outfit fainted. Of course, all those dresses look the same. So it was beyond me how she could faint at the sight of one and not all the others. But what do I know? The distraught husband of the collapsed lady yelled "Someone call an ambulance.... Is there a doctor in the house?" In a flash, the great majority of the men present converged on the fainted lady.

"Cancel the ambulance," the relieved husband called out, "call a lawyer instead..." Instantly, the infamous Ms. Pary Franklin approached and presented her husband's card. I don't know whether it was the magic of modern medicine, the glitter of the doctors' Rolexes or the proximity of a good lawyer who understands the needs of the Iranian community and whose wife speaks Farsi, but within minutes the lady was up on her feet again and back to her consoling friends. One commented that life is unfair and these things happen sometimes. Another mentioned that the lady wearing a similar outfit was two sizes larger and therefore her dress was technically different. And another one said Tonya Harding's ex-husband was a good customer at her husband's chelokaboby and perhaps for a nominal fee he could teach that evil copy-cat's knees a lesson. They said it wasn't the end of the world, even though I could swear it was, the way the color-coded laborers were hauling food in on beeping forklifts. So, I kept looking for the antichrist but I couldn't see anyone who looked like Netanyahoo.

About half way through the wedding, Ebrahim/Fred cautioned me that the five course thing I was having was really hors d'oeuvres and to save room for dinner. Now I was getting offended. If the wedding got any more opulent than that, I was going to disqualify myself and kick me out of the wedding for not being worthy. Fortunately before I had a chance to act on my impulse I became distracted by the caterers who rolled in a whole roasted turkey through the hospitality area and into the main hall.

It was such a large party that I ran into quite a few friends whom I hadn't seen for ages. I ran into the guy who was sitting next to me on the plane when I first left Iran. His father who was a green grocer around the corner in my neighborhood now owned a chain of supermarkets in L.A. Then I ran into an old neighbor who was a street vendor of Eskimo Pies in Iran and was now a distributor of major refrigeration equipments. I met another guy with whom I went to kindergarten whose father was a money changer in Tehran's Lalehzar district and was now an investment banker managing billions of dollars. I took their business cards and put them in my pocket. I also ran into another guy I used to know who was a very smart student and was now an accomplished poet and a college professor. I threw away his card.

Fortunately, before I ran into more undesirables, trumpets sounded and an entourage of cute kids in pretty outfits who were carrying baskets of flowers ran into the hall, dancing and jump-twirling and blazing a heavenly trail for Bijan & Manijeh by tossing up flowers, confetti, coins and pager batteries. There were drum-rolls and an elaborate horse-drawn carriage which pulled right up to the door. Then Prince Bijan and Princess Manijeh stepped out and there were raucous cheers and an instant standing ovation. I couldn't tell if it was in honor of Bijan's dashing tuxedo or Manijeh's generous cleavage. They strolled to the wedding theme through the sea of Armanis, Guccis, and Cartiers, smiling and waving to the admiring guests.

Becky took out a camera to take a picture, but Fred cautioned her that when she had accepted the invitation in writing, she had legally agreed to the fine print on the invitation which disallowed taking pictures as it would dilute the value of the official photographs. He said technically he was supposed to confiscate and smash the camera. It enraged me so much that I felt like confiscating and smashing his face. But fortunately before I had a chance to act on my impulse I was distracted by the caterers who rolled in a whole roasted lamb through the hospitality area to the oohs and aahs of the crowd and into the main hall.

Becky brought to my attention that some women were changing outfits every hour. I brought to her attention that she was the problem and not them; she was so far behind times that she didn't know that fashions were going out of style almost by the hour. These ladys were just keeping up, unlike Becky who was embarrassing me in her day-old dress which she had bought at some ordinary department store where commoners shop, rather than getting something from a genuine boutique with a saleswoman who was legitimately anorexic. I vowed to myself that as soon as we left the party I'd dump her. I would have dumped her right then and there except that before I had a chance to act on my impulse I was distracted by the caterers who rolled in a whole roasted side of beef through the hospitality area to the oohs and aahs of the crowd and into the main hall.

After the obligatory first dance to the sounds of a complete symphonic orchestra, Bijan and Manijeh sat down by a beautiful wedding set of candelabras, mirrors, candied sugar and flowers inside a gazebo made of white silk. The minister began performing the ceremony. He read a sermon which perhaps was meant to agitate any ultra-feminists in the crowd by directing the bulk of his talk at the bride but sparing the groom. He commented on how she should guard her chastity and be a good wife and listen to hubby at all times and not use too much lipstick and to cater to his every whim and not to wash his color shorts with his white shirts and to clip his toe-nails carefully so as not to draw blood. I figured Bijan's father had written the sermon.

The minister then asked the crowd if there were any English speaking guests who wanted to hear the sermon in English also. Though no one responded, he proceeded to recite the whole thing in English anyway. Afterwards, he did it in Spanish for any nannies who may have been present to hold the babies so that their slobber wouldn't stain their mothers' black dresses. Then in French for any possible hotel guests from eastern Canada who may have accidentally wandered in, and then in German because he had spotted a husky woman in the lobby who was rumored to be named Gretchen. Finally, the multi-lingual sermon came to a merciful end and he began asking the groom if he was willing to take that woman, Manijeh, to be his wife. One would assume the answer was to be yes, otherwise, after months of agonizing over whether they wanted pink or peach place settings, he would have probably aborted Operation Feed-Beverly-Hills before the wedding so that he wouldn't have to say "no" before a large audience.

Becky moved closer to the action and watched the ceremony with interest, but I stayed back to taste-test the pastries and chat with Fred.

"So, Fred, how long have you been arranging weddings?"

"Oh about five years, doctor. I used to be an engineer. But I couldn't make ends meet on an engineer's salary. Everybody in my neighborhood was somebody except for me. They owned chains of gas stations, auto-shops, distributorships, you name it... They all had money, prestige, and class and a new car every week. But I was only a lowly engineer. I used to lie to everyone and tell them that I was a real estate proprietor... But deep inside I was ashamed of myself. Life wasn't getting better either. We needed a house in a better zip code. The kids needed cell phones with unlimited minutes for their brand new cars. The wife needed a tummy tuck because the doctors had given up hope on liposuction. Excuse me for a sec... I gotta do this."

He stopped and listened. The minister was wrapping it up:

"...aaya vakilam bandah?"

"AROOS RAFTEH GOL BECHINEH," Fred yelled out and then turned to me and continued. "Where was I, doctor joon? I was looking for a good business idea. Then it hit me. For years I knew there was a great void in the community for good Iranian weddings. Iranians want pageantry, extravaganza, razzle-dazzle. They want luxurious and lavish settings. And they want Persian food, not the watered down run-of-the-mill Western style. They want a ballroom that reminds them of Persepolis, with tall columns and chandeliers large enough to light up a city. They want whole Holleywood film crews instead of video alone. Excuse me for a sec, doctor..."

"...aaya vakilam bandah?"


At this point, the caterers rolled in a 12-story cake through the hospitality area and into the main hall. At once several monster kids followed the cake and started helping themselves with the cake's first floor. Fortunately, the organizers were ready for them. They told the kids that they were showing "Doom: The Movie" and other really neat movies involving blasting off heads and limbs in the screening room, which was next to the Nintendo room, which was next to the finger-painting room, which was next to the jungle-gym room, which was next to the empty room with books for the really smart kids. Right away the kids left the half-mutilated cake alone and ran for their daily dose of violence.

Fred continued. "So, me and a few college buddies realized there was a business opportunity. I quit my job and rented a hall and began advertizing on TV... excuse me for a moment, doctor joon... AROOS RAFTEH TOO SAF-E STAR WARS ..."

Fortunately, aroos came back from her errands in time to reluctantly agree to marry the handsome prince, to the relief of the guests.

By now Fred was deep into the story. "Anyway, the business began picking up immediately, but our customers always wanted more. They were never happy. They wanted theirs to be more lavish than the previous ones, and money was no object. Already, we have outgrown this banquet hall. We're thinking of buying the L.A. Convention Center and converting it to an Iranian wedding facility, or just build another Astrodome. We're thinking of adding Omnimax cameras to film weddings in 3D and cinerama. We're thinking of broadcasting weddings live on satellite all over the world. And so we need people to partner with us to manage the affairs. Excuse me for a sec... AROOS RAFTEH AEROBICS ... "

"Fred, I don't think they need that any more. I think she said yes already."

"Oh, you're right. Darn it, I wasted one of my good lines."

There was a tense moment when the groom's cell phone rang.

"Bijan here. Melissa? Sorry, I can't talk right now. I'm getting married. Yes, we're through. No, I can't marry you too. Yes, I'm serious. No, forget about the polygamy laws in Iran. Yes, I want back the keys to the BMW. No, I don't love you any more. Have a nice day."

After the ceremony when the families were presenting jewelry with diamonds the size of watermelons, I tried to divert Becky's attention because I was horrified by the thought that if we ever married she might want the same type of jewelry and she would insist that it would be real too. But it didn't work. She remained fixated on the jewelry which was just piling up on the bride. I became concerned that the bride might suffocate under the landslide of jewelry. I was also concerned that Becky's bulging eyes would pop right out of their sockets.

Fred who had noticed my lack of savvy tried to help us along by approximating the size of each stone as the bride's aunt opened each gift. "Diamond, 1 carat." "Sapphire, 5 carats." "Ruby, 9 carats." "Cubic zirconia, 0.1 carat." I recognized my own present.

"Anyhow," he went on about his wedding business, "we're so big and so in demand that we're booked years in advance. People set their wedding dates based on our availability. That's why we're thinking of expanding. But we need good people like you to run the business. Are you interested?"

"You know, Fred, helping people take opulence to ridiculous levels and have them compete with one another in more and more superficial arenas wasn't my goal in life when I left Iran."

"Let me tell you something, sonny. When I was a kid, I too used to fantasize about growing up to do something big like breaking the DNA code and conquering cold fusion. Well, I am doing something big! Big weddings..."

"Yes, funny how our goals changed when we left the homeland."

At this point, the caterers rolled in a whole roasted whale through the hospitality area to the oohs and aahs of the crowd. All of a sudden a gentleman collapsed nearby. Before he hit the floor I heard him say something about his mother-in-law. Perhaps the resemblance had put him into instant cardiac arrest.

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