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Between July and October of 2011, I crashed more weddings in Los Angeles than I've probably been invited to in my entire adult life.
No, this was not some movie-inspired ploy to get laid. I was with my then-fiancé, now husband, and it didn't strike us as strange to visit these weddings uninvited. For the approximately 40,000 Iranian Jews living in Los Angeles, making an unauthorized cameo at other Persian weddings is not only a necessary part of planning your own wedding but also a rite of passage.
Relatively speaking, our wedding was to be a small affair, about 400 people, a mere get-together really. (Later our Iranian guests commended us on our “simple” and “intimate” party, while our American friends wondered where all these people came from. What did we think this was, the queen's Diamond Jubilee?)
So each Saturday or Sunday for months before our big day, the caterers, florists or bands under consideration had us come check out their work — while they were feting some other bride.
No matter now socially accepted the practice is in our community, I found myself with pre-crashing jitters each week as I slipped into a black just-pretend-I'm-not-here dress and my fiancé reluctantly put on a suit.
Still, it needed to be done: Consulting wedding magazines and websites isn't practical when adorable ideas for “finger food” strike Persians as the road to forced starvation. Besides, Iranian vendors don't always have websites — and they definitely do not hire a crew to make kebab skewers and stews for a mere two people to taste. They figure they need to put all their resources into providing for a big wedding, so they might as well kill two birds with one stone by making it a “tasting” session. (Which, in hindsight, is great for the couple getting married, since nothing keeps vendors on their toes more than the prospect of examination by a future bride and groom.)
At the entrance to a Persian wedding, there's always a mounted picture of the betrothed frolicking on the beach or posing passionately for the cover of a Harlequin romance novel. Upon arrival, we'd study the photo the same way others might study an America's Most Wanted headshot: Did we recognize the bride or groom? If we did, we'd have an idea of which friends or relatives we'd need to look out for and avoid.
But just as we were attempting to remain inconspicuous, we'd be cornered by the cameraman, who would flash his bright lights in our face, a cue to wish the pair “mazel tov.” (Note to local Persians married between July and October 2011: If you see a couple in your video looking like they've just been caught off-guard by their rabbi at an orgy, that's us.)
Now, you'd think there would be no greater nightmare for a bride than uninvited guests infiltrating her fairy-tale night and making snarky comments. But that could not be further from the truth. The brides who found us fingering their linen and sitting on their rented Chiavari chairs never questioned our presence or screamed for security. In fact, once we explained our intentions, they'd suggest we take our time and let them know if we had any questions, almost as if they were showcasing a home for sale. Their generosity may have stemmed from their own history of wedding crashing, yet their kindness was never lost on me.
My husband's mission for any given night of crashing? To engage in an intense conversation with the caterer about the fish. Mine was to pass through the labyrinth of 4-foot-tall grandmothers collecting food in anticipation of an apocalypse and consume as many pigs in a blanket as possible. Not because I was hungry, of course. I had to assess their quality, no matter how many it took. (It took a lot.)
Then it was on to the bar. Providing guests with an open bar is always expensive, but it's the religious clientele who provide most of a venue's profit. They drop thousands of dollars more than the average sinner by hiring rabbis to supervise the food and the handling and washing of Glatt kosher plates and silverware.
“Why would anyone pay extra for that?” I asked one catering manager, who was piling up fees like they were free pigs-in-a-blanket. (“You're Persian?” she'd asked. “Your families throw flower petals? There's a fee for that.”)
“Orthodox Jews make for most of our business, so we honor their customs as much as we can,” she answered matter-of-factly.
Taking some notes, she added rhetorically, “So I take it you will not be doing a tish bedeken?” No, we would not be interested in a ceremony where my husband-to-be confirms my identity to make sure he's not being tricked into marrying my older sister.
After my husband finished interrogating the caterer, he'd generally announce that it was time to leave, no matter how much I insisted that it's rude to eat and run, even at a party we weren't invited to. We'd debrief each other in the car, then park in a deserted area to change out of our crashing uniform and into casual date-night attire.
This went on for months until Nov. 23, when I ditched the just-pretend-I'm-not-here dress for the custom-made “hey, everyone look at me” gown. It was the most memorable day of my life — for obvious reasons but also because it was probably the first wedding I attended where I couldn't eat. (That was actually fine by me, since my husband decided to forgo the pigs in a blanket after all. “This is not college!” he said. Which made me angry because I had not been aware that they were served in college.)
I have no recollection of any future brides and grooms crashing that night. But when we finally get around to watching our wedding video, I hope to spot a pair. I'll be looking for an unassuming couple caught trying to flee the camera, looking just like two deer caught in headlights.
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