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For several years a friend of mine had encouraged and eventually begged me to go with her to something called "Teatro ZinZanni." She explained that it was dinner theatre where the talent sometimes gets the audience involved on stage. I know that it may come as a shock to those of you who know me, but being on stage is the last thing I want to do. If I wanted to be on stage, I'd earn my Equity card and sell my photo gear. No thanks, I'm not going to pay money to be publicly embarrassed when most of my friends love to attempt embarrassing me for free. Not to mention the regular ridicule I get from my own children.
In the Spring of 2011 I had my first opportunity to meet Susan Outlaw, who at the time of our first encounter was the Marketing and Sales Director for Teatro ZinZanni San Francisco. [She is now managing director for Teatro ZinZanni San Francisco and Costa Mesa.] A local publicist was looking for a performance photographer and asked for a recommendation from another publicist, and I was lucky enough to have my name thrown in the hat. So on a late afternoon after a studio session, I ventured into the offices of Teatro ZinZanni San Francisco at Pier 29. My meeting was scheduled with Juan Rivera, TZ's marketing manager. Tracy and I had just finished our new hardcover coffee-table marketing book, which we wrapped in red velvet and gold rope to simulate a stage curtain, so I was very anxious to see a prospect's reaction to our new collateral. After talking for a few minutes, Susan walked into the office, since she and Juan shared some office space. Juan introduced us and then showed Susan our hardcover book. Although at the time I was not quite sure how to read her subtle reaction to our marketing effort, I was destined to see that reaction from her many times in the future.
Fast-forward to today, about a year and a half after our first meeting. Of the people I've interviewed to date, Susan is the one I know the best personally. It's not that we've spent a lot of time together outside of work(she did propose her hand in marriage to me after tasting my special ribs), it's simply that she is the epitome of the acronym WYSIWYG - What You See Is What You Get - a personality trait I admire. After a time Susan and I became Facebook friends, and as I followed her daily antics I knew that she was my kind of people. I just had to know more about her, her family history and her life. So, hold on -- her story is certainly not for the faint of heart.
Susan was in an orphanage in Korea until she was 2 years old. Her birth father was African American and her birth mother was Korean. She was adopted at 2 by a volunteer who worked at the orphanage. As it turns out, her adoptive mother is Korean and her adoptive father is African American. Can you say, "meant to be"? Since she looked just like her adoptive parents, she was unaware of her status until age 7. She explained to me that while her mother was braiding her hair she asked Susan, "Do you know what the word adopted means?" Since Susan did not, her mom explained to her that she was adopted. Susan simply said "Oh, OK," and never gave it another thought. Typical Susan, to take everything in stride.
Her father was in the Army and Susan was the classic Army brat, living internationally in Germany, Korea and Japan, along with many other countries. When his duties eventually brought the family to the States, like so many other immigrant children, Susan announced to her mom "I'm not going to speak Korean anymore, only English!" She regrets giving up her native language, but hey, when we're young, we all know everything, right?
And here's a little fact; Had I not been sitting on the floor as we talked, I would have certainly fallen to the floor. Susan joined the Air Force at 17! She wanted to join the military, and under the advice of her father, she opted for the Air Force, where she was a flight line worker during her entire tenure. Her job was to bring parts from a warehouse out to the planes whenever they were needed. She mentioned that one night, as she sat in her Air Force-issued Jeep. she thought, "Wow, they really trust me to know what I'm doing and bring out the right part!"
Sometime during her Air Force career Susan got married, and as she puts it, "It makes me cringe, since I was way too young," and had two children, Bree and Antione. She divorced shortly after Antione was born and moved to the great state of Mississippi with her two young ones to take a job as a secretary (for those too young to remember using cassette tapes in your car, that's an Executive Assistant) for an Indian gaming casino. Her future husband, Shawn, worked in the information technology department of another casino she worked at years later.
I've met Shawn and that old adage, "opposites attract" could not be more true, at least to an outsider like me. Shawn is soft spoken and quiet. Susan is not. Shawn seems very easy going. Susan ... When I mentioned this, Susan quickly said, "Shawn is quiet in public, but chatters away at home." (Hum, I think I will have to witness that one for myself.) One thing I do know for sure, whenever I give Susan a hard time on Facebook, Shawn "Likes" my remarks even though we're not "official" Facebook friends. Like most husbands, I'm sure it's a safe way to laugh at his wife without raising too much of her ire. I got your back Shawn!
Based on prior conversations, I've always known that Susan and I share similar values when it comes to our families, and it's ironic that like myself, her daughter is the eldest, with a younger brother. Although her kids are just a bit younger than my own, so many of the dinner-table stories are similar. We laughed so hard I almost wet myself when we talked about talking to our kids about the birds and the bees. (For the texting generation, just look up that term on Google.) It seems that Susan and I both had those duties in our own families. Our differences on that subject comes to where the information was delivered. Occasionally, Susan blurts out her views/concerns during dinner, to the chagrin of her family. Without revealing more secrets, I will simply say they need to keep a defibrillator next to their dinner table!
I can really get distracted and off on tangents with Susan's profile, so back to her history. While she worked at the casino in Mississippi (if you're like me, you love spelling that state to the little cadence you learned in school!), a newspaper rep who worked in Memphis told her that she was leaving the paper and she should apply. Guess what? She did, and landed the job as the paper's national sales exec, where she sold advertising space which eventually led her to engage with entertainment firms. One of her funny stories is about her first day at the paper.
She showed up early and found that there were all kinds of people sitting in their cars in the parking lot. At about 8:59 a.m. (starting time was 9 a.m.) everyone got out of their cars and went into the building. At 5 p.m., she would stand up, look around and say "Where is everybody?" Culture shock from a prior job where everyone worked 12 hours a day, but she remembers thinking that this was her first "real world" job.
Fate eventually brought Susan to the great state of California, when she accepted a job with a real estate investment trust here in the Bay Area. What finally brought Susan to TZ was a Craigslist ad that intrigued her. After reading the job description she said to herself, "I can do all of that, heck I've done all of that!" What she found so mysterious was the fact the employer was not listed in the ad ... a secret company. In 2009, what finally sealed the deal was attending TZ's original show. From that moment on she was a goner. The rest is history. Even though TZ SF has been closed due to the America's Cup event, since December 31, 2011, she and her partner Heidi have been busy dealing with all of the details involved in gaining city approval to move to a new location. She assures me that TZ is doing all they can to reopen their tent next year.
Susan is truly a dichotomy. On one hand she is as tough as nails, on the other she's "girlie." As I mentioned before, we're FB friends and I get much pleasure in following her ongoing antics, shopping, shoes, handbags, encounters with strange people on BART (That's our public transit system for you non-Bay-Area folks), food, etc. What I really wanted to know is something I believe most men want to know - What is it with women and shoes?! For some reason, I just knew Sooz would be able to explain it all to me.
So, before our little get together, I asked her to bring along some of her favorite shoes and handbags. I wanted to see the items that I hear about on Facebook almost every day. Susan had several bags on the floor as I arrived. Bags which I knew held an equivalent value of several of my pro-level cameras and lenses. With great joy she gently unwrapped each pair, placing them just so on the floor and in a specific order. After removing each pair of shoes from two bags each, she folded the bags ever so gently and placed them on her desk. All the while she had this look on her face. For the guys out there, I can only describe that look as the same ones we get after a great meal or the first sip of our favorite chosen beverage. It was just weird; these are just shoes! Sure they're shoes in fancy bags, but shoes nonetheless.
It was the very same expression I saw on her face when she opened the marketing book Tracy and I had developed! Yes she tried to hide her expression back then, but I now know it was the same one.
"So what is it with women and shoes Susan?" Her answer: "Mark, no matter what size a woman, no matter her shape, shoes never change sizes and they make us feel special. Sometimes I have to wear a conservative suit, but if I can add a splash of color into my outfit or make it a little special with a killer set of shoes, it makes me feel great. Nothing makes me feel better than to have a woman approach me and ask 'Whose are those?' (Guys, meaning the shoes, who makes them, etc.) It puts that extra little spring in my step after a woman asks me that."
Susan continues, "And I rate my shoes by time. If I need to be on my feet for, let's say 3 hours, I choose those shoes (the snake skin ones). If I need to be on my feet for eight hours I choose those and if I need to be on my feet six hours I choose those." All the while she is pointing to different shoes on the floor and she has this look simultaneous on her face of confidence and pleasure.
I decide to move on, since I think I finally get it. "OK Susan, what about all the handbags?" Her reply is simple, "I choose my handbag based on my mood and how long I will be out that day and how I feel. One thing I look for is a great lining in the purse. When I open my purse I want to smile when I see the lining."
I was right with her until she got to the lining part. I choose my camera bag based upon what I need for an assignment. But the lining? About the only thing I think about when I look in my bag is if I remembered what I needed. If I look too long I get depressed about how much money I've had to spend on gear. So I think the whole "lining" thing will elude me for quite some time.
So after spending more than the hour I had planned to be with Susan I found out that she is even more than I imagined. Yes, she's tough, smart, funny and an exceptional parent. She's also someone who supports our theatrical community with all of her heart and soul. What I didn't expect to learn is that Susan is the type of woman I hope my own daughter grows up to be, a wonderful and unique dichotomy in a world that seems to value homogenization.
And if I'm ever lucky enough to have dinner at her home, I will have a defibrillator next to my side.