Excerpts from “Rose Mask”

*Rose Mask* is a series of transcriptions of conversations between myself and the customers I served at a cocktail lounge and restaurant in Santa Cruz, CA, during months of masked service due to the pandemic. The work is further framed as an impossible-to-stage work of theater, one that unfortunately plays itself out constantly in real life. 

“Excuse me”


“This is the fried chicken plate, but we ordered the fried chicken sandwich”

“We don’t have a fried chicken sandwich, and no you didn’t”

“Well we can’t get out of here by 7 if we don’t have a server can we”

“Hello, and that seems logical”

“It’s just a fact”

“Well I’m a server, and it’s a fact that I’m not your server, but I would love to help get you out of here, so what can I get for you”

“Finally, thank you!”

“Of course. It’s the least I can do if it means you’ll get out of here”

“The fried chicken for this young child teenager”

“Those are two different things”

“And for us, we’ll share the brussels sprouts, the burrata, and the fried chicken”

“Sounds good”

“And I got this drink from the Tasting Room over there. What was the spirit in this drink?”

“In the empty glass?”

“Yes what was the spirit in it?”

“I don’t know. I can’t know”

“I’ll have what she’s having”

“Is that a When Harry Met Sally reference”

“No it’s the Beach Don’t Kill My Vibe cocktail”

“My mistake”

Haiku by Basho

“Can we have some water?”

“Can we have some more water?”

“Yes can we have a water?”

“Can we get a carafe of water?”

“What’s this cocktail say”


“What’s the menu say. I only have one eye”

“Eye of the Thai-ger”

“I actually have two eyes, you know”

“I’ve always known”

“Can you tell me about it”

“It’s a pun on Eye of the Tiger. It’s spelled T-H-A-I, because there’s thai iced tea in it. And then Eye of the Tiger is a song. It’s in the Rocky movie. All of them actually. Well, not the last two I don’t think, but maybe. It’s definitely in Rocky 1-4. That I’m sure of”

“But is it good”


Who hurt you

Every time I check in with a table I say “are you all doing well?” and I give a thumbs up, it’s a leading question I know but with the addition of the thumbs up I’m just pleading that, fuck, just tell me you’re good and I don’t have to do anything. But just now I approached a table and my thumb popped right up before I even said anything and I stopped in front of the customers and stared at my thumb and they stared at me and I shook my head and I looked again at them and I said “Are you okay?” 

“You guys still do the Elvis cocktail?”

[probably, I think to myself]

“No, we’re out of it”

“You’re out of a cocktail?”

“We’re out of an ingredient in the cocktail”

[this is a bad lie, I think to myself]

“What’s the special ingredient you’re out of?”


[fuck, I’ve caught myself in this lie, I think to myself]


[This person’s smarter than he looks, I think to myself. Maybe he’s read Animal Farm, I think to myself]

“We killed all the pigs for the From the Land special. They’re all pork loin now. There’s not enough pigs for bacon. This isn’t Animal Farm”


[Did that deserve a laugh? What is actually funny about this joke? The pigs flourished in Animal Farm because they rose to power, so they enjoyed easy breeding. So this restaurant isn’t like animal farm because the pigs are dumb? But they’re sourced from a free range farm in Chico, so maybe they’re smarter because they’re less stressed, and they’re “humanely” killed, as if they died like humans, like they died from lung cancer, or alcoholism, or depression. But animals die from depression, too. This isn’t even a fucking farm. They’re still laughing, so I still have some time, I think to myself. Is this a high brow joke? It’s kind of complex, I think to myself]

“How about the Beach Don’t Kill My Vibe cocktail”

“Anything else I can get for you all?”


“You just ate it. You’re digesting heaven”

“Can you show us your face?”


“Come on”

“My face is just a tattoo of a rose smeared over a mouth area, like this mask”

“Come on, can you just show us your face”

“It depends on how you tip”


“This is the only leverage over you I have”

Rose Mask

“So here’s how this is going to work. I’m going to pick up these checks, and as I walk down this walkway I’m going to look at how you tipped me. If you tipped me sufficiently I’ll walk back here and pass your table with my mask removed, I will wave a peace sign and I will say goodnight with my naked face. If you did not tip me to my liking I will not do that”

“And you’ll throw us out”

“You’ll be banned from this and all restaurants forever”

“Like Trump being banned from Twitter!”


A man and a woman who were extremely indecisive and i guess literate, respectively, the man was staring catatonically at the wall and the woman with the same vacuousness at the menu, and their daughter came to the register (this is at my other job at a bar that i have not written about in this book, what’s the need, it’s a fucking bar), and the daughter who was very young said “What does ‘cards that are left overnight will be charged a 20% gratuity fee’ mean,” and i said “Well people often pay for drinks with their credit cards and sometimes they don’t want to pay right away, because they want to get more drinks throughout the night, so they leave their credit cards with us. When they’re all finished they come back to us and pay for everything they’ve drank using that card, and they also tip us, which is how we make money and survive. But sometimes people forget to come back and collect their cards and pay us, and since tips are how we survive, when they leave we charge them for the cost of everything they drank and we also charge them the cost of our service, which we value at 20% of the total bill” i said, having realized that by defining these terms and explaining their function in a transactional setting i had further just described the exploitative dynamics of and the tension within the bartender/server-patron relationship which illuminates not only the inner workings of the service industry at large but contains a kernel of the entire history of capitalism (and also, relatedly, imperialism) itself (themselves), and having realized this in this moment i thought to add “Does that make sense,” and she said “Is that duck hunt?” pointing to a rubber duck resting on the blackboard where we write the names of our beers on current draft, and i said “It can be, fold this napkin into a gun,” and i handed her a napkin, and i thought of the violence within me, that I had just exported to her in the form of a knowledge game, of imagination, of craftsmanship, and then she made a gun, or at least a swizzly shape meant to resemble a barrel, and she said “Look!” and i handed her a coaster and said “Now throw this at the duck,” and she did, and it went into the trash, and her mother looked at us for the first time and then at me and said “Did you tell her to do this,” and I said “And what can I get for you,” and she told me in great detail what.

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