I applied to SLRP a few weeks after I graduated from college. I had found the listing on Glassdoor. It had gone up three days before, and was marked HOT:
“SLRP is disrupting the straw industry with ten-inch direct-to-consumer ‘Forever Straws’ harvested and handcrafted from reclaimed Himalayan bamboo, and we’re looking for a Junior Marketing Assistant to join our growing squad! We’re based in a converted shoe cobbler’s studio over a Soul Cycle in Gowanus, and boast an absolutely STOCKED fridge, a wet bar with six local microbrews on tap, and a deck rooftop with stunning views of Manhattan. Not to mention our foosball table! (N.b. Craig does not take kindly to losing on the foosball table.) We’re proud to offer dental, health and vision benefits, paid maternal/paternal leave, unlimited PTO, fitness subsidies, tri-annual company outings, Summer Fridays, company equity, 401(k) match and a nine-week paid sabbatical after two years with the co. If you’re someone who breathes ingenuity, sweats creativity and just bleeds vitality, sling over your resume, cover letter and 250 words on a time you were reprimanded for blowing bubbles in a glass of chocolate milk!”
I wrote that my application to the company was an act of metaphorical chocolate milk bubble-blowing. Especially in a landscape where society expected me to enter law or med school, settle in on Wall Street, or jump through hoops at a consulting firm. Ten minutes later I received an email asking me to meet with the SLRP founders the following day.
Wyatt and Hunter had been roommates at Penn and spent three years at Morgan Stanley “just chasing numbers” before quitting their jobs to start SLRP. For our interview, Wyatt wore a T-shirt that said, SLURP SUSTAINABLY. Hunter wore flip-flops and a pair of gym shorts. We shook hands and sat down on a pile of bean bag chairs. I was offered the job five minutes into the interview. They then informed me I had the rest of the week off.
People liked bamboo straws. We grew fast and well that first year. So much so that we opened a satellite office in Portland, Oregon. I was offered a VP of Marketing position out there, but wanted to stay on the East Coast. Besides, I liked my job. I had a knack for writing about our thoughtful, farm-to-table, sustainable, you’re-gonna-bequeath-this-to-your-grandson Forever Straws. Plus, we were about to launch thicker, smaller ‘“Lil Fella Straws,” built precisely for eco-minded toddlers. We were even going to design a line of Redwood-preserved sippy cups. We were excited. I was excited. The baby initiative was all my idea.
Then came STRAWNG Adventure Outfitters.
Craig had left one day. Could it have been his slump on the foosball table? I’m not sure. I hope not. When we cleaned out his desk we found a Chipotle bag. There was a used straw wrapper in the bag. He had slurped lemonade, Coke, and god knows what, with a common straw. A civilian’s straw. Craig was a fraud. He was never a SLRP man. After the discovery, Hunter and Wyatt gave us all the week off.
Craig, as it turned out, was a STRAWNG man. The STRAWNG man. I remember the day the website went up:
“STRAWNG Adventure Outfitters makes straws for the consummate urban explorer. We offer city street to mountain creek, marine-grade titanium straws, built to imbibe the Manhattan milkshake that traces its cream back to the Catskills cow. Peruse our collection for the strongest straw you could ever imagine — and the last you’ll ever need.”
I flipped through the site’s photo gallery. He’d converted an abandoned Vermont paper mill into a windowed floor-to-ceiling office complex with an adjoining on-site warehouse. They were hiring. And that wasn’t all. Craig had taken my Lil Fella idea with him. Only he called his short straws and sippy cup package the “Wail of the Warrior.”
The Holidays were usually a big deal at SLRP. Expecting huge stocking stuffer sales, we’d prepped thousands of Forever Straws, “Bamboo Willie’s” and a half dozen limited-edition models for our thirsty shoppers. The Portland branch flew in for a Holiday Party blow-out at a secret underground club in Long Island City called “ExxxPosure.” At some point past midnight, most of us dancing, all of us several cocktails into the night, Hunter stepped on the stage and drunkenly announced he was headed to work at STRAWNG with Craig. I don’t really remember how I got home.
A few months later I was packing up my desk. No one had ordered our straws for Christmas. We weren’t featured in a single gift guide. Our flash sales in the months thereafter had been futile. Wyatt sat on a bean bag chair, staring at the wall, surrounded by boxes and boxes of Forever Straws. The lights were mostly off, and I looked around, realizing everyone else had left. I jogged outside, found a Wendy’s, and returned with two vanilla frosties. I handed one to Wyatt, along with a common straw. He chuckled.
We finished the frappes on the chilly rooftop deck as Wyatt looked at the city with a strange expression on his face. At some point I thought I caught him murmuring words to himself, something along the lines of “direct-to-consumer, quality construction, traditional channel circumvention, rebellious minimalism…” but I couldn’t be sure.
I need a new job.