Thursday, April 30, 2009

Argentina Montage

By Pauly
Hollyweird, CA

I finally got around to splicing together a two minute video of my travels in Argentina.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Argentina Photo Gallery

By Pauly
Hollyweird, CA

I published a complete gallery of 68 photos that I took in Buenos Aires and Mar del Plata.

Here are a couple...

Otis' Super Poncho

The local brothel

Placemat BINGO

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

R.I.P. Shronk

Dallas, TX

Justin Shronk (1981-2009)
Image courtesy of Poker Road

I was sitting at an airport in Mar del Plata, Argentina after finishing up a work assignment when I got a call relaying me the tragic news of Justin Shronk's passing. We had exchanged emails on Friday afternoon when Shronk was hospitalize in Las Vegas due to a pancreatic ailment. He said that he was waiting to be released after a short stay and I took that as a positive sign. That's why the news of his sudden death completely blinded sided me along with his closest friends and the majority of the folks in the poker media.

I first met Shronk at Sydney airport in 2007. We were both hired by Poker News to cover the Aussie Millions. Although we both knew of each other by reputation, we had never actually met before. His previous employer had been a multi-media producer at Card Player and the Aussie Millions assignment would mark the beginning of a year long stint as the multi-media manager of Poker News. He produced and directed the earliest videos for Poker News when they launched their tournament reporting project and he would become an integral part of the 2007 WSOP coverage team.

During the two week long Aussie Millions assignment in Melbourne, I had the pleasure of getting to know Shronk. After all, when you sit next to someone every day for 12+ hours a day for two weeks straight, you really get a glimpse into what makes that person tick. And right away, one thing was obvious... the guy was hysterical. And his sense of humor was an asset especially during the lengthy grind of covering a poker tournament series. He definitely kept things light, particularly during the lulls and boring parts of the day.

It was in Melbourne that I learned of Shronk's fondess for Aaron Sorkin especially his work on The West Wing. He knew nearly every single line of dialogue from that long running series. Shronk had odd tastes for music and film and would often blurt out random lines from the BMX film "Rad." That pretty much summed up Shronk right there.

In Melbourne, I recorded an infamous video of a prop bet with Shronk... where he ate an entire packet of Vegemite. Check out the video here...

One of the funnier moments at the 2007 Aussie Millions involved Shronk's late night eating habits. He was often up until the wee hours rendering and uploading videos. He often ordered room service at 3am. There was a mix up with the our food allowance on that trip. The Poker Shrink and John Caldwell were given unlimited credit while Shronk and I got nothing. We worked around that obstacle and I would often charge beers and food to Caldwell's room while Shronk added items to the Poker Shrink's tab. When Shronk ordered late night room service, they often made an error and sent the food to the Poker Shrink's room instead of his. The Shrink would be fast asleep when there'd be a knock at his door. One night the Poker Shrink answered the door buck naked only to discover that Shronk had ordered a bowl of spaghetti bolognese and the kitchen sent it to the wrong room.

During 2007, I worked along side Shronk for several other international assignments (EPT Monte Carlo, EPT Barcelona, WSOP-Europe, and the Poker News Cup in Melbourne) and a few domestic ones as well (L.A. Poker Classic, WSOP Circuit at Caesar's Palace, WPT Championships, and the WSOP). Shronk admitted that he was a terrible traveler and hated being away from home, yet there he was traveling the globe while working for Poker News. He sacrificed a tremendous amount personal comfort out of sheer love of the game.

One of my least favorite stops on the tour was Monte Carlo. My French was tres mal at best and the snootiness of the entire concept of Monaco rubbed me the wrong way. Now, I thrived being on the road and costly in flux, yet if I had a tough time with being in the South of France, you could only imagine how much Shronk struggled. There was a small bar that served food next to the media room in Monte Carlo. Due to the long work hours, we frequently ate there out of convenience. Shronk loathed trying to order anything from the surly waiters and often pleaded with me to order his lunch or dinner. For the length of the Monte Carlo assignment, I frequently ordered overpriced food for Shronk and we both could believe that we were blowing though our per diem at a rapid pace.

"I have no idea what those French waiters are saying," Shronk said.

"That's because they are speaking French," I told him.

The road is a very unusual place, especially when you're on business trips. In Spain, we quickly learned how to avoided the local sausage and Shronk got a quick tutorial in how to use a European style shower after flooding his bathroom. And in London? Well, let's just say London was another headache for Shronk. We had been on the road for several weeks at that point (covering EPT Barcelona and WSOP-E back to back for almost a month straight on the road in Europe) and Shronk ran out of clean clothes. He had tripped on a slippery cobblestone and twisted his ankle pretty bad and unable to hobble to a laundromat. Instead, he opted to get his clothes cleaned by the hotel's laundry service. When he got his tab, the bill was over 400 British Pounds. At the time, the US dollar was at its lowest so that was work almost $800. Man, I wish I could have seen the look on the faces of the big wigs at Poker News when they read his invoice where he billed them $800 to clean his underwear.

The Tools of Shronk (Barcelona, Spain circa Sept. 2007)
His laptop and video camera when he sat next to me in the media room

Shronk eventually departed ways with Poker News and ended up as a producer at Poker Road and that seemed like the perfect fit for his talents and personality. He was genuinely happy to be a part of that gang as well as the eclectic group of people who make up the poker media.

Owen said it best...
"It's a world for the kinds of creative people who spent their teenage years feeling out of place and it's a haven. It's a welcoming environment in which individualism is encouraged and friendships are forged in hotel rooms and casino bars the world over.... It's a place where people like Shronk thrive."

The gang at Poker Road were deeply affected by his loss. Joe Sebok wrote a touching tribute to Shronk...
"He loved new media and I think, in many respects, he was able to live some of his dream by being a part of it in poker, whether that was for CardPlayer, PokerNews, or most recently right here at PokerRoad. He was an integral part of our family and we will miss him with all of our hearts. It had been our honor to call him a co-worker, and more importantly a friend.

BJ also penned something...
"But the humor I'll remember Shronk for is his sharp wit and his clever comments. Like his final forum post, he got maximum effect out of a minimal number of words. I know Shronk respected some of my technical skill as a writer, but that can be learned with time and practice. If I live to be 100, I don't think I'll ever have a wit as sharp as Shronk's."

Amy wrote...
"The tragedy of Justin Shronk’s death wasn't that he never lived his dream. He lived it every day. The tragedy is ours."

Needless to say, on those long nights during a tournament (especially during the insanity of the WSOP) Shronk kept me loose with his tremendous sense of humor and wit that BJ eloquently described. That's when I'm going to miss him the most on those late nights when the last thing I want to do is be sitting inside a casino, yet Shronk had the ability to make those brutal moments palatable.

Shronk, you were one of a kind. RIP, brother.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Otis Likes Argentinian Nipple Art

By Pauly
Mar del Plata, Argentina

We shot this clip on Wednesday night... and we were both sober.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday Argentina Pic Dump

By Pauly
Mar del Plata, Argentina

Here are a few pics from the last couple of days...

Downtown Buenos Aires

On the beach in Mar del Plata

Downtown Mar del Plata

Mel + Maridu

Otis loves art

Argentinian bacon

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

lax > buenos aires > mar del plata

By Pauly
Mar del Plata, Argentina

I can't recall ever being in such horrible head space on an important travel day. Sure, there have been times when I left an assignment or holiday totally hungover and completely ill, but that was at the end of a trip and I was on my way home after a late night of partying. On Monday morning, I was physically ill (the effects of the tainted Indian food which slayed me for 48+ hours and left me with a bloody arse) and on mega-Citibank tilt. That's no way to start a 24 hour journey just to get to where I needed to go for a week long assignment in Argentina.

I was flustered trying to leave the apartment. I was on the phone and doing my best to not to unleash a tirade on an outsourced call center person. Look, at this point I expect that major companies will outsource their support staff. However, they should at least make sure their operators speak English clearly. I honestly couldn't tell what the person said until I was finally transferred to someone with better communication skills. These days, if you give your bank an opportunity to fuck you over... they will. Luckily I caught the problem before I went out of the country.

Anyway, while I was on the phone I rushed out of the apartment and forgot to bring a couple of chapters of Lost Vegas that I printed out. That was considered a non-essential items. While on the road, if the shit hits the fan, I only need one thing... my passport. Everything I take on the road with me is expendable even my precious laptop. Obviously it has to be a live or death situation for me to make the decision to ditch my baby. But stuff like notebooks, ipod, and clothes? All replaceable.

I also try to pack as light as possible. However, on a work assignment there are two types of items that I bring along... essential items (passport, laptop, credit cards, cash, camera, and underwear)... and non-essential items (books, iPod, extra clothes). You get the picture.

I had a super tight connection. My flight from LAX to Buenos Aires connected through Dallas, since that's American Airlines hub and the point of origin of several South American routes. I'd have less than one hour to make the connection. As a gambling man, I figured that I was 3 to 1 against making the flight because of the limited connection time which left very little leeway if my flight from LAX was delayed. And if you ever flown on American, you know how awful they are for on-time performance and that flights from LAX can be a clusterfuck. Plus, DFW is a huge airport and I was worried that I'd get stuck in a different terminal and have to take a train to the correct terminal.

Nicky booked on the same flight from Dallas to Buenos Aires, but she selected a much earlier flight from LAX to Dallas in order to give herself breathing room. My company could not fit me on that flight since they tapped me for the gig just last week and arranged travel plans on short notice. Alas, I had to take a different flight from Nicky. I tried to change the flight or get on the list for standby but they wouldn't let me because of some bullshit about altering a ticket for a international travel after 9/11 blah blah blah.

Nicky and I arrived at LAX at the same time and she left on a flight one hour before me. We said our goodbyes. I mentally prepared myself and expected to get stranded in Dallas since there was only one flight per day heading to Argentina.

Oh, and here's the worst part of the journey. My assignment is located in a beach resort town south of Buenos Aires approximately 5.5 hours. I had to book a separate domestic flight from Buenoa Aires to Mar del Plata on Tuesday morning which flew out of a different airport in Buenos Aires (similar to arriving at JFK and then having to head to LaGuardia to finish up your journey). All of the other Buenos Aires > Mar del Plata flights were sold out on Wednesday. So if I missed my Monday night flight to BA, then I'd have to fly to South America on Tuesday night and forced to take a 5.5 hour bus ride after I landed on Wednesday morning.

I discovered that Otis got fucked over in a similar situation. His flight from Greenville to Miami (connecting to Buenos Aires) was cancelled because of shitty weather. Act of God. He had to postpone his journey by one day... which meant a five plus hour bus ride awaited him when he eventually cleared customs in Buenos Aires.

Originally, my client arranged me to travel on a bus from Buenos Aires > Mar del Plata. I could only imagine what a bus ride in South America would be like... chickens flying around, crying babies with snot crusted on their face, holes in the floorboards with dust swirling all around... not to mention, a gaucho with a blade in the back row challenging anyone who wanted to use the toilet to a fight to the death. So instead of riding on a dilapidated bus without AC while sitting in my own warm piss, I decided to avoid a scene out of a Jose Luis Borges short story and I paid money out of my pocket for a flight to Mar del Plata to avoid the plight with the unwashed masses.

I caught a little wave of luck and my flight out of LAX was only delayed by ten minutes. Nicky waited for me at the gate when I arrived and I caught another break because the flight to Buenos Aires was leaving only three gates down. I had enough time to load up on energy bars and pick up a couple of thousand Argentinian pesos at the exchange booth.

There was a mob scene at the gate. I picked up a "blend in with the locals" guide book to Argentina and one chapter highlighted the cockiness of Argentinians and how they were too cool to wait in lines. Alas, when they called pre-boarding, a huge surge rushed towards the door which included an entire youth-group soccer team. Nicky had elite status on American Airlines so she boarded in the first group. She ran into a ticket agent on a power trip who refused to let her take a carry-on bag onto the plane. Nicky went on mega-tilt. She purposely carried on her bags because American Airlines lost her luggage on the way to Chile a few months ago. Sadly, she lost the battle with the bitchy agent even though she carried on the same bag on plenty of other journeys. Nicky unleashed a F-bomb and the agent was offended and chastised her for using foul language against FAA rules.

"When did this turn into a fuckin' Communist country?" she screamed.

Actually, we currently live in a socialist country with fascist undertones. But it was no time for semantics. Alas, Nicky had to check her bag at the gate and she boarded the plane in a huff.

Hourly Wage Slave 1, Nicky 0.

I waited fifteen minutes in the middle of the mob until I finally boarded the plane. Nicky had Row 25 Seat A. When it was time for me to select my seats online last week, I picked the closest to her... Row 25 Seat C. It was an aisle seat and we figured whoever was next to Nicky would switch since they also had an aisle seat. Except a grumpy old guy refused to switch. He didn't want to sit in the middle row with five other seats. As he explained, there were two or more people who had to climb over him during the 10+ hour flight. If he kept his seat next to Nicky, it would only be one person. When I sat down, I asked him to switch a second time.

"Any chance I get to sit next to my girlfriend? She's a horribly nervous flier."

"No. And I thought she was your wife? She said that you were her husband?"

"Ummm.... wishful thinking," I said.

Nicky purposely said husband because she thought that more people are sympathetic to married couples than boyfriend/girlfriend. Alas, I buttered the guy up a bit and engaged in small talk. When he noticed that no one was sitting next to me, he warmed up tot he idea of switching. In fact, there were two empty seats next to me. When the doors closed he agreed to finally move and I got to sit next to Nicky.

We were on a newer plane and American Airlines offered up individual TV screens and free movies-on-demand... much like my two other favorite international airlines... KLM and Qantas.

The dinner sucked, a dry piece of rubber chicken and cold rice infested with disgusting veggies. I was starving so badly that I actually ate the side salad with yellow lettuce although I tossed Nicky the tomato. The dinner roll was the highlight of the meal only because I dropped half my cookie on the floor somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico.

Unable to sleep, I popped a half of a pharmie and settled in to watch flicks. First up? Valkyrie... the Tom Cruise vehicle where he played a German colonel during WWII who was part of the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. Better than I expected with cameos from top British actors Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and Kenneth Branaugh. Fitting flick since I was about to embark on a side trip to hunt down ex-Nazis living in Argentina once my assignment ended.

Next up... Marley and Me. Everyone loves puppies. I didn't watch the end because I knew that the fuckin' pooch died in the end. And I switched to Frost/Nixon. Best one I watched in a while. The last flick that I watched The Express a bio-pic about Ernie Davis, who was the first black player to ever win the Heisman Trophy. Dennis Quaid played the coach of Syracuse.

When it was over... four flicks down.

I tried to sleep but the attempt failed. Nicky passed out for a few hours and I was engaged in deep thought about making some changes to Lost Vegas.

We arrived on time at Buenos Aires and we met up with Joe, a photographer who works with Nicky and Otis. He helped arrange a private car service to take us across town to the domestic airport.

As we walked out of the airport and followed our driver, a swarm of cabbies bombarded me with offers to drive me. I politely declined their assistance and instead hit them up for party favors instead.

"Donde esta la mota?" I blurted out a couple of times.

No response.

We hopped into a Ford Focus and our driver quickly sped off. There was wicked traffic since it was Tuesday morning rush hour. Our driver took us on a short cut through 9 de Julio Avenue, which is sort of the main drag or Buenos Aires' version of Broadway.

We arrived at the domestic airport and grabbed breakfast while we waited for our flight to Mar del Plata. It was a quick 45 minute flight and I actually slept 90% of that flight... or more time that I actually slept on my flight from Dallas to Buenos Aires.

As soon as we exited the baggage claim from the tiny airport, two stunningly attractive model types in black dresses walked towards me. One of them handed me a PokerStars brochure. I told them that I actually worked for Stars in the past and that I was media. One of them told me about the free shuttle bus to our hotel which was located next to the casino.

We jumped in the shuttle and it whisked us away to downtown Mar del Plata. It was much bigger than I expected with random dogs wandering the streets along side the ocean. After two taxis, three lights, five airports, and a shuttle bus... I finally arrived at my intended destination.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


By Pauly
Hollywierd, CA

A couple of weeks ago, Showcase asked me if he could use our apartment to shoot scenes in an indie short film about online dating that he was working on with some friends. The cinematographer was our neighbor and actually lived upstairs. The director specifically wanted to use my office for a couple of scenes. I originally said yes because I thought I was going to be in Las Vegas playing in Dream Team Poker during the shoot. Plus, Showcase was floating on air after discovering that his Bud Light commercial garnered serious air play during March Madness hoops games and even during Saturday Night Live.

I got the dates wrong. The shoot was this weekend instead of last weekend... a horrible day because I was behind deadline on Lost Vegas and the Final Four games came on Saturday afternoon (on the left coast).

Alas, the apartment was locked up for the shoot so I juggled my schedule to accommodate everyone. All for the sake of art. The motion picture business is a sham and the big studios crank out watered down piece of shit after piece of shit. However, there are thousands and thousands of talent artistic types working in different fields around town. That's the part of L.A. that I'm attracted to... not the vain douchebags and attention-craved starlets... but the professionals in their individual fields.

Loaning our apartment for a location shoot was cool enough to know that I could help facilitate the creative process. The film that Showcase was shooting had the slimmest of budgets (um, none and most likely funded on someone's credit cards...) and won't go anywhere except end up YouTube. But that's what was great about the project... done for the sheer love of doing it... and they had my full fledged support so much so that I'd give up my working space during the homestretch of the Vegas book.

On Friday afternoon, Showcase and the director stopped by for a bit to discuss the scenes. Before they left, Showcase said, "Oh, by the way, Pauly, do you want to be in the film? You get one line. 'Hey! Fuck you, lady!'"

Nicky looked and me and excitedly nodded.

"Sure," I said. "Why not?"

"Awesome," said the director. "You'll be great for the part."

Quite a shocker that I landed a small role in the film. A speaking part nonetheless.

"Actors go years waiting to land a bit role in any film," gushed Nicky. "And you got offered a part in between bong hits."

Nicky was exaggerating about the bong hits. I was actually in my office deep into writing Chapter 50 when there was a knock on the door and Showcase and the director asked to check out the room.

When everyone left, I tweeted the good news. I got plenty of advice from thespian friends and other folks in the entertainment industry.

"Try, "HEY, fuck YOU lady!," because going, "Hey, FUCK you LADY!" sounds stilted. Try it in the mirror if you have to," said BG.

"Stand on your mark. Say your lines. That's all there is to acting," said Johnny Hughes.

"Remember: less is more," advised Kym en route to seeing Leonard Cohen in Dallas.

I practiced my line all night long. "Hey! Fuck you, lady!"

Sometimes, I fuckin' love Hollywood.

We crashed early on Friday night because the crew would be arriving around 9am. Early meant before dawn. Mac the cinematographer and the director arrived first to discuss the shots and the lighting. The moved stuff around before the actress/set designer arrived with a big Target bag filled of pink stuff to make my office seem more... feminine. Lots of pink. Feather boas. Pillows. Pink.

The cool part? They added a few of my paintings and kept a Phish Las Vegas poster in the shot.

Nicky and I left the 'set' and drove to O'Groats for breakfast to let everyone work in private. I was surprised that we were seated as soon as we walked inside. We usually avoided O'Groats on the weekends because there was always a lengthy wait. One of the rare positive aspects about the Great Depression is the ability to get tables without a reservation or waiting a long time at popular restaurants around Los Angeles.

We were seated right away and four tables encircled us. Two tables contained dads in polo shirts and hats bonding with their kids and eating Saturday breakfast while Mommy slept in or went to her botox appointment. The other table had a quartet of very fabulous guys enjoying brunch and across from them were their complete opposites... two middle-aged guys in baseball jerseys with magazines and printouts discussing their upcoming fantasy baseball draft.

Nicky and I returned to the apartment and the crew were ahead of schedule. We caught the actress filming the last bits of a scene. Weird seeing an attractive actress sit at the same Ikea desk where I have been writing Lost Vegas.

I smoked a couple of bong hits and played online poker while I waited to shoot my scene.

"Ready?" asked the director.

We walked outside in front of our apartment and he quickly discussed the scene on the palm tree lined street in the slums of Beverly Hills where the actress almost hits me with her car and I was supposed to slam my hand on her hood as she speeds away and I shout, "Hey! Fuck you lady!"

Yes, there was a minor stunt involved, which made the scene even cooler. The actress drove her actual car and the back seat was cluttered with her head shots and empty Starbucks cups.

The plan? Shoot the scene twice in a row. The actress drove her car around the block. Mac the cinematographer sat in the passenger seat and filmed the scene, while director sat in the backseat. When the car approached, I was supposed to jump out and pretend to get hit by the car. Mac shot part of the scene using the passenger side rear view mirror.

The actress drove off and I walked over to my mark as a tinge of panic descended over me. I didn't really give a shit about how I looked, but I didn't want to fuck up the scene for the crew and complicate matters. I unleashed couple of jumping jacks to shake off the nerves and I gazed up to the Hollywood hills.

The car slowly approached. My heart raced and I jumped out. I made sure that she didn't drive over my foot. I slammed my hand on the hood and screamed my line.

The car sped away. A group of three people stood in front of the house across the street looked horrified.

"Are you OK, did she hit you?"

I smiled. My chops worked.

"I'm totally OK. We're shooting a film. How did it look?"

"Convincing," said the guy.

Two minutes passed and the actress drove down the street a second time. I jumped out, slammed my hand on the hood, and screamed my line. Nicky said that she heard me shouting from inside our apartment.

They parked the car and Mac quickly played back both scenes for the director.

"Let's get one more and we're gonna drive slower this time," said the director. "Jump up and down like she ran over your foot. More arm waving."

I returned to my position and they drove around the block. When she got close, I jumped out, slammed my hand on the hood, screamed my line and faked the foot injury.

I nailed the scene on 3rd take. Acting debut completed.

Showcase arrived to shoot his scene... a sex scene with the actress in my office of all place. He promised it would not be gay porn, and it wasn't even regular porn. A simulated sex scene.

I returned to playing online poker in the living room as they finished up the last scene. They quickly rushed out of the apartment in order to shoot a scene at another location in West Hollywood and they left behind the gun for the final scene.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Soon Come.... Lost Vegas

By Pauly
Hollyweird, CA

Looks like I won't have to keep calling this Project Z anymore. Thanks to Kat for the book cover design.