Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In Memory of Justin Shronk (1981-2009)

"When Patrik Antonius folds his cards, they turn into doves and fly away."

That's only one of the many "Shronkisms" that left me in stitches during the all-too-brief time I knew Justin Shronk. Without fail, every time I saw the guy, he'd make me laugh, make me smile, or even just play some random YouTube clip he'd come across that would brighten my day. This afternoon, I found myself in tears in Mar del Plata airport when I heard of his passing, and now, flying the red-eye home from Buenos Aires, I'm completely exhausted, but still can't sleep. I tear up every time I think of him and can’t imagine the devastation his family must feel right now.

I met Shronk at the Commerce Casino in early 2007. I was covering my first tournament for PokerNews, the L.A. Poker Classic, and had already heard a slew of hilarious Shronk stories from Pauly, who had just returned from working with Shronk at the Aussie Millions, where the now-infamous Vegemite Prop Bet had taken place. It was only last month that Shronk was up for “Best Actor in a Tao of Pauly Video” for that performance and he naturally launched an online campaign for himself, pimping for votes on the PokerRoad forums and getting his friends to stuff the virtual ballot box.

I got to know Shronk the most, though at the 2007 World Series of Poker when he was working as the Multimedia manager for PokerNews, shooting and editing video pieces and interviews. We discovered that we were both unabashed fans of writer Aaron Sorkin, who created both Sports Night and The West Wing. We’d constantly trade our favorite quotes from the show and one day I casually proposed a West Wing trivia contest.

“You have no shot. I’d smoke you!” said Shronk. “Dude, I’ve seen Two Cathedrals 60 times,” he added, referencing his favorite episode.

Shronk was not the best traveler and unfortunately for him, our jobs involved a great deal of it. Shronk wanted his American food, his American television, and the comforts of his own apartment rather than living out of hotels and ordering foreign cuisine in a foreign language. While on an EPT stop in Barcelona, Spain, Shronk was introduced to the ways of European showers— cramped, tiny, and often doorless. I can’t tell the story nearly as well as our former editor John Caldwell can, but let’s just say that Shronk’s first shower in Barcelona ended with a phone call to housekeeping to bring twenty towels up to his room to sop up the quarter-inch of water that was now sloshing around his bathroom floor.

A few weeks after Barcelona, we were wrapping up the WSOP-Europe in London. By now the whole PokerNews crew had been on the road for the better part of a month. Poor Shronk had sprained his ankle on an uneven part of road and was hobbling around Leicester Square with all his gear. Apparently he couldn't find a laundromat close enough to hobble to because in desperate need for clean underwear, Shronk decided to send out all his skivvies to the hotel laundry. That month, PokerNews received an invoice from Shronk including his laundry bill which came to 400 GBP. Yup, $800 to wash Shronk's shorts. We never let him forget that one.

Shronk's passing leaves a huge hole in the hearts of everyone in the poker media. I’m going to remember the guy who would hand me a memory stick full of episodes of Top Chef, just so I could catch up on the show and he could finally talk about it. I’m going to remember the guy who walked into an Australian liquor store in search of cheap vodka and bellowed in complaint when he saw the $60 price tag on a bottle of Absolut. I’m going to remember the guy who photoshopped John Caldwell’s head onto a photo of M.C. Hammer with the caption “Stop, Schecky time!” while John was en route to his victory in a PokerNews Cup event. And I’m going to remember how happy he was when he cashed in his first and sadly only WSOP event.

Shronk loved poker. He loved the game, the people who played it and most of all his band of fellow misfits who covered it. The great injustice of his premature exit from this world made me recall a scene he loved so much from that episode of The West Wing that he'd seen 60 times. President Bartlet's longtime secretary Mrs. Landingham had been killed by a drunk driver and he railed against Latin... while standing alone in National Cathedral after her funeral.

"Gratias tibi ago, domine. Aec credam a deo pio, a deo justo, a deo scito? Cruciatus in crucem. Tuus in terra servus, nuntius fui; officium perfeci. Cruciatus in crucem --eas in crucem."

I sit here in shock, trying to think what the hallways of the Amazon Room will be like this summer without his booming voice, hilarious one-liners, and a love of the game that inspired us all. My heart goes out to his family and close friends in what has to be an unbearable time. Rest in peace, buddy.


Astin said...

I had no idea Shronk even existed, but I'm hardly familiar with the poker media in general. That said, after I read Pauly's post about Shronk last night, the first thing I did was look up that scene from Two Cathedrals on the mere mention that Shronk liked The West Wing. It's always been my favourite scene in the series, and I imagine sums up how many of his friends are feeling.

smokkee said...

the ultimate bad beat

RIP Shronkles

Student of Life said...

Beautiful tribute. If he appreciated good writing, he would have appreciated this.