“I’m about to show these motherfuckers how it’s really done.” Ballmer said, apparently to no one. He and I were alone in the suite and that statement certainly didn’t seem directed at me.
“I’m about to show these motherfuckers how it’s really done.” Ballmer said again.
I was reminded of the stories about Rickey Henderson, Alex Rodriguez, and Tiger Woods; how they stood in front of full-length mirrors before big games to pump themselves up with self-affirmations. Henderson supposedly did it in the nude. You may think this type of behavior is silly, and believe me, in theory, it is. And being the unsuspecting only person left in Ballmer’s suite just an hour before tip-off of his first home game as the Clippers brand new owner, I was a little concerned. However, what I thought was my palpable unease clearly didn’t mean a good goddamn to Ballmer.
“Halashulamaaaaaaaa……” He trailed off.
I felt myself take a step back. I glanced around the room we shared. Most of the suite was all construction debris, drywall and wires and cables and photos of Ballmer at various Microsoft events blown up and framed and covered in bubble wrap, awaiting the new walls on which they would be hung. But this room was still a Sterling room—it still had the faded Clipper red carpet and the gold light fixtures and square acoustical tiles on the ceiling. And that signed portrait of Nelson Mandela that, now, given the fallout, seemed especially strange. I looked back at Ballmer who was shaking to the point of vibration.
“I’m ABOUT to show these MOTHERFUCKERS how it’s really DONE. Inablatowww! Det! Det! Det! Det! Det! Det! Det!”
He paused for a moment and his words had left a vacuum. He filled it.
“I’M ABOUT to show THESE MOTHERFUCKERS how it’s REALLY DONE!”
I marveled at the performance. At first, I had been almost terrified but as the screaming and panting just seemed to continue, the fear subsided to what I can only compare to the sensation of being “overloaded.” How people are conditioned to combat phobias. Being placed in close quarters with the object of their irrational fear and forced to sit and wait as their anxiety builds and builds until their body realizes that it’s not in danger.
“I’M ABOUT to show THESE MOTHERFUCKERS how it’s REALLY DONE!” I was ready for another but Ballmer had stopped. Beads of sweat started appearing on his forehead. He turned to me and looked me directly in the eyes. He smiled broadly.
“Yeah boy! That’s what we’re going to do. Say there we got away from your questions. Gimme another question.”
I immediately flashed back to my conversation with Mark Lucovsky a month earlier, about Ballmer’s incredible ability to morph from white-knuckle intense to lovable grandfather in a moment. Mark was right. Conan. Easter bunny. Conan. Easter bunny.
“Uh, so, um, do you think you can put the Sterling debacle behin—”
“Fuck that motherfucker.” He cut me off with a wave of his thick Tony Robbins banana hand. “Sterling is a fucking piece of fucking shit. Make no mistake: his incompetence is my gain, clearly. Clearly. But fuck him. Fuck that fucking motherfucker. That’s all you need to know about him. That he was fucked, that he is fucked, and that he will always be fucked. Fuck him.”
He turned and stared off into the middle distance again. He clenched his fists as he turned toward a mirror that had been left hanging on the wall. He slowly meandered over to it, intently gazing into his own eyes. I honestly anticipated him to Jean Claude Van Dame his own reflection right in the face. He stopped a foot from the mirror.
“Let’s get the fuck outta here.” Ballmer said to his reflection. “I have a fucking game to win. Fuck.”
He threw the interior door to the central room of the suite open and stormed through and out into the hallway. I heard clap-clap-clap of his tasseled loafers as they bounced down toward the elevators.
I was alone in that Sterling room for a moment before following after Ballmer. It felt like how a haunted house is supposed to feel: everything dry, brittle, cracked, memories like asbestos ready to burst out of the walls and give you fucking cancer. Soul cancer.