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Finally, the main event. Charlie Norris--Sharkey's star pupil, the guy who puts the rookies through their paces at camp--is the star attraction. The two go back to 1989, when Sharkey spotted the hulking Norris at a wrestling card at the American Indian Center in Minneapolis and offered to train him gratis. Growing up in Minneapolis and on the Red Lake Indian Reservation, Norris was always a big wrestling fan, so he leaped at the opportunity. Within a month, Sharkey got Norris his first show, in front of 950 rabid fans. Norris never looked back. During the last decade he has wrestled everywhere from New Guinea to Texas to Japan. He had a brief taste of the big time in the mid-Nineties, when he signed a contract with World Championship Wrestling and fought for a pay-per-view audience. The WCW gig ended poorly, with Norris ultimately suing for discrimination. "They wanted me to act like a goofy Indian from F-Troop," he complains. The suit, he says, was settled for $50,000, but the experience left a sour taste. After a few years of bouncing around on the independent circuit, he returned to Minnesota. Although Norris often wrestles on Sharkey's cards, he also acts as a partner, occasionally lining up lucrative shows at Indian-run casinos in the state.
Norris's match is a tag team. He is paired with a kid named Nick Mondo, who pulls off the night's most expertly executed stunt. Standing on the second rope, facing a corner post, Mondo flips backward and then lands perfectly flush on top of his opponent, a kid named Primetime. The move is known as a moonsault. After the crowd cheers, Norris and Hellraiser Guts are tagged in, and Norris delivers some stiff forearms and clotheslines, and the crowd is riled. They chant "Char-LEE! Char-LEE!" over and over. Finally, Norris lands with a thud on top of Primetime and the ref bangs the mat three times. Show over.
As the fans begin to file out of the bar, Sharkey heads to the kitchen, where a small desk serves as the payout table. The cash ($30 to $70 dollars for most of the wrestlers) is quickly dispensed. "I love these bar shows," Sharkey says. "We get the gate, they get the drinks, and everybody leaves happy." He crams a wad of bills into his jeans. He is circumspect about tonight's profit margin but insists it is modest, a couple of hundred bucks at best. And then he returns to the barroom. Finally starting to relax, he takes a seat at an open table and begins to tell war stories. He talks of his juvenile incarceration at Red Wing, his winters in Hollywood, and the wrestlers from the old days: guys like his old friend Harley Race, who pulled out the fan's eye in Denver, and Badman Jose Quintero. The Badman was a classic, he says, "crazier than a shithouse rat." He also reminisces about more recent times, his admiration for the WWF's Vince McMahon, and his contempt for the WCW, the outfit that dumped Charlie Norris and screwed Lenny Lane "just when he was starting to get some heat." But mostly Sharkey talks about the beginning, about hanging out downtown with the boys.
"If I could only go back and stand on the old street corners. The old great Hennepin Avenue, not the shithole now," Sharkey says, letting the thought trail off for a moment, taking a sip from yet another brandy, sent over by an admiring fan. "I miss it. Every day of my life. I miss everything about it. Learning how to cheat. How to spot a cheater. It was all just so wonderful. Everybody was a character. Nobody was normal." Sharkey pauses again. He lets the thought sink in. And then Norris ambles over to the table with a final round of drinks. Full of high spirits, Norris declares the show a great success. "I had people hugging and kissin' me in the parking lot, and I didn't hardly do a thing," he says with a broad smile. "Eddie, you're my best friend, brother. We always have fun. We always have laughs."
Sharkey nods in agreement, then leans back in his chair, stuffs his cigarette into the ashtray and dips a stalk of celery into a cup of blue-cheese dressing. "We put asses in the seats, Charlie," he says, gnawing on the celery. 'That's all that matters. Asses in the seats."
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