I shouldn't be surprised. The connection between motorcycles and Jell-O may be rarely considered, outside bike rallies and opportunistic Web rings, but it's an observable fact: Bikers like Jell-O -- as long as it's mixed with vodka or garnished by two scantily clad females. Jell-O wrestling, as a biker pastime, has in fact supplanted the more classic forms of mud and oil wrestling in bars and clubs across the country. During Sturgis and Daytona Bike Week, two of the largest rallies in the nation, Jell-O wrestling is second only to the recent vogue of coleslaw wrestling (held in a malodorous pit known as the "Cabbage Patch"). At the 100th Birthday Bash, a centennial celebration of Harley-Davidson to be held this summer just outside of Milwaukee, the necessary arrangements have been made to accommodate both Jell-O and coleslaw wrestling.
"The coleslaw has its advantages," explains event producer Rick D'Aloia. "You can make more of it in less time -- just chop up the cabbage, throw in some oil, maybe some mayonnaise, and you're ready to go."
Certainly, quantity is an issue when staging four or five hours of matches each day, for five days, in the middle of farmland, but there are other issues to consider in the middle of August -- say, wilting, fermentation, and general messiness.
"Coleslaw is definitely messier," agrees D'Aloia. "Jell-O is water-soluble -- easier to hose off. Coleslaw is oil-based. Coleslaw has other limitations, too. Green or purple, that's all you get out of cabbage. With Jell-O and a couple of portable cement mixers you can have any color you want. You can have red, white, and blue if you want -- a patriotic match -- you can have big cubes, little cubes ... it's kind of ridiculous to talk about, but you get more variety with Jell-O."
"I'm a Jell-O girl all the way," clarifies Schussolin. "Mud's boring; coleslaw is just oil wrestling with cabbage slivers; and creamed corn is just gross."
Schussolin would know, having attended creamed-corn wrestling at Zeitgeist, her favorite biker bar since giving up on Toronado and Lucky 13 years ago.
"Jell-O is sweet and sticky, and it comes in pretty colors," she explains before sucking down a glob of vodka-based green Jell-O. "Hot, sticky, sweet, from my head to my feet ...."
The lyrics from Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me" are drowned out by the roar of bikes pulling up outside; six riders -- helmets in hand for half price at the door -- push their way into the crowded club, their faces flushed with excitement, cold and laughter spilling in from outside. In the back corner of the tiny bar area, 24-year-old Brigitte Smith straddles her Suzuki GSXR 750 (a "jixxer," as it is more intimately identified) to pose for a photograph. Smith is a pale, buxom beauty with long black dreadlocks and bright red lips who produces "Road Rash" -- when she's not grooming dogs, attending races, or going to "zoo school."
"I love animals and bikes," says Smith, whose goth-girl sport bike club is called the Crypt Orchids, a veterinary term for males with undescended testes. Naturally, she commands a fair amount of respect from her male compatriots, who, like her, are mostly sport bike fans.
"When I started this night, we were just showing racing videos," says Smith, sidling past a handsome man with short blond hair and a matinee-idol smile. "One night I was sitting at the bar, and I had just said, 'This would be better with mud wrestling.' Not two seconds later, my friend walked up and asked if she could put on some Jell-O wrestling here."
Upstairs, Smith's friend Theresa Camp is limbering up with the other competitors. While "Dr." Faust, a friend with over 20 years of combat sports experience under his belt, leads the ladies through their paces, "wrestling managers" Sara Sherman and Jessica Katzman busy themselves with a thousand details, including the ring, the Jell-O, the live monitor feed, the documentary film crew from Germany, and the girls. There are issues. Not many, but a few: nerves, wants, broken bra straps, missing boas. Katzman gives the wrestlers the pre-show pep talk.
"None of the women do this for money," explains Sherman, who is a 25-year-old hospital clerk when she's not preparing Jell-O. "They do it because it's a lot of fun. There's a championship bout tonight, and those girls really want that belt."
Those girls are Amber Steele and Mila Salazar.
Steele is a tall, curvaceous blonde with an easy smile who go-go dances at "Bondage A Go-Go" when she's not attending classes at UCSF. Salazar is slim and fiery, with thigh-length black braids and red hot-pants that say "bitch" across the ass. When she's not in the goo, she's a professional ballroom dancer. Neither can articulate the reasons for wanting the belt, which was constructed by another friend of the crew, but it's clear that they really do want it.
"It's mine," hisses Steele.
"We'll see about that," says Salazar, her eyes flashing.
"All right ladies, let's go wrestle!" shouts Katzman.
Downstairs, on what was once a small dance floor, a crush of bodies obscures the "arena." More and more bikers arrive, abandoning their pool games and pints in favor of the main attraction. The racing video on the wall-size screen gives way to a close-up image of slime. Four wrestlers enter the arena.
"Mmmmm, lime," observes a man teetering on the top of a dividing wall. The tag-team event is slow as the novices try to come to grips with something that completely defies gripping. They lunge, lose their balance, and land face first in the goo. Over and over again. Globs of Jell-O fly everywhere. Eventually, some of the girls learn to hug for balance, a slow dance that leaves the crowd chanting for blood. More pushing. Squish, swish, and flop.
"You can't push your opponent," explains Steele. "Your own body weight will take you down. You have to entangle. Entangle the limbs. Find your center. Upper-body strength doesn't really help you here."
This is something that Sabrina Watts, a full-time roofer with arms like iron pinions, learns in short order. Steele toys with her, stretching out the bout, posing for the crowd while she straddles Watts suggestively; Steele smiles, letting her opponent rise and get her bearings before offering her a kiss and bringing her down again. Cheesecake poses not withstanding, it's clear that Steele is in her element. Anna Quinones, a pinup for the popular Suicide Girls Web site, proves a bit more formidable, but eventually she is also taken down by both Salazar and Steele. Along the way, someone's hair gets tangled up in someone's earring; by the time the incident reaches me, rumor has transformed the earring into a nipple ring and the crowd is going wild. A few guys on the sidelines -- contemptuously referred to as the tank-top crew -- begin to get a bit out of hand, spraying their beer on the women and chanting obscenities; they are publicly ridiculed by Katzman and Smith but don't seem to notice. The Jell-O moment stretches into a Jell-O millennium, until, at last, there are two.
While Steele is clearly the mistress of hard knocks, Salazar is fierce, wiry, and tenacious; even outweighed, she leaves no time for Steele to be cute. They engage, roll, flop, fall, embrace, slide, and smack, but neither pins. Salazar's head goes into the corner of the ring, hard. I can hear it. The crowd begins chanting her name. She rallies. The match stretches into the wee hours, threatening to end in a draw, but the crowd is supportive and dedicated. At last, exhausted and bruised, Steele pins Salazar. She grins. Salazar glowers. No doubt, there will be another day.