On a recent evening, Lori Bushere sweeps into the Sports Channel, a biker-friendly watering hole on West Colfax. She's about twenty minutes late -- her standard timing. She wears a dark, pinstriped business suit, steep heels, tall and teased '80s hair, long, elaborately painted nails and a deep mid-winter tan.
"Hello, Bad Girls!" she yells to the group of women waiting at a round table in front of the big-screen TV.
Secret, Mirage and Bootilicious wave back. The hulking bouncer in the black T-shirt sees Bushere, leaps out of his chair and scurries to the bar. He returns a moment later and obediently hands Bushere her regular Seven and Seven.
"My girls need drinks!" Bushere directs.
Bushere is the Pat Bowlen of the Bad Girls Gone Slippery bar-wrestling team. A forty-something mother of three, she's been around the block a time or two. "Anybody who works in this business has a story," she says. "If they didn't, they'd be college professors or doctors. I have a story."
You can't hear it.
But you can trace the outline. She's worked as a bar manager for 22 years. She doesn't need any man. There has been pain in her life. Her big dream is wrapped in a modest package: Someday, she'd like to have her own bar.
Her mind races constantly. While working at a local bar a couple of years ago, she began contemplating the potential of an all-female troupe that grappled in oil -- adult entertainment slicked with grrrl power. After pondering for more than a year, she went out and bought an inflatable pool and some Johnson's Baby Oil. The team slid into its first gig last September.
It turns out that a slick package combining oil, bikinis, pretty young women and alcohol has a certain appeal. "People love to see women fight," Bushere shrugs. "They just love it."
Still, Bushere has had to explain the limits of her venture more than once to enthusiastic observers. "We're not strippers," she says indignantly. "We're not prostitutes. We're ladies. I run a very clean, classy show.
"Of course, some nudity is inevitable once in a while. We're wrestling in oil, after all."
All her girls call Bushere "Mama."
"I care about them," she explains. "We're a big family."
"We love spending time together," says Bootilicious. Everyone gets along.
Bushere insists on it.
"I won't have no drama," she says. "None. We'll sit for ten hours to work out a problem."
"If you can't get along inside the ring, you can't get along outside of it," Secret adds. The girls share strategies particular to their sport. For example, how a lady gets all that lubricant out of her hair.
"Wash and wash and wash," says Secret, whose lip and nose piercings and large silver crucifix necklace flash in the neon bar-room light. "It takes me two days. But," she adds, slicing her dark, straight hair off her face with two straight fingers, "I don't mind."
"Dish soap works," Shy Girl advises. "It's very drying."
Thrashing around in oil isn't just about problems, though. Everyone's skin positively glows.
Bootilicious -- small, muscular, baby-faced -- is probably the best grappler of the bunch. "I loved football in gym class," she remembers.
"She's been wrasslin' since she was little," her mother, Kathleen, a legal secretary, adds proudly. "She and her brother always used to wrassle."
None of the Bad Girls is a couch potato. As a teenager, Secret ran short sprints for a junior Olympic track team. "And I used to always arm-wrestle the boys -- and win," she says. Bushere was a gymnast in high school. Shy Girl was a cheerleader and all-around jock at Lincoln High School.
Mirage honed her wrestling chops Foxy Boxing at PT's. A martial-arts neophyte, she nevertheless found the concept easy to learn. "We wore scanty clothing and beat the hell out of each other," she explains.
Here's the deal: Bushere gets to keep the door and some money from drink sales. The wrestlers make tips and whatever they can raise by auctioning off a chance to oil up or grapple a real, live, nearly naked girl in front of a screaming bar crowd.
"The girls are shy," Bushere, who has no such problem, says. "They need to learn to work the crowd. I tell them, ŒWhy are people gonna spend money to oil you up if they've never spoken to you before?'"
When you think of oil wrestling in Colorado, you must think Bad Girls Gone Slippery. But the bar game is a competitive one, and Bushere works hard to stay a step ahead of imitators.
In recent months, she's had her team perform with a variety of kitchen products. Tossed salad with Italian dressing was novel -- although ultimately, like most salads themselves, disappointing. "It wilts," explains Bootilicious.
One night at the Buffalo Rose, the girls found themselves flailing in whipped cream. But it was too audience-unfriendly; after a while, you couldn't even tell who was who. The purple Jell-O was discarded after a single show, pronounced too messy.
Apart from oil, the most promising wrestling medium has been pasta. An Italian, Bushere spent an entire day boiling mostaccioli. She intended to lubricate the noodles with butter, but the bar owner nixed the plan, so she tossed them with a bit of oil and threw in some penis- and breast-shaped meatballs.
"You slide right through it," Bootilicious says. "It's nice."
Bushere is trying to make her team more professional. She recently hired a wrestling coach -- "a guy I know who comes from a wrestling family in California." She also thinks the time has come for matching uniforms. She envisions duplicate purple and silver bathing suits for all of the girls. "And it doesn't necessarily have to be a thong," Bushere stresses. If everything falls into place, she even sees a clothing company manufacturing them specially for the squad -- kind of a sponsorship deal.
She'd like to see bathrobes, too, for when the girls enter and exit the pool. And while they're at it, how about collectible cards, like those for baseball or football players? The girls' stats and personal information will be on the back. Fans will collect 'em and trade 'em.
And, someday, of course, her own bar, which the Bad Girls will call their home.
"This is gonna be huge," Bushere says. "I have big plans."
A week after the team meeting, a hand-scrawled sandwich board calls to drivers passing by the Sports Channel: "Bikini oil wrestling tonight!" A giant loaf of a man spilling off his stool collects the $3 cover at the door.
"You might want to get a good seat," he advises three young men wearing uniforms of goatees and baseball caps. "Beautiful ladies, all greasy," he explains.
Bushere is dressed in a tubular silver evening gown. Several of the Bad Girls work the crowd selling raffle tickets. Coors has even sent some reps to check out the show.
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"We're not really sponsoring them yet," one of them notes. "I mean, we already have the Silver Bullets." Still, he adds, the beer company's intrigued by the promotional possibilities. He's donated several T-shirts for the Bad Girls to raffle off.
A couple of Bad Girls assistants drag a ten-foot-by-five-foot inflatable pool into the middle of the dance floor. The crowd of about seventy -- 90 percent of them men -- starts to pay attention. One of them pays $15 for the privilege of oiling up a guest wrestler, Sam, one of the Sports Channel's bartenders. Sam, who clearly spends time at the gym, will be facing Code Red, who looks as nervous as a rabbit.
With good reason. Bushere gives the start command: "Ladies, get on your knees." Within seconds, Code Red is in a devastating headlock. A moment after that, she's on her back, trying to slip out of Sam's intriguing body lock.
The giant doorman whips out his camera and snaps a few shots. The crowd pushes in closer to the pool. Men whoop and shout and give each other high-fives. Bootilicious and Secret work the crowd. The night is young. And oily.