Identity is fungible in Los Angeles. If you need to change your hair color, get a new name, write a script about a zebra that races thoroughbreds -- it’s not a problem. None of it goes on your permanent record. Not even tattoos.
That’s why James Morel, an entrepreneur who published POPsmear magazine and created a show on E! in which people went on dates with celebrities, opened his first laser tattoo-removal clinic in Beverly Hills. His main investor in Dr. Tattoff is Christopher Knight, who played Peter on “The Brady Bunch” and is now on VH1’s reality show “The Surreal Life,” in which he has started dating one of the winners of UPN’s reality show “America’s Next Top Model.”
Morel, 34, who wears maroon scrubs that seem to imply he’s a doctor, already has sold a pilot to VH1 about the clinic, a reality show called “Disappearing Ink.” He says the most common reason people get tattoos removed is that they broke up with the persons whose names were inked on their bodies. The second most common, he says, is because they’re idiots.
But L.A., where your body is a commodity, delivers particularly good tattoo-removal stories. Porn star Jesse Jane came in recently to remove a red, white and blue Playboy icon because it conflicts with her work for Hustler magazine.
Jane, 24, is often identified in Us Weekly, the Star and other magazines I don’t read as Pam Anderson’s rival. This is partly because, like Anderson, she dated Tommy Lee and Kid Rock, and partly because Jane and Anderson look exactly alike, unless for some reason you look somewhere other than their breasts.
Sitting in Dr. Tattoff’s packed, shockingly professional waiting room in pink sweats and a white tank top, Jane told me that she was sad to lose her favorite tattoo. “Whether I want to do it or not doesn’t matter. It’s business,” she said. “I don’t want to lose work over a trademark issue.”
Another reason to get the tat removed is because Jane is shooting a period piece called “Pirates,” and an anachronistic Playboy tattoo, she fears, will take the viewer out of the movie’s reality. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that 16th century Spain also was light on platinum blond hair and fake breasts.
In the examination room, waiting for the doctor to come in and explain the procedure, I embarrassingly asked Jane about her bachelor party performance that caused chaos in the marriage of Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey. This turned out to be quite a faux pas because that porn star wasn’t Jesse Jane at all, but porn star Jessica Jaymes. We sat quietly for a while.
Trying to cover the awkwardness, Jane told me that, three days earlier, she broke up with Kid Rock. She then told me to write that down in my notebook because she hadn’t told anyone and this was a big scoop. This is not the kind of scoop the L.A. Times probably was hoping for when it hired me.
“I wasn’t in love with him. It would be retarded for me to stay with him,” she explained, before adding: “He didn’t know what he’s doing in bed.” This made me, for the first time, realize that I should never have sex with a porn star.
When the doctor came in, he explained that because Jane recently tanned, she’d have to wait a month until her first laser treatment. And that it would take more than five two-minute treatments, each three weeks apart, and each stinging like hundreds of specks of splattered grease. This did not dissuade Jane. “Pirates” must be some script.
Morel says he hopes to put a Dr. Tattoff in every mall in the U.S. so that people no longer think of tattoos as permanent, but as a fashion accessory that can be changed as you change. And, thinking about Jesse Jane, I wondered if a world in which you can erase your tattoos, your wrinkles, your marriages, your past careers is such a bad thing. And if it isn’t, on some level, what draws people to this city.
A few days later, doing my duty as a journalist, I checked Jesse Jane’s website. Our encounter was mentioned on the front page, where her diary entry said, “I had a great time!” I felt special until I was replaced two days later with the diary entry: “Well, today I got up and started having sex.”
If being usurped so quickly hurt my feelings, I cannot imagine how much it hurts Kid Rock.