I tried to undo the damage at a day spa in SoHo, where a beautiful Russian-accented woman told me to lie on a table beneath an enormous camera-like device suspended from the ceiling—for all I know, it was discarded parts from a Proton satellite left over from the Soviet space program. The apparatus flashed in my general direction over the course of three serenely pointless sessions, costing about $1,200 in total. (Let's put that figure in perspective: At the time, I worked at an alternative weekly.)
After the calamity of the $1,200, I just tried to live with it. The English major in me reached for cultural-historical perspective. I thought of the libertine fops and madams of 18-century France, with their white-powdered faces and crimson-painted cheeks. I thought of John Keats, dead at 25 of tuberculosis, which gave its sufferers a telltale milky pallor with flushed cheeks—a look that actually became fashionable in 19th-century Europe. (Their version of heroin chic, perhaps.) Keats was the bard of the blush: He wrote irresistibly of a cheek "rosy-warm / With the tinge of love, panting in safe alarm," and elsewhere compiled a taxonomy of the versatile blush:
There's a blush for want, and a blush for shan't
And a blush for having done it,
There's a blush for thought, and a blush for naught,
And a blush for just begun it.
I thought of the phrase apple-cheeked, so sweet and wholesome. I thought of Marge Simpson's mother, dispensing advice on prom night: "If you pinch your cheeks, they'll glow," she rasped. "Try to break some capillaries."