This is off the record. You can’t tell anyone. I mean it: nobody. If this gets out, I’ll lose all credibility—as an art critic, a journalist, and a woman of intelligence, sophistication, and taste.

Especially taste.

In 1984 I became a visual art critic for the Ann Arbor News and began covering the Ann Arbor art fairs. Now I get paid by the Observer to walk around the fairs, talk to artists and customers, and write about it—everything from $65,000 museum-caliber pots to $2 balloon animals sold to children by squatters who sell from the fringes of the official fairs.

After two decades of hearing artists and fair organizers squabble about art vs. craft, which fair is best, quality, and endless jokes about art-on-a-stick, something unexpected happened one Friday night at the art fairs.

I took my best friend on a highlight tour of the four fairs, pointing out all the goodies I’d found during the past three days. Gradually we headed toward an après-fair supper at Zanzibar. Our last stop was a quick detour toward shoe sales on Liberty.

Then, at the exact same moment, we saw him in a booth. For me, it was a breathless moment of recognition of my soul mate—no, not George Clooney, Denzel Washington, or Daniel Craig, but a goofy, fuschia bird on a stick. His cartoon bubble read, “Bloom Dammit.” My friend said, “It’s just so you.”

My inner imp agreed. I am a gardener with a recalcitrant kalanchoe, a succulent that had not bloomed in more than a decade.

My quandary? What if some art fair hotshot or artist whom I’d dissed saw me carrying Dammit. Having mocked art-on-a-stick in print more than once, I’d be busted as a hypocrite.

I pondered the dilemma of how to acquire Dammit without anyone knowing. Oh, where was Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak when I needed it?

The solution stood beside me. When in doubt, bribe.

“If you carry the bird to the restaurant,” I told my best friend, “I’ll buy you a cocktail.” She laughed and warned me, “I’ll order their most expensive drink.”

I paid for Dammit. The artist wrapped his head, but he was still clearly art-on-a-stick. We walked to the restaurant without incident and had a great meal. But when we settled the bill, I panicked. What if someone saw me carrying Dammit to my car?

Now, my friend may be Buckeye born-and-bred and a Sparty, too, but she is one tough negotiator. She upped the ante. “I’m not carrying him to your car for a mere drink. You owe me the next dinner.” Grateful that she didn’t move up to Gandy Dancer range, I agreed.

Our luck ran out. Two blocks later in front of my church (God works in such mysterious ways) we ran into my pastor, her husband, a reporter from the Detroit Free Press, and his wife. Each of them unwrapped his or her art fair purchases to show us. We oohed and cooed, while I silently prayed that no one would ask my best friend about her telltale package, because I knew she’d rat me out. Thankfully, they didn’t ask—and she didn’t volunteer the information.

When I got home, I stuck Dammit in the pot with the kalanchoe. In summer, he stares at me while I drink coffee with my flowers on the balcony. In winter he stares at me near the dining room table. He’s still smiling, and he’s still goofy, a constant reminder that despite seeing the Mona Lisa and the Cologne cathedral, I’m tacky and silly to the core.

But despite his year-round encouragement, the kalanchoe still stubbornly refuses to bloom.