Escape Art was a weekly advice column I wrote for the Criterion about getting out of sketchy situations. Published in the Criterion on Feb. 24, 2014

I'm eating dinner at my girlfriend's parents' house, and it's the first time I've met them. After using the bathroom, I find the toilet has become hopelessly clogged and/or broken. I don't think I'm the one who did it, but I certainly made it worse. What do I do?

Even though you may not be the one who built the obstruction, you have unfortunately been awarded the title of "the last person to use the bathroom."

No matter who may be responsible for this backfired backflow, you will bear its shame. Being the new guy in your girlfriend's parents' abode where you are currently trying to earn their respect, you need to be firm in your resolve.

Where is the plunger? Find the plunger. You know how to work that thing, right? You're going to give it a shot, because the last thing you want to do is walk out there to your girlfriend and her father with their mouths full of her mother's down-home cooked casserole and tell them all about some sewage backup.

Sneaking in a couple games of Candy Crush while you were on the john, why not put that smart phone to productive use and Google "proper plunger technique?"


If this is one of those demon clogs that the plunger just won't take care of, it's time to go into safety and implied innocence mode. You're going to reach behind that toilet and twist the water valve shut so the toilet doesn't keep running and flood.

Take a look underneath the sink in the bathroom. There could be a bottle of drain cleaner down there. If there is, squirt some of that in the toilet and play a game of Candy Crush while it does its thing. If there is no effect, give that plunger one more try before washing your hands thoroughly and taking a walk of shame out to the kitchen.

Sit back down at the table and mention that it appears "something is wrong with the toilet." It's not like anyone is going to put their fork down and jump up to fix it, so change the subject quickly and compliment the food and your hosts' fine taste in plateware.


Get back to making a good impression and leave that clog to the homeowners—you did your best and you're not making a scene. This demonstration of maturity should deflect any beams of disdain about the poo puddle down the hall.