We hear a lot about the “oldest trick in the book.” There’s a lot of debate over what actually constitutes the “oldest trick.” Some say it was the “Bait and Switch,” wherein the trickster offers his/ her mark some sort of prize or incentive and then delivers a different, less desirable prize. Others claim the “Old Switcheroo” predates the “Bait and Switch” with its simple tactic of substituting one thing for another without any pretense or “bait.” Most folks who have done the research, however, believe the actual oldest trick in the book to be the “Bash and Snatch” wherein the trickster “bashes” their opponent over the head with a rock or stick and then “snatches” the thing that he or she wants. Technically, that trick never made it into any books, but it may very well be the oldest trick painted onto the wall of a cave.
Lots of credit goes to the old, familiar tricks, but few people take the time to stop and recognize the newer tricks in the book. Sure, they may lack the simple elegance of that trick where you point at a stain on someone’s shirt and then poke that person in the face when they look, but there are plenty of modern ploys, dupes, and cons that rival them in effectiveness. Here are just a few examples of modern trickery and tips to steer clear of them.
The Five-Minute Warning
This trick is a modern classic. It used to be that when someone was late to an engagement without notice, we feared the worst. Perhaps they were eaten by wolves or unjustly imprisoned as communist sympathizers. Now, everyone has a cell phone. If someone is late and does not tell us why, we assume he or she is just a dick.
The Five-Minute Warning arose to combat that problem. Nowadays, when someone is running late, the standard move is to call and claim to be five minutes away. “Five minutes away,” encompasses anything from five minutes to thirty minutes away. Beyond thirty minutes, it’s “stuck in traffic.” Anything above an hour late, and you’re “just leaving the house.” It also helps to say you are “so sorry” and “the worst friend.”
Ways to avoid: Don’t be friends with dicks.
The Nigerian Prince
This trick is pretty new to the canon, but it has become remarkably popular astonishingly quickly, which must mean that it works. If you’ve never come up against this ploy, here’s how it works…
You get an e-mail from an alleged foreign dignitary in a state of political/ emotional/ metaphysical distress. They need to get away from their country, pronto. This person needs access to your bank account as a safe-haven for their immense store of liquid assets. Obviously, you will receive a generous commission for your assistance. It’s a unique offer. How often do you get to help put an end to human rights violations and get real paid for it?
Obviously, this is a scam. There are not that many princes in Nigeria. And if there were, why would they not seek asylum with the US government? And if they had and weren’t being allowed in, might they themselves perhaps be war criminals? Don’t be fooled!
Ways to avoid: Don’t be a dummy, dummy!
The New Switcheroo
A movie trailer advertises a wacky, feel-good comedy. Then when you arrive at the theater, you get a bland, pasty rom-com, or worse a pseudo-quirky, existentialist mope-fest. What gives? You’ve been taken by the New Switcheroo. It happens every year. It’s unavoidable. I can’t possibly be the only person who got suckered in by the whimsical promo for Up In The Air only to be bummed out for the entire next week by George Clooney’s isolation and heartbreak. (I didn’t say “spoiler alert” because you’ve had two years to see the movie, and I hate the phrase “spoiler alert.”) I’m Jewish, but somehow, Up In The Air ruined Christmas for me.
Ways to avoid: Keep your eyes open for Wes Anderson, Ryan Reynolds, or the dreaded Zach Braff.
The Just One More
You’re out with your friends. It’s late. You’ve got work/ your great aunt’s funeral/ your own wedding in the morning. You really should be going.
“Just one more,” says your buddy. You shake your head. “Come on, just one. We never hang out anymore.”
You relent. Six hours later, the sun is rising, and you’re on the roof of a parking garage throwing pebbles at the trash can you threw up in earlier, convinced that you’ll be “cool to drive in twenty minutes.” It’s a sad state of affairs.
Back in the day, you never had to worry about this. In a peasant village, you would drink as much mead or mutton-wine (not a real thing) as your heart desired, and then your host would tie you to the back of your prized riding-goat who would tote you back to your hovel as you raised one final glass in celebration. This is where the phrase “tying one on” originated. That last part is probably not true, but what I mean to say is, don’t drink and drive.
The Just One More is such a powerful phenomenon that it inspired the hit comedy The Hangover as well as some other thing called The Hangover 2.
Ways to avoid: Go home early like a wimp or just roll your drunk-cry into the next morning’s funeral-cry.
The Sleep Number
You’re dating someone new! So exciting! You have great chemistry! Omigosh, you think you’ve found the one!
Then, for some reason, you decide to have the talk. “So… how many people have… you, you know… been with?” Because that conversation has ever ended with both people happy and satisfied. It’s always a lose-lose proposition. Unless you have the same number, which is wildly improbable, given that the range of possibility ranges from zero to seven billion.
Plus, it’s a conversation that never needs to be had. You guys are together now. The past is in the past. Yes, you think you are so in love that nothing the other person can say will ever upset you, but were you prepared to hear: “Oh, not that many, just ninety-two…or was it ninety-three?” or equally eyebrow-raising-but-ultimately-irrelevant “I’m a virgin.” If you must ask the question, wait until the relationship is solid. I’d recommend year sixty-five of marriage.
This is where The Sleep Number comes in. There are numerous ways people disqualify or over-qualify themselves in terms of their sexual experiences. Oh, that didn’t count because I was drunk/ in college/ super lonely/ needed a ride. Yeah, that totally would have happened except he/ she had passed out/ just gotten back with his or her ex/ was fictional. Whenever someone gives you a number, take it with a grain of salt as if it were Bill Clinton giving testimony on the subject.
Ways to avoid: Let it go, Sam Spade. You’re not going to sleuth this one out.