Prompt Images

Falling for the oldest trick in the book sucks. Conversely, being the first person in history to fall for a brand new trick is totally understandable. Imagine being the  first person to fall for the “got your nose” gag. Or the first to sit on a whoopie cushion. Or the first to book a flight on Spirit Airlines, thinking they had just found themselves a great deal. Humiliating yes, but reasonable. You had no guideposts!

What about the first sucker to fall for the free lunch gambit? We all know there is no such thing as a free lunch because of all of the people duped into a timeshare presentation or a sneaky, last minute favor request or a gnarly case of food poisoning.

Maya Rudolph Poop GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

The free lunch gambit has fooled so many people that there is a colloquial phrase built to serve as a warning.

As far as I can tell, the first recorded instance of the free lunch gambit happened over a thousand years before Christ: the infamous Trojan Horse.

You know the story… The Greeks rolled up with this big ass wooden horse and left it outside the Trojans’ gate. The Trojans brought the horse in, maybe thinking it was an anonymous gift. Or maybe being confused by random but intriguing curb junk. Lest he who hath not checked a sidewalk La-Z-Boy for stains cast the first stone. Or maybe they were confused by Brad Pitt’s abs in Troy. I don’t know, I’m not a historian.

No matter the reason, the horse was secretly full of Greek soldiers who snuck out under the cover of night and opened the gates for their brethren to come join them in destroying the Trojans. Nowadays, the Trojans would have seen 100 nervous and racially-tinged alerts on their Nextdoor App and known better. Hey Sheila, yes I saw the enormous suspicious package left by the Greeks. No, I do not have a problem with Greeks, but I’m just a little nervous about why they are suddenly so interested in spending time in our quiet neighborhood. 

Alas, the Trojans were slaughtered so that millennia later, you would recognize that the free sandwiches in the conference room come with a lecture from Human Resources about microaggressions.

But I wonder, as I doze off during Human Resources meetings, how the Trojans actually fell for that big ass wooden horse in the first place. I don’t question them falling for the world premiere of a new trick, but exactly how THAT horse fooled them.

First question: How good was the woodwork back in 1000ish B.C.? This is 1,000-ish years before the first celebrity carpenter (Jesus) and an additional 1,994 years before HGTV began. When we were kids, they hadn’t even figured out how to make swing sets that didn’t give us a million splinters. I’m supposed to believe they created a decent horse with primitive tools and unprocessed lumber (read: just trees)? Was every piece of lumber flush against the adjoining piece, so much that you couldn’t see the people inside?

Second, what was the plan with bringing in the big ass horse? Clearly the Trojans did not have a Marie Kondo-type asking them if their possessions sparked joy, but what were they going to do with something so cumbersome and so un-feng shui?

Did the Greek soldiers inside have a food supply, just in case the Trojans did their due diligence and talked it out for a few days? And if so, where did they go to the bathroom? Last year, COVID had people leaving mail outside their home for a week before bringing it in, so if the Trojans needed a few days to figure out what to do with this random ass horse, the equine-bound Greeks needed to be patient.

Mostly, I hope, for my own personal amusement, there were a few passive aggressive skeptics who were like, “This is a bad idea. I’ll help drag it in, but in a few days I want you to remember that I thought this was stupid.”

I’m sorry for the Trojans, but I am glad we took lessons from their mistakes.

You can bet your ass that President Grover Cleveland never would have let the Statue of Liberty into our country if it didn’t come disassembled. I’m no historian, but you best believe President Cleveland was not some Pinterest DIYer or a Lego master builder. He knew you had to inspect a foreign gift before accepting it.

The next time you are presented with anything—especially a midday meal—that seems a little too good to be true, remember the Greeks and Trojans. Maybe you’ll have to look a gift horse in the mouth, but you’ll cross that bridge when you get to it…

Remember how stupid those Trojans must have felt, and how fleeting the feeling was because they were very quickly dead. You can’t stay ahead of every trick and ploy, although Sheila from Nextdoor App thinks you can. We can learn from others, or hope when it’s our time to be duped, that the stakes are lower. And at least if things go really badly for us, take solace that in another few millennia, they’ll be talking about our naivety and how it got them out of jury duty with the Intergalactic Space Consortium.

Josh Bard

Josh Bard is a guy. A sports guy, an ideas guy, a wise guy, a funny guy, a Boston guy, and sometimes THAT guy. Never been a Guy Fieri guy, though.

learn more
Share this story
About The Prompt
A sweet, sweet collective of writers, artists, podcasters, and other creatives. Sound like fun?
Learn more