The Subtle Art of Staying Behind

By Teddy Allen

Unless you were born with four-leaf clovers in both hands, you are semi-cursed with the Give-Take Principle, or the GTP. Also called the Law of Staying Behind.

Whenever you get a little extra money, something will happen to snatch that money right out of your greedy little paws. Seldom does this fail.

My first real run-in with this reality was December, 1987. I went to The Great Louise at the newspaper — besides having a heart as wide as the Red River, she knew Everything about Everything — handed her an envelope and told her I’d accidentally been given an extra paycheck that week.

“That’s your Christmas bonus,” The Great Louise said.

Those were the days.

When the tears had cleared enough for me to see, I drove my truck straight to what was then Pioneer Bank — “The bank with the open door from 9 ’til 4” — deposited my check, wept some more, then started to crank my truck.

Key broke off in the ignition. 

Cost 80 bucks to fix. Merry Christmas to the locksmith, not so much to me.

Fate giveth money, fate taketh money away.

For some reason at the first of this month, we had a little extra money. So it was not a big hit when the envelope came in the mail, as it does every six months, with the car insurance due.


But also in the mail was the annual termite prevention bill.


An attention-getting one-two punch, but not one that would put you on the mat.

Except then the electric bill notice came by email. I was scared to open it.

And … for good reason. It shattered the previous monthly record by nearly $200.

Good thing I was sitting down.

Something was going on. The Give-Take Principle. The indisputable Law of Staying Behind.

It was more expected than surprising that evening when the musty smell under the sink turned out to be a plumbing leak in an old cast iron pipe, a pre-PVC situation. Easily fixable — once a carpenter moved a cabinet and cut some holes in the wall.

Plumbing cost? $509.00 the first day, $1,013.20 the second.

Carpentry? Jury is still out on that one, but we’re saving up.

It would have been easier to save up if, during the weekend before the plumbing was totally fixed, the plumbing in the back of the house hadn’t backed up. So, while plumbing was getting fixed in the kitchen, the “clean-out” guys were on the roof, running a roto-rooter thingy down the old cast iron pipes back there, ones that will eventually leak of course, and mercifully cleaning that out.


Thought it was going to be worse so was grateful. What was worse were the two new tires I had to get the next day.

$427.74. Gotta have tires. 

Two days later I took those tires and the rest of my car to my stud mechanic friend because my AC had gone out, the battery was draining, and surely that meant alternator trouble and another story for another time but the bottom line equals $357.19 and I wept like a small wet child for joy because I thought it would be much worse.

It’s at times like this I’m grateful to mow grass. Nothing can get to you when you’re out there mowing grass. So that’s what I did — until my mower broke.

Of course, it did.

The next day I put it in my repaired car and left my repaired home and drove it to the shop and left it. The next day I called to check on it.

Needs just one part. Just That One Part.

Unfortunately, Just That One Part is on backorder.

Of course, it is…

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