We've all been there: on the road broke, relying on other climbers to provide a safe haven (read: couch) for a night or two… or 57. I did most of my dirtbagging in my teens and 20s, when I lived on $150 a month, most of which went toward gas money for the next crag. My cut-rate tent leaked, I slept in a double layer of threadbare, $30 Coleman sleeping bags, subsisted on Ramen noodles and lemon-crème cookies, and my Therm-a- Rest deflated about 10 minutes after I lay on it (but I was too penurious to buy a patch kit). I could only afford to shower once a week. When I was “flush,” I’d buy a loaf of French bread, store-brand Dijon mustard, and a box of crackers, and then make “Cheez-It hoagies.” Otherwise, my time and energy went toward finding free places to camp and soft-tick 5.13s—as with every dirtbag, climbing was all that mattered.
Which made it so refreshing when fellow climbers opened their doors to me and whatever friend I traveled with. Suddenly we were ushered from America’s hobo fringes back into the real world, where people changed clothes every day, ate off tableware, slept in beds, held jobs, and enjoyed cable television! Not surprisingly, we were loath to leave such digs, but like fi sh, dirtbag guests have a brief shelf life—I’m sure I overstayed a welcome or two. I’d do my best to be helpful and unobtrusive, washing the dishes, buying what communal groceries I could, caching my bedroll and duffel bag each morning in whatever room I stunk up. But I imagine I was mainly a nuisance, like most penniless, self-obsessed, 20-something sport wankers.
So it was, later in life, that I vowed to, in turn, offer the hospitality that is our common currency: “Stay with me and you can return the favor when I visit your neck of the woods” is the unspoken etiquette. It’s almost always worked out, and while I wouldn’t say that I’ve had any bad guests, I have had lingerers. A few years back, we had “Pierre,” who was to stay a month. A friend had hooked him up with us, saying Pierre would be happy to cook and clean in exchange for room and board. However, the cooking and cleaning stopped after only a few nights, and Pierre commandeered our laptop and seemed reluctant to relinquish it. (When he left, we discovered it was loaded with salacious photos of him and a girl French-kissing.) When I’d loan him my car so he could go climbing, he’d never fill the tank by way of thanks. And his visit somehow stretched to two months and change.
I finally realized I’d had enough one day when we—Pierre, I, and another friend—headed to Boulder Canyon so I could belay Pierre on a project he’d bolted with my drill. The line started with 15 feet of slippery 5.10a crack; it also began on a six-foot-wide ledge 50 feet above the creek.
“Hey, Pierre, maybe you should place a cam,” I prodded him, slapping the Grigri on the rope.
“Eeetz fi ne,” he said. “I naaayver fall on zees peez-eezee crack.”
(I know: you saw this coming a mile away, right? Why didn’t I build my own anchor or insist on that piece?)
Overcome by redpoint jitters, Pierre slipped from his jams eight feet up and rocketed toward the abyss. Picturing us both dragged to our deaths, I somehow snatched Pierre—who stood a good eight inches taller than me—while my buddy cushioned his fall into the rocks. Pierre stood up, unscathed, dusted off his MC Hammer Euro-pants, recomposed himself, and made to start up again.
“Pierre, a cam this time,” I said. “Please.”
“No. Eet eez no problem,” he said. “I vas just shaky zat time.”
“OK then,” I said, taking the Grigri off the rope. “Pierre: You’re not on belay until you clip the bolt.”
And so it went, me belaying and Pierre not sending and growing ever more frustrated until, by the time we finished up at another cliff, he’d gone into a tailspin, especially after I onsighted some scruffy 5.11 on which he had to hang. As I traversed the base of the wall, getting in a final pump, Pierre said, “Enough of zees climbing. Now vee go home.”
Wait a minute—what? I had hosted the guy, loaned him my drill, driven him to the cliff, belayed him, and now I just wanted to get in a little rock time, and he was getting moody? It hit me then: Pierre had overstayed his welcome, but I, having invited him in, had no gentle means of eviction.
Which led me to wonder: Is it possible to remove an embedded dirtbag without violating our tribe’s unspoken etiquette? Well, as with termites and bedbugs, dirtbags are a devilish infestation, though I have discovered one possible remedy: psychological warfare. Depending on the obstinacy of your intruder, your house could be dirtbag free after any single step in this process, though if your problem isn’t rectified by Step Four, you’ll need to resort to Direct Action Plans A and B, detailed below. And if those fail? Well, then you yourself must move out—to go live with climber friends, of course.
STEP ONESolicit a Financial Contribution The filthiest word a dirtbag ever did hear is “money”—it’s like his kryptonite, because “m-o-n-e-y” conjures up having to get a “j-o-b,” which might interfere with “s-i-c-k r-e-d-p-o-i-n-t-s” and “r-e-s-t d-ay b-l-o-g-g-i-n-g.” I recommend going for the jugular: “Hey, man, you’ve been here a while, and we were hoping you could chip in for the bills.” Pretty straightforward, right? Usually this is enough to send all but the hardiest freeloaders packing, though if you meet pushback you could try back-dating the bills to when your visitor first appeared on the doorstep, helpless as an abandoned newborn.
STEP TWOProselytize Dirtbags can’t relate to anything outside climbing and resting for climbing. The world could have been atom-bombed flat around them, and there they’d sit watching Gossip Girl reruns and filing calluses while they pantomime moronic beta and fart up your couch. To put them at dis-ease, I recommend strewing cultish eschatological pamphlets across the coffee table, then muting the television, looking your dirtbag in the eye, and saying, “Winkler, can we talk about [Jesus, Satan, Buddha, Jehovah, Lord Xenu, the Dark Overlord Pazuzu, Cthulu, Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the Angel Moroni, etc.], because I feel like you’re living a life that is spiritually empty, and 2012 will soon be upon us.” Watch the dirtbag’s jaw drop when he must stop visualizing the fifth deadpoint crux on a power-endurance 5.13d to listen to this heavy shit that you’re laying down.
STEP THREE Host Swingers’ Parties This approach takes an open mind (among other “open” things), and you do run the risk that your invader is either A) a swinger himself, or B) so randy and morally ambivalent that he’ll swing with the best of them. To do it right, make sure your swingers fit the off-putting, sexcreeper mold: hairy, flabby, orange-hued middle-aged exhibitionists that no sane person would tangle with. While it will be scary to invite them into your home to rut like rabbits, they probably aren’t much worse than dirtbags.
STEP FOUR Eliminate all the Amenities/Simulate the Outdoors Like moths to the flame, dirtbags are drawn to your home’s finer things: hot running water, soft bed or couch, a proper kitchen, laundry machines, cable television, your girlfriend, etc. But take all these away, and suddenly it’s not looking so sweet. I recommend doing this in stages. Day One: “Say, Winkler, the hot-water heater broke, so no showers today.” Day Two: “Bad news, Winkler: I’m on a tight budget and had to shut off the cable.” Day Three: “I turned off the electricity and put all the appliances in the garage because we’re Amish.” And so on. If it’s still not working, simulate the full-ghetto camping experience by spritzing sand and cold water onto the dirtbag’s face while he sleeps, then asking him to dig a hole in the yard when he needs to drop a deuce (“because the pipes are broken”).
DIRECT ACTION Still got “ol’ Stinky” anchoring your couch? Then it’s time to stop hintin’ and start evictin’.
PLAN A Foist the Dirtbag on Unsuspecting Victims You can go about this two ways, which are not mutually exclusive: One, call up friends (or, better yet, enemies) and plead that they take over hosting duties. Or, two, convince your guest that the amenities are even better elsewhere: the hot water hotter, refrigerator way more stocked, flatscreen TV even bigger, the host’s girlfriend imminently more corruptible, etc.
PLAN B Call the Police/Social Services If all else fails, call the Man. Simply tell the authorities that some raving, psychotic, homeless amnesiac showed up on your doorstep weeks ago rambling about “beta” and “redpoint cruxes” and “dab-knee scums” and “gastons” and “consensus V grades,” and that despite your good Samaritan efforts you’ve not been able to restore him to sanity.
Matt Samet is the best houseguest ever. Just ask the dozens of former hosts who’ve kicked him to the curb.