Darrell Anderson steps out from behind an iron gate. Two dogs follow. One, a Maltese named Sugar, jumps up at me playfully. The other, Buddy, a muscular tan dog that Darrell refers to as a “cattle dog,” sniffs around the cement parking area strewn with the stuff of Darrell’s past.
The 55-year-old Fox Canyon resident has been cleaning out his shed, and yard-sale preparations are in full swing. A battered “For Rent” sign lies on the ground among old wooden toolboxes, dirty buckets, and dusty work boots. A broom leans against a table piled with empty red gas cans, plastic funnels, and coils of rope. Buddy wanders through the piles, stepping in a toolbox here, over a pair of boots there.
“I tried to get him neutered yesterday, and he raised so much hell they gave him back to me,” Darrell says of Buddy. “He’s never had a muzzle on, he’s never been put in a cage, and he’s never been separated from me, so he just had a fit.”
Sugar jumps up at me again, and Darrell swats at her with the white washcloth in his hand.
“And you know he bites, too,” Darrell says. “He’s got a mouth full of teeth.”
I ask if maybe the dog shouldn’t go back behind the gate. Darrell laughs and says, “No, he’s not going to bite you. He’s going to chase lizards.”
The freestanding shed that used to hold Darrell’s effects sits at the southern edge of a cement parking area between the front house and the two-unit apartment building behind it. Darrell owns both buildings. He and his wife Verlean occupy the ground-floor apartment and rent out the rest. But only until the end of the month. After that, the mortgage company will take over, and he and Verlean will move to Lansing, Michigan, where they both have family nearby.
“I can’t get work,” he says, using the washcloth to wipe down a padded fold-up chair that sits in the shade against the back building. “And the mortgage is upside-down.”
He carries the chair into the sun and sets it down a few feet in front of another just like it. We sit. Darrell tells me he has to leave for a doctor’s appointment in an hour or so. The sun is hot, and beads of sweat sparkle on his nose and forehead. Sugar jumps at me again. He swats at her with the cloth, then wipes his face with it.
“I bought this place for $160,000 in 2000,” he says. “When the houses went up sky-high, I was able to get some equity on it. I owe $370,000 on it now, and they appraised it at $240,000. The mortgage company accepted it as payment in full, so when I leave, I won’t owe them anything. I might not be able to buy anything for two years, but it’ll take me two years to get back on my feet anyway.”
Darrell stands just over six feet tall. He wears a faded black T-shirt, and his sweatpants hang loose. The ensemble emphasizes the forward slouch of his shoulders, but the neatly groomed salt-and-pepper mustache suggests that maybe he cleans up well, too.
“A lot of jobs I’ve had, I didn’t even bother trying to compete,” he says. “At Ameron Pipe, for instance, if there was going to be an opening in the foreman position, the white boys would assume that they’re going to get the job. You’ve got a couple of black guys, and a whole bunch of Mexican guys who’ve been there 25 years. I’ve seen 18- and 20-year-old white boys come in, and after they’ve been there a month, they can’t figure out how come they’re not the boss yet. When I had a job at Superior Ready Mix, the white boys used to do the same thing. They used to argue about who’s going to get the next position. And they would rank themselves according to who they think it’s going to be.”
He mops his forehead with the cloth again, then reaches down to pull Sugar up onto his lap.
“I didn’t even enter the discussion. If I was white, they would’ve asked me.”
Darrell believes things are different today. He doesn’t think his inability to find work has anything to do with being black.
“When I was younger, I would’ve said [it does]. I’ve gone looking for jobs where the man says, ‘You’re qualified but I don’t want no niggers working in my shop.’ I’ve had them tell me that to my face. I asked one man at Hawthorne [CAT], over here off the freeway,” he points in a northerly direction, “where they have earth-moving equipment. As a machinery technician, I knew all the phases of mechanics and hydraulics and stuff like that, so it would’ve been just a matter of adapting to the environment. And I asked this guy, I said, ‘What am I doing wrong? I’m going to these places, and I’m just not getting hired.’ That was probably in 1983, when I had just gotten out of the Coast Guard. And the guy said, ‘There’s nothing wrong. I just don’t hire niggers.’”
Buddy gets up from under the shed and wanders around in the heat. He climbs over a toolbox and sniffs at the welding jacket on the ground. Darrell watches him for a minute. Then he goes on.
“And when I went to another place in Santee, the guy said he’d hire a Mexican, but he’d never hire a nigger. You just get a lump in your throat, and you turn around and leave. You can’t sue them. It’s just you and a guy talking. I had asked to know the truth.”
Today, though, “as the work field becomes more diverse,” he says, this kind of discrimination “is probably not as true.”
And while he agrees that “the old grampy guys” may have been trained to keep their tongues in check, “the younger guys are probably looking at people of all nationalities and accepting more diversity. When I was going around looking for work, you had me and a white guy and some Mexicans. Now you’ve got 50 different other kinds of people. So I think it’s harder for the white people to discriminate, and then when a lot of young people are brought up in that environment, they don’t carry the hatred over.”