My father has been an electrician for SoCal Edison for the past two decades. His job involves traveling around the Southern California desert inspecting isolated electrical substations. He is an avid oral storyteller, and his stories often come from the blue-collar line of work that he finds himself in. This is one of such stories about his good work friend who suffered a black widow bite to his testicles while using a porta potty in one of these desert stations. A white man leathered by the sun, my father colors the story by imitating the Mexican accent of his friend, including certain Mexican Spanish slang terms like “cabrón.” This is a story I’ve heard many times, but it didn’t fail to make me cry with laughter during this recording. The story has become a legend among electricians in Southern California, which is what made me think of it for this archive. He told me this story over dinner at my family home in this particular iteration.
SS: The Legend of Hector the Electrician. They were working out at a, at a facility. He had another guy with him. And we were, we had a crew of about eight people, ten people. And they were working together, and I was working somewhere else with somebody else. And they were out in the middle of the desert. And if we work safely for a month, we get a safety lunch, paid [for us to go] out to lunch somewhere. And so I had just gotten to Home Depot for something. I was sitting the parking lot, getting ready to leave. And I get a call from Hector.
SS: And he says, “Hey, cabrón. Just forget about the safety lunch this month.” I said, “What did you do?” And he goes, “Okay, I got bit by a spider.”
SS: And I said, that’s the first question, right? “Where’d you get bit?” He said, “In the balls.” And I said, “No, come on. Just stop messing with me. Tell me what happened.”
SS: “[Imitating his friend] No, cabrón, it’s true!” And I started laughing so hard. I couldn’t drive, I had to stop. I was laughing so hard. And he says “It’s not funny!” Yes, I’m still laughing, and I said, “Well, how’d you know it was a spider? I guess both you and that spider felt a little prick.”
SS: So he was working with this other guy. And his, this guy’s name was Roberto. And he said, “Well, I was lucky I had Roberto along to suck out the poison.” ‘Berto’s in the background saying, “Hell no, that’s not true!” So anyway, he went into an outhouse and sat down on the outhouse in the middle of this dusty desert and there was a black widow spider up underneath–up underneath the toilet rim–barely. Black widow spiders don’t like being ‘teabagged.’ So he did it and he got bit. So we got pictures of him being carried off of an ambulance with a big-big-bag of ice on his balls on a gurney, so, and he was off for a couple days. And then the jokes started flying around, about, because we all knew his wife, about, you know, what happens now, you know? Instead of shooting, you know, [explicit gesture] when he’s, when they’re like getting intimate now, is he like, sticking on the walls? [laughter]
SS: And, and, so you know, it was a good laugh and then and then when he came back, we got his hard hat, we put spiders on it, we put like spider webs all over his desk and everything else. And and and we just, we just made it all up.
SS: So he came back, and kind of a full circle to the story: Sometime later, I was working with a different group of people and I was working in this office and there was these contractors. They’re doing something entirely different–but electrical–and we were talking about, you know, different things we’ve seen, you know, rattlesnakes and things, you know, these guys work outside in the field also. And one of the guys was just sitting there eating lunch and one of those contractors I’d never met before says, “[imitating] There’s this legend about this guy out in the desert that got bit in the balls by a black widow spider. But it’s probably an old wive’s tale.”
SS: And I go, “So let me tell you a story!” [laughter] So that’s a story of Hector and the black widow spider.
I chose to include this story in the archive because it is direct evidence of how a true story can become legend. This is indeed a true story; my father works directly with Hector, and I have been over to his house–which is in my neighborhood–for pool parties many times. But the story had the perfect makings to become legend among SoCal Edison electricians and contractors.
The environment, subject, and folklore group are key in understanding the spread of this story as legend. Electricians and contractors in Southern California often come into contact with dangerous wildlife like rattlesnakes and black widow spiders regularly, especially when they are working out in the isolated desert. Thus, the fear of being bitten by a venomous spider is something that resonates among this group, and the idea of being bitten in the testicles is something that is particularly fantastical. It is so fantastical, in fact, that it escaped the boundaries of “fact,” separating from its original subject to become a “wive’s tale.” Instead, the subject becomes a nondescript male electrician, someone who can easily be identified with among the folk group that shares the legend. The legend itself might serve as a warning to electricians who find themselves using porta potties in remote locations to always check under the seat before sitting down.