Tag Archives: workplace culture

Bitten by a Black Widow… on his Genitals


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.

“Can you photoshop that?” – Advertising Folk Speech

Main Piece:

CS, a mid-twenties home office worker, currently works in advertising and something their company’s clients say all the time is “Can you just photoshop that?” Photoshop is a tool made by Adobe that allows for a huge range of editing on images. But what the client means when they say that phrase is, “can’t you just do some designer magic to make my thing look really good with minimal effort and cost to me?” And while every so often, it’s easy to “just photoshop it,” more often than not, it’s a long, arduous task taking many hours.


When clients give notes on the provided work, they usually don’t know very much about design (hence them coming to said advertising company), and aren’t versed in the minutia of the design work. Using the program name “photoshop” as a verb in this context has become the universal word for “fixing” images despite it’s origin being such a broadly applicable software.


When talking about a conversation he had at work the informant, CS, said the phrase “can you photoshop that?” I asked for him to elaborate on what it really means.


More and more often, we are adopting digital programs and company names into our vernacular. The phrase “Google it” comes to mind, which without living in the context of the present day, could be quite confusing (in this case meaning, “research it in an online format; find your information on the internet). It is interesting to benchmark these terms that are in use now, for as things become even more digital, they may get more specific to functions WITHIN these broader programs and terminologies.

Money is first. Creativity is second. Safety is third

Text and Context

DO – Money is first, second is art, creativity, whatever, third is safety
Interviewer – Is this something that just you says?
DO – No, no. Safety third is like, grips will say it like all the time. Like carpenters and everything.
MI – Money comes first—you know getting paid, comes first. Being creative comes second. And being safe comes third.
DO – Right. Like the producers come in and will be like yeahyeahyeah! Safe first! Safety first! But then when it comes time, and it’s like no, no. You’re costing me money, get up on that fucking thing and get that done. Right? Uh, the director comes in, and is like, this is my vision! This is what we want to do! But its like, I can’t do that, I’d have to like— “I don’t care! Get it done!” y’know, kinda thing. And AFTER that comes safety. Like, what else, like what is fourth, I don’t know. So it’s be safe, unless it’s costing us money, or impacting our vision. Essentially
DO – So it’s something that people like us say, when we’re feeling like: alright, we’re putting our bodies on the line and not being treated well. We’re like, “Hey safety third!” Because they looove saying safety first. They talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.
Interviewer – So it’s kind of an ironic saying.
DO and MI (at the same time) – Yes!
DO – It is very sarcastic. But it’s also very, very true. The number of times when we’re like, y’know, you’re talking about working like, sixteen hour days. You cannot work sixteen hour days and use a power tool safely. It’s impossible. Like if you’re sleep deprived, you cannot operate heavy machinery, power tools safely. Like you, you’re gonna do stupid stuff. We were talking about it, not so much as a danger type thing, but when you work sixteen hour days you get so—you make stupid decisions, and you do stupid stuff, and you come in the next day and spend the first two, three hours fixing the mistakes that you did at the end of the day before because you were just trying to get stuff done. Y’know? Uhhh, but given that fact—a lot of studies say, like if you’re driving on the road and you feel a little sleepy. What do they say? Pull over and take a nap. You know, like whatever. Because that’s the safe thing to do. But all the time productions go, like, sixteen hour days when it’s costing them money, like why don’t you just rent the sound studio another week or push for— nope, that costs money, we gotta get it done. We have to get it done. Or why don’t we cut this scene? No, no, director wants that scene, or whatever. Get it done.


The informer(s) clearly had strong feelings about this saying, as they spoke extensively on the subject. I collected this saying while the informant(s) were sitting in the break room of their wood shop. We were talking about general wood shop sayings, so it didn’t come up in the context in which the saying would generally be used, such as during construction.
It is interesting that this is a response to another common saying, “safety first,” and would not stand so well without the popularity of “safety first.” It shows a folk group within set construction, while director and producers are the out-group, because the hierarchy creates a binary separation where the people in power (producers and directors) risk the safety of those they employ. The set construction workers are aware of the danger they are sometimes being put in, and understand the bitter irony of their superiors pretending to care, or caring until it interferes with their money and creative vision.

The Board Stretcher


Board Stretcher


MI – A board stretcher is a thing you tell to new inexperienced workers in a wood shop or whatever. If they cut something too short you go “Oh! You cut that too short! Go get the board stretcher!” to go stretch the board back out to the right length. And they go looking for it but it doesn’t exist. It’s like a snipe hunt. Everybody gets a good laugh while the new guy makes a fool of himself.


This is an example of a snipe hunt, as mentioned by the informant. It is not possible to stretch a board back out to the right length when it is cut too short. But a new employee, probably worried about making mistakes and cognizant that they know much less than everyone else in the shop, will eagerly listen to the more experience workers even at the expense of their own logic. The practical joke played on the new employee will possibly show them, through humor, that the older employees are not upset at them for making a mistake. As snipe hunts can only be played once per person, the new employee will then become more experienced in the wood shop culture, and therefore takes another step into the in-group—or folk group—of the wood shop.

Work Slang: Rate-Limiting Factor

Main Piece: 

“One of my favorite expressions that we use in my industry… It’s a common phrase that’s used in chemistry, in a chemistry classroom. Because I work with a lot of scientists, they use it for our projects, and it’s the expression ‘rate-limiting factor.” So, a rate-limiting factor in chemistry is, you know, whatever causes the reaction to go the slowest, but a rate-limiting factor on a project might be that fact that we don’t know what the budget is or that we haven’t gotten a site up and running.”


My informant is a freelance medical writer for a variety of pharmaceutical companies. She describes the industry as a relatively enclosed one, but one in which you can bounce between companies. She’s heard this slang term only in her industry but all around within it. It was a term she’d only heard in chemistry classes before entering her field. She presents it as a catch-all term for anything slowing a project down.


Occupational folk groups are bonded by the fact that they share the same day-to-day experiences and ostracized from each other by judging each other on merit of skill. Robert McCarl states that new entrants into an occupational folk group are subject to scrutiny from the “in-group.” I believe that this work slang, the understanding of which is based on a certain education background that the majority in the industry share, is a way of creating an in-group. By using a scientific term, this in-group could be able to scrutinize new entrants to see if they have the proper knowledge base.