The Thanksgiving Madagascar hissing cockroach conversation that ruined my Amazon recommendations

Parents 2.0 hosted early Thanksgiving on Sunday. The menu included Mom 2.0’s famous brisket, which she spices up with powdered Lipton Onion Soup, mashed potatoes, gravy, scalloped corn, salad with Italian dressing, and carnival squash with butter and brown sugar.

I passed on the squash. I don’t like it. I never have. Mom 2.0 suggested I try it.

“You’ve never had my squash,” she said.

I asked, “Does it have squash in it?”

“Yes,” she said.

“I’m pretty sure I don’t like it,” I said.

Mom 2.0 smiled and passed out the plates heaping with a delicious meal; She dolled my portions minus squash.

This is an old routine in our family.

I thought of Grandma Newcomb, who died about two years ago. Grandma Newcomb always tried to get me to eat her pickled beets. I don’t like pickled beets. I don’t think there’s any magic that even good cooks like Grandma and Mom 2.0 can do to make a pickled beat taste good.

You can do this with coffee. I don’t like coffee, but if you put enough milk, chocolate, peppermint, and other non-coffee flavors in the coffee, the beverage can be tolerable. Pickled beets and squash just aren’t as flexible, I think.

I enjoyed the short exchange and the warm thoughts of Grandma Newcomb on holidays, when I think she was her happiest with all her children and grandchildren with personalities big and small crammed into her little house on a former acreage on the corner of Douglas and Colfax avenues on the east side.

We ate custard tarts with fresh banana and raspberries on a graham cracker crust for dessert. We retired to the living room to visit.

That’s an old-fashioned concept, “having a visit.”

People connect all sorts of ways today: Zoom, texts, social media, and so on.

But Parents 2.0, both 72, come from a generation of “visitors.” They sit down and chat. Sometimes it’s family gossip. We update each other on our lives. We chat about the goings on about town. I’ve been with this family for 30 years. I can’t recall harsh words spoken on a holiday.

My Aunt Janell, who died almost four years ago, preferred playing dominos, cards, or a board game to watching football sprawled on the floor with bloated bellies on the verge of glorious snoring naps. Some of the kids and sometimes Mom 2.0 would play games with Janell while others watched the game. It was the kind of compromise people want to be more common on bigger issues than dominos vs. the Cowboys or Lions games.

We gathered in advance of the holiday because I have a lot of papers to write as the end of the semester approaches. My Aunt Janice, Mom 2.0’s younger sister, had plans on Thanksgiving, as did my Uncle Jim, Janell’s widow.

Janice remarked on the fabric pattern on the upholstered chair and rocking chair in the living room. The furniture salesman told my folks the pattern — a mix of browns, grays, and silvers — was called “Madagascar.”

“Like Madagascar hissing cockroaches,” I said.

“I hope not,” Mom 2.0 said.

I looked one up on my phone and showed a picture to them. They’re 2- to 3-inches long and maybe a half inch wide. The males hiss when you stroke them and when they’re showing off to mate.

My folks were unimpressed with the roaches as a topic for the visit, but I tend to be the oddest contributor to the group chin wags.

The peculiar source of the image I showed my folks perplexed me: Amazon.com. I tapped on the link and sent me to a page on the world’s largest online retailer where for about $13, plus shipping and handling, I could get two Madagascar hissing cockroaches sent to me live by U.S. mail.

I’ve long thought the job of postal carrier was under-appreciated, but knowing their overstuffed bags sometimes contain hissing cockroaches bumped my respect to a new level.

The company that sells these “hissers,” as the big roaches are colloquially known, calls itself Honeybees100. These are most definitely not honeybees.

The description alone is magnificent comedy.

“Hissers are easy to breed make great pets!”

That’s good. Pandas look cuddly, but nobody can get the stupid bears to breed. Madagascar hissing cockroaches are invested in the survival of their species.

The seller also described the hissers as “bold” and “good in groups.”

I’m not sure what they mean by “bold.” Bold is the kind of word used in comic book titles and speeches by politicians. I like my bugs to be skittish and fearful of me. I am millions of steps above them on the evolutionary ladder. I demand respect. Your boldness offends me.

But “good in groups” is equally baffling. Who else are the hissers hanging out with besides other roaches and bugs?

I think this might be an overstatement by the seller. The hissers have 164 reviews by customers who bought a male and female package.

“In the package, the roaches had plenty of room to crawl, but they didn’t have food or water which resulted in eating four of the female’s feet and part of her legs,” a buyer wrote.

Maybe hissers are good in groups, but they have a real problem in pairs.

Reviewers heaped praise on the critters.

“My daughter absolutely loves these guys!” one said. “They get petted every day!”

The writer updated the review to note the hissers, which only live three or four years, both died within four months.

Another reviewer, who goes by the handle “madscientist,” wrote, “I love these beings so much!”

Beings. You just know this guy is a vegan.

“Very nice petbugs,” madscientist continued, making “petbugs” all one words on his own. “They even have some ‘personalities,’ ‘characters’ as their behavior are concerned!”

These Madagascar hissing cockroach lovers overuse exclamation marks.

The late author Elmore Leonard advised writers to “keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.”

We live in a culture of excess; I am certain there are more than 100,000 words written about Madagascar hissing cockroaches by enthusiastic owners who consider bugs pets.

This is not my tribe, but so it goes.

Live. Let live.

My effort to bring some amusement to the post-holiday meal visiting has resulted in a negative consequence for me.

Amazon logs your search history and uses it to make recommendations for things you might want to buy.

My recommendations trend toward new Captain America Funko Pops and hard-boiled crime fiction.

But recently, amidst the superheroes, femme fatales, and private eyes, I’ve found offers for such things as “1,000 medium-sized crickets” or “2,000 live mealworms.”

Amazon’s algorithm may think it has it’s revenge on me. But I’ll show them. Christmas is coming and some people on my list may find themselves surprised with what’s under the tree.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
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