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: 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, 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.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.

HOT SHEET: The joy of mother’s cooking when we can’t be together

Seconds, please.

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, 24th Street bureau, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM ONLY: I ate my mother’s food on Thanksgiving Day.

This simple declarative sentence would be unimpressive in any other year.

But we know damn well this is not any other year.

This is the year of COVID, social distancing and lockdowns.

Parents 2.0, the kindly east Des Moines couple who raised me after my parents died, delivered turkey with all the fixings to my apartment at about 2:30 p.m. Thursday.

I greeted them in my robe, slippers and, of course, a mask.

They wore masks, too.

Mom 2.0 gave instructions on reheating.

I took the box lid full of food in my arms.

My parents drove off to make similar deliveries to others in the family.

We didn’t hug.

We didn’t bump elbows.

That’s not really our family style.

The love was in the box.

Mom 2.0 called about a week before Thanksgiving. She discovered a frozen turkey in the basement deep freeze of their stately east Des Moines manor.

She decided she would cook a big dinner with all the fixings. She and Dad 2.0 would eat at home together and then go delivering meals to the family.

Thanksgiving is fellowship and family. COVID stole that from many of us this year.

Our family is old-fashioned. We like turkey on Thanksgiving and we listen to doctors when they tell us to social distance and wear masks in a pandemic.

I have not tasted my mother’s cooking in nearly a year. We gathered for Christmas. I got pneumonia in February. COVID and social distancing came in March.

My parents are healthy, but they are both 71. I am 45, obese with occasional asthma.

The desire to get together grew with each passing week of the pandemic. It just seemed like a bad idea.

I couldn’t live with the idea that I brought potentially life-threatening sickness to Parents 2.0, these beautiful souls who rescued me in my mid-teens when I was so vulnerable and alone.

In the strictest sense of the word, I was alone Thanksgiving Day.

But if I closed my eyes, I could see my mom as she streaked through the kitchen, checked the turkey, chopped the veggies for the salad, mixed the stuffing, stirred the gravy and yanked the scalloped corn out of the oven just as the top layer got crispy.

I could see my dad, too. There aren’t many roles for others in my mom’s kitchen. She is both maestro and orchestra.

But there are a thousand honey-dos. Set the table. Bring the cook a glass of water with ice. Run the beaters through the mashed potatoes to knock out the last of the lumps.

And, of course, cut the turkey with the fancy double-bladed electric knife. Dad 2.0 is a wiz on that thing.

I ignored my mom’s admonition to reheat. The food was still warm enough and my desire outpaced the time it would take to put it on a sturdier plate for the microwave.

The first bite of gravy-soaked dressing answered a prayer I did not know I had whispered.

I tried to pace myself, but I cleared the plate of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, scalloped corn, gravy and tossed salad in Italian dressing faster than I wanted.

I spent time with my slice of rhubarb pie.

The only thing I made myself was the cranberry jelly. All that took was a can opener and a spoon.

I texted my folks a picture of my empty plate with the caption, “Seconds?”

True to parental form, they answered, “You’d be sorry if you did.”

My belly full, I drifted asleep during the dull football games.

On Wednesday, I sat down at this computer to type an upbeat holiday column. I struggled. My life is rich and full in many ways, but I am greedy. I miss my family and friends.

So, I wrote a few Thanksgiving jokes and went on with the day.

But by the holiday’s end and after that lovely meal, I had no trouble counting the things I was thankful for.

Believe it or not, he’s walking on air. He never thought he could feel so free. Flyin’ away on a wing and a prayer, who could it be? Believe it or not, it’s Daniel P. Finney. is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit

HOT SHEET THANKSGIVING: Where I can say any damn thing I want because I know no one is reading

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, hot seat editor, 24th Street bureau, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM FIRST: Today is Thanksgiving, which is the American festival of its two most sacred traditions: gluttony and football.

ITEM TWO: Friday is Black Friday, which is the celebrates Americas’ other sacred tradition: spending money we don’t have on stuff we don’t need in the name of Jesus, who, as the Bible tells us, loved a good deal.

ITEM THREE: The ol’ Paragraph Stacker spent Thanksgiving morning watching Johnny Carson reruns on PlutoTV. The episode was from the early 1970s during the Energy Crisis. Carson mention gas prices were up to 62 cents. There’s nothing like an old TV show to remind that things can always get worse.

ITEM FOUR: Idea for new late night talk show: “Sitting At Home Waiting for Death.”

ITEM FIVE: COVID-19 is like we’re all living in a hospice — except without the morphine drip.

ITEM SIX: [Insert cliché, perfunctory list of people and things the typist is thankful for here.]

ITEM SEVEN: A turkey is the de facto mascot of Thanksgiving, which seems fine until you consider that it’s the only major holiday to have a mascot that gets eaten as a part of the celebration. That’s dark, America. Very dark.

ITEM EIGHT: BREAKING NEWS … sister station WKRP-AM in Cincinnati reports the Pinedale Shopping Mall has been “bombed with live turkeys.” We will update as more news becomes available.

ITEM NINE: Are you falling asleep during the football game because of the tryptophan in the turkey or because the football game is a turkey? The world may never know.

ITEM TEN: Folks, a lot of us will be traveling this season after enjoying a little or a lot of holiday cheer. So, please, PLEASE, be mindful of your blood-gravy levels. is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit