When Crickets Attack

Yikes, itís December, and youíre having a hard time finding Junior that albino Burmese python he desperately wants Santa to bring.

The spooky clerk at that dark, funky-smelling, back street pet shop nestled between a Vietnamese grocery store and a body piercing parlor says he has a python in stock, but those albinos are hard to come by.

And then you remember your greatest resource Ė the Internet.

At www.petcenterUSA.com, thereís a picture of an albino with his little head hatching out of an egg. Isnít that cute? And only $150 Ė what a bargain!
If a situation like this hasnít happened in your house, count your blessings.

You obviously arenít related to me.

The great thing about e-commerce is you can find and purchase almost any product, creature, or herbal substance that can be legally bought or sold (and some that canít). The bad thing about e-commerce is that you can find and purchase almost any product, creature, or herbal substance that can be legally bought or sold (and some that canít).

Suppose your teenaged son develops a bizarre interest in, say, shrunken heads. Five years ago, his exploration of the subject probably would have been limited to a few books in the local library. If anyone else in your city shared his interest, he probably wouldnít have been able to ferret out the weirdo and connect in any meaningful way.

Fast forward to the new millennium. Type "shrunken heads" into the Yahoo! search field and youíll find 1,030 Web sites mentioning the subject. Ye Olde Curiosity Shop in Seattle will even give you a volume discount. The real shrunken heads in the storeís "museum" arenít for sale, but you can purchase convincing replicas the proprietors claim are made of goatskin and rubber. Thatís what they claim, anyway.

For better or worse, the Internet awakens and fulfills strange, latent dreams the more interesting among us might never have realized had those fantasies remained confined to our own minds in our own quiet little corners of the world. Now, all a person has to do is create a chat room titled "inflatable love dolls," sit back, and wait for other similarly warped humans to join in a warm conversation of the finer points of . . well, you get where this is going.

So what? Ė you say. How dangerous can a competition-quality boomerang be? The tongue-in-cheek Mothers Against Boomerangs Web site contends that, contrary to popular belief, boomerangs are not weapons. The site is maintained by a bunch of University of Texas students (that alone should raise suspicion) who claim indigenous cultures developed heavier, unidirectional hunting sticks to kill prey but used boomerangs strictly for recreation. Thatís what they claim, anyway. So why, then, does the second site listed in an Internet search state straightaway: "Gel Boomerangs (1984 - 1998) has closed its doors for business due to an unfortunate physical impediment that befell Michael Gel Girvin"?

The point is, not everything surrounding the online buying experience is as it first appears.

"(The Internet) has put people together," admitted Sam Furby, national sales director for Fluker Farms in Port Allen, La. "Itís hard for me to remember how it used to be."

Fluker Farms began raising crickets in the 1950s to supply bait shops. Today, it sells skinks, iguanas, assorted lizards, and all manner of bizarre pet supplies. Just for kicks, you can order the chocolate-covered crickets. Fluker Farms originally cooked them up to hand out as trade show novelties. "We used to fry them," the aptly named Furby recalled. "David Fluker, who owns the company Ė his wife is a dietician Ė so we had to start baking them so they would be more healthy."
Until the advent of e-commerce, the only people who knew about Fluker Farms were pet shop owners who bought the companyís wares wholesale from catalogs. Now, the Internet clientele is made up mostly of individuals with unusual tastes in pets, Furby said.

Some desires sated by the Internet are eclectic and bizarre beyond categorization. Thatís probably why eBay has a "Weird Stuff" section in its auction listings. One evening recently, shoppers could bid on electronic fart machines, instruction books on how to curse in Russian, fake bullet holes, and potato guns.
Examples like these should provide ample proof that electronically enabling certain people to buy certain things can be ill advised if not truly dangerous. Still not convinced? Then sit back and prepare yourself for my own harrowing story of e-commerce terror. Submitted for your approval:

The Night of the Spitting Crickets
No one ever accused my dear husband, Michael, of being a normal person.

We first met on Halloween my freshman year of college. He came to Spanish class wearing a cut across his neck made of cotton balls, liquid latex and fake blood. Most girls would have run screaming from the room. I married him.

Now, I never claimed to be normal myself. "Christmas in Prison" and "The Chicken Cordon Blues" are among my favorite songs. And I guess my three years of drama in high school gave me an appreciation, if not an affinity, for Michaelís special-effects makeup hobby. Marriage is all about trade offs, after all. Michael puts up with me laughing for hours at my own absurd jokes, and I put up with . . . KISS.

Weíve never really seen eye-to-eye on the subject of pets. Iíll admit, Iím not an animal person. Deep down, I believe animals belong outside in the wild, where they can heed the call of nature without soiling my carpets. Michael points out, with some accuracy, that my East Texas forefathers viewed animals as food sources or means of obtaining food (i.e., hunting dogs). He comes from a long line of animal lovers, however. Over the years we accumulated a fairly pedestrian menagerie ó a dog, a cat, a beta fish, etc.

But in early 1999, Michael developed an interest ó dare I say, an obsession ó with tarantulas. He works in television, and some guy brought one to work to use in a commercial. Michael became convinced that owning a tarantula would help him overcome his arachnophobia. Up until then, I was the designated bug squisher in the family. In fact, I still am. Michael now sympathizes with them.

The last two tarantulas in Michaelís collection arrived in late summer ó a young South American bird eater and a baby curly leg the dealer threw in as a bonus. Yes, he ordered them over the Internet. (Talk about Web crawlers!) The day they arrived, the mercury was so high the UPS guy wouldnít put them on his truck for fear they would smother, so I had to drive to the airport to pick them up.

The new baby was so small it couldnít eat the crickets Michael buys at the local pet store for his larger spiders to munch. Thatís when he discovered flukerfarms.com. The Web site sells vestigial-winged fruit flies, that conveniently enough, make perfect grub for baby tarantulas.

Michael got a little carried away. He not only ordered the fruit flies, but a few dozen meal worms, a giant poster with life-sized tarantula photos, 250 crickets, and a gallon jar of Flukerís Original Cricket Feed.

The mailman stopped at our house first the day Michaelís purchase arrived. No doubt he wanted to get that chirping box out of his truck as quickly as possible.
For some unexplained reason, Michael decided to take the crickets out of their packaging and put them in a plastic kitchen garbage bag with a few air holes poked in it. We went out to eat with friends that night and unwisely left the dog, the cat, the beta fish, the four spiders, the vestigial-winged fruit flies and the 250 crickets in the house together.

Well, you guessed it. Upon our return, we found that either the dog or the cat had decided those crickets sounded pretty enticing. Personally, I suspect a canine/feline conspiracy.

We spent the next hour and a half-catching bugs with fish nets, old socks, and whatever else we could grab. Our nine-year-old son, Rod, was thoroughly disgusted. "This is the worst Friday night of my life," he moaned. "This is just like Joeís Apartment, only with crickets." Our feet became damp with cricket spit.
Finally, I threw up my hands and went to Sonic for a limeade, to which I immediately added a shot of rum upon returning home. I resisted the urge to jump out of my pickup at Sonic and catch a cricket crawling up the side of the building.

Try as we might, we couldnít catch all the bugs. Some hopped into floor vents or unreachable crevices. For a few days, our house sounded like the deep woods at night.

After week or so, the chirping died down. In fact, the crickets died down. Life expectancy for a cricket is only eight weeks, and mercifully, Michael had ordered six-week-old crickets.

For a while, I fantasized about loading my pickup bed with insecticide, my cooler with Coca-Cola, my picnic basket with Moon Pies, and my CD player with Lynyrd Skynyrd and heading out for Louisiana . But Furby convinced me otherwise. Fluker Farms just raises crickets. My husband bought them.

The moral of my story? Before you point and click this Christmas, remember Ė you donít have to climb the mountain just because itís there. The obvious dilemma facing the prudent shopper this holiday season is not whether she can buy that obscure and questionably sane item over on the Internet, but whether she should.

Sherri Deatherage Green is a regular contributor to Texas Technology magazine. She lives in Oklahoma .

Comments about this article can be sent to letters@ttechnology.com.


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