I hate crickets. 

I hate crickets.

There's something alarming about their lurching and jumping, like some tiny but horrific Jack in the Box. You know that SPROING is coming... but you don't know exactly when. I do know they deliberately launch themselves at me instead of away from me, which any sane, normal bug would rather do. So, I hate them.
Not a cricket. Still, lurching and horrible.
I remember one summer there was an almost Biblical influx of crickets in our house. Why do crickets need to be in my house? My mom assured me they were sweet and harmless. She began to reminisce over stories told by her mother of growing up in the South, running through sun-drenched fields with crickets and grasshoppers. How they sang in the tall grass. How they crawled up her skirts and got caught in her petticoats. How they scratched her legs as she ran home from school. Thanks for that image, Mom. Now I will never, ever be able to sleep again.

Here’s another problem, in addition to jumping bugs' natural instinct to shoot up into your clothing: crickets have an industrial exoskeleton that's not soft, not cuddly.  It's crunchy--when you step on them, or compact them into the toe of that shoe you're putting on.   

One night, as I lay in bed abstractly fearing crickets, a growing awareness came over me: there was a cricket in my room. I didn't hear it; I knew it. There was a cricket, and he was on my bed. I was certain about this fact. So, I slithered slowly from under the covers toward the head of my bed where the switchplate was. I flicked on the light. There, on the counterpane, looking straight at me and poised to spring up my nose or something equally awful, crouched a cricket. Its head cocked, and soulless eyes watching me... watching. I screamed louder than was probably necessary and flung the covers. That panicked response trapped the cricket in the bed with me, for a little game of midnight hide-and-freak.


That's my cricket backstory. You'll understand, now, why an invitation from my intrepid friend, A-- to visit a cricket farm was received with no small amount of revulsion. My friend fed research frogs as a summer job during college, and, guess what frogs eat?

"The lab gets its crickets from a farm, where they breed crickets and all kinds of feeder animals,” [mice for pythons, etc.] “and they're right there in Port Allen. Ever been?" she asked, enthusiastically. What the hell kind of question is that?

It turns out I was living across the Mississippi River from an idyllic farm where the crickets and feeder mice frolic. Strangely, I had never been. I called up the farm and asked if they gave "tours."

"What?" came the confused reply. I figured I was off the hook.

"Tours. Do you give a tour of the place? Show people what the operation looks like?"

"Uh... nooooo." She sounded like she was bracing for the crank call punchline. What a shame, sorry to trouble you, I thought. But my friend had been enthusiastic about visiting, so I felt I should make a better effort. Feeling like a freak, but summoning my most confident radio personality voice, I breezed on: 
"Well, I'm calling because one of your clients, Reed College, has a frog feeder—a cricket customer of yours—who’s visiting from Portland, Oregon, and she really wanted to stop by and …um know... say, ‘Hi.’"

Fully predictable silence. 

Then, with thawing incredulity, "Bob's lab?"

No way. "YES!!! I mean, yes, that’s the lab. They love your crickets."

"They what?"  

I am a moron. I am losing credibility, again. 

"So,” I continued, as if not hearing her question, and as if inspecting crickets for fun were normal, “would it be possible to stop by—see how you raise crickets?"

" …I guess." 

And so it was arranged. We would meet a cricketeer and he would show us around the place. What a welcome we got, after the initial guffaw. They practically sang the lab account number together with my friend, and presented her with a bumper sticker AND baseball cap. As if it weren’t stunningly obvious before, they confided that they were a little surprised to get a request for a tour. But they got into the spirit of the thing, and led us to the warehouse to show how in the world one raises crickets—on purpose—and we learned that Purina makes a goddamn Cricket Chow. In 40-pound bags. I'm going to let that sink in a while, while you estimate how many crickets that might feed.

There were crickets EVERYWHERE. In their habitats, outside their habitats, underfoot, on walls, in corners ... To this day I don't think my friend fully appreciates the sheer force of will it took me to walk into a warehouse of crickets.

After the shock wore off, I became aware that the operation included raising more than crickets: there were piles of mice—hilarious, tiny cotton balls zooming around their pens so fast they appeared in two corners at once. Were they matter, or energy? Or, there could have just been a billion mice.

Our tour also passed cages of iguanas who, even in South Louisiana, hugged the bars closest to the heat lamps. As they clung to the top of the cage, a second layer of iguanas pressed themselves against the ones lining the heat lamps. More iguanas attached themselves to the first two layers, and so on, until the weight of iguanas pulled the ones closest to the lamp from their coveted position. The iguana bundle would thump to the bottom of the cage. Then the process would start all over again, building up layers of reptile like a 3-D printer. In this cavernous shed, far away from street noise and other Mississippi River industry, the gentle plop-plop of iguanas and singing of crickets was nearly soothing. Nearly. 

I was trying to figure out just how they box up and ship crickets when we were shown the African Grey building, where parrots were hand-raised for sale. These birds are clever mimics, and we got a fine display of their talents. As our tour guide explained how young birds were imported and raised in captivity, the parrot closest to us watched him for a time, then began to copy his intonation exactly, even though the speech was too fast for the bird to catch the words. Its sarcastic-sounding "wah-wah-wah" made my friend burst out laughing, which the Grey immediately copied astonishingly accurately. As did its cage-mate, and the pair in the next cage. And the pair in the next cage. And the pair in the next cage... until the entire warehouse rang with affected laughter, like an asylum. 

It was clearly time to leave.