Article 5: Snake Story

Toronto Department

Tish Fannon put her snake into a pillowcase and got on the subway at Dupont station. Her snake, a 5-foot ball-python named Aphrodite, came out of the pillowcase once they arrived at work: a spot above a subway grate at Yonge Dundas Square.

A hundred-thousand people walk by here each day and Aphrodite, sitting around Tish’s shoulders and Iron Maiden t-shirt, fits right in to Yonge Dundas Square’s carnival continuum. On this afternoon people are thronging past a mime, paint can drummers, a clown, a juggler, various street preachers, beggars, police restraining a man, and honking cars -- all under the big top glow of competing three-story video screens, the biggest in Canada! Amidst the noise, confusion, and clamor, Aphrodite effortlessly gets the attention of passerby.

In fact the moment Tish took Aphrodite out a passerby screamed from instinctive fear when he noticed her. “I got it! I got my shrieker!” says Tish. “We have at least one shrieker a day. Usually more. My favourite shrieker of all time was a 350 pound biker.”

A few moments later a woman comes up and begins haranguing Tish. “You need Jesus in your life! He’ll save you from the devil creature on your shoulders.” She leaves, and Tish takes this hellish encounter in stride: “Street preachers and people like that will stop right in front of me all the time, kill my entire crowd, and start going crazy like that.”

“OMG a snake!,” says a passerby. This person stops; they don’t shriek and there’s no brimstone, just surprise and delight. When this happens Tish does the next part of her snake act: she offers to put Aphrodite around their neck. The young man eagerly agrees, hands his backpack to his girlfriend, and Tish gently places Aphrodite around his neck. Of course, the person takes a selfie. This scene is repeated with different variations for the next few hours: people young and old are happily bewitched by Aphrodite. Most people leave a tip for the experience. The routine gathers around $100 dollars in a few hours.

Tish, who also models, is writing an apocalyptic novel, and went to school be an executive office assistant, tells me, “I’ve been busking for almost ten years with a guitar, but I was terrified of snakes. I would've been a shrieker too.” Then a friend encouraged her to challenge that fear and took her to a reptile rescue. She fell in love and volunteered there. Aphrodite is a rescue. And the woman with the snake in the middle of the busiest spot in Canada was not only afraid of snakes, but Tish has occasional flashes of crippling anxiety in crowds, which Aphrodite helps her recover from. A few times I watch as she steps away from crowd and goes into a corner to calm down and relax, and spend a moment alone with just Aphrodite. Tish kisses her head the size of a toonie, and whispers to her, “You're such a cute little girl. You're gorgeous. You have a big fat butt.”

Back in the limelight of the street, a little kid loves the snake and shows it to his mom and his brother in a stroller. Aphrodite spends a few more minutes as a celebrity, and then it's back in the pillowcase to go home, where away from the crowds she lives in a tank, curled up in a ball.

--David Stokes