Why you should care

Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.

In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”

Joseph Plamondon
San Francisco

Today was just OK. I don’t have no company, so it’s kind of lonely. They moved me into this new place last week, which has a bigger room because I’m handicapped. In August 2014, I had an unfortunate accident. It cost me my right leg. When you’re in a wheelchair, it’s a whole different perspective from having two legs.

I’m on the sixth floor now and I have a window, but I don’t look down because I’m scared of heights. My friends call me Indian Joe. I grew up on the reservation in Chase, British Columbia. My parents were both alcoholics, and they abandoned me when I was like 3 and my sister was 1. The police found us after three days alone.

The Plamondons at that time were on a foster list, so they asked them, “Do you guys want to adopt a couple little Indians?” At the age of 19, I took the name Plamondon because I didn’t know my real parents. The Plamondons, they bought 160 acres up in Dawson Creek. It was cool there. Ten thousand people. That’s where the Alaska Highway starts, all the way up into the Yukon.

I came here back in ’85. I was hitchhiking around the U.S., riding freight trains. I ended up coming to San Francisco. I was homeless at the time, but it was cool. I had a little cart and that’s all I had. And on each side of the cart I would have a different stick of incense and I would light them. When the wind blew, people would smell it. It was my trademark.

I’ve had people rubberneck. I’ve had people spill coffee, walk into doors. ‘Mom, did you see that dude?’ Ha.

 

I like dressing up and looking like Alice Cooper, the Goth look. He’s a big inspiration to me. I even paint my nails black, wear black lipstick, the whole nine yards. Being Native American, I’ve always had long hair. I joke that they took my land, so they’re not taking my hair. Alice Cooper is half Indian. His father was a preacher out on the Oglala Sioux reservation, which most people don’t know. So we have that in common too.

Well, one day a friend of mine said, “I got the perfect hat for you.” And he hands me a top hat. And I said, “How cool is this?” I got some shades. And it just went hand in glove, the look. And I started doing the Alice Cooper look-alike with the makeup. At first, people were looking at me and I felt so self-conscious. But I said to myself, “Joe, there’s weirder-looking people than Alice Cooper out here, so don’t sweat it.” Now when I don’t wear the makeup, people are like, “When are you going to bring Alice out?”

That’s how I’ll panhandle sometimes. I’ll go down to Pier 39 with my photo album. They’ve heard of Alice Cooper, so right away they’re intrigued. I’ve had people rubberneck. I’ve had people spill coffee, walk into doors. “Mom, did you see that dude?” Ha.

I was caught up in the drug trade when I first got to San Francisco. Drinking, heroin, meth. It dawned on me, with all the money Alice Cooper makes, he’s drug- and alcohol-free. I don’t make nearly as much as he does, and I live in one of the seediest neighborhoods in the city, where drugs are always readily available. Friends come up to me, “Hey, you want a fix?”

And one day I just quit cold turkey. I quit drinking; I quit heroin cold turkey. It took me about five years to come clean.

But now I feel so good, and that’s why Alice Cooper is my inspiration, because if he can do it, I can do it my way, in my neighborhood.

— As told to Julia Scott

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OZYTrue Story

Good stories from around the globe. Essays and immersion, into the harrowing, the sweet, the surprising -- the human.