WORDS BY NAOMI WOOD, IMAGES BY WESLEY KIRK
Have you ever been walking down the street minding your own business, only to find yourself gawking at someone not following our normal, everyday social constructs? Maybe it was a guy wrapped in burlap on a 101 degree summer day, meditating on Big Mike's front stoop. Or maybe it was a stilted unicyclist forging the uphill climb on Scripture Street. Max Quimby is one of those guys. His peculiar hobby is a balancing act, quite literally. Max has become somewhat of a local legend for balancing potted plants, pumpkins, or various small objects on his head whilst en route to his classes at the University of North Texas. Quimby is your quintessential non-conformist and affectionately assumed the identity of “your friendly neighborhood pothead,” a few years ago when he arrived in Little d. Puns aside, our intrigue got the best of us and we had to hear his side of the story as to how his balancing act got started. Read on for more...
WE DENTON DO IT: How did you make it to Denton?
Max Quimby: My friends introduced me to Denton and I started school here three years ago. I am from Austin originally, and still spend quite a lot of time there.
Rumors have circulated as to why you balance plants on your head. Some say it’s because of a scoliosis diagnosis, and others say you’re raising money for different causes. What's the deal?
Haha! I’ve heard all of these rumors and they make me laugh so much because I think this is people’s way of putting what I do into a box. This is the only thing that makes sense to them. They can’t fathom that I could be doing this for my own enjoyment, and to make people smile! I think that when I balance things on my head and walk around, it can make people uncomfortable and sometimes even angry. I try not to focus on that though because I started doing this when I was a little kid to make people laugh, and I realized I was actually good at it.
What made you choose potted plants?
I love puns. I am possessed by the spirit of Attila the Pun. My grandmother got me into gardening before I came out here, and I’d always been able to balance things, so I couldn’t resist. My self-appointed title is “Your Friendly Neighborhood Pothead.”
How do people tend to react to seeing you walking to class with a potted plant on your head?
There are three different kinds of reactions. There are people who enjoy it and they smile with it. I like those people. Then there are the people who ignore me, and I think that’s kind of funny. Like they’ll go out of their way to ignore me. And the last ones are the people who react negatively. Like one time I got assassinated. These people ran by, smacked a plant off my head, and kept running. And they were filming it too! They were crazy. Yeah, it was from "insert fraternity here" [Editor's Note: This is an actual quote. We aren't omitting anything.] so I have a bit of a grudge against them.
It also unnerves me when people take pictures without me knowing and post them online. One person took a picture right behind me and posted it to Reddit with the title “My girlfriend says this guy walks around her campus with this plant on his head so ‘people will talk to him’.” It made the front page of Reddit, which led to some interesting (though mostly negative) comments. It just feels weird that someone can get so close and I won’t even know it, especially because I’ve actually never turned down a picture or the chance to talk to someone.
How do you feel about the fact that balancing makes people angry, and what do you say to your haters?
Well, I don’t say anything to them if they are shouting things like “grow up!” or “get normal!” or “what’s wrong with you?!” I think they’re too serious. The people who smile are just good fun people. I actually met my best friend from doing this. So it’s good for me.
I keep a list on my phone of the people I’ve met from balancing. Like hundreds of names of people who stopped and talked to me. Anyone who tells me their name, I try and write it down. One guy came up and asked me what plant I had on my head, and that day it was mint. He said “Sweet, if I did that I could make mojitos wherever I went!” Most days I try and have something that smells pretty good. Today I have sweet marjoram, and I give it out like free samples.
So you think that people should stop being so serious about it?
Yeah, it’s just for fun. Smiles go for miles. That’s why I do it. I feel like the people who don’t like it so much think there has to be a reason for me doing it, but there’s not really a concrete reason. I think that’s what bothers people. When someone isn’t following the norm, it can make people uncomfortable.
What could you say this balancing thing has taught you about people?
I guess it’s helped me figure out which people are worth keeping around. Some people listen to the rumors, one being that I’m snooty. Some will talk to me and realize the rumors were completely wrong. The people who take the rumors as fact, and don’t really get to know me, and say “he’s dumb” or “he’s desperate for attention” aren’t the people to keep around. It’s kind of a measurement for friendship.
Do you keep up with the friends you’ve made?
Oh yeah! It never fails that I show up at a party and I always get recognized, plant or not, and it’s a fun situation. People are really nice to me usually. It’s been great.
What are you going to do once college is over?
I’m a biology major and I aspire to be a physicians assistant or nurse. The medical field is what I am truly passionate about. I don’t know exactly where I’ll end up but I’ll just go where the opportunities take me. I would like to come away from college with a sort of mental strength and grace, and I think I will. I also hope to come away with a multitude of friendships, and I encourage anyone that is curious to just come up and smile and start talking to me.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
I was involved in a peer-mentor program called PALs in Austin, and I worked with a child with cerebral palsy. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and working with Mason opened my eyes to the field of possibilities. I think all mentorship program like PALs or Mentor Denton are incredibly necessary and important programs that help all of us feel more connected and human.
You can often catch Max walking to class at the Environmental Science Building. If you happen to see him, feel free to say hi, ask for a picture, or just have a chat with your friendly neighborhood pothead.
This column as part of a new ongoing partnership with Wesley Kirk's People of Denton project. Check out People of Denton for more.