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March 23, 2007

Trashballs — At 25¢ apiece they won't last long


Christopher Goodwin (above) is a 37-year-old Washington, D.C. dump truck driver in his day job.

When he's not working, he's a painter and creator/grand panjundrum of the quasi-art project Trashball.

Long story short: He's filled two former gumball machines in Washington, D.C. with one-inch plastic balls (top) containing bits of garbage that he comes across in his travels.

Each sells for a quarter, and with 3,000 sold so far he's up $750.

Here's Rachel Beckman's front page story from yesterday's Washington Post Style section about a man and his dream.

    Simply Garbage? Rubbish! It's Found Treasure

    Christopher Goodwin spends his days driving a dump truck but continues to pick up trash even when he's off the clock. On V Street NW last week, he collects a losing lottery ticket, a cigarette butt and a packet of parmesan cheese. He stoops over for a clear candy wrapper and holds it up for inspection.

    "Obviously, this is a very banal piece of trash," Goodwin says. "But I kind of think everything deserves a second look.... Someone designed this, manufactured it, used it and tossed it away."

    Goodwin, a 37-year-old Northeast Washington resident, is the founder of a project called Trashball. He collects garbage and puts it in one-inch plastic balls that dispense from gumball machines. Special or oversize pieces of trash get posted on the Trashball blog, www.guyclinch.blogspot.com.

    Washington's two Trashball machines sit at the Warehouse Theater on Seventh Street NW and the restaurant Busboys and Poets on 14th Street NW. Goodwin plans to install two more, perhaps on H Street NE.

    It's more of an artistic pursuit than a financial one: So far, he has sold about 3,000 Trashballs at a quarter a pop. That's $750.

    Goodwin is a "proud dropout" of the Corcoran College of Art and Design and boasts that he has dropped out of every school he has ever enrolled in, except for his junior high. Trashball grew out of an idea to use garbage as a medium for fine art, but then Goodwin says he got lazy and thought the gumball machines would be easier. He says he considers Trashball "quasi-art."

    He still paints — mostly abstracts, portraits and cityscapes of abandoned buildings.

    "He sees beauty and value in all things, which is interesting to me," says his wife, Phung Vong, a fashion designer.

    The love affair with trash started when Goodwin was 10 years old and growing up in Dayton, Ohio. His neighborhood garbage collectors occasionally let him ride along in their truck. They had their own collection of souvenirs, and Goodwin saw them as cool, 20-something roughneck-types. He also credits his mother, an environmental nonprofit executive, with instilling him with "a deep-seated urge to recycle," he says.

    Goodwin works for a Chevy Chase-based junk-removal company called Junk in the Trunk, though Trashball existed before he started working there last summer. Owner Frank Coyne says he found out about Trashball when he noticed Goodwin was taking trash home and he "started asking questions."

    To protect his clients' privacy, Coyne insists that Goodwin not root through financial, medical or otherwise private records. Goodwin says he tears off any identifying information, such as names and Social Security numbers.

    "We really try to promote reuse and recycling, so he's a perfect example of that," Coyne says. "And also the other benefit of having someone like Chris is, he... actually enjoys hauling away trash because he knows he might get some cool stuff."

    Goodwin enjoys hauling away trash so much that he quit his part-time corporate job earlier this month.

    "I wanted to focus more on driving a dump truck," he says. "Office work corrodes my soul."

    Trashball contents can get dicey. Goodwin has been known to toss dead bugs, drug baggies and broken glass into the plastic capsules. A sign atop each machine asks that no one under 18 buy a Trashball.

    A handful of Warehouse regulars are Trashball devotees who plunk down a quarter every time they come, Warehouse manager Molly Ruppert says.

    "When we first heard it was going [to Busboys and Poets], we thought, 'Oh no, this is so terrible,' " Ruppert says. "We felt some proprietary interest."

    On the blog, trash becomes social commentary. A Trashball blog post of two receipts attracted a wave of Web traffic last September, Goodwin says. One is from a Yes! Organic Market and includes purchases of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, organic spinach and Tuscan risotto. The other is a 99-cent buy from 7-Eleven that says "FOOD STAMP PURCHASE" across the top. He says he found the receipts within two feet of each other in a Capitol Hill park.

    A few days later, Goodwin posted this diary entry he found, written in juvenile cursive:

    "I am sad mom hit me a lot. I am sore all over. Dad is in California. I miss him. He will not be home in time to get mom a preseant. I love mom."

    He gets some of his best Trashball material from eBay auctions of ephemera, or people's collections of vintage junk. But he hasn't abandoned Washington's litter, especially the Trashball gold mine of Columbia Heights, he says.

    "Another way to look at it is I'm cleaning up the city in a very slow, inefficient way," he says.


Want more?

Things a little slow where you are?

No problema.

Here's a video interview with Goodwin.

March 23, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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Can you say where I can find some empty balls? I have enuf trash to fill a 1,000,000 of 'em if not more!

You must be a kind, caring, imaginative soul w/a keen sense of humor....love the $5 bill surprise in some.

It's OK if you cannot tell me where to get these.

Posted by: kata | Apr 30, 2007 5:18:45 PM

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