The fountain of truth

The fountain of truth

Dear Ace: It’s hot and I don’t have a pool. Can I bathe in public fountains?—Steve Freefontaine

Steve: Nothing beats the heat quite like wallowing in filthy water. Just ask any water buffalo. And hey, if you’re in a fountain, you can probably make quite a racket out of collecting the coins people toss in. By doing so, as Ace understands it, you’ll also be harvesting any wishes associated with said coins. It’s simple sorcery. So yeah, bathing in public fountains is a pretty sweet deal. But is it legal? Ace checked with Ric Barrick, Charlottesville city spokesperson, to find out.

Think before you leap in: The water in public fountains like this one on the Downtown Mall may be less pristine than it looks.

"It depends on where it is," explains Barrick. "If it’s on the Downtown Mall, for example, that isn’t considered a parkland, so we can’t impose stringent regulations. We can’t force people to wear shirts"—though Ace reckons maybe they should anyway, given some of the folks he’s spotted waddling down the Mall—"or stay out of public areas." Basically, the city really doesn’t want you swimming laps in their fountains, but they can’t do anything about it if you so choose. Unless, of course, you’re indecently exposing yourself. If, say, you’re making your own private fountain in a public fountain, one of Charlottesville’s Finest will probably be throwing a pair of bracelets on you faster than you can say, "But officer, it’s perfectly natural!"

But (and there’s always a but, though not the kind that’ll get you arrested under decency laws, har har) Barrick advises against even the most Victorianly attired dip in a public fountain. "I certainly don’t want to encourage people to do it," says the city spokesperson. "If I saw someone in a fountain, I would probably personally go up to them and let them know that the water’s not filtered and not particularly clean." Ever notice that it’s actually pretty difficult to climb into some of these fountains? That’s largely because the city doesn’t want you catching malaria from the mosquitoes that breed on the surface of standing water, or any other nasty disease that might be lurking in the murk that settles at the bottom of fountains. But if the heat’s really getting to you, Steve, Ace recommends a long sit-down on your front porch with a mint julep or seven. You’ll stop noticing that 99 percent humidity in no time.