Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
This is the third installment of “The Fountain Pen,” a column dedicated to documenting and exploring our campus’s water fountains and the people who use them. It was written in May 2015: we hope that new and returning students enjoy it as they look forward to the first Pub Nite of Fall 2015.
Pub Nite is a night of many things. It is a night of in-the-moment happiness and premature nostalgia; of cautious abandon and unchecked self-absorption. But, more than anything, it is a night of fountains.
The fountains of Pub Nite are many: lever-operated kegs squirting homeopathic beer; late-night dancers secreting sweat shoulder-to-shoulder; the frantic waltz between toilet bowls, urinals, and urinators; the tear glands of closing-time sentimentalists.
And then there’s the water fountain just outside the entrance, humbly bearing a v-shaped dent.
For longer than almost anyone here can remember, every Thursday has, for this water fountain, meant Pub Nite. But that might be about to change; Pub Nite, quite possibly, is over.
But this article is not about the rumored end of Pub Nite. It’s about the life and times of a water fountain and its dent.
“I often speculate as to what caused the dent in this water fountain,” says a still-sober Luke* ‘16, who claims to never have read this column. “I want to think of it as this unique moment in time that will never happen again; this water fountain used to be whole, but now it’s not.”
Luke and I are standing in the area next to the Paces entrance. It’s 9:14 p.m., 14 minutes into the last Pub Nite.
“[The dent] adds a certain character to the water fountain,” Luke opines.
The fountain is unlike any I’ve seen on this campus. The luxuriously large button invites the thirsty pilgrim into a pleasant dialogue with the fountain’s unassuming, but rich stream. The dent, supposedly a defect, looks like a retro design element, a relic of some apocryphal golden age.
“It’s touching. […] This water fountain represents some of the worn nature of the institution [of Pub Nite], and how it’s authentic,” Erik Myers ‘15 said of the dent.
Out of a dimly lit, often cold hallway, with authenticity and liquid charm, the fountain fashioned a warm, welcoming refuge.
For Myers, the fountain room had a social meaning.
“Friends will run into friends, people who know people will run into people. I met a lot of new people just sitting on this bench [next to the fountain], which is hard to do at Swarthmore in general,” Erik Myers said.
And as this unique spectacle played out above and around it, the fountain just stood by.
It was a patient listener to many a drunken confessional and long-overdue epiphany. It was a silent witness to a myriad drunken escapades, their legend reverberating in the fountain’s metal skeleton. Sometimes, no doubt, it was the unprotesting receptacle of undigested food and drink.
An hour into Pub Nite, Luke and I return to the fountain. Both of us are thirstier. As we approach the fountain, I notice something I had never noticed before: a vulnerability.
You see, a fountain is not a fountain unless it hides, from the casual onlooker, the full extent of its complexity. This one is no exception. If you take a few steps towards the wall, you will see its exposed power cord, plugged into a standard outlet, easily unpluggable. It’s unsettling.
“Most of the time the electricity, the actual power of the fountain is hidden from view. You never really think about [how] this is a machine powered by electricity like any other machine,” Luke muses. “It’s, like, natural, but a fountain isn’t a natural thing.”
When faced with the fragile intricacy that births the fountain’s instant bursts of water, we come to really believe that a single moment contains an eternity. It’s here that the fountain’s forgotten histories reveal themselves: irresistible whirlpools of memory, thirsting to swallow the infinite present.
Luke bends down and takes an aerial sip.
How was it?
“It was pretty cold,” he slurs.
A week later, I stand in the same spot with Alexis Leanza ‘15, one of those in charge of Pub Nite this year. The sound and the commotion and the kegs and the music of Pub Nite are decaying memories.
Leanza tries the water.
“It’s good water,” she concludes, though she adds that it’s no Wharton or Mertz water.
Just a week ago, it was a much more than just good water, it was an oasis in a sea of dehydration.
“I think when you’re drinking warm beer, it’s much better in comparison,” Leanza remembers.
But who is to say if the fountain’s cold stream will ever commingle with warm beer again?
Though their paths never crossed, the fountain and the beer keg regulated Pub Nite like the best of partners: the keg, with liquid dehydration, pushed people to the fountain – the fountain, with its refreshing, rejuvenating, electrically powered stream, propelled them back inside. This constant, sometimes annoying flow of people, out the door and in again, was the slow, content breathing of Pub Nite.
Myers saw it more as a rotation: “The water fountain was sort of like the axis around which Pub Nite occurred,” he said.
For many, this rhythmic breathing or axial rotation has acquired a sentimental pricelessness.
“It’s a rite of passage to leave a Paces party and be very drunk and need to come to this water fountain. It’s kind of a refuge in a storm,” Luke told me.
So what happens now? Will the axis stop turning, will the night hold its breath?
Leanza seemed optimistic.
“I’m semi-worried,” she said.
But others, like Luke, have drunk the kool-aid of resignation.
“I think this is the last Pub Nite,” he said, 15 minutes into the last Pub Nite.
Make no mistake, however: though Pub Nite’s future is uncertain, the fountain will still exist, its sharp dent will still distort the reflections that happen upon it.
But on Thursday nights, when the fountain opens its metallic arms and ears (for its dent curves inwards), longing to be a trusted confidant to a new generation of revellers, who will whisper to it? What stories, what legends, what outrageous sights will fill the dent’s triangular void? Who will make it believe that, though damaged, it can be whole again?
Tonight, the rumored apocalypse seems as distant as ever. Unfazed, the diversely intoxicated flock to the fountain to get their fix of liquid miracle,
But what does the fountain do for them?
Hours (and many drinks) into the night, Luke has an answer: “[The fountain] doesn’t get rid of the beer in your system, it gets rid of the beer in your heart.”
As he mouths these words, his affected melancholy seems, suddenly, unimpeachably genuine.
The hallways of Tarble are filling up with tired partiers. The bathrooms, once deserted, now host gatherings of their own. But it’s not yet closing time. Not for another two hours. Not for another eternity.
*Luke’s name has been changed