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Dear Matthew Alice:

Occasionally while walking about, I may spy a penny or other small coin lying there on the ground. Certainly no one objects if I reach down, retrieve the wayward copper (or silver), and deposit it in my pocket. However, what if in so doing I must dip my hand into the water of a public fountain. Is that wrong?

-- Steve, La Mesa

A coin at liberty from someone's pocket is up for grabs, legally speaking. And certainly no one cares if you reach down and retrieve it, you cheapskate. Similarly, if you take to hanging about the fountain in Balboa Park, other than making a spectacle of yourself, the only down side might be the homeless, who use decorative bodies of water as their own personal ATMs. It's a most efficient system. No black-tie galas, no high-overhead charities. Tourists toss the coins in, the homeless take them out, according to park personnel. So keep your shoes dry and look out for guys with shopping carts.

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