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HOW TO CLEAR A BEACH -- INSTANTLY

    My first teaching job in Florida was a blast – in more ways than one. The head of the science department took me on a tour of the chemical storage room since I would be teaching chemistry. He pointed specifically to a rusty canister sitting on the store room shelf.
   “Bob, this drum of sodium metal is very unstable. Do you think you could dispose of it?” he questioned.
   Knowing full well that when sodium metal touches water it explodes violently, I eagerly accepted the task and, jauntily, out to the beach with it I went.
   It was a warm, pleasant day. The sand was filled with sunbathers. I possessed enough presence of mind to carry the package out to the end of the fishing pier which was sparsely populated by a few elderly gentlemen half asleep with their fishing rods dangling expectantly in the water.
   Punching several holes in the rusty can with my pocket knife, I heaved the package as far as I could from the pier. Seconds later I was rewarded by a fiery roar as the ignited sodium erupted from the depths like a submarine volcano. I stood back grinning like the proud producer of a hit Broadway spectacular.
   But then came the unexpected. The eruption cascaded fragments of sodium all around the pier, plunging back into the water. Each of those mini-bombs detonated again as frantic mothers grabbed their children and ran down the beach.
   The elderly fishermen, now quite awake, abandoned their fishing poles and vacated the pier with haste. I decided it was time to leave the beach.
   Trying not to look too conspicuous, I eased into my car and casually left the premises. As I drove away I peered into my rearview mirror to watch the smoke gradually clear, drifting slowly out to sea.
   In the end, no harm had been done other than some frayed nerves on the parts of the sunbathers, the fishermen, and me. The event was reported by the news media as a mysterious explosion. But I understand that there was considerable reluctance to fish again from that pier for quite some time.