Are there certain smells that you love, and others that you hate?
I used to love the smell of my grandfather’s pipe tobacco. It teased my nostrils as soon as I entered my grandparents’ house. Yet, I very much dislike the odor of incense.
When I cruise down the highway and come upon a road construction site, I somehow find the smell of freshly laid asphalt slightly appealing. Most of you might not.
That begs the question: Do you know what asphalt is? According to Mr. Dictionary, it is a mixture of dark bituminous pitch (tar) and sand or gravel that is used for surfacing roads. In other words, it is diluted tar.
We all know what tar is. It’s that putrid black gooey stuff they spread on rooftops of buildings to seal up any holes.
Tar is also something that, when it gets on your clothes, is not coming off. We learned that in history class long ago when our teachers talked about how pilgrims tarred and feathered rebellious citizens who strayed from the norm.
You may have assumed that when someone was covered in tar and feathers that it was their demise. After all, tar has to be 300 degrees to melt, so how could it not kill them?
But apparently, back in the 18th century, the pilgrims used pine tar instead, the same sticky grease baseball players apply to the handle of their baseball bats.
Prior to the Civil War, American mobs tarred and feathered people who spoke against slavery, in addition to leaders of religious minorities, such as Mormon leader Joseph Smith in 1832.
In 1971, a branch of the Klu Klux Klan tarred a Michigan school principal for advocating a celebration for the late Martin Luther King. And in Northern Ireland in 2007, two men thought to be in the Irish Republican Army tarred a man they accused of dealing drugs.
The word asphalt comes from the Greek word “asphaltos,” meaning secure and, back in the 600s B.C., they used asphalt as a road-building material in Babylon, which is now Iraq. In addition, the ancient Romans used asphalt to seal their baths, reservoirs and aqueducts.
The first true asphalt pavement used in the United States was in Newark, N.J., in 1870. And today, asphalt pavement is America’s most recycled material, with more than 70 million metric tons of it being recycled each year.
But like I said before, when it comes to the hot tar used on rooftops, it definitely has a putrid odor. However, when that same hot tar is diluted with sand or gravel to make asphalt, its extreme putridness is dramatically diminished, with the key word in that sentence being "extreme."
Mr. Dictionary says that the word "extreme" means "of a character or kind farthest removed from the ordinary or average." In other words, it’s too much of something, which we usually associate with being bad. Too much booze, too many medications, too much sugar and no sleep are all bad.
In some ways, actor John Wayne might have had that in mind when he said, “Talk low, talk slow and don’t say too much.” Avoid the extreme, he was saying.
Think about it. But just not too much.