December 8th was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and I must prostrate myself before Our Blessed Mother and beg her forgiveness for my blasphemy the other week in asserting that her feast day would be useless to me because it fell on a Saturday. As it happened, I was cruising for a spot on Saturday at around eleven A.M., my brilliant decision to procrastinate having caught up with me on Friday morning and necessitated that I put the car in a lot ($15, river view). “Car Talk” was on the radio as I stole out of the lot, having overstayed my fifteen dollars’ worth. In my eternal optimism, I drove past the Best Possible Parking Block, where, lo and behold, there was a big fat parking spot.
I had all I could do not to compound my sins by turning left on red to get to that spot before anyone else, though there was no competition in sight. I haven’t scored on this block in months. What makes this spot so sweet is not just the hours (street-cleaning is scheduled for Monday and Thursday, 8:30-9, a very civilized time to be up and about), or even the view, or the proximity of the local swimming pool, but the fact that when the broom comes you don’t even have to move, because the block is so well groomed. That cleanliness was an especially refreshing touch on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is not to be confused with the Annunciation or the Virgin Birth or the Assumption, though of course they all follow from this: that Our Lady, in order to be worthy of her role as Mother of God, must herself have been conceived without sin. Pope Pius IX laid this out for us in 1854.
Of course there will always be those who wonder, Why all this fuss about the Immaculate Conception when we could be celebrating Hanukkah? To which I say, Aw, come on. It is one of only two alternate-side-suspended days devoted to Mary, the other being the Assumption, August 15th, which is directly related to the Immaculate Conception in that, if Mary was born without spot of original sin, and the wages of sin is death, then she didn’t have to die. So she was “assumed” into Heaven. Though artists had been painting scenes of the Assumption for centuries, the Church chewed on it for a good long time. Pope Pius XII made it official only in 1950.
I also learned, when I accidentally watched the world news on BBCA on Saturday night, that 2008 will mark the 150th anniversary of Bernadette’s visions of Our Lady of Lourdes, which took place beginning in February 1858. The commemorative 150th anniversary year began, however, last Saturday, to coincide with the Immaculate Conception. And in Rome the Vatican announced that pilgrims to Lourdes during the 150th anniversary year will receive a plenary indulgence—that is, time off in Purgatory (for a limited time only).
Actually I should not make fun of indulgences, because, in a way, that is exactly what I receive from the city when alternate-side parking is suspended: time off in parking purgatory.
I went out for a walk on Sunday, still grateful for the spot granted unto me, and passed a theatrical prop store that had in the window a life-size statue of Mary in her Immaculate Conception outfit (white gown, blue veil, gold sandals with pink rosettes). Next to her was a white wire sculpture of a dog—perhaps a Pyrenean mountain dog—and I am sorry to say it, but the dog looked as if it were sniffing her butt. I intend to go back with my camera.
On Monday morning at eight-thirty, I arrived at my spot with offerings of takeout coffee and the Times. At the head of the line—only six cars fit on this exalted stretch of asphalt—was the red Honda, idling with its windshield wipers on, whose owner seems to have been granted a perpetual indulgence: she is always parked on this block. At 8:40 I watched in my rearview mirror as the broom swept up the avenue, its driver not even pausing to look down the street. He knew it was already immaculate.