A Brush With The Boss

A trip to the vet yields a close encounter of the Jersey kind.

Illustration by Michael Witte.

My dog, Arp, is as short, sharp, and funny as his name. He takes his morning espresso straight, channels a Rottweiler when strangers appear, yet looks about as intimidating as a Smurf. His fierce loyalty and sweet disposition make him a beloved family member. So when Arp got terrible neck pains, we followed a referral straight to the Red Bank Veterinary Hospital. Arp needed an MRI, so I dutifully dropped him off at the hospital, remortgaged the house, and returned to retrieve him the following day.

As I idled on a bench waiting for Arp, a couple entered with a big, lovely, teddy bear of a dog. The owner took off his mirrored sunglasses and I gave him a casual glance. My first thoughts were less than charitable. I noticed the heavy chain draped along the back of his pants connecting his wallet to his belt loop, then looked up at his profile, and saw a fluffy little goatee perched above his chin. “He’s a little old for that look,” I grumped silently.

Then I did a double-take. My next thought: “That guy really looks like Bruce Springsteen. He must get that a lot.”  I momentarily toyed with walking past him for a closer peek.

As he settled on the next bench, I finally got a good view of his face.  The rear end whose fashion statement I had just mentally critiqued was the same one that graces millions of copies of Born in the U.S.A. The reason he looked a whole lot like Bruce Springsteen was because, well, he actually was Bruce Springsteen, there at the vet with his wife and bandmate, Patti Scialfa.

Just then, one of the veterinary assistants called out for the dog, Jackson (Pollock, Browne, or 5, I wondered), and the Springsteens rose for their appointment. Next, Arp (named for German-French sculptor Jean Arp) was called, and I got up, too. A small chunk of my brain was still preoccupied with the Boss while the neurologist gave me the news about Arp’s herniated discs, which were inoperable and would need to be managed with medications. While I absorbed this, I pondered how important our dogs are to us, whether you are a celebrity, or (in my case) decidedly not.

To Arp, I’m always a celebrity, and he greets me at the door every day with the canine equivalent of panty-throwing. Maybe doggy devotion means even more to a public figure like Springsteen, who can be certain that Jackson’s adoration has nothing to do with what most humans must want from him—that sparkly little brush with fame. Dogs are great levelers. To Arp, I am every bit as famous as Springsteen—and to Jackson, the Boss is just as ordinary as I am.

Arp is pain free and happy for the time being, and as long as we can keep him that way, he will warm our laps and terrorize the UPS man to his ferocious little heart’s content. Bruce and Patti, I hope Jackson is okay, too.

Ingrid Steffensen lives in Short Hills with her husband, daughter, and dog, and teaches architectural history at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.

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