Long before Rino Aprea appeared on “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” he had his first 15 minutes of fame on Long Island for his creative approach to a summer heat wave.
Aprea is better known today for his stint as Teresa Aprea’s husband on Season Four of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” and for the two Italian restaurants he owns.
But on July 8, 1981, a teenage Aprea was trying to stay cool in record-breaking temperatures. Aprea’s friends had decided to head to Robert Moses State Park beach, but Aprea, 16 at the time and without a driver’s license, couldn’t join them. He was scheduled to work his summer job as a gas station attendant in Amityville.
A jealous Aprea decided to make the most of his day anyway.
“It felt like 105,” said Aprea, who is now 51 and lives in New Jersey. “I had someone drive me to the mall and I picked up a turtle pool.”
Clad in swim trunks, he lugged the pool a mile from his parent’s South Amityville home to the Sunoco station where he worked, off Route 27A.
When cars arrived at the station, Aprea got out of the pool to pump gas, and got back in when they left.
A Newsday photographer gathering photos of Long Islanders trying to stay cool captured a photo of Aprea lounging in the pool.
That day, the temperature hit 94 degrees, according to a Newsday story. The photo of Aprea, looking sullen in the pool, ran as the main photo with the story on Page 3 of the paper.A framed copy of the photo hangs in his home in Colts Neck, New Jersey.
Aprea said the pool was a hit with customers.
But his parents, who had been unaware of the prank, were shocked at the attention he received, he said.
His father found out the next day on his way to the family’s Little Italy restaurant, Angelo’s of Mulberry Street. While passing through Penn Station, Giovanni Aprea stopped to buy gum and picked up a copy of Newsday, where he found his son — who had a knack for getting himself into wacky situations — part of the day’s top story.
Aprea’s boss at the gas station was less amused.
“He was mad I blocked one pump,” Aprea said. “I said better to have one pump blocked than a gas station closed for eight hours.”
The station owner had been “hesitant about hiring me,” Aprea said. “He didn’t know how responsible I would be. He found out I was very creative.”
Aprea lasted only three weeks as an attendant. He initially thought working two days a week at the station with his friends would be a fun way to spend the summer, but realized it wasn’t easy, he said. He quit his job at the station shortly after the pool incident and returned to working at the family restaurant, which he now owns along with Ponte Vecchio in Brooklyn.
There’s not much room for a kiddie pool in the kitchens of either restaurant, but Aprea said the memory is still a popular story among his friends.
“It’s a staple. We talk about it all the time,” he said. “They say ‘Only you could do something like that.’ ”