By Albert Samaha
By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
By Alison Flowers
By Albert Samaha
By Jesse Jarnow
By Eric Tsetsi
Income $80,000 (combined for 2000)
Health Insurance covered by employer
Michael Arrigo's upbringing sounds like a dreamy movie about an Italian family who care more about each other and the veal piccata than they do about expensive clothes and the evils of property.
"It's true," says phone technician Michael, 30.
"For Michael's family, everything is about the family and the love and the food," says his wife, Mona Arrigo, 36, who is of Russian Jewish descent and met Michael one Sunday in 1994, "when me and the girls went to a bar in Bay Ridge."
"My whole family is from Sicily," he says. "They grew oranges there, had a pasta factory. They came to Bensonhurst. I grew up a block from the store where John Travolta worked in Saturday Night Fever. There were never any fights in the house about money. If the ice cream man passed by and it was the last dollar someone had, they went and got that ice cream. I've never had a worry about money. No matter what job I've lost or had. God has always been good to me. My grandfather had a pizzeria. My father started with AT&T, first as a custodian, now an elevator mechanic. He struggled to send me to private Catholic schools, probably $5000 a year for Xaverian in Bay Ridge."
Michael and Mona Arrigo live in Sheepshead Bay with three children from previous marriages. Twins are due September 26. Mona is also a phone technician. "Michael got me working at Bell Atlantic last year. I chose Brooklyn, but dopey me forgot there are poles in Brooklyn. It's scary climbing them."
Michael got started in the phone business after Brooklyn College. "I went for a year, had a daughter, had to get a real job. I was loading mail trucks for AT&T for $500 a weekbig, locked, chained, sealed boxes. AT&T had a lot of government mail, government contracts. Then '91 was the big layoff, the week of Christmas, thousands of people, very little notice. I went on unemployment for a year, did some odd jobs, went to work for a Dodge dealership. I always wanted to race cars, like in the movies." He used to have a glow-in-the-dark pink Trans Am. "I like big old American muscle cars, Camaros, Firebirds. But I hated working at the dealership. When you have a passion that you suddenly have to turn into a job that you don't have any control over, it's not fun anymore. At a dealership, they don't want things fixed. They want parts replaced. I like to fix things. My father convinced me to take the test at Bell Atlantic in '95."
Arrigo, a shop steward in his union, does his phone repair work in downtown Manhattan, in and around Dolce & Gabbana and the lofts and three-story town houses. Does the affluence get to him? "No. I laugh. Money always brings out the unreality about people and things. I'm happy with what I have."
The Arrigos have an attached red-brick duplex that they bought in March for $280,000. They have a living room cabinet filled with miniature circus horses because Mona, who grew up a few blocks away in the Nostrand projects and whose father "always had two or three jobsappliance salesman at Sears, yellow cab driver"has "a thing for merry-go-rounds." They have a cat and two dogs and two guinea pigs, all named after candy bars, and a big barbecue on the porch because Sundays are for friends coming over. "His friends from grammar school, high school," Mona says. "We watch professional wrestling. Nobody needs an invitation. Everybody just shows up with the food."