Larry Caputo is a man of many words. The first time we spoke some of his last to me were “I’ll bet that’s spirit!” We were wrapping up our interview and my recording vanished and Larry laughs it off in a no-big-deal kind of way, says it’s spirit. (Any journalist can imagine the frustration and embarrassment that immediately filled my insides.) “Spirit!” I said, “Why the hell would spirit do this to me?!”
The next week I wracked my brain for every detail we discussed, which was fairly easy considering his stories were hilariously entertaining. If my recording fail was due to spirit, I owe it a big thank you, because Larry proved to have a lot more to say in our conversations that followed. In fact, when I spoke to him next, he was hanging out in his favorite city Santa Monica, CA, right next to a koi pond.
His wife, Theresa Caputo, a.k.a. the Long Island Medium, has made a career of healing others and sharing their stories. However, I find that some of the greatest stories begin with Larry. His exclamations of “Have I got a story for you!” prepped the many tales of Caputo’s hippie days, channeling spirit, and how his family found their long lost tattoo artist, Tommy Helms from Tattoo Nightmares.
LARRY’S FIRST CHICK
Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, we used to spend our summers in Bayville. Our neighbor got a little baby chick and he said, “It’s in the basement!” They didn’t do anything with it but keep it in a cardboard box. It was emaciated, it was dirty, and skinny and starving so I asked them if I could have it and they were glad to give it to me. By the end of August, this thing grew and I fattened her up and she was all white with a big red mane on the top of her head. I got so attached to it. It would follow me around because it knew I was its food source. I just had this bond with it.
Now, the end of the summer comes and were packing up to go back to Queens and my dad says, “You gotta get rid of that chicken, we’re not taking it back to Queens.” It just broke my heart that I had to leave my chicken behind. I wound up finding someone to take it but it was traumatic. I was so mad at my dad. I hated him at the time that he wouldn’t let me bring it.
After Theresa and I were married, I always wanted to put a chicken coop in the backyard; my wife was like [he imitates her voice], “We’re not getting a chicken coop! We can’t have chickens!” I was like, yes we can; nobody is going to know. Then I got my koi pond, so there went my chicken coop.
I love all animals. My favorite animals I would have to say would be dogs and birds. That’s why I have the rooster and the eagle [tattoos]. I have another piece that Tommy just did of a dove on my arm.
The rooster tattoo is really big because I love what it stands for. It’s about determination and never backing down, discipline. (He jokes) I always say to people, “Wanna see my eight inch cock?”
HIS FIRST INK + LOVE
My first tattoo was the little rose on my chest because I wanted to see what it was like to get a tattoo. Then my second tattoo was on my right bicep, which was like a lion’s mane, [it] didn’t come out so well. My buddies used to joke with me and say that it looked like a cat that got hit by a bus. I wound up getting that covered up with the eagle. Back when Theresa and I met, I wasn’t as tattooed as I am now, but she loved that I had tattoos. She was initially attracted to me because of my tattoos.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Tommy (Helms) and I met like 15 years ago when he worked at Lark Tattoo in Westbury. At that time he tattooed my wife. Then we lost touch until we both wound up on TV. Tattoo Nightmares is maybe now in its third season? I don’t know, but I was clicking through the channels and I saw him and I yelled to Theresa, “You’re never going to believe this!” That’s when we found out that he had had a tattoo parlor in Oceanside (Empire State Studios) for quite a while. I didn’t even realize that he’s a Long Island guy.
Now for the last maybe two or three years we’ve been with him. My wife got her second tattoo from him, I have a bunch from him, and my son has his sleeve by him.
My son was very smart the way he got tattooed. He’s always been on the more conservative side and he waited until he really knew what he wanted and could make the full commitment to tattoos. Ya know, you can tell when people’s work is pieced together and they have tattoos from different times and get work done to incorporate them over time. Little Larry is doing it the right way, a big piece all at once. And for a lot of people that takes courage for their first ink. He’s got a couple sessions under his belt now with Tom. It’s a Japanese style sleeve – a dragon, samurai, pagoda, cherry blossoms. My daughter Victoria has more tattoos than my son, and she wants more. She’s got a couple all over.
LARRY CONNECTS WITH SPIRIT, TOO
People always ask, “Does Theresa give you information?” But it’s hard to read somebody that you know everything about. Several people that have passed away, I know they’re around, I get the signs and symbols but my wife doesn’t read me. She always gives me advice. We’ve gone through these tragedies of the large part together to begin with. Theresa always says we all have that spiritual connection; it’s just that some people have a higher level than others. You don’t need a medium to connect with your loved ones, but I’m so much more aware of it from being around it for so long.
The show made Theresa realize how much good it does for people. It’s not as glamorous as everybody thinks, it is very straining. But it’s rewarding to watch the show ourselves—we never see the final product until it airs—because they’re able to have closure and move on with their lives.
To see how many people admire our relationship – I thought everybody’s relationship was like that and it’s not. We’re very blessed. When the show came about I thought I had nothing to offer but I realize now that as a couple and as a family we have a lot to offer.
I’ve met hundreds of thousands of people and I’ve never had anyone say anything negative. It’s been [nothing but] the most complimentary, rewarding, positive responses that people have towards my wife, our kids, and myself. It makes us feel good as a family knowing that people admire what we have. You think everybody has this and they don’t. So many people go through life with greater hardships than we’ve had.
When the show first got picked up, I’ll never forget, the camera guy and the sound guy at the time pulled me aside and said, “Dude, from this point on, your life is going to change.” I took it with a grain of salt; I was like yeah that’s nice, not realizing the magnitude of the show.
I feel like I have a responsibility—don’t get this wrong—to live up to this “image.” Not to change from who I am and to be consistent and not let fame or all that stuff go to your head. I don’t worry about Theresa because she’s a different breed! I just worry about myself. I worry about my kids making sure that they conduct themselves in the proper manner at all times because they’re in the public eye. I can’t flip anybody the bird anymore! (Laughs)
THE ROAD TO RECOVERY
I had Acoustic Neuroma, which is a brain tumor that grows by the ear. I had that done back in 2001, two weeks before 9/11. After the operation I lost my hearing on that side and I had paralysis on my face. I still have some to this day.
My symptoms felt like my ear was clogged and sometimes my equilibrium was off. I went to the doctor and they just didn’t diagnose me correctly, they thought I had allergies. It wasn’t until about a year later when the symptoms became stronger that they found I had some hearing loss because the tumor was pressing up against my nerves. I went to the CAT scan and MRI and that’s when they found it.
They said, “You need to get this taken care of pretty quickly.” I was like lets do it, no big deal. But not knowing the results or the outcome when I came out of the operation and all of a sudden you can’t hear and your face is all droopy and your speech is slurred, you feel like you're not yourself anymore. It was a hard time for me.
Then 9/11 happened while I was home recuperating and I watched that on television. It made me realize I have to stop feeling sorry for myself. So many people just lost their lives and here I am feeling bad for myself?
My wife never looked at me or treated me any differently. That’s the great thing about the support Theresa and I have for each other. I feel like sometimes in some marriages, the wife wouldn’t want to be with the husband anymore and the relationship would break off. I always thought, how would I be if that happened to Theresa? But she stuck by me through the whole thing. It was a long recovery period. I still don’t have full function of my left eye or around my mouth area so that’s why on the show sometimes my eye will look squinty or I have a hard time smiling. I’m very conscious of it.
DON’T MESS WITH LARRY CAPUTO, BULLIES
I’m not a confrontational person but if I’m around someone that is being bullied or taken advantage of, I’m the first one to step in and put a stop to that. I hate people that take advantage of weaker people. My wife gets mad at me at times, she’s like, “Don’t get involved!” but I can’t help myself! She used to call me a loose cannon.
I could be very low key chill, but don’t mess with me, don’t mess with my children, and don’t mess with the weaker person because I will come to the defense of anybody. It’s really funny, my son and my daughter have always said, “All my friends are scared of you Dad!” I’m like what are they scared of me for? But they can tell I’m a no nonsense person. I hate to see anybody be picked on.
LARRY WAS A HIPPIE!
I’ve always been very fashion conscious. Even in my hippie days, I had to dress in the latest hippie clothes. I wore the fried boots; I made sure my hair was as long as I could grow it. I always had to look the part. I think when bell-bottom pants came out I was the first to run to the store and get a pair. It was just the way I was. I’m really into shoes. When I see someone, I look at them from their feet up. I firmly believe that you can always tell a person's personality by the way they’re dressed and by the shoes they wear.
A RIDE IN WITH THE LAW
When I was 18 I got my first motorcycle, which was a 1971 Triumph. Between you and I (sorry, Larry!), I got into a chase with the cops because I got pulled over and they wrote me up for a whole bunch of tickets and they said if they catch me riding anymore they’re going to confiscate my bike and arrest me!
I was a badass when I was a kid. Because of that situation, I lost my license for like six months and I no longer had the bike. After that I wound up married and I got away from the motorcycle scene. But then I started riding again once my kids were a little bit older and I could spend a couple bucks and get myself a motorcycle, back in maybe ’94, ’95. I got a custom Sportster. I rode a Sportster for about seven or eight years before I moved up to the Road King. So now I got the road king and I got the Bobber also. And I got a corvette. It’s all about when the times are right.
HIS ADVICE FOR TATTOO NEWBIES
If I could give you any advice, don’t worry about anybody else, just worry about yourself. You have to do what makes you happy and what you feel comfortable with. That’s the big problem today; everybody is in such competition that it puts pressure on young people.
You can’t feel influenced and feel pressured because everybody else has ink. It’s not for everybody. I mean how many people just jump right into it without thinking? I’m the perfect example. I’ve had so much work that wasn’t fully done because I was going on impulses and not thinking it out and not doing it properly the first time. I’ve done so many hours in the chair redoing what I wasn’t happy with.
THE NEXT GREAT AMERICAN NOVELIST?
I enjoy telling stories. It’s the same thing as opening up an old photo album, you look back and you reminisce and see all the things that you’ve gone through in your life and it puts a smile on your face. That’s what brings us where we are today. It’s all part of the journey. Just listening to other people tell their life story is interesting because no one's life is the same. And that’s what tattoos are all about. They’re trademarks of each story, ya know, people need to express themselves. People need to feel something and share something.