"I arrived one morning bright and early at the crack of midday at 307 Portobello to run off some prints in my darkroom and found the postman hammering on the side door with a large package from Khatmandu addressed to "Little Tony". Barney hadn't arrived at his shopfront studio yet so I signed for the package and let myself in. Tony was sleeping in the broom cupboard under the stairs at the time so I tapped gingerly on the door of Tony's place and bent my head to enter after hearing T's usual welcoming call of "Fuck off you bastards!"
After sparking up the first roach to be found next to the mattress on the floor he took a swig from a can of Coca-Cola, not before blowing off the accumulated cigarette ash and belly-button fluff from the top, while he propped himself on one elbow, shaking his head, asking if I know where he was the previous night because he has no idea! Breakfast-in-bed almost done with, I roll one up from a lump of Afghani black that just happens to be lying around on the orange crate that served as Tony's bed-side table while Tony turns his attention to the package.
He tears off the brown paper wrapping to reveal a beautifully hand-crafted wooden Buddha - "FUCK MY OLD BOOTS! " he declares with all the innocent delight of the 14 year old he is and producing a hammer from beneath his pillow (where else do you keep a hammer?) he whacks the statue such a mighty blow that the Bhudda's head comes off and lands at my feet revealing itself to be made of hollowed out wood containing a Nepalese Temple Ball the size of a cricket ball, needless to say the torso also contained another one about three times as big.
Tony came to visit me in the early '80s when I was living in Bologna, Italy. He'd spent the previous weeks dealing Coke in London and consuming large amounts of it in the process, having earned a few bob he thought he'd come and hang out with Ol' Uncle Philm in sunny foreign parts for a while. After picking him up at the airport we made a mad dash to my apartment in a taxi while Tony cursed the four hour delay and airline food. As soon as we arrived home and with enormous satisfaction he expelled from his nether regions the two ounces of Red Lebanese that had been holding back the consequences of in-flight catering.
The following day we went to a beach near Ravenna with some friends. Known as "Bassona Beach" by the Bolognese freak community it was a groovy place to substitute the usual Piazza Maggiore as a meeting place and the unbearable heat of the city for long nights banging bongos, drinking wine and smoking pot . Something like Portobello Road-on-Sea, a cool summer hangout where a forest of Pine trees at the end of a five mile dirt track provided a protective wall of green to a secluded sandy beach, one bar-cum-trattoria and the warm blue Mediterranean. Summer home to several hundred "compagni" and "cappelloni".
Arriving after dark, the summer night being balmy and warm, we decided to sleep under the stars and pitch our tent in the morning. We awoke to find Tony standing up, eyes wide, limbs akimbo and rigid in the throws of what appeared to be an epileptic fit. To cut a long story short Tony spent 36 hours in Ravenna General Hospital, talking endless gibberish and thrashing around in an uncontrollable delirium until his arms and legs were black and blue from impacting the bars of the cot, without which he would have been rolling around on the floor. He was unable to stand but was in constant motion as if he was trying to fly or swim. The doctors gave him Largactyl, Valium and anything else they could find and dared use in ever increasing doses, all to no effect. I mean this guy's body knew all about drugs! I stayed with him all day attempting to keep a pillow between T's uncontrollable thrashing-around and the hard metal parts of the bed because the hospital just didn't have the resources to have a nurse stay with him constantly.
Tony finally came out of this "altered state" and didn't remember anything since feeling strange when he woke up on the beach. He was released from hospital to the relief of the staff and promptly had a relapse while we were waiting for the train back to Bologna. Somebody called an ambulance and within two hours of saying goodbye we were back in the neurological ward. They still hadn't remade his bed and little charmer that he was I think the nurses were really quite pleased to see him again. The doctors were thrilled to be able to put electrodes on his skull while he was still experiencing an attack and verify that his brain hadn't suffered permanent lesions. They insisted on keeping him there for another 24 hours but I had work to do so I went home and called Tony's brother Alex in London to come and take care of his kid brother.
Alex had, err, gone AWOL from Her Majesty's Armed Forces while serving in foreign parts some years earlier and arrived on a flight from London dressed in a crumpled white linen suit, smoking a Cuban cigar and wearing a Panama hat. He looked just like Ernest Hemmingway, you'd never imagine he was a market trader.
I remember the occasion when the Military Police came looking for him at the Korobins' house, Alex sat there bold as brass, posing as a friend of Tony's saying, "Alex is a bright lad, you don't think he'd be stupid enough to come here do you...?" Everyone trying to keep from laughing so as not to give the game away... but all that's another story.
I saw Tony a few years after that trip and he told me how he'd seen a natural healer when he returned from Italy. The doctor told him it had been a metabolic reaction to the amounts of coke he'd snorted before his visit to Bologna. Tony said he'd cleaned his act up and had cured himself with a macrobiotic diet. It was a pity Sam Hutt wasn't around at the time.
Update: Little Tony Korobin passed away Thursday, November 24, 2005.