The society of smokers that forms outside public buildings can be a fascinating study in human behavior. Some are too busy at their desks to take more than one or two breaks per day, and prefer to stand alone and relax when they can. Others perfectly synchronize their hourly smokes to the minute, so they can be sure that their usual crowd will be there waiting for them near the ashtrays outside.
And more come and go as they please, happy to have some quiet time to themselves but also open to conversation — if the time is right.
“Shit, I forgot my cigarettes upstairs. Those elevators are ridiculous. You got any extras?” He’s a young man, maybe 30, with a toothy smile and a bit of wickedness in his eyes.
I hand the man a cigarette from my pack, and tell him I notice a slight accent in his voice. But I can’t figure it out.
“I moved here from Russia when I was eight years old,” he says with the cigarette clenched between his lips. “Lived in the city with my family since then. You ever been?”
No, but I did travel around Europe a bit in college. I lived in Florence, Italy for a few months as part of a study abroad program.
“Italy, huh? You speak Italian?”
No, not really. I barely remember any of it anymore.
“Yeah, I know what you mean. I speak Spanish, but not really. Except when you get drunk, all of a sudden you’re fluent. And if you add drugs to the mix, not only are you fluent, you’re a poet! A fucking poet.”
The Russian man practices some Spanish and teaches me some Russian (which I promptly forget), then thanks me again for the cigarette before he goes to wait for that elevator and get back to work.