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I once had an interesting experience working with a teenager who was in trouble for drug use. The teenager was a resident in a treatment facility. As we sat across from each other, I thought the young man did not present himself as being particularly bright, but I had learned not to trust appearances.

“Why did you buy the acid?” I asked.

“I’m addicted.”

Ask a stupid question, and get a stupid answer. I still had a lot to learn about asking questions.

One semester I taught at a school in Hungary that specialized in business English. I would go to different places of business—factories, offices, and that sort of thing—and I would teach English to managers, office workers, factory workers, and others.

In one of my classes I met Jenő. Jenő was about 60 years old, and his hair had receded from his broad forehead, but he still looked vibrant one day in class as he danced behind his chair, grinning and throwing his arms wildly in the air. It looked as if he were playing soccer or drying his back with an imaginary towel or maybe doing both at the same time. The other students stared at Jenő a moment with wide eyes, wondering where in the world he was pretending to be. My own forehead scrunched together as I tried to remember if I had included “in the bathroom” as one of the places my beginning English students were supposed to act out to practice phrases they had learned.

What first caught my attention was his voice—harsh, discordant, angry, half-singing, half-muttering a loud song of radical political dissent. I listened for a moment, distracted from my work. Then I turned back to my computer, sure that the voice would move on down the sidewalk.

But it didn't move on. It continued, now rising, now falling in volume, always following that angry thread. I half-listened, not hearing the words for the distance, but feeling the frustration communicated in sound. I began to wonder if my children were safe. Outside and along the sidewalk, I caught my first glimpse of the short man, his belt pulled so tight around his thin waist that the waistband of his pants pulled out beneath the belt, his pockets stuffed with an assortment of items: a pocket New Testament, some smashed brownies someone had given him, odds and ends. A dark fedora propped on his head, he would take a few steps then stop and pick up trash or a weed growing under the fence, all the while alternating between shouting and muttering his angry song.