Stephen Arnold Waschke

Stephen Waschke.

My cousin Steve died last week. He fought a long hard fight against heart disease and I believe death came to him as a release. Steve was taken care of by his son Jacob and his son’s partner, Shasta. Steve was the son of Arnold and Dorothy Waschke, who both passed some years ago. He left behind his two sisters, Deanne Watt and Dlonra Eitner, his brother David Waschke, his son Jacob and many, many friends and other relatives.

Steve was a skilled welder most of his adult life. He apprenticed at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton and served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. He built and repaired boats and worked turnarounds at the oil refineries. He could lay down a flawless bead standing on his head, tell a good story, and, having taken lessons from his father, roast a perfect salmon on an open vine maple fire. In later years, when his failing heart forced him to hang up his hood and leathers, he taught welding and other construction skills at Northwest Indian College.

I have many stories to tell about my cousin, most of them from the glorious days when he was the leader of our band of cousins on Waschke Road. Steve seldom got us into outright trouble, but he deftly pressed the limits, from requisitioning fence posts to build a replica of Fort Apache to digging underground chambers where the cows wandered, big and deep enough to be death traps. He led us to jump out of the haymow onto scant piles of loose straw, high enough to break a limb; he egged us on to swing on precarious ropes suspended in the barn.

Last week, those exploits ended, but Steve will lead them forever in our memories.

Libraries and the Homeless

As a trustee of a rural library system, homeless people in libraries is a problem I think about frequently and I can’t say I have anywhere near a complete answer.

Please note that I write here as an individual, not for the board of which I am a member nor for the library itself.

My thoughts go to first principles. Why does a community have public libraries? What good do libraries do the community? How do homeless people fit into the bigger picture of libraries?

The public library as free entertainment

What is the role of the contemporary public library? Free public entertainment? Public libraries certainly do that; the library circulates a lot of fiction, entertaining non-fiction, music, and videos. However, a library also has more serious roles.

Source of useful information

When I wander the library system’s reading rooms, I see most seats taken by students young and old in serious study. Some use the library as a study hall for their high school, college, and other classes. Many use the library’s reference works, which range from books on theology and philosophy to tax manuals and instructions for overhauling farm equipment. I once noticed a person taking notes on pickling cabbage. Yet others are using library computers and network connections. Utilitarian non-fiction is a big part of the library’s circulation. Acquisitions librarians say they can’t order enough cookbooks or books on managing small farms to meet patron’s requests.

Public libraries and education

Well, then, is the purpose of the public library to provide access to useful information? Certainly, but it goes beyond that. Our system has agreements with school districts in our county to provide services directly in the schools. The library system can provide the schools with a wider range of books and other materials than each school district can offer individually. The system’s collection is a public resource that is shared by both schools and the general public. In addition, the system has highly trained and specialized youth and children’s librarians who help teachers with class room projects and offer programs used by home schoolers and private schools.

Community anchors

Often, I hear of public libraries as “community anchors.” Our county’s branches are certainly community gathering places where citizens meet and exchange ideas. Each branch hosts at least one monthly book club. Branches have genealogy, quilting, and writer’s groups. They support the county literacy council in offering individual and group literacy classes and English as a second language classes. They provide archives for artifacts of local history such as old newspapers, letters, and photographs and they help connect people with local history experts and other resources.

The problem of the homeless

Are homeless people a problem? Yes. Our rural system does not struggle as much as urban libraries, but every month yields a handful of incidents that are related to homeless issues. The homeless can be loud, smelly, harassing, and scary. They have been known to use library facilities to view pornography. Staff have found drug paraphernalia. Not just for the homeless, and not an issue yet, but if the opioid crisis continues, I foresee a day when the library starts stocking and training staff to administer Narcan nasal spray. However, to add perspective, I have noticed more gripes from library staff over parents who drop off unsupervised children and treat the library as a free daycare center than I hear about homeless problems.

How we deal with the homeless

The problem is real. A basic tenet of our library policies is that any activity or person interfering with other patrons’ legitimate use of library services will be stopped. That stricture cuts every direction. Homeless persons have as much right to library services as the most affluent contributor to the library foundation. When any person, homeless or not, raises a ruckus— if only by smelling bad, sleeping in a needed chair, or other disruptive conduct— the library staff is trained to take steps, all the way up to calling the police and having the miscreant forcibly ejected and banned from the premises. Their training is to focus on the disruption, not who is disrupting. I have not experienced it, but I believe (and hope) the staff would “trespass” even a library trustee who made trouble in a branch.

As an aside, in keeping with modern library best practices, conversation that does not bother other patrons is not banned. The staff tries to keep teenagers herded together in areas that do not bother the rest of the folks, but non-disruptive talking, warbling, singing, hijinks, and other furfural are all tolerated if not encouraged.

Are these policies enough? No. I repeat, I speak for myself, but the library’s role is to provide services and community anchorage is an important service. Homeless members of the community are still community members and the library anchors them as well as everyone else. By providing promoting useful knowledge and information, the library is contributing to the general prosperity of our county and helping our residents to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. By contributing to the quality of our school system and giving our citizens materials and places for study, the library also contributes to the health of our community. This helps decrease the incidence of homelessness and aids those already homeless in their efforts to surmount their plight. At present, our library doesn’t have any specific programs for homeless, although homeless can and do avail themselves of literacy classes and other self-help programs.

Homelessness probably cannot ever be completely solved. The poor will always be with us, if only because the most prosperous community will always have a least prosperous member. The social service agencies are the vanguard against homelessness, but public libraries can contribute opportunities for every community member to advance in the struggle to thrive and prosper.

Gun Control and a New Cover for Fifty-Third and Dorchester

Amazon has rules. I was blindsided by one of them. They will not advertise a book on Kindle if the cover has a realistic depiction of a firearm. The rule only applies to marketing books on the Kindle, not the books themselves. My latest Fifty-Third and Dorchester cover has a realistic representation of an AK-47 on the cover. I put it there because firearms have a deadly fascination for me. Like venomous snakes and open wounds, I don’t like to look at them, but in the right context, I can’t take my eyes off them.

I should say something about guns here. I have been around guns all my life. On the farm, we always had a rifle and ammunition around. Animals sometimes have to be put down, predators have to be killed or driven off. I had cousins and uncles who are gun enthusiasts and enjoy collecting, plinking, and target shooting. Guns are useful tools and fascinating devices, although they are less useful today because there so many people around now and accidents are more likely. I don’t like denying anyone a useful tool or a cool device.

Guns for personal protection, I’m not so enthusiastic about. Reggie Haskell has his Colt Python and he uses it much more freely than I ever would. I was threatened with firearms on the South Side streets several times. Never once did I feel that I would have been safer if I were armed like Reggie.  A gun is a desirable object on the rough streets. There are many dangerous people who would not hesitate to risk attacking anyone carrying a weapon for the weapon itself.  Maybe if I were trained like Reggie and had his temperament, I might, but I don’t and I have better ways of facing off attacks.

I am not Reggie Haskell and I would rather that only the Reggies of the world were allowed to carry.  The current popular reading of the second amendment is a misreading, in my opinion. The traditional reading gives the right to regulate gun possession to the states. The amendment gives the states the right to maintain militias, which I take to include police. In my opinion, very few people are as well-trained or strong-minded as Reggie, and therefore, very few should be allowed to carry a weapon. Most who are qualified, are in the police or military. Although I sometimes have doubts, in general, our system of government is strong enough to control both the police and the military and therefore, I would prefer fewer people carried weapons. Stories about some poor gump with a gun saving lives and property are rare to non-existent, as much as some people want to see them. Stories about incompetents with guns killing people without good reason are frequent.

The times that I was threatened by a person with a gun, I defended myself with my wits and empathy. Since I seldom carry anything of value, it has never been hard to convince my would-be assailant that I was not worth robbing and I have been lucky enough to convince them not to kill or injure me because I let them down by having  nothing to offer them. A middle-schooler with a pistol once slapped me in the jaw because my wallet was empty, but I kept my wallet and walked away. That’s a good enough outcome for me.

Fifty-Third contains lots of things that are not intended to be pleasant. That’s life, that’s what we all struggle with, and I put an AK-47 on the cover to let my readers know that Fifty-Third is a serious book about serious issues.

But I want to market Fifty-Third and I won’t argue with Amazon about their taste in book covers. That is not a serious issue. So Fifty-Third gets its fifth cover. I learn by doing. As always, comments are welcome. And sigh up for Vine Maple Studio Friends to get a free Lupaster and Haskell short story set some years after Fifty-Third.