The Fiddler That Fiddles Once or Twice Nicely, But Thricely Even Better and Better

Tripping It

Lehighton (PA) Times News

August 7, 1971

We are caught in the gullet of the atomic age, when, from an economic standpoint, our society is machine-oriented. The increased reliance on computers has added a panic sense of dehumanization to our lives. Businesses are great buzzing hives of people working side-by-side, day-by-day, without having an opportunity to know one another. It is far less work to cope with a machine than to confront a fellow human being.

The reliance on machines is taking something of the pride from the American’s daily work. What he once did with his own hands is now done with or by machines, and craftsmanship suffers.

Among the growing jungle of machinery and proliferating buildings, however, there is still a need for some aspect of pride. And the pride that was once the working man’s now seems to be shifting over to the machines and buildings. The buildings are ultra-modern and the machines are gleaming stainless steel.

It seems uncanny, in fact, that a building left paper-strewn after a long shift at work, miraculously cleans itself overnight, and is restored and ready to go the next morning. Our conscious minds seldom take notice of the fact that our place of work is not as it was the day before; our subconscious registers the fact that the place has been cleaned overnight, and sets out mind at east for a new working day. The difference can easily be seen on a day when the office or plant did not get cleaned. Our subconscious sets off an alarm bell and our conscious—no matter how bleary-eyed we are in the morning—is alerted to the fact that something is amiss. We reach up to our face, grab hold of an eyelid, and lift it tentatively. It squirms around in its socket for a moment, getting used to the blaze of light—and to the strew of paper on the floor, the overflowing garbage boxes, the misplaced equipment. And we are suddenly possessed with an irresistible urge to turn around and go back to bed.

An uncleaned office or factory is not conductive to doing good work—in fact, it is not conductive to doing any work at all.

Our office, like any office, has its ups and downs, its rainy days and its sunny ones—but it never has had a day when any of us had to pluck our eyelids up to view a dirtied desk or an unemptied waste can or misplaced equipment first thing in the morning.

And it is all due to a “noiseless, patient spider” of a man who keeps the web of his duties spotless and ready to go, day after day, week after week—and, year after year after year.

If the Daily Planet has its secret helper in the form of the inscrutable Clark Kent, alter ego Superman, we have our secret helper. Excuse me: we had our secret helper.

In his mundane role, his name is Bill Haas, a small man with quick movements, who would be overlooked very easily if it weren’t for the fact that he has a variety of alter egos. Bill Haas was a Supermaintenanceman, scrupulously cleaning out building from top to bottom every evening while the remainder of us were restring from our day’s duties; Bill Haas was a Superman, for he never missed a day of work in 17 years in the Times-News Building or in the Classic Theatre building, which it was before conversion (our buildings apparently have their alter egos, too); Bill Haas was a Superhumanbeing, for it was not unusual to walk in during the evening hours and see the night shift ad-setters eating ice cream that Bill had supplied; Bill Haas was also a Superoptimist, for upon greeting him and making a comment about the inclement weather outside, he would say simply, “It looks as though it might get better soon,” which occasioned a second glance in his direction, hoping that he perhaps knew something from an inside source on the weather that would indeed herald a break in the clouds—which it usually did.

Bill Haas isn’t a superhero to the people who work here just because he does a good job; in his unassuming way, he performed his duties with aplomb and a sure dexterity; in his veiled alter ego, Bill is a very, very interesting fellow.

He is 72 years old and scampers around like a halfback going out to run interference. He was born and raised in the West Broadway section of Mauch Chunk and, in 1916, he and his parents moved to Easton. Later, however, he made his way back to the Carbon County area and now lives a bachelor’s life in Lehighton. He drives a 1951 Hudson, which is kept in excellent running condition; it has a mere 50,000 miles on it, and is a free-wheeling collector’s item.

During an equally free-wheeling retirement party last weekend, Bill related some incidents that had taken place during his career at the Classic/Times-News building and at the Park Theatre (now Park Lanes).

He related how he went in to clean up the Classic Theatre one morning and during his rounds, he walked past a burlap bag setting in the downstairs lounge area. He didn’t remember seeing it there before, didn’t recall that it belonged there, and attempted to ignore it while he went about his cleaning. He wasn’t able to ignore it for long, however, since it began to move across the floor. Slightly taken aback by the strange antics of the bag, Bill pursued it and, upon catching up to it, was confounded to see a woman crawling out of it. Quite willing to listen to explanations at that point, Bill learned that the woman had been attending the movie the previous evening and had gone down to the ladies’ room during the latter portion of the second show. She had taken longer than anticipated, and when she came out, she walked into total, impenetrable darkness. The theatre had emptied, the workers had gone home, the lights had been turned off, and the doors locked. The young lady, whom Bill says was about twenty-five years old and quite petite, was unfamiliar with the building, and could not find her way out. So, in desperation, she had sat down to suffer through the night, pulling the burlap bag around her to stave off the cold. Bill ended that tale, which was authenticated by other company employees present, with the comment: “I guess that was her bag.”

The logical question eventually came up: “What are you going to do now that you’re retired, Bill?”

“I’m going to get out my fiddle and take that up again. I’m goin’ ta get a new bow and get back into fiddlin’.”

Although he hasn’t fiddled for some dozen years, Bill was quite the fiddler in local groups in the early parts of this century. Hmmmm. Putting it like that, in terms of centuries, it is easy to get a perspective of all the history Bill’s lived through. Talking to him and being with him for a while, though, it is hard to realize that he is really that old that he was born in the last century.

In a day when there are so many “forgotten men,” and in a society where a janitor is supposedly the epitome of “forgotten men,” Bill Haas is one man that it will take a lot of us a good century more to forget.