The television reality program “Undercover Boss” has me thinking about the concept of spying on employees, and how it could work for the greater good.

Or not. It depends on which boss. And which employees.

But as a tool for gleaning information, it could work out.

Or, as I say, not.

What if this technique had been used throughout history? (You know how it works – the boss of a company or business group disguises himself or herself and takes on often menial jobs while listening for discontent or ways to improve the product or its delivery.)

What if, for example, Gen. George Washington had taken a notion to paint his face a swarthy brown, don a red wig, use a false name and enlist as a regular soldier? What would he have learned from his ranks?

“This soup is vile,” he might have heard a fellow soldier complain. “The Army needs a better cook.”

“I can stand the soup, but I can’t stand being so cold all the time,” another might whine while re-wrapping rags around his ankles. “My wife suffers from a bone disease and needs an operation, but I can’t afford it on Army pay, and she is too ill to knit me any warm socks.”

“I really like that white horse the general always rides,” one man might have said. “I would like to ride a horse like that now and then instead of having to walk everywhere.”

“That new recruit, the one with the red hair? I think he looks quite a bit like Gen. Washington,” a fourth soldier might observe. “Maybe he’s a nephew or a second cousin.”

“Speaking of the general, where is he today?” another soldier might ask. “I sure hope he didn’t desert. Then we’d have to shoot him, and we are short of ammo. Haw haw.”

Oops. Time for the general to come back as himself, fire the cook, issue wool socks to the men, pay for the operation the soldier’s wife needs, allow soldiers to take turns exercising his horse, and reassure his troops that he has no red-headed relatives among the ranks.

Or what if Buffalo Bill Cody, our town’s namesake, had decided to try going undercover with red face paint, an Indian headdress and a loincloth, just to see what his employees in the Wild West show really thought?

“I hear Mr. Cody is starting a Wyoming town that will be named after him,” he might overhear while sweeping up. “I sure wish someone would name a town after me.”

“Yeah, but who would want to live in Finklestein, Wyoming?” his friend might query. “Personally, I like the name ‘Wapiti’ better. It has such a nice ring to it.”

Or Cody might have overheard a worker in the production complaining about having to clean up after all the animals that traveled with the troupe.

“That darned trained buffalo keeps pooping in his pen, and when I go in to clean his bedding he tries to charge me,” the worker might have said.

“Yeah, but the bison provides fuel for the fire, and if we get really hungry as we travel, I know our boss could shoot that bison and give us a great dinner,” his friend might have replied.

“I am really mad at this show’s management,” another cowboy might have griped. “Buffalo Bill keeps shooting holes in silver dollars – and he always borrows the dollars from me. The bank won’t even let me trade them in because there’s not much left of them.”

“That new Indian chief looks kind of suspicious to me,” another Wild West rider might mention to his pals during a delay because of rain.

Then the “chief” might have wandered into the tent, his face dripping red paint that was washed away by the monsoons.

“Hey, the chief is really Buffalo Bill,” the riders might shout as the ersatz Indian tried to repair his dripping disguise.

“Yes, I confess, I went undercover,” the great showman would have said, wiping off his war paint with a towel.

“And I will never borrow another soldier dollar ... at least not to shoot holes in,” he might add. “Plus, I am setting up an emergency fund for my workers’ families.”

All would have been well, back in the day, just as it is on the present-day reality show.

I cannot help but notice that the employees selected for Undercover Boss all seem to have life-threatening problems their bosses can solve by throwing cash their way.

Too bad it’s not real life. I’ve had many jobs through the years, and no boss has ever thrown unearned cash at me.

I’m still hoping life will imitate art, though.

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