Frank Mulligan: Can that check's in the mail stuff

Frank Mulligan

“Do we have Prince Albert in a can?” the store clerk said, responding to a phone query while I waited patiently in line to buy a Slim Jim.

He added, “Hmmm, no, but I think they sell it in the liquor store across the street.” He gave the caller the number and hung up before turning to ring up my purchase.

“Did they just ask if you had Prince Albert in a can?” I had to inquire.

He replied in the affirmative without a trace of the awe I was experiencing.

In the age before you could transmit images of morbidly obese individuals naked save for a see-through raincoat from phone to phone, the Prince-Albert-in-a-can call was considered near the top of stupid, utterly immature phone pranks.

The caller would inquire if the store had Prince Albert in a can, and once the clerk answered in the affirmative, he would deliver the punch line:

“Then you better let him out. He’ll suffocate in there,” before hanging up to the general hilarity of his forever 8-years-old-at-heart confederates.

I pointed this out to the clerk, adding that I never thought in my wildest imaginings I would ever witness a legitimate Prince-Albert-in-a-can call.

The clerk remained unmoved by the epiphany I was undergoing and handed me my change.

I flashed on this episode recently when a money order I mailed to the gas company never arrived.

I put the money order in a properly stamped envelope, return address decorating the upper left corner of the envelope as recommended by the U.S. Postal Service, and placed it carefully in an officially sanctioned mailbox.

Then it disappeared.

The gas company’s inquiry into its whereabouts arrived safely in my mailbox, though, leaving me with the daunting task of making a “I-mailed-the-check-but-don’t-know-what-happened-to-it” call.

This defense has slightly less credibility than maintaining my dog ate the check after mistaking it for my homework.

I called the Post Office and outlined my predicament.

The lady on the other end was as unimpressed by what appeared to me to be as singular an event as Halley’s Comet as had been my Prince-Albert-in-a-can-query-fielding clerk.

“Oh, any one of 50 things could have happened,” she informed me cheerfully, including being destroyed by postal equipment, being misread by scanners and sent to Nepal, or even getting caught in a fire.

I made the unavoidable call to the gas company and prefaced my spiel to the lady on the other end by saying, “You know, I wouldn’t believe this if you told it to me but …”

She heard me out, but seemed less concerned with my story’s validity as with when the gas company could expect an actual payment.

We made arrangements and I hung up the phone, feeling let down by the cosmos.

It only added to that feeling when I called the market where I bought the money order and learned that it would take seven business days before I would be reimbursed - at a cost of $20.

Before hanging up, I was tempted to ask the lady, “Is your refrigerator running?”

But I stifled the urge.

Frank Mulligan is an editor in GateHouse Media New England’s Raynham, Mass., office, and can be reached at