Motto, shmotto. How often does it snow or rain, anyway?And he's long gone by the time the gloom of night settles in.

But the swift completion of his appointed rounds - yes, that fits James Burchick. Fits him so well that he is one of only a handful of Washington-area mail carriers to have won the superior accomplishment award. Fits him so well that the gang on his route awaits and welcomes him, and could set their watches by him. Fits him so well that he can say these aren't appointed rounds, "this is a pleasure."

If the postal system isn't always close to a pleasure, it isn't the fault of the Burchicks of this world.

He is up at 4:30 a.m. so he can begin sorting the mail for his North Bethesda route at 6. By 9, he is on the street for his 15-mile stroll. By about 1 p.m., still smiling, still saying "Have a nice day," neither thirsty nor limping, he is through.

"I always wanted to be a Norman Rockwell mailman," says Jim Burchick. "You know, petting the dog, playing with the kids and delivering the mail, all at once. All on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post."

And is that how he sees himself? "Pretty damn close," Burchick replies.

But Norman Rockwell would never understand, even if he could render, Jim Burchick's long reddish-brown hair and swooping mustache. And in Rockwell's world, mailmen don't carry Mace or have to lock their Jeeps when they get out of them.

But Rockwell would understand, and Burchick's "customers" appreciate, his habit of putting bills on the bottom of the stack and personal letters, if any, on the top. And Rockwell would flip out over Burchick's close-but-not-too-close style of knowing everybody and everything on his beat.

Jim Burchick knows that three aging men on his route - not neighbors, not business partners, not anything that would apparently bind them - are high school classmates and still play golf together every week.

Jim Burchick knows that one "customer," a soap salesman, gets his paycheck every Saturday. Burchick sometimes alters his route to get it there early.

Jim Burchick knows who's been sick and who's been in the Bahamas, whose doors stick and whose lawns he can traverse without being yelled at. He knows which dogs are bluffing. He even knows how to extricate himself from a neighborhood man who, given half a chance, will spin out stories of his Boston youth.

No, Burchick doesn't read postcards. No, he doesn't mind delivering junk mail. No, he has no special secret about footwear to offer the world.

But yes, he admits he sneaks a peck now and then at certain magazines, primarily at their center pages - "and I don't mean The Dental Journal or anything like that."

Jim Burchick, 28, has been treading his route, which lies just west of Old Georgetown Road and just south of the Beltway, for most of the 8 years he has been a postman.

He admits it's an easy route by urban postal standards. His 288 stops are all private homes, and the clientele is middle-to upper-crust: ambassadors, scientists from the nearby National Institutes of Health, businessmen, lawyers.

Burchick may thus be the only postman in Washington who doesn't dread the first of each month. That's welfare check day - and Burchick doesn't carry a single one.

What he does carry is good tidings, and advice.

Mothers ask him how to handle their troublesome teen-aged daughters. One man, knowing Burchick dabbles in cars, asked him for advice on how to rebuild a Volkswagen. Even the talkative man from Boston gets a smile - and an ear for a minute or so.

"I've got kids who says, 'When I grow up, I want to be a mailman just like you,'" said Burchick. "I had one man, be invited me to his daughter's wedding at Congressional Country Club. I can't believe it sometimes."

Burchick used to have one large hassle, in the form of a vicious weimaraner. It moved to San Francisco last winter, taking its masters along. "Never so glad to see a change of address card in my life," said Burchick, who attributes his one and only bite of 1976 to his departed adversary.

Burchick's other chief gripe is that he and other carriers must take the blame for the flaws of an entire system.

"It does bother me. We admit there are flaws," Burchick said. "But it bothers all of us to hear the same thing all the time." Such criticism, he guesses, is why only one of every three carriers makes it to retirement age.

The West Bethesda station, Burchick's home base, is especially vulnerable to the kinds of absurdities that cause the criticism carriers catch.

The station itself sits on the western boundary of Bethesda, at 9601 Seven Locks Road. Across the street is considered Potomac. For a letter to get across the street via the postal system, it would first go to downtown Washington to be sorted, then to Rockville to be resorted, then to Potomac to be delivered. Average time required: two days.

In addition, West Bethesda carriers must cope with the fact that their zip code, 20034, is listed in postal guides as both Bethesda, Md., and Washington, D.C. No one knows why, "but it sure must have been fun out here before zip codes," Burchick observes.

As he turns into the last row of houses of another day, Burchick can hear footsteps in the first home on the block. Someone is sprinting for the front door.

"Oh, please, please, Pleeeease!" yelps a teen-aged girl. "He must have written me today."

"Nope," says Jim Burchick, smiling and handing her an electric bill. "But I'll try again tomorrow." The girl is obviously crestfallen, but she smiles back.

"That's why I love this job," says Burchick, hiking his bag higher onto his right shoulder and heading for the next house. "You get to see people. You get to know people."