CONVERSATIONS WITH MAINE

Get to know your postal guy

Don Martin at work in the Hampden Post Office
Don Martin at work in the Hampden Post Office
Posted April 14, 2011, at 5:53 p.m.
Last modified April 14, 2011, at 11:32 p.m.
"The Postal God" action figure, who now has his own Facebook page.
"The Postal God" action figure, who now has his own Facebook page.

`I have been entertained by Don Martin’s dry humor at the Hampden Post Office for years, and I’m not alone. Rare is the day that I head to the postal counter without hearing laughter — no matter how long the line. Since I tend to be chatty as I ponder the definitions of “fragile, liquid or perishable,” Don has gotten to know a bit about me. Until recently, I knew very little about Don. Among other things, I discovered that all this time, without knowing it, I have been hobnobbing with “The Postal God.”

Don very kindly allowed me to invade his lunch break so I could learn more about his life beyond the mail counter. We sat in his pickup truck, which was strangely parked in reverse direction and apart from the cars around it. The parking job, it turned out, is part of his story — more on that later. First I asked if he dabbled in stand-up comedy on the side.

“Only here,” he said; “Floor show’s free. You get what you pay for.”

He chuckled when I asked about “The Postal God.” A work friend gave Don that nickname because of his uncanny ability to come up with answers to all post-related questions. Another colleague showed up with an action figure labeled, “Don, the Postal God.”

Now the little super hero, which hangs on a string behind the counter, has his own Facebook page, thanks to Don. “I got bored one night,” he said.

Comedy aside, Don does perform outside the workplace. He plays the guitar in a classic rock band whose repertoire is gradually expanding. Don grew up in Amherst, where he started playing the guitar at the age of 10. He played with some bands in high school, then with another group during his four years of service with the U.S. Air Force. For a short time, the group became the house band for a restaurant.

A few years ago, he and a group of local guys got together to play. Alvin T and the Lightcaps rehearse every week, and they already have played for cookouts and other private events.

Classic rock and blues are their music of choice.

“Have you written any of your own stuff?”  I asked him.

With his typical sideways grin he answered, “I’ve dabbled a bit … but nothing I’d admit to in public.”

Don’s rock ’n’ roll expertise became known to one of his Friday regulars at the post office. I happened to catch the end of their weekly rock trivia challenge one Friday, when a friendly debate ensued about how often Don gets stumped.

As much as he loves music, Don’s lifetime love of airplanes may be even greater. It led him after high school to the Air Force, where he served as an “aircraft maintenance specialist.” He worked on the C141 Starlifter, and knew the C5 Galaxy inside and out. Old airplane models rattled off his tongue as readily as rock bands. Don only flew in a military plane once, but he has never stopped watching them.

In the midst of our conversation, sandwich in hand, Don stopped talking all of a sudden and looked out the windshield. A plane was passing across our field of vision.

“That’s one of the old tankers,” he said, watching it fly. Then it struck me:

“Is that why you parked this way, so you can watch airplanes go by?” He nodded in response.

Back when Don did mail delivery, he chose a route near the airport so he could watch planes.   He tried flight school, but the time commitment and work hours conflicted; “So I went back to being a warbird chaser.”

Rock ’n’ roll. War planes. Postal Heroes. Who knows what surprises may await in that worker behind the counter? If a cloud of gloom surrounds you as you wait in line to mail your tax returns this weekend, try striking up a conversation. You may find a silver lining.

Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback and suggestions for future stories at robin.everyday@gmail.com.

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