LACEY, Wash. - Until late last month, Dean Peterson was a relatively anonymous 48-year-old mail carrier.
Then he went to Boston and nervously introduced a resolution to include kilts as an official uniform option for male Postal Service carriers. And even though his pitch to the National Association of Letter Carriers convention failed, Peterson has gone worldwide.
While Peterson and his wife, Joni, were in Boston, their two teenage sons back home were fielding phone calls. Peterson was all over the media and Internet in North America, Great Britain, India - pretty much anywhere that has some knowledge of that Gaelic tradition.
Peterson has returned to Lacey, Wash., and was nervous about showing up for work last week at the Olympia postal branch, from which he delivers mail to 945 customers.
"I'm like, is my job still waiting?" he says.
Of course, how Peterson came to be passionate about kilts has an unusual history. Peterson spent 22 years in the Air Force and retired as a master sergeant. Five years ago, he became a mail carrier. Until a couple of years ago, he hadn't much thought about the garmets.
It all began because of his wife. Joni Peterson has been a longtime fan of Scottish actor Gerard Butler, who played the well-buffed King Leonidas in the film 300. A couple of years ago, she went to Scotland on a trip organized by Butler fans and returned with a traditional tartan kilt as a present for her husband.
He tried it on. He liked it.
Peterson is 6 feet tall and weighs 250 pounds. With pants, he says, "Because I have big thighs, the skin rubs, and you get that scarring, you know, where little bits of skin protrude?"
But a kilt, he says, "It's like a breeze blowing through the house."
In the summer of 2006, he went public with his kilt at his postal union local's annual picnic.
"I knew I was going to drink beer, so I wouldn't care what people were thinking," he says. "People gave me looks, joked around a little, asked why I was wearing a skirt."
Now Peterson owns 15 kilts in various colors and fabrics. He takes his wife to restaurants in a kilt. He does yardwork in a kilt. He goes in a kilt to watch his 15-year-old son play in the high-school band.
Soon enough, Peterson began envisioning a time when he could wear kilts to work.
Male carriers wear pants, either long or short. Female carriers can wear skirts. Any changes in Postal Service uniforms are complicated. The union has to approve it. A Postal Service committee has to test the garment for such things as waterproofing and sun screening.
Peterson barged ahead.
Last summer, the state convention of the letter carriers' union adopted Peterson's resolution for Male Unbifurcated Garments. Then Peterson spent $1,800 to mail 1,000 letters to every postal-union branch. He included a photo of himself in a mock-up Postal Service kilt.
He explained that kilts "don't confine the legs or cramp the male genitals the way that trousers or shorts do."
He got support from the Oregon letter-carriers union, which passed the same resolution.
But at July's national convention, reception was frosty from decision-makers. At one point, Peterson was so nervous that he mistakenly said "UPS" when he meant "USPS," for United States Postal Service. That got him booed.
The committee in charge of the resolution nixed the kilts, saying there wasn't demand for them. Peterson says it was the older members - "the fuddy-daddies," he calls them - who didn't like the kilts. He says he could see them staring at him as he wore a kilt on the convention floor.
He vows to return with his resolution at the next national convention in 2010.