Off Limits

In these pressing financial times, it pays to be flexible.

For those in touch with their inner yogi, the ability to execute a few downward facing dogs and warrior ones could translate into gainful employment -- while their differently abled friends are collecting pink slips. The cities of Denver, Golden, Boulder, Englewood and Aurora may have put their budgets on a diet, but they're all hiring fitness instructors to teach the finer points of sun salutations, tai chi, Pilates and aerobics. And while the qualifications are fairly stringent -- in Golden, a GED and the ability to add and subtract two-digit numbers and multiply and divide with 10s and 100s; in Denver, a minimum of 200 hours of aerobics instruction for yoga teachers -- the worldly rewards are at least better than at McDonald's. Golden offers the best deal, where a part-time fitness instructor earns between $13 and $21 an hour. Boulder pays slightly less at $13 to $20; Denver comes in third at $18.64; and Aurora checks in with a measly $12 to $15. Englewood is one of those irritatingly vague employers that say salary is "commensurate with experience."

For those who like injecting a healthy dose of competition into their exercise -- and removing any Eastern religious roots -- there's always the rewarding career of gymnastics instructor. Both Aurora and Lakewood are looking for the right Bela Karolyi to shape the next little Nadia Comaneci. But as yoga's star has risen -- with celebs like Madonna, Sting, Russell Simmons and Christy Turlington shilling for the ancient posturing -- gymnastics has lost power. (Really, who can name any of the women on the last U.S. Olympic team?) So gymnastics instructors earn a relatively paltry $7.38 to $11 in Aurora (the same as its cheerleading instructor earns), with Lakewood shelling out a more respectable $12.70 to $16.51. But, hey, there's no math requirement.

The assorted cities are quick to point out that these wages are paid out of participation fees, not general funds. Even so, the salary scale offers a glimpse into each of the nabe's values. In Golden, for example, a child-care worker earns $6.50 to $11.25 an hour babysitting Junior at the rec center, while the fitness instructor collects twice that as he helps make Mom and Dad feel the burn. In Boulder, an entry-level cop earns $20 an hour -- the same as a top-tier aerobics instructor. And in Denver, a yoga instructor willing to brave the 20th Street Gym for a full-time gig would make more than a starting Denver firefighter by $3,500.

See? Flexibility really does pay.

You want it Zen? Taking serenity one step further is Jeff Peckman. He's hoping to make Denver a Zen, Zen, Zen, Zen world through a November ballot initiative that would require the city to fund programs that reduce stress -- as long as their effectiveness is confirmed by three scientific studies. (Free yoga for everyone! The Borofskys dance to sitar music!) Since Peckman has already collected all the signatures he needs to put his Safety Through Peace proposal before the public, Denver City Council -- whose members have been far from serene in their response to the project -- has no choice but to refer the measure to voters in November or simply sign it into law. (Three guesses which will happen.)

But Peckman may have a stealth weapon that even he doesn't know about. Turns out that Mayor John Hickenlooper's new appointee to the Mayor's Office for Education and Children (a post previously held by councilmember Carol Boigon) is a bit of a Zen freak herself.

For Hickenlooper's administration, Maria Guajardo Lucero's most crucial credentials were her roles as the founding executive director of Assets for Colorado Youth, executive director of the Latin American Research and Service Agency, Dropout Prevention Coordinator for the Colorado Department of Education, and therapist for Denver Head Start. But the Harvard graduate and University of Denver Ph.D. is also on the board of trustees for Southern California's Soka University, the country's newest liberal-arts college, founded by a Buddhist sect whose stated mission is "the happiness of people and development of a peaceful society."

"I am very committed to world peace efforts, and the goal of this university is to develop global citizens for the world," Guajardo Lucero says.

Opened two years ago, the school sits on 103 acres on a hilltop in Aliso Viejo, surrounded by a 4,000-acre wilderness park. (The original plan was for the college to expand from its existing graduate school's campus in the Santa Monica mountains, but Soka lost a very un-Zen fight with the Sierra Club over spilling into the environmentally sensitive area.) At Soka, students can get a general education (at $110,000 for four years) with an emphasis in either humanities, international studies or social and behavioral sciences and a core curriculum that focuses on "major issues of self, society and the environment."

Also on the $265 million campus is a 12,400-square-foot house for use by Daisaku Ikeda, the school's founder and leader of the Buddhist group Soka Gakkai International, which has approximately 12 million members worldwide, including Tina Turner. Even former mayor Wellington Webb's spokesman, Andrew Hudson, was a onetime member, though he says he left twenty years ago for "personal" reasons.

But for all its emphasis on peaceful co-existence, Soka Gakkai has been extremely controversial, with a PBS documentary and scores of articles reporting on everything from leaders' disputes over prostitute bills to allegations of members destroying rival temples. Critics of the seventy-year-old lay organization of the Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist priesthood charge that it's a cult that focuses only on Ikeda rather than the traditional teachings of Nichiren Buddhists. Even the priests of Ikeda's own sect aren't particularly fond of the fellow, having excommunicated him in 1991.

All is not peaceful at Soka University, either. Last year, faculty member Linda Southwell sued the school for wrongful termination and religious discrimination, naming each of the trustees individually -- including Denver's own Guajardo Lucero. Southwell claimed that Soka Gakkai professors and students got preferential treatment, that academic freedom was quashed, and that the promised utopian co-leadership between administration, faculty and students never materialized. (A quarter of the twenty faculty members who were there at the start have since left the school.) Plus, Soka failed to renew the contract of celebrity teacher Joe McGinniss, the best-selling author of Fatal Vision.

Guajardo Lucero and the other trustees were subsequently removed from the list of defendants, and a California jury is slated to hear the case against the university in late October. While she awaits the verdict on her school, Guajardo Lucero will be focusing all of her Zen efforts on the children of Denver. "I think that what's going to make a lot of sense is to move forward toward a partnership between the city and DPS," she says. "There's certainly momentum in the city. Community partners have come to the table. I'd like to continue that and sustain that momentum."

Daisaku Ikeda, whom Guajardo Lucero calls her mentor, would no doubt approve. "I have made it one of my aims in life to help young people to have hope and confidence in the future," he has said. "I myself have infinite trust in young people, and so I say to them: You are the hope of humanity!"

But Peckman's not pinning all of his hopes on young people. He's counting on those Denver residents already old enough to vote -- and to come up with their own ideas on reducing stress. In the past few days, even as councilmembers and media representatives mock his plans, he says he's had "two new ideas e-mailed to me on how to lower stress in Denver: Have the Nuggets move somewhere else and put Zoloft -- whatever that is -- in the water supply."

The Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms has even taken aim with its own suggestion: "One way the Denver City Council could contribute to stress relief would be to drop its opposition to Colorado's common-sense gun-law reform," says CCRKBA executive director Joe Waldron. "A city government that does not trust its citizens can never be a model for community harmony."

Not even in Boulder, where earlier this month the Colorado Hug for Peace failed to inspire that city's inner Lennon. Organizer Steven Wallis fell 2,857 people short of breaking the Guinness Book of Records for the world's largest group hug, a mark set in October 2001 by schools in Minnesota.

Only 47 huggers showed up for Boulder's group grope.

It won't fly: Back in April, we suggested that the beleaguered Air Force Academy add one last point to its Agenda for Change and replace the "Bring Me Men" greeting with something more politic.

And now the Academy is doing just that, searching for a slogan to grace a space that's been blank since March 29. "Bring Me Men" came from "The Coming American," a poem written in 1894 by Sam Walter Foss, a journalist who discovered his talent for verse when his small-town newspaper asked him to write a humor (!) column. But while there's nothing particularly funny about the poem, it doesn't exactly encourage rape and pillage, either:

Bring me men to match my mountains,
Bring me men to match my plains;
Men to chart a starry empire,
Men to make celestial claims.
Bring me men to match my prairies,
Men to match my inland seas;
Men to sail beyond my oceans,
Reaching for the galaxies.
These are men to build a nation,
Join the mountains to the sky;
Men of faith and inspiration,
Bring me men, bring me men, bring me men!
Bring me men to match my forests,
Bring me men to match my shore;
Men to guard the mighty ramparts,
Men to stand at freedom's door.
Bring me men to match my mountains,
Men to match their majesty,
Men to climb beyond their summits,
Searching for their destiny.
These are men to build a nation,
Join the mountains to the sky,
Men of faith and inspiration,
Bring me men, bring me men, bring me men!

To give female cadets equal time for a change, the Academy might want to consider this stanza from "Fly Away," a song by John Denver, Colorado's most famous adopted son and himself a pilot (albeit one who died in a plane crash):

All of her nights have gone sad and shady
She's getting ready to fly
Fly away, fly away, fly away, fly away.

Or these other words penned by Foss, which the Air Force only wishes were appropriate:

I say the very things that make the greatest Stir
An' the most interesting things, are things that didn't occur.

The Academy's Association of Graduates is accepting suggestions from any and all quarters (e-mail, and will forward the finalists to Lieutenant General John Rosa Jr., the touchy-feely new superintendent brought in after the sex-assault scandal erupted this winter. To help out the Academy, the Colorado Springs Gazette is running its own readers' contest. But it's unlikely to forward this line, which captures a certain daily's spilled ink on the subject (exhibit A: Sunday's front-page Academy "culture" story), which even Kobe Bryant's sex-assault case can't quell:

Forget men: Bring the Denver Post a Pulitzer.


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