At Yale, the importance of life often meant skiing instead of training for track, and singing with a group known as The Bachelors. Shorter recalls with particular delight the memory of one spring vacation; guzzling a beer and waving to the track team bus from The Bachelors' station wagon as he headed for a week of close harmony, sun and fun in Florida. Shorter still keeps late hours and consumes quantities of beer, plus, as often as not, a couple of pops of gin every night. This drives certain track types crazy because, as Shorter phrases it, "I'm one of the first not to closet it," and there is a fear that his candor will turn thousands of innocent harriers into so many teenage tosspots.
Shorter's unremarkable track career was about to die a natural death, un-mourned, in the spring of 1969. This was his senior year at Yale, and he had several weeks to kill before a cursory exam and graduation. With time on his hands, he approached Giegengack one day and said, "Gieg, if I really worked at it, how good could I be?"
Without pausing for breath, the coach shot back, "Well, I think if you really applied yourself you could be very good. I think you could make the Olympics and even win a gold medal."
Shorter nodded and promptly began two-a-day workouts. A month later, he was the NCAA six-mile champion. And one thing led to another and so on and so forth, and three years later he won the gold.
Suppose Giegengack had not answered so positively? "Well, then," Shorter says, "I wouldn't have bothered. There are too many other things to do. I'd probably be an intern in some hospital somewhere right now."
Most people knock themselves out to obtain a solid base in life so that, often as not, they can then goof off. Shorter goes at it upside down. He arrives at most stations by the path of least resistance, almost by whimsy, but then, finding himself there, knocks himself out. Says Kenny Moore, a fellow Olympian, a good friend and the man who introduced Shorter to the marathon, "Frank does whatever he has to do, whatever is needed. Ultimately, he even won a gold medal that way. That may not make much sense unless you know him, but that's the way he is."
In prep school—Mount Hermon, in Mount Hermon, Mass.—Shorter decided, in the middle of his junior year, that he ought to improve his grades if he wanted to make the college of his choice. He was about 80th in his class then; he graduated third. Simply because he had to last year he went from West Berlin through East Germany to Poland on a packed train, without a ticket, negotiable currency or fluency in the local languages. It is worth noting that he was on his way to Warsaw to study Eastern European commercial law. At Yale, at the height of Vietnam and classified 1-A, Shorter would not watch the first draft lottery on TV, or even check the paper for his number. He says, "I had made up my mind that I wasn't going in—one way or another. So why bother?
"These things just work out for me. I've always been a good scrambler. I was always predicted to underachieve, but I always got by. If one approach doesn't work, I'll try another, and I have the confidence that it'll work out. And if you're living where you want to live, like I am, then it's easy to be satisfied with your work, with your life. I'm not iconoclastic or a misanthrope—nothing dramatic. I just get by. It's nothing complicated. But I guess it's just functionally impossible for the cafe mentality to comprehend my life."
He smiles. He has dimples and a disarming smile that go with the franchise. With dark curly hair and a slightly hooked nose, Shorter possesses something of a Gene Wilder aspect—but while Wilder always seems bewildered, Shorter appears curiously keen and on top of things. He has a small head on his emaciated runner's body which, by his own reckoning, is almost as big around as the right thighs on some of the football players at the University of Colorado, where he trains sometimes. His appearance is much improved since he shaved off the big bushy mustache he featured at Munich; it swallowed up his whole face. He looks younger now, although friends say he has matured—he has become "less eccentric," says Kenny Moore. Moore pauses a moment. "But say that right," he adds. "I always want to use gentle language with Frank because he is such a gentle person."
All right. Gentle and eccentric are not mutually exclusive. Shorter runs and sleeps, let us say, at will. To run virtually every day of your life means that you must run in airports, on highways, downtown. Shorter celebrated winning the gold medal in Munich by running five miles the next day and 15 the day after. He has often slept in luggage racks. Once, after an all-night party in Frankfurt, when a policeman refused to allow him and Moore to catnap on an airport bench, they went outside and located a plot of grass. Shorter took off his shirt, pulled his pajama top out of his suitcase, put it on, set his alarm clock down next to him on the grass, and he and Moore went to sleep for a few hours. When the alarm sounded, Shorter got up, took off his pajama top, put on his shirt, and he and Moore went to catch the plane. He gets by.