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We are in two lines, backs against the wall. Girls on one side, boys on the other, looking at each other but trying not to stare. Judgment and laughter are in equilibrium here.

Michigan. State. Michigan. State. Michigan. State.

One boy chants in monotone, flipping his thumb up and down. Up on Michigan, down on State, he makes an imperfect metronome. His friends look at him, nod, follow. The chant moves down the line. The thumbs seem like a row switches: on, off, on, off. Unison.

The girls watch and they giggle. Some join in, balancing the chorus of cracking, pubescent voices. More thumbs move.

The walls around us are cinderblock, but painted. There are no longer any pores in the brick; there is a mural instead, white and yellow and purple. A giant cobra smiles—benignly? With acrylic, someone has tried to soften the edge of industry, resourcefulness and uniformity.

Michigan. State. Michigan. State. Michigan. State.

I know nothing about college football, but my thumb begins to move, too. Down on Michigan, up on State. I’m the only one—trying to cover the group mentality of my classmates with a thin layer of individuality.

The chant stops when the teacher comes, turning the key in the locker room door. He always opens the girls’ first. Our quiet competition ends, and we are all the same again. I can see even seams of cement, joining the blocks, beneath the paint on the wall.



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