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Sunday surprise — the toss of a coin

[ by Charles Cameron — choice, chance and maybe destiny at the movies, on the road, in life ]

A while back, I lived in Cottonwood, Arizona, and drove the few miles back and forth between Cottonwood and Sedona most days each week for months. There’s a beautiful stretch of desert in between, I delighted in the journey, and no doubt my foot on the gas pedal quickened or eased off to some mild extent depending on what music I was listening to, how much coffee I’d had recently, how my most recent conversation or burst of writing had gone. And then one night a deer ran across the road, perhaps twelve feet ahead of my car.

Let’s say I was traveling at 60 for ease of calculation. 60 mph is a mile a minute, 88 feet per second. About a tenth of a second later and the deer and / or I would likely have been dead — one full second later, he or she would have crossed sixty feet behind me and I would have seen nothing, known nothing.

There are deer constantly crossing our paths sixty feet behind us and it’s a normal day at the office, it’s one more day like any other: sunny, then partly cloudy, with a ten percent chance of rain.


The average human life expectancy, or pretty close, in the United States these days is 690,235 hours. Here are two film clips, which will occupy just over a quarter of one of those hours if you watch them both.

The Magus:

No Country For Old Men:


The Magus — the entire film — runs an hour and 57 minutes, while No Country for Old Men runs two hours and three minutes, so those clips, 10 and 5 minutes long each, represent in each case a small fraction of the whole film — yet those two fractions have been selected out to be posted as YouTube clips — and they have something in common: life and death in a roll of the dice, the flip of a coin.

I’m guessing it’s that life or death in an instant play of chance that marks those two particular clips as worth noting and posting to YouTube — and that made that deer running across the road in my headlights so memorable.

The realization here: my life hangs, moment by moment across hundreds of thousands of hours, on such slight and unintended (“chance”) variations of physical fact & effect as how much my foot on the gas pedal imperceptibly quickens or eases off as a slight turn, rise or fall in the road..

6 Responses to “Sunday surprise — the toss of a coin”

  1. Cheryl Rofer Says:

    Michael Caine is so NOT Nicholas. Not sure Anthony Quinn is a very good Magus either.

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    Hi Cheryl:
    Agreed, the film was weak indeed compared with the book — and even with the book, I prefer the first edition and its full ambiguity to the second, with its attempt to clue the reader in. But it’s a long time since I read the book, and I doubt I’ll ever see the film again — it’s the coincidence of plot mechanism in the two films that I’m after here..

  3. Cheryl Rofer Says:

    I have read the book probably several tens of times, and I also prefer the first edition. I get a very firm picture in my head of the characters and action, and it’s always difficult to see a film of a book I’ve liked. But Caine is particularly bad.

  4. Charles Cameron Says:

    Wow, Cheryl — “several tems of times” — ideal book, ideal readers, ir sounds like.
    I haven’t even read The Glass Bead Game that many times!

  5. zen Says:

    ” 60 mph is a mile a minute, 88 feet per second. About a tenth of a second later and the deer and / or I would likely have been dead —”
    I survived such a collision, with a large buck. Smashed up the front end of a brand new car coming home late at night from Northern Illinois University, but I survived none the worse for wear. Unlike the buck.
    OTOH the state trooper with a southerly drawl looked at the damage and said “Boy, y’all lucky you’re not dead….hey….you want that deer?”

  6. Charles Cameron Says:

    I had a similar encounter in Virginia, returning home one night from Arlington to Warrenton — but no cop in sight, and the deer was still able to get away, though I fear pretty badly beaten up.
    And I rolled a jeep over the center barrier of a road in So Cal once into the oncoming traffic turn lane, managed to get my weighty self out from upside down despite the roof being lower than usual, and the window correspondingly thin, suffered a half-inch scratch on one hand; my son Emlyn, who must have been 10 or 11 at the time, also got out, unscathed, and we received a similar cop comment to yours — “I see about six of these a year, and very few people get out whole.”

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