Just last month I was in Rugby, North Dakota, the geographical center of North America. If I had wanted to, I could have perched on one foot with my arms out and felt the slim tug of Florida to my southeast and the steady pull of the Yukon to my north and the delicate to-and-fro of Mexico and Greenland duking it out to a draw. I’d be able to sway to a position of perfect balance, assuming I didn’t tip over for some other reason, but I would have, so I didn’t.

There’s a stone obelisk in the center of Rugby to mark the spot. It was erected in 1932 with the help of a Boy Scout troop, although not in its current location. Years later the highway was widened and the obelisk had to be walked across the street, and where were those Boy Scouts then?

All of which does shed a bit of doubt over the whole enterprise, because if the center of the continent can just be casually carted across the street, how accurate can it be? Well. It’s not an easy thing to reckon. If North America was a nice geometrical shape, even I could come up with a center for it, eventually, given enough erasers. But it’s not. It’s squiggly as hell on the edges. And there are all those islandy numbers floating around, especially up north where there aren’t enough people to keep tabs on them, and who knows how they’re supposed to figure in the calculation? If there’s one thing I do know, squiggly means that Calculus is going to be involved, and since Calculus was the last math course I took (twice), it was last in, first out.

Rumor has it that a mathematician did the calculation by cutting out a cardboard copy of North America and seeing where it balanced on the point of a pin, which is depressing, because that’s exactly how I would have done it. I would have slaved over cutting the sucker out, with my tongue sticking out a little, but I would have expected more from a genuine mathematician.

Anyway, the result came out somewhere near Rugby, North Dakota, and some enterprising soul took out a trademark declaring Rugby the center of North America and planned the obelisk and prepared to rake in tourist dollars, because, no offense to beautiful North Dakota, there isn’t a whole lot else  happening out there. Problem was, Rugby is merely close to the center, which is actually in a lake six miles west of Balta, but they didn’t think to nab the trademark.

And now some guys hanging out in a tavern in nearby Robinson, North Dakota got to talking, and after five or six drinks they concluded that Robinson was a much better contender for the title, and someone checked it out, and discovered that Rugby’s trademark had expired decades ago. And they thought about it a little more, and after ten or twelve drinks they decided that their actual tavern, Hanson’s Bar, was really the most likely center of North America, by golly, and they ponied up $350 in cash to buy the trademark. So.

Which just goes to show that these days the truth isn’t something immutable or sacred. It’s something you can purchase. Just last week Donald Trump declared himself the center of the universe (“or even the solar system,” he’s said to have boasted), and he’s willing to pay for the title, although if I were the Trademark Office I’d wait for the check to clear. I don’t know. I’m no mathematician, but I’m willing to stick a big pin in him to make sure.