“Attic Salt” column for Oct. 14, 2012

The press and television have gotten the kind of mileage out of the presidential debate we liked to get from electric cars.

Watching former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama bat factual shuttlecocks at each other, it seemed to me the acts of our government have become unknowable.

The president underestimated his challenger. If you’re going to rope-a-dope, you’ve got to come off the ropes at some point to float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

The next time Romney and Obama meet, you can bet the president will come out swinging. So what?

It’s entertaining to watch presidential debates, a bowl of popcorn in your lap, if you have a job that provides health insurance. When you’re out of work and use the hospital emergency room as your family doctor, presidential debates are as relevant as the finals at Wimbledon.

We Americans stir ourselves from slumber every four years, listen to promises of change or more of the same and, then, fall back asleep.

Unless we find ourselves out of work or the hospital we depend on closes, what the presidential candidates say in debates is unimportant.

I try to listen to the debates on the radio while working on a bicycle or drawing up a plan for the next season’s garden.

It’s important to remember that the sky will be blue, the weather will turn chilly and there’ll still be a way of going to the grocery store under one’s own power.

There is the real world, the one we live in, and there is the what-if world of presidential candidates. Why is the small miracle of growing plants to feed ourselves so simple but Democrats working with Republicans for the good of the country so hard?

When people lived in boardinghouses and tenements, it was common to be awakened at night when the tenant above you took off one of his shoes and let it drop.

The sound awakened the sleeper in the bedroom below who, then, waited for the other shoe to drop before trying to go back to sleep.

We are a nation of people waiting for the other shoe to drop, only, now, the other shoe may be anticipated job loss, government retirement cutbacks, fear that Social Security will go bankrupt or the poor and the elderly won’t be able to afford food as well as medicine.

We are a people paralyzed by fear, haunted by prejudice, distrustful of anyone who doesn’t think what we think.

Worst of all, we lie to ourselves. We think it necessary to make war on people thousands of miles away to keep us safe at home. But we want sons and daughters other than our own to do the fighting.

We aren’t the home of the free and the brave. We are a tenement house of sad, silly boarders waiting for the other shoe to drop.