An ad claims I can earn $3,000 a day, simply by working on my laptop in my ''spare time.''
A caller urged me to improve my community by volunteering just a few hours of my ''spare time'' a week.
A questionnaire my doctor thrust at me asked how I occupied my ''spare time.'' He had a few suggestions of how I should use it instead.
Spare time. Everybody wants to tell me what to do with it.
Nobody tells me how to get any.
Dictionary.com defines spare time as ''time that is free from duties or responsibilities.''
When, exactly, is that?
Remember the last time you tried flopping on a couch? Within seconds, your spouse or kids show up, like magnets drawn to a refrigerator, to remind you of a flurry of duties or responsibilities:
''You promised to clean the garage.''
''There's a cow in the front yard eating the azaleas.''
''I need a clean shirt. I burned this one. Oh yeah, the kitchen's on fire.''
Spare time - you were silly to think you had any.
A personality profile I read the other day noted that in her ''spare time,'' so-and-so likes to crochet doll-shaped slip covers for salt and pepper shakers, or something like that.
''If someone interviews you,'' my wife said, ''all you'll be able to tell them is that you waste your spare time reading your volumes of 'Calvin and Hobbes' and 'Donald Duck.'''
I couldn't believe I was going to have to waste time I didn't have to spare to once again explain it to yet another person: ''It's research.''
See, once I nearly bumped into some spare time, and used it to begin writing a series of novels for readers ages 8 to 12. Then the publisher set deadlines for the manuscripts, deadlines for final edits, and release dates for the novels to be in bookstores. Deadlines equal ''duties or responsibilities.''
Anyway, I'm writing a series of humor adventure novels, so I need to conduct proper research. Reading comic books is work. Honest.
And while we're at it, that's what I was doing when you accused me of staring vacantly out the window - or staring vacantly at the backs of my eyelids.
I was engaged in intense labor. Plotting the next chapter. Considering schedules at the office. Duties. Responsibilities.
I'm left with absolutely no ''spare time'' to change sink drains, paint ceilings or vacuum the car.
''When I'm retired like you, then I'll have spare time,'' I told my dad when he suggested I might want to caulk the bathtub.
After he stopped gasping and wheezing in laughter, he said, ''As soon as I retired from the plant, you four kids started calling me to fix your houses, and your mother handed me the honey-do list she's been compiling for 35 years. I left one boss and gained five. I'm thinking of going back to work just to get a little spare time.''
I left him to his chortles so I could work in one more game of solitaire - which I play as part of my ''duties or responsibilities'' to sharpen my focus. For my job.
''Spare time.'' Yeah, right. I don't think such a thing exists.
---- Cole's latest book, ''Bash and the Chicken Coop Caper'' (B&H Kids) is in bookstores. If you get a spare minute, write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook.