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OPPOSITES DETRACT

In the Superman comic books of my youth, the Man of Steel often hung out in the far reaches of the universe on a cube-shaped planet called Bizarro World, where all the rules of nature, logic and common sense were reversed. Green traffic lights meant stop, red meant go. Dogs meowed, cats barked. Only those with IQs exceeding that of tapioca pudding were allowed to write television sitcoms. You get the picture.

I have reason to believe that this place actually exists. Furthermore, I am almost certain that my five-year-old son is from Bizarro World.

This is not a new suspicion. After all, the boy has always responded to the command "Clean up your room" by completely emptying his closets, dressers and toy box in the middle of the floor. "Be quiet" has always been his cue to improvise a Sensurround production of The War of the Worlds that would give Helen Keller a migraine. And to his alien ears, "Wash up for dinner" has always meant, "Say! Why don't you see just how filthy you can get in a very short period of time?"

Yes, these were excellent tip-offs to my son's true Bizarro World origins. But I didn't have any solid evidence until last night, when we decided to go out for pizza. The boy asked if he could invite his best pal Brian to join us, and I said, "No, not tonight."

Confronted with such parental cruelty, most earthling children can be expected to cry or scream or throw things. Some might even say, "Okay, Dad, you're the boss," while planning to take revenge as soon as they're old enough to borrow your car.

My son, however, chose None Of The Above. He ran outside, tracked down his best pal and hollered, "HEY, BRIAN! WANNA COME HAVE PIZZA WITH US?" As soon as the blood returned to my brain, I called him back inside for a little father-son chat.

"Why did you ask Brian to come when I said, `No, not tonight'?"
"I . . . I . . . I wanted him to have pizza with us."
"Did you hear me say, `No, not tonight'?"
"Yes."
"Do you know what `No, not tonight' means?"
"It means . . . um . . . ahhh . . . it means . . . `no, not tonight'?"

Clearly, he wasn't certain of this. Only on the planet Bizarro World could such confusion exist.

"Excellent guess," I said. "In other words, you heard what I said, you had a pretty good idea what it meant, and you chose to ignore it. Right?"

"Ummmm . . . right."
"Well, now you have to go back to Brian's house and tell him you made a mistake, and that he isn't invited for pizza after all."

"No! Nooooooo! Brian won't like me anymore! NOOOOOOOO! WHAAAAAAAAAAAAA! Can Brian go have pizza with us? PLEASE, DADDY? PLEEEEEEEEEEASE?!?!?"

"Sorry," I said, nudging him toward the door. "But if you're not going to listen, you've got to pay the price. Now get over there and tell Brian he is not invited for pizza."

The boy returned a few minutes later with Brian in tow. His spirits were high. Obviously, he was proud of himself for bravely correcting his "mistake" and not losing his best pal because of it. Needless to say, I was proud, too.

"Hey, Dad," he chirped. "Brian's mom and dad said it's okay for him to go have pizza with us!"

"Yeah!" Brian confirmed. "My dad was cookin' hamburgers, but I like pizza better. And I'm hungry!"

How it happened, I don't know. But there I was, at one of those nasty forks in the parenting road where you're damned no matter what you do. I could have destroyed my son's very first best-friendship, hurt Brian's feelings and made his entire family hate us for life . . . or I could have taught my own kid that, yes, indeedy, it does pay to ignore your father.

The first option seemed smartest. What the heck. I'd have to live with my son into his adulthood, but I'd be living next door to Brian's family only until we sold our house and moved to another state--which all of a sudden seemed like an imminent and very attractive possibility.

I marched both kids back to Brian's house and explained to his mother what had happened. As it turned out, she was very understanding. Or maybe she just seemed understanding in comparison to Brian, who understood only that he'd been double-crossed by dirty, rotten, lying, pizza-hoarding Indian givers.

Luckily, children have short-term memories and their forgiveness can be bought with a gift-wrapped slice of double-cheese pepperoni.

Later in the evening, as I was tucking my son into bed, I asked if he'd learned anything from his mistake. "Yes, Dad," he nodded. "I learned that going out for pizza is a lot more fun when Brian comes with us."

Only a Bizarro Worldian could come up with a moral like that. But we're learning how to deal with the little extraterrestrial. If he ever asks for permission to return to his home planet, we know just what to say: "No, not tonight."

Heh, heh, heh.

My son has always responded to the command "Clean up your room" by completely emptying his closets, dressers and toy box in the middle of the floor.