When we were little, my father took us to the Shedd Aquarium not only because it was an educational trip, but also because it was economical. In fact, there was no admission charge back then. We spent the whole day there and saw every fish, shark, eel, turtle, and every form of sea life that was on display at that aquarium. I liked the transparent fish, while my brothers like the fish that glowed in the dark. What my father liked the most were the tadpoles. Tadpoles! Well, in Spanish, tadpole is el sapo. Just hold that thought for a while. El sapo. I’ll get back to it.
But first I have to explain about how my parents named theirs sons, meaning my brothers and me. When I was born my father wanted me to be named Diego after him. My parents always told me conflicting versions of this naming process. But my guess is that neither version is true. My mother did not want her firstborn son to be named Diego. Especially since my father’s name was also Diego. Let’s not get into the psychoanalysis of my mother just yet. We’ll save that for another day. Anyway, the best my father could negotiate in the naming rights was for me to be named David Diego Rodríguez. At least, I had his firstborn son had his name in there somewhere. Brother number two was born and he was named Daniel Rodríguez. WITH NO MIDDLE NAME! I never received any conflicting stories about this naming ritual between my parents, but I attribute it to the fact that we were much poorer by the time Daniel was born and my parents couldn’t afford to give him a middle name. Then brother number three was born and he was named Diego! No explanation is necessary! Right? My father had finally won an argument in the great Naming of the Sons debate. My third brother was named Diego Gerardo Rodríguez. From that day forward, Diego was my father’s favorite son! And my father was not discreet about showing his favoritism towards my brother Diego.
Well, going back to the Shedd Aquarium, when my father saw the tadpoles, he turned his head and said, “El sapo.” But he was now looking at my brother Diego. “Diego is my sapo!” From that day on, my father called him, “mi sapo, mi sapito,” etcetera. Everyone started calling him Sapo, even his friends. The only one who didn’t call him Sapo was my youngest brother Dicky. (How did he get that name? That’s a long story for another day!) He couldn’t say Sapo, no matter how hard he tried. His four-year-old mouth twisted and contorted whenever he attempted to pronounce Sapo. But all he could utter was Tato. We thought it was so funny that we started calling my brother Diego, Tato. After a while even my father called him Tato. Everyone loved this new nickname except Tato, but the nickname stuck. We didn’t know of anyone else in the neighborhood or Mexico who was also called Tato.
Tato was unique! Until one day, my brothers and I heard the song “Coconut” on the radio. The song where “she put the lime in the coconut, she drank ’em both up.” Well, toward the end of the song, the words to chorus, “Doctor, ain’t there nothin’ I can take, I said / Doctor, to relieve this bellyache,” are slurred slighty by the singer so that Doctor sounds like Tato. You can clearly hear the singer sing, “I said, Tato” several times! My brother was world-famous in our neighborhood!!! We would often tell my brother as if we were singing the song, “I said, Tato, is there nothing I can take?” This was certainly much closer to his name than the Fred Astaire song, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” in which he sings, “You say tomato, I say tomahto / You eat potato, I eat potahto.” Tato was in the Astaire song only if you forced it out, but in “Put the Lime in the Coconut,” Tato is definitely there, loud and clear. It was a proud moment for our family, but especially for my brother Tato.