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Eddy Rodriguez, a stocky 50-year-old, wears a white bunny suit, a yellow vest with polka dots, and a Day-Glo green cowboy hat. Just outside the Gap clothing store on Grand Avenue in Coconut Grove, he passes a greasy-haired man with bloodshot eyes who's kneeling on the sidewalk. "How ya' doing tonight?" he says.
"You stole my outfit," the man slurs back and then starts to sing Carly Simon's "You're So Vain."
"You're a little psycho?" the 200-pound, five-foot-eight rabbit replies without malice.
"A little," the man admits, swirling a finger near his temple in the universal sign for crazy.
"That's okay. So am I," says the cottontail.
Eddy is not wacko. Maybe the married father of five is a little kooky, but in a good way. By day, he's a subcontractor who builds ceilings. A few nights a month, he dons a $75 bunny suit and tries to teach people to use laughter to improve their lives. He mostly walks around the Grove. That's where people are most receptive.
"Miami needs more smiles," he says. "I want to share with millions of people. I want to get on Oprah."
Eddy is the youngest of seven children born to Cuban parents. His dad was a retired Air Force sergeant and his mom a bridal shop owner. At age 18, Eddy quit high school to join the Army, and after leaving the military in his early twenties, he hitchhiked across the country with his dog.
Back in Miami, in May 1993, he married his wife, Lisbeth, and became the father of three stepdaughters, adding to his brood of two from a previous marriage.
He doesn't talk about the bunny suit with his children, who range in age from 16 to 25. They might think it's a bit odd, he admits. "It's between me and the people I meet."
Long ago, he decided to become a motivational speaker. But there was a problem. He froze in front of crowds. So in October 2005, he took a course that mandated dressing up in a mortifying outfit and singing before hundreds of people. He and his wife went to a costume shop. "I was looking at a pirate costume, the Hulk, and Spider-Man," Eddy says.
She suggested the rabbit suit. He bought it. He sang "Dynamo Hum" by Frank Zappa. "I was concentrating so hard to hear that the experience really passed me by," he recalls.
His terror of speaking lingered, so late one night, he put on the rabbit suit and drove to a Kendall sports bar. There he read some poetry to five drunk guys. They applauded. But Lisbeth, a dog groomer by trade, was wary. "I was like, 'Man, this is really weird,'" she says. "Without the rabbit suit, he's muscular, a little bit chunky now, but pretty masculine."
Soon Eddy became addicted. He began strolling the streets of Coconut Grove in the suit.
It has healing powers, he says. In the summer of 2006, his 27-year-old stepdaughter was in a moped accident in Korea. While she was in the hospital for more than a month, Eddy walked around dressed like a bunny to send her good energy. "Unfortunately it wasn't enough," he says. She died in July 2006.
Four months later, Eddy suffered a brain hemorrhage. He slept for four months in a chair because the headaches were so severe. For six months, he limped and slurred his words. The near-death experience, coupled with inspiration from his daughter's memory, made him realize he had to pursue his passion: dressing like a bunny. "Helping people from your heart will help you," Eddy says.
Indeed it has. In the past three years, he has lined up speaking gigs at places like a Pilates studio and a bookstore. He garnered a few appearances while wearing the bunny suit.
On a recent night around 8, his floppy, silky pink ears announce his arrival outside the Miami Improv in Coconut Grove. A Walt Disney fanny pack that bobbles below his round belly carries his wallet, keys, and the Dentyne Ice gum he chews.
He walks past a fine art gallery on Main Highway and offers, "Y'all doing all right?" to a pair of well-dressed blondes.
They turn their backs.
"I don't want to intrude on anyone," he whispers and moves on.
Next is CocoWalk. He passes a bored-looking security guard and heads over to chat with a woman sitting on the entry steps. There are gaping holes in her jeans and a brown boxer at her feet.
"Doesn't bite rabbits, does he?" Eddy asks.
"No.... Do you work out here in the Grove?" she asks.
"I'm here just to have fun," Eddy says, petting the dog.
"Right on," she says.
An Argentine tourist snaps some photos of him. Then a mom pushing a blue stroller asks, "What's your deal?"
"Just spreading smiles," he replies.
Eddy hops onto the escalator and heads up to Café Tu Tu Tango. Several diners pull out camera phones.
"Who let the bunny in?" a young man with a shaved head shouts.
Eddy poses for a picture at a table of boozy chemists in town for a convention. Then a woman approaches from behind.