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Monday, April 9, 2018

The ex-millionaire who became a shoe cleaner

Por Rory

Sitting on a bench on Queen Street, one of the main commercial avenues in the city of Auckland, New Zealand, Larry Woods spends the afternoon shining shoes. Dressed in an impeccable suit and a bowler hat, this 60-year-old American offers his clients the brilliance of their shoes without having to pay a single dollar.

But this was not always the job of this man born in Los Angeles and raised in San Francisco, which everyone knows as "Mr. Sunshine." In the 1980s, he did not even need to polish his own: Wood was the possessor of an immense fortune. It all started in San Francisco. There he met a New Zealander who became his first wife. When the parents of his wife became ill, the couple moved to New Zealand, where they participated in the family business that ran a successful business selling vitamins. The company was eventually sold and Woods received US $ 3.6 million in return.

This sum turned him overnight into a millionaire and, his life, as he told the BBC, changed radically. "I bought two Rolls-Royce, I had two drivers ... I was partying, I was drinking." "Money made me soft and weak because I could have everything I wanted," he says. Woods remembers that, at that moment, he stopped respecting people. "When you have so much money you think everyone has to do what you tell them, that's something that makes money." "It can make you arrogant," he adds. "It makes you believe that you are better than others, because you have more material goods."

But it was not until a fortuitous encounter with an old Chinese man at a grocery store that Woods realized what person he had become after earning his fortune. "I used to go almost every day to a grocery store run by a Chinese woman and her mother. One day he found a man of about 85 years old and not women. Puzzled, Woods treated him very badly". But every time he left a product rudely on the counter, the old man replied with a humble "thank you". "When I was leaving I felt so stupid, I said, 'I'm sorry' and I decided that it would never happen again and I changed," Woods recalls.

Woods finally divorced his wife, got rid of the rest of his fortune and started a new life in which he even became a stripper. Distressed after a series of missteps and without a weight, he ventured in a medical consultation. It was the same doctor who helped him reflect and re-route, confesses Woods. "He told me: 'you know Larry, there are three ways of doing things: you can talk about them, think about them or do something.'" Woods realized that he was a man of action. That's how it started, 13 years ago, with the idea of polishing shoes. The polish is free, but what gives her money is the sale of a wax ointment to polish shoes and other leather objects, which at $ 14 per pot gives him enough to live on.

Woods works and entertains his clients. Cheerful and extroverted, he knows how to steal a smile from people. "People tell me: 'You've made my day'", he says satisfied. "This man is a legend," says a young man who stops regularly for Woods to clean his shoes. "Look what he has done with my shoes, imagine what he can do for your spirit," he adds.

For many, to stop living in a mansion to move to a two-room apartment provided by social services means a decrease, at least. But Woods does not see it that way. He says he's much happier now than when he was a millionaire. "I do not need Rolls-Royce, I can ride a bus, I do not have to be someone, I just try to be a good person, that's all," he says. "When I get up, I look in the mirror and I do not get depressed: how can I feel sad when I have so many other things? There are so many things to be happy about."