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On his front porch, six Christmas trees surround the door. "My Christmas doesn't begin like y'all's," says Mongo, who speaks with a light Southern accent. "Christmas changes for me depending on the moon and the energy lines. This year, it's in February."
In the backyard, near the water, an upside-down toilet sits by itself. His neighbor, Concha, says that there used to be 50 toilets on the property but that Mongo has cleaned it up a bit. Mongo gets along pretty well with his neighbors these days, though he's been hit with a few code violations for the "artwork" he's kept outside his home in years past. "We had a war once," he says. "I won. They moved away. I'm still here."
On the water is a yacht he takes out regularly. He fishes but doesn't golf ("I once hit a golf ball so hard it caught on fire, so I quit that game"). He's also a political hound and has a special distaste for George W. Bush and the Iraq War. "Bush is no savior or warrior for this country," he says. "He will be remembered like Lyndon Johnson. He will be a pig in the eyes of people who know what really happened."
Prince Mongo is undoubtedly entertaining, but I kept thinking, "Who is he kidding?" Was he mad, or was he simply a performance artist who never got off the stage? I had to find out who he really is. A news search showed that he's only been mentioned once in local papers. It was a few weeks ago in the Sun-Sentinel in a story about Farris "Baghdad Boy" Hassan, the teenager who traveled to Iraq. The newspaper identified him as "Prince Mongo, a neighbor who has known the Hassan family for years." There was no further explanation.
So, according to the local newspaper of record, he was Prince Mongo. Surprised the editors didn't add that he was 333 years old and from Zambodia.
When I first asked Mongo for his given Earth name, he skirted the question. But he did tell me that he'd run for every political office there was in Memphis. And he said that he'd grown up in Virginia and that his "Earth parents" were named Roebuck and Minnie and had already returned to his home planet. I knew it was rumored his family was wealthy, and I asked him about it. "They liked to own what they walked on," he said rather cryptically.
It was Concha who gave me Mongo's given name: Robert Hodges.
I was off to the races. With a quick Internet search, I found out that Hodges is famous in Memphis, where he has owned several large nightclubs in the town, including the giant Prince Mongo's Planet three stories and 30,000 square feet of partying and another called the Castle, which was housed in a century-old stone mansion that looks as if it might have appeared in Nosferatu.
If previous published reports in Memphis newspapers are correct, he's now 58 years old. The first reference I found to the fact that he never wears shoes dated back to a mayor's campaign in 1978, when he was just 30. He's run for office countless times, always losing. Over the decades, Hodges has been involved in an ongoing and quite epic battle with the powers that be in that city. His favorite epithet for politicians seems to be "skunk bat." He's complained that his political activism has prompted the city to target his drinking establishments. Others counter that his bar was a sleazy haven for drunk teenagers for years and needed to be shut down and all of them, incidentally, were.
Hodges has been jailed a handful of times, mostly for contempt of court. He made national news when he appeared before a judge in 1983 covered in green body paint and wearing a fur loincloth. The Tennessee Supreme Court overruled the conviction on the grounds that Hodges was practicing his religion.
How can you not love that? His stunts made him a household name in Memphis, got him featured on the 1980s show Real People, and gave him a taste of national media attention.
"On the Mongo question, Memphis is generally divided," nationally syndicated columnist Bob Garfield wrote in 1987. "Some regard him as a crackpot, others as a shrewd businessman assiduously cultivating a weird persona for the purpose of selling more pizza and beer."
Hodges undoubtedly can get a bit boorish. He's had numerous wars with Tennessee neighbors over what he called "art" in his yards that was more ugly than funny. Once, he was jailed for dumping trash in the yard of one of his enemies. He was also dogged by lawsuits over the drunk-driving deaths of two teenagers who died after they were served beer at the Castle in 1992.
In 2002, Commercial Appeal columnist Michael Kelley bludgeoned Prince Mongo in print. "I've watched as you annoyed one neighbor after another with yard displays and antics that lack creativity," he wrote. "It has become apparent that you're just a provocateur who lives on the publicity you don't deserve but get anyway."
When I brought up his life in Memphis, Mongo said he's been the victim of harassment for decades there. "When I ran for office and gave speeches, I'd always express myself in a fanatical way," he says. "Even though it's not fanatical. I'd call the other guy a fabulous thief, and every time he'd prove me right. It's real. People are scared to say what I say."