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"That picture is transforming right now," Prince Mongo proclaims. "It's the resurrection of the world. The Earth doesn't have much time left. We're on the second run right now. That painting is the tunnel to life."
When will it be finished?
"It won't end until the world ends. Then I will take the people I'm going to save back to Zambodia."
It may sound like the ravings of a demented street person, but Prince Mongo isn't homeless. He's sitting in his two-million-dollar Fort Lauderdale home with a pool and an elevated wooden deck on a canal. He also owns homes in Virginia Beach and Memphis, and he skis in Vail.
But when Mongo sleeps, he does it on a little mat in the family room, like a poverty-stricken college student. He wears old T-shirts and never wears shoes, even when walking in the snow in Vail.
Prince Mongo is maybe five feet seven inches tall, and he's got a good-size belly. When I paid him a surprise visit last week, he offered me radishes, sushi, goat's milk, vegetable soup, and a ham sandwich.
His property suffered no damage during Hurricane Wilma, while almost all of his neighbors' homes did. "My aura protected it," he says.
Mongo looks to be in his fifties, but he says he's 333 years old. Three is his favorite number it has some special significance in Zambodia, his original home nine light years away. "When I hit Earth, I fragmentized and went all over the world," he explains. "I then began assembling myself and still am."
His first identity on Earth was that of a Blackfoot Indian chief in the Dakotas. Since then, he's had 33 wives, all of whom have died. "They can't last like I can," he explains.
He says he's gone to several universities including the University of Virginia, Tulane, Columbia, and William and Mary and has a doctorate, though he won't divulge in what. He says he's been living winters in Fort Lauderdale for 33 years, but property appraiser records indicate he's owned the home since 1985. When he leaves for parts north, he doesn't lock the doors. "Anybody can come in here anytime and take what they please," he states.
Only those with eclectic tastes could appreciate Mongo's household goods. The walls are filled with paintings, as well as kites, model planes, fossils, and a few things that can be described only as dried-up sea creatures. Everything is crooked or upside down.
In the living room is a poster of him wearing mirrored welding goggles, a long gray wig, and a rubber chicken around his neck as he walks across a road, triumphantly holding a large bone in his hand.
On his front porch six Christmas trees surround the door. "My Christmas doesn't begin like y'alls'," Mongo says.
In the back yard, near the water, an upside-down toilet sits by itself. His neighbor Concha says there used to be 50 toilets on his property, but he's cleaned it up a bit. Mongo has 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.")
When I first asked Mongo for his given Earth name, he skirted the question. But he did tell me he had run for every political office there was in Memphis. And he said he'd grown up in Virginia and that his "Earth parents" were named Roebuck and Minnie and had already returned to his home planet.
It was Concha who gave me Mongo's given name: Robert Hodges. With a quick Internet search, I learned Hodges is famous in Memphis, where he has owned several large nightclubs, 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.
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 has run for office countless times, always losing. His favorite epithet for politicians seems to be "skunk bat."
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.
"On the Mongo question, Memphis is generally divided," wrote nationally syndicated columnist Bob Garfield 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."
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 and fail to make a statement about politics or culture or anything else," he wrote. "It has become apparent that you're just a provocateur."
When I mentioned 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. "I'd call the other guy a fabulous thief, and every time he'd prove me right."
Okay, Mongo is definitely not crazy. And he's also not perfect. But he most definitely is one of those rare things on this planet a man who lives life on his own terms. After I spent a couple hours with Mongo, he showed me the cooler in the back of his truck, full of ice and leftover food from a morning delivery. "I try to help unfortunate families who can't pay their bills," he says. "There is no mercy on Earth to help those people."
Good thing there's mercy on Zambodia. Long live Prince Mongo.