By Appointment Only

What could be more exciting and fulfilling than the life of a consul? Well, lots of things, actually.

No, the most curious of his countless artifacts is a small dish that sits on the outskirts of his chaotic desk. Inside the dish are three sets of business cards, and on these cards, in capital letters, are three titles:


You are no doubt wondering how Michael S. Hacker, a man you have probably never heard of, a man who recently returned from a vacation with a braided ponytail dangling from his gray coiffure, could serve as consul general for three nations. The key here is the abbreviation, "Hon.," short for "Honorary." Honorary consuls, or HCs, are not career diplomats sent by a foreign country, but private citizens with political or business connections in a particular country. They almost always work part-time.

In the great pecking order of diplomacy -- and diplomacy is nothing if not a pecking order -- HCs are generally looked down upon by career consuls, who are in turn looked down upon by ambassadors. The HC's historical reputation is perhaps best conveyed in Graham Greene's novel The Honorary Consul, in which the author baldly assesses his protagonist's worth at one case of Scotch.

Though approved by both the sending government and the U.S. State Department, HCs cannot stamp visas or passports, and are usually unpaid. If anything, they are allotted money for office supplies, or perhaps a secretary. Thus, the sending country gets a bargain-basement representative, and the HC gets, well, any number of benefits. Party invites. Entree to business deals. Tax-free booze. The right to tear up parking tickets. Fees for notarizing shipping lists.

Not that HCs are in it for the money. Talk to any of the twenty-some-odd in town, and they'll swear up and down that they accepted their post to repay the debt they owed the sending country. For HCs like fish distributor Thorir Grondal (Iceland) or chiropractor Urs Lindenmann (Switzerland), who grew up in the countries they serve, this allegiance is easy to trace.

In Michael Hacker's case, though, it's hard to say what debt he might owe the predominantly Muslim republics of Senegal and Turkey, or Togo. He is, after all, an American Jew, raised in Chicago and educated at Indiana University. He came to Miami as a state prosecutor in 1966, went into private practice two years later, and spent most of the coke-crazed Seventies defending accused drug traffickers. "Then all the laws changed and all the drug people left," Hacker notes glumly. "And I turned to civil law and diplomacy." So how did he swing this unique troika of appointments?

Hacker, a normally garrulous sort, won't say exactly. "In each instance I knew the presidents of the countries through my father. These were hand-me-down connections," he concedes. He mumbles something about U.S. interests and the persistent threat of socialism. "It goes much deeper than that, but we won't go into it."

He is perfectly forthright, anyway, about the perks. He receives fees for authenticating documents. He gets to schmooze and booze with diplomats from the host countries on his vacation romps around the globe. He gets to play diplomat here in Miami, where he recently hosted a ritzy reception for a touring contingent of 35 Turkish mayors. Should any of his countries establish direct flights to Miami, Hacker says, he will look to make some money arranging tours or trade deals. It may seem a long way from his lavishly appointed 38th-floor enclave to Lome, the capital of Togo. But Hacker likes to believe that his steady protestations had something to do with that government's decision to re-establish diplomatic relations with Israel.

There are no rules to prevent HCs like Hacker from serving more than one government simultaneously. But stiffer members of the Corps frown upon the practice, for obvious reasons. Suppose a Turkish exchange student and a tourist from Togo got into a nasty, drunken scrap. Suppose both phoned their local consul demanding help. "I'd probably have to remove myself from that situation," is the best Hacker can offer.

A Related Practical Joke
1) Get a phone book and find the number for attorney Michael S. Hacker.
2) Call Hacker and, in your best Jimmy Olsen tenor, say: "Mr. Hacker, this is _______ _______ from the Associated Press. I just wanted to get your reaction to the Turkish declaration of war against Togo."

3) Do not tell anyone where you got this idea.
A Primer
Many of you lowly nondiplomats are probably wondering just how you might join the glamorous world of the Consular Corps. We can safely assume, since you are still reading this article, that landing a high-level role in the foreign service is somewhat out of your league. Winning an appointment as honorary consul may be a more realistic goal. With this in mind, a few tips:

Perform open-heart surgery on generals -- for free: Dr. Walter Janke, a native of Peru, was named HC in 1978, after operating on hundreds of heartsick countrymen, many free of charge. "I got a call one day out of the blue asking if I wanted to be an honorary consul. I guess some of my patients talked to the president there," Janke explains. "Would you turn them down?"

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