by Mark Berch
Letter written by Mark Berch to Jim Burgess
(on the death of Kathy Caruso (nee Byrne)
I was very sorry to hear about the death of Kathy Caruso. I greatly appreciate you publishing those reminiscences, which brought back many memories and I learned some new things too. I want to write first on something that wasn’t much touched on, Kathy’s immense impact on the hobby.
Kathy gave generously of her time to the hobby. She was for over a year a co-Director of the Orphan games Service, which can be an unpleasant job if you encounter people at their worst (failing GMs, angry players). Kathy’s marvelous social skills were surely of value there. She was the Boardman Number Custodian for well over a year, which can be a great deal of work. She made the crucial, and difficult decision to give Boardman Numbers to electronic mail games (then called PBEM), which had started up in Dot Happy!, meaning that these games would be rated along with regular postal games. This somewhat controversial decision prevented hobby fragmentation, and in my opinion, she was right on the issue and was acting for the best interest of the hobby. She also agreed to take over at DW when Walker could not handle it any longer, tho that lasted for only a few issues.
Kathy also contributed to a good number of zine fakes (including one done of my own zine) a popular form of hobby humor in the late 70s and early 80s. She sent many, many letters for publications and wrote a fair amount of press, so she helped many zines in this way.
Special mention should be made of Kathy’s Korner. This was the most lively “personalities” column the hobby had ever had (I speak here as an archivist who was quite familiar with the hobby’s literature both here and in Britain). It focused largely on her friends, but that was a pretty big category! But there was never a sense of “in group” about it. Even if you were new to the hobby, if you crossed paths with Kathy, you could figure on getting teased or whatever in Kathy’s Korner. Her column was one of the true focal points of the hobby’s personalities. It did a particularly entertaining job describing various cons, formal and informal that she had been at, and gave people who couldn’t possibly go a real sense of what happened there. It’s entirely possible that people were encouraged to host one of their own after reading about them in KK.
Your writers, one after another, spoke of many positive interactions with Kathy, and that was certainly the hobby norm. My interactions with her were for the most part negative. One of the first contacts that I had with her was when I learned that Kathy was saying I was accusing her of rigging the 1980 Zine Poll. I finally got her on the phone. She was very pleasant to talk to, but she would not back down. I asked her who it was that I was supposedly telling this to, but she would not say, citing confidentiality! She insisted that I had made calls to people, which was so peculiar because I rarely used the phone for hobby business (I had only called her because she hadn’t answered my letter).
But at least that one she never put into print; other times she did. In the summer of 1982, Kathy resigned as co-Director of the Orphan service, and in a letter published in Appalling Greed, she blasted me for opposing her efforts to place the failing games of Glenn Overby. I was astounded by the accusation. In a Whitestonia editorial, she complained that I was someone trying to prevent her from naming Lee Kendter, Sr as the new BNC. I had no idea why she was publishing these things. Strangely, while she never retracted the accusations, a few months would pass and I would suddenly be back in her good graces. It was the most tempestuous and difficult relationship I had in the hobby. When things were going well, she would publish my humor items in Whitestonia. When she got pissed off at me, she would go and publish in Whitestonia some letter of mine which was Off The Record. Sometimes other people got caught up in this. For example, at one ByrneCon she passed around some Off The Record letters written to her by me and Mark Larzelere told me about it. When I wrote to Kathy about this to complain and at least find out which letters these were, she got pissed off at poor Larzelere. It was very odd. She’d go editorializing in her column about how terrible it was to be labeling letters as DNQ, and yet she wrote DNQ letters to me.
All that changed with the “sick letter” affair. This was the most sensational accusation that the hobby had ever seen, and it triggered the most pervasive and damaging feud in hobby history. I investigated the best I could. Kathy’s flyer had said that “proof is available to anyone”. I wrote Kathy three times asking for the proofs (the flyer had several other charges, but the “sick letter” was the most poisonous accusation). None was ever provided – I offered $50 for a copy of the letter – and the last of the letters was returned to me marked “refused”, a tactic that Kathy was to use sporadically throughout our relationship. Kathy never described what the letter actually said, but a number of her friends did, and their descriptions greatly differed. When Don Del Grande asked Kathy point blank (in July 1985) where the letter was, she told him that she had already answered that question to me in February 1984, which was an absolute falsehood, and fairly bizarre, since Kathy didn’t even make this charge public till summer of 1984. Another hobbyist, whose name I no longer remember, told me that Kathy had informed him that she had told me all about the letter in a phone call. This too was false, although I think that the hobbyist believed Kathy rather than me. She also told Del Grande that she had contacted the New York Postal Authorities about me! I published updates on this story when I could get new information. The bottom line was, once I initially published the results of my investigation, my relationship with her was destroyed, never to recover.
More conflicts between Kathy and myself were to follow. With one exception, there actually wasn’t much she could do to me. She castigated my zine, but I ran no games, and only lost a handful of subbers.
The one exception was Diplomacy World. Rod Walker could not put the zine out any longer, and turned the editorship over to Kathy. I thought this was a very good choice for DW, and said so in print. I was the Strategy and Tactics editor of DW at the time, but Kathy refused to send me anything to edit. And my own submissions for DW were returned to me unopened. I told Rod I was going to have to resign my post because I couldn’t actually do anything in such circumstances, and Rod was able to patch this up.
But not other things. By the late fall of 1984, I became the subject of an intense stream of accusations, invectives, and bizarre analysis of my thought processes in Kathy’s Korner/Whitestonia by Kathy (and John). By the winter I was barred from responding to any of this – in fact, I was under strict instructions not to write to either Kathy or John (except on DW matters). There was nothing I could do about this, and in fact, Kathy did this in some other zines like Politesse where I wasn’t always permitted to reply either.
I was not able to get any resolution in my conflicts with Kathy. For example, Kathy ordinarily delighted in fakes. But when the fake DW #40 came out, Kathy was enraged at me because I had contributed a piece to the fake. I tried to point out that the piece was a story which she had already rejected for the real DW. To no avail: Kathy began refusing my DW mail again, which I had to get Larry Peery to fix, although Kathy left DW soon afterward. Other irritants were to follow. With the generally improved tone in the hobby by mid-1987, I put out a feeler via a hobbyist who happened to be on good terms with both of us (I still wasn’t allowed to write her directly), to find out if Kathy wanted to either try to resolve some the old conflicts, or just officially bury them without resolution and start afresh. The poor guy was angrily told that if he ever mentioned my name to her again that she’d cut off his Whitestonia sub.
It just wouldn’t go away. For example, what should appear in the Spring of 1989 in Everything, the official journal of the BNC, but a letter from Kathy, complete with nasty name calling and labeling me as one of the two biggest problems in the hobby. I never was able to do anything to fix matters with her, and now I never will be able to.
Finally, note that Kathy was a consummate diplomat at both postal and over the board play. If someone could magically reach across the decades, across the living and the dead, and assemble a dream game of the seven best diplomats of all time, there, along with the likes of Walt Buchanan and Edi Birsan, would be, playing Italy, Kathy Caruso.
Mark Berch (12 September 2002)