If you’re going to understand me and my time editing AltDaily and everything that’s happened here in Norfolk, I have to start the story a little bit before Miss Cheryl Snow White — her real name, check the birth certificate — picked me up, sight unseen, as I plopped off the moving walkway of Norfolk International Airport, arriving in town (also sight unseen) to write books and maybe fall in love with a Virginia-raised Weeping Willow tree.
[The honest to God, cross-my-heart beginning of this story would be the birth of man, if we’re being honest, or the beginning of Time itself, if we’re being realistic in an academic sense of the word. We are nothing more than shiny specks being shaken in a celestial snow globe. Our names are secrets instantly forgotten, our bodies temporary forms, as final as grape seed skins. But I digress.]
I was born in Hat City, Danbury, Connecticut, to a Jewish girl from St. Louis who had met a Sicilian boy from Brooklyn at a party one hot night in New York City. My dad ran a lock and alarm business, which was a juicily ironic career choice for a guy whose dad was rumored to be part of a New York Family. (My dad used to claim they name-checked his dad’s partner in Goodfellas. Like a lot of the things Jimmy Scaccia said, you believed it when it felt good, and tried to ignore it when it didn’t. But enough of the myths about my dad were true. My cousin recently told me a story about my dad doing the alarm system on the local state jail….. and then later BREAKING INTO THE JAIL to steal a bunch of guns…. which he then threw into a river. My father, ladies and germs.)
My mom had serious health issues growing up, but her intelligence and charm were enough to overcome anything thrown at her modest 70s and 80s Jewfro. She was working in advertising in Mad Men-era Manhattan, but gave up being harassed by the Don Drapers of the world to go searching for the American dream in the woody (and oh-so-white) suburbs of Connecticut. Who can blame them. Connecticut is a pretty place, my friends, and coming from Koch-era New York City, back when Times Square was still TIMES SQUARE, Fairfield County must have felt like the New Jerusalem.
When I was about seven they were doing well enough for us to move to Ridgefield, Connecticut, a few notches up the commuter line belt. If I can sum up my childhood in 27 words it would be Catholic guilt and Stepford moms, opulence and falls from grace, cocaine and car crashes, singing along to Billy Joel in our broken down black Mercedes on the Long Island Expressway, PTA meetings and child counselors and trauma and anger and a sawed off shotgun and threats and confusion and why-isn’t-the-phone-working and a stay in the hospital for screwed up kids and cold showers and Spikey and Sneakers the Cats — thank the God of Pets for those cats — until the wheels fell off and my mom took off back to St. Louis to raise us as far away from my dad as she could get and they’d let her stay for free.
I ended up going to three middle schools in three years and three high schools in four years. Later when I was getting my degree in education I learned about how much this kind of moving messes with a kid, but when you’re a kid — big shrug — what can you do but adapt to survive? I had crippling depression in a society that celebrated me for the rage I showed on the football field. A snarl worked better than a smile, it seemed, or that’s what my dad taught me, and what my mom’s father taught me when he’d use an arm lock he learned in World War II to throw me on the bed and warn me that with just a little more pressure, I would break.
[I know. You just want to hear about Norfolk and Hampton Roads and maybe some gossip about The Pilot, and what happens next. I get that. But you’ve got to understand that part of what I’m doing here is taking back my story for myself, and it’s starting … right…. now. You dig? (I think you do.)]
Once your feet get moving as a kid sometimes it’s hard to stop them. You’re like Fred Flinstone in that Stone Age car, except the films starts skipping and he feels like if he stops pedaling it’ll crash.When you move around that much as a child it’s hard for the rest of life to not feel like Speed: Pop quiz, hot shot. What happens if you stop in one place long enough for people to love you?
I didn’t know how to put down roots. I didn’t know how to exist in a place. During and after college in St. Louis and Connecticut I was a dishwasher in Yosemite National Park, a swim teacher in south Florida, a newspaper editor in Montauk, an ESL teacher in DC, a teacher in New York City, a film producer in Louisiana, a reporter and teacher in San Diego, a full time volunteer and mentor in South Africa, a sailor in Holland, and if this didn’t already feel made up, for a short stint I worked on an Irish goat farm run by a nudist school inspector.
Then my dad died.
His first heart attack. Bam. Gone.
Then, a few months later, I hit Norfolk on a fellowship to ODU.
Somebody scratch that record to a stop real quick, if you wouldn’t mind.
Given how much energy I put into Norfolk the past ten years — I was drowning at the end of my own hose sometimes, let’s be honest — it sounds crazy to acknowledge that I came here to do the exact opposite. I wanted to have three years in the South. Three years to heal. Three years to find my voice as a writer of non-fiction books. Three years to not engage. Three lovely, quiet years beneath that same Weeping Willow tree that was foreshadowed in the first paragraph.
Then I met Hannah Serrano.
We met at Fair Grounds, during the Reign of Queen Diana Rose Ray, and the epicly curmudgeonly Elliot, (RIP, fine friend). (If you’re from Norfolk and lived here during that time, you’re saying to yourself, ‘Of course, where else would those two meet?’ Real connections happen in local coffee shops. But, again, I digress.)
Hannah was exploding with excitement as she told Leona Baker about this new publication she was starting called 24SevenCities.com.
[Shout out to Alison Hurwitz, George Booker, Brendan Kennedy, Jerome Spencer, Robbie Simmons and the rest of the deep OG crew who launched the publication that would morph into this one.]
I watched Hannah talk and it was one of those scenes where the room goes silent, and the film slows down, so you can watch something glorious happen in finer detail. Hannah was that passionate about the magazine. It was beautiful. I cleared my throat, excused myself into their conversation, and said, in my best Billie-Dee-Williams-meets-Poppa-Hemingway-meets-Saturday-Night-Fever-era-Travolta voice, “I’m a writer.”
I wrote. We dated. On July 4th of that year her business partner quit as the fireworks went off over the Atlantic. There was debt, and the quitting partner was the money partner.
I had recently inherited a few thousand bucks from my maternal grandfather. The numbers aligned too well, how much I had and how much Hannah and the publication needed to get a fresh start. We made the passion-driven decision to be partners. By the end of summer 24SevenCities.com turned into AltDaily.com, a publication that would be by locals, for locals; always in the first person; and online only, which was newly the way of tomorrow’s world.
And. We. Were. Mother. Loving. Offffffff.
There should maybe be laws against two people as wild (and brilliant, I don’t mind saying it) as Hannah and I being partners in business and love, but we gave it a try. Looking back I smell the smoke: we burned our relationship at the altar of Norfolk. It’s the first of a number of relationships I sacrificed to the combustion engine that was this magazine and our (seemingly) endless run of projects.
[Shout out to the early AltDaily crew, still some of the most brilliant, talented, and successful people I get to call extended family: the amazing and soulful Mira Roberts, David Paul Kleinman bringing the spotlight to the Peninsula, Jesi Owens leading the effort to legalize street performance, Dr. Music!, BC Wilson as Norfolk’s dedicated bike culture reporter, Grant Cothran!, Asha Dore writing beautifully about her beautiful revolution, Farmer Jay C. Ford!, Julie Alvarado’s absolutely epic run of Friday Featured Artist galleries; John McManus raging about Cuccinelli, Mark Harris helping to lift up the local craft brew industry, Jaime Simpson dancing through columns, Jeremiah Albers’ brilliant theatre coverage, Liz of the Internet People!, LAURA WATKINS, Mike Rau saving our digital butts more than once, Alison Burdick putting the team on her back!!!!!!!!!, and too many more to mention.]
To understand all the projects, you’ve got to understand my philosophy as the editor of this publication. This isn’t your classic, third-person, the writer-only-sort-of-exists-as-a-human, old school journalism kind of pub. I made it clear from the start that this is activism using the tools of journalism and media. I’ve never been a journalist. I always cared too much to front like my heart doesn’t beat into my brain sometimes. What we have done is try to figure out how to use the tools of journalism and media to foster a more beautiful, open, engaged community.
Hannah and myself and our crew inhibited this social influencing hype machine called AltDaily for two reasons: to chew bubble gum and to play a role in positive shit happening…. and ain’t none of us have sniffed Bazooka for a very long time.
Sometimes AltDaily and myself have been leaders at the front, but just as often I’ve seen us as the guys at the back of the goal line scrum, that last extra push from behind over the goal line.
We have been lucky to be at the table for a lot of great stuff here. We’ve been blessed to be around so many people stepping up into their braver selves. It’s such an overused word, but it’s the right one to describe my time with AltDaily: a blessing. I’m not going to bore you with an exhaustive list (or exhausting hyperlinks), but some of the most special projects to me have been filming the informal city council sessions (until they filmed and aired them themselves); helping bring Hampton Roads PRIDE to Town Point Park, with a shout to Joval Martin for the original inspiration, Karen Scherberger for saying Yes, and Patrick Mullins for making it happen on the ground; launching the old school, beer-soaked film series at The Naro that has carried on as Flick it!; doing the Norfology local business program with Sarah Parker at Economic Development; the two summers of Art Everywhere with the Downtown Norfolk Council, GROW, and Re:Vision; The NEON District and NEON Festivals with Charlotte Potter and Charlie Restless and Careyann Weinberg and Rachel McCall and so many others; Vote Local NFK and the amazing OkCandidate app; Decriminalize Norfolk with the Cindy “The Cut” Cutler; Engage Norfolk with Councilwoman McClellan; painting murals in the public schools and public art everrrryyywhere; Mentally Healthy Norfolk Month with the most inspiring coalition of community members I’ve ever worked with (you all know who you are, with special hat tip to Jarrett Beeler for the Talk About It campaign); Norfolk Yoga Month with the lovely yoga studio leaders in this city and the story went on and on and on and on……
As much as the initiatives have meant to me, it is the steady flow of articles on these pages that have been the groundwater that made all blossoming possible. Our writers turned the bass up on this place. We shined as many mirror balls as we could toward as many local businesses, local artists, and genuine local leaders as we possibly could. Our writers gave their time, almost never for pay, simply because they gave so much of a shit. Through the 10,000 pages of posts on this website, the writers have always been my every day heroes. Got dang, did we put a lot of good out there, ey fam?
[All the love to the contributors keeping AltDaily vital these past few years, including the beast Jeff Hewitt, theatre editors Nic Thornberg and BA BA Ciccolella, Penny Neef, Stephanie Harris and the Reasons column!!!!!!!!, Jim Roberts (who showed up early and never left!), Jeff South and his team at Capital News Service, and literally hundreds more.]
Ya I’ve used my leverage. Ya I’ve known people were more likely to say yes to working together on an community project because they were sweating what I’d write about them. Ya I know I got a voice and I won’t be afraid to use it, no matter what gets thrown at me. Ya I’ve tried to use my privilege as a straight white man to the greater good. Ya I’ve blurred so many lines that I made the world around me just a little bit Van Gogh. That’s what we needed though: the elected officials and non profits and influencers and artists and small business owners mixing more. Seeing each other as on the same side more.
And ya I’ve sacrificed a little too much of myself in this process. A fact my little sister made painfully clear when she told me it felt like I loved Norfolk more than my own family.
When I got here I was 29, with the emotional maturity of a 19 year old. I always had a heart of gold. I always did my best to put my time and talents to the greater good. I never made it about me making money. Ever. (As my accountant can verify, ha). But I don’t hide from the path that brought me to being the man I’m proud of today. I had a lot of childhood trauma I hadn’t healed from. I had very serious depression issues I had to work through. I didn’t love myself, and when you don’t love yourself the energy you give off gets distorted, so I can understand how she why I rubbed people wrong here sometimes, especially in those first few years when there were times I wasn’t fully in control. I wish I could go back and be a better listener, more patient, kinder, softer, but the only option is to be a better man today, and that’s the choice I make, every day.
It’s not easy to look in that mirror. Cause when you do…… there’s a moment you realize that shimmers of that self hatred were justified. Ya man, I had to grow up….. but for a long time there I wasn’t giving myself the space to grow up and heal, and to stop carrying on the angry legacy of my dad and grandpa, and forge a new version of Jesse Scaccia for me, by me, in the bathing sunlight of the grace of God.
[Extreme universal love to the people who stuck with me and helped me find (and hold) my light, including Mike Pearson, Rob Shapiro, Logan, Charlotte, DN, Kelsie, Ashley, Cheryl, DN, Kerm, Pip, Bij, Paloma and the MG, McKenzie and every other yoga teacher, Briana and the army of others who love me, I can now, finally, see.]
I have loved being Jesse from AltDaily, or Norfolk Jesse, or that Goddamn Yankee Jesse, however folks have conceptualized me. For a number of years there — once I had realized the unique position AltDaily and myself had found in this community — moving on didn’t even feel like an option. It felt unethical. I had to stay and fight. I had to go down with the ship, if that’s what it took to keep it pointed forward.
I can look myself in that same mirror mentioned earlier, and I know I took this as far as I could. I had a rash of injuries and illnesses in late summer and early fall. When I would meditate and quiet my mind, my body was sending me a very clear message: you can’t go on like this. The daily stress, the public pressure, the lack of financial and institutional support and stability, the blurring of my personal identity with Norfolk and AltDaily — on top of not having any family or friends from growing up here — finally has become an unsustainable equation.
It’s time for me to try on a new pair of V-necks. It’s time for me to step down as the editor of this publication.
I really wish I could be saying that I’m passing the mic, but I don’t own this publication any more, so its fate is totally out of my hands. I have only good tidings to offer AltDaily as it enters its next chapter. I am grateful to Dave Mele for the opportunity to be a part of this venerable organization, and to Jeff Anderson for going to bat for AltDaily as much as he did. Please, folks, subscribe to the digital version of The Pilot. Neither capitalism nor democracy work without local journalists. We’ve got to support them. There’s not even an option. We got to.
I love you people. You are the music makers. You are the dreamers of dreams.
What’s next for this vagabond Jewish Italian northeastern gumba with the fire in his eyes and a mermaid forever dancing on his right forearm? When people ask what I’m doing next, I want to smile and say, whatever the hell I want, but I’m not so glib anymore. [Okay, I’m CLOSE ENOUGH to not being that glib anymore.] In the immediate future I will be dedicating the lion’s share of my time to organizing for marijuana reform with Virginia NORML. I will also be starting a business dedicated to civic engagement and government consulting at some point, and maybe another business or two. I am trying to leave some space open. I want to take some good deep breaths once this editor’s hat is on the shelf, take a good look around, and reconsider the world and my place in it.
No, I won’t be going anywhere any time soon. I got too much love to stick around for. But tomorrow never knows. There was nearly a decade there when I was convinced my Norfolk story would never end. I still don’t mind that thought.
I never did find that Weeping Willow tree. But I did find the Spanish Moss at First Landing. I found Empire. I found the pizza at Cogan’s. I found the coffee at Cure and Stella’s and Zeke’s and Fair Grounds and Borjo’s and a Latte. I found O’Connor’s beer. I found the Elizabeth River Trail. I found Work Release. I found the fireworks over Town Point Park. I found a chance to make a difference. I found a place to drop my anchor. I found the place where I learned to stop and let myself feel at home. I found a way to love myself, and through that love I’ve learned to love you more.
Fight for light.
Black Lives Matter.
Forgive everyone instantly.
Trans Lives Matter.
There is more that brings us together than divides us.
Protect the mental health of our service members, the police, and their families.
Equal access to quality housing and education.
More rehab centers, less jails.
Pick one issue and stick with it until you become it.
Self love is love.
Support. Local. Businesses. If. You. Want. Your. Community. To. Have. A. Soul.
This is our city. This is our state. This is our country. This is our world.
There is no “them,” only us.
Overpower them with your good will.
Overpower them with your good will.
Overpower them with your good will.
Thanks for the memories….. with more to come, son.