CJ Leith is one of the most hardworking, kind-hearted and optimistic people I have come to know. Always the foolish type to make you laugh, and loved by anyone who has ever been in his company. His studded slip of a tongue will make you cringe in laughter but his smile will warm you.
Still, often times he talks about the subtle harassments he gets from patrolling police officers because of the way he looks. He’s usually wearing all black, tattoos spread across his arms all the way to his fingers, a snap-back cap he wears backward to pull his shoulder-length hair back. Other times, I see him get glares from the strangers that walk by. Though it doesn’t really bother him most times, it’s such a pity to think that you might be missing out on a positive conversation with someone with an optimistic disposition despite what life throws at him or her just because a person doesn’t look the way he or she should.
When people look at you, what do they see?
A drug Addict, a delinquent, a former convict. It’s the way I look, my tattoos, my skin color, the way I dress.
When did you get your first tattoo?
I got my first tattoo when I was 16 years old. My best friend and I made a deal to get each other’s names tattooed on ourselves, so when I moved to the Philippines, a friend of mine hooked me up with a freelance tattoo artist through someone his friend knew. He did tattoos from his home at a cheap price which is pretty common over there. My best friend backed out after I had mine done though.
Then I met this guy, now a really close friend of mine, who offered to fix my first tattoo with a machine he made out of a toy car battery, a needle, and pen ink. It got infected for a while but healed eventually [Laughter]. He was practicing to become a tattoo artist at the time, and I liked how it felt – the feeling of your skin going numb, so I let him use me as a canvas. I get a new tattoo done by him every year I’d fly back.
What is a common misconception about you that you’d like to change?
That I’m scary, because I’m not. I’m a nice guy. Okay, I can be an A*hole, but a nice one, still. I’m the type of A*hole you would call an A*hole for the making fun of people. I swear a lot too, but I know my limits, which lines not to cross, and I don’t offend anyone who knows it’s just harmless play. I make fun of myself too, and I let them make fun of me. It’s all for the sake of making people happy, so people would ease up, though that sounds ironic. But working in a Kitchen, it gets hot, it can get stressful and hectic. It’s fun if we can all just laugh at ourselves and not take everything too seriously all the time.
What are some of the things you tell yourself when you’re trying to get through difficult times?
- “It will work out eventually”
Whatever I’m doing, whatever happens, I just know that it will work out eventually. Of course, I go through the panic first. It’s natural. But I’ll calm down, and I’ll do things a step at a time. It always seems to work out eventually. I’ve been kicked out from school more times than I can count on one hand, I’ve had more failures and shitty experiences than I’d like to admit. But every time I wasn’t in a great position, I found something for myself to do. I always stayed optimistic enough to find something I enjoyed. Now, I’m 22 years old, with just a high school diploma, but I’m the youngest in the kitchen I work at and with a Chef de Partie position. I’m still working hard, still learning and currently getting my certificate in culinary studies.
- “Fuck it”
Just do it! When I have to or I want to do something, but I’m too scared, I say, “Fuck It”. Because, if it brings me down and I don’t break that barrier – I don’t shove past that fear, I won’t get better at what I’m doing or I’ll never get to do it. When I was younger, I did a lot of stupid things for fun, a lot of it involved trial and error, injuries and accidents. I learned that I could do certain things that I wasn’t sure I could, and I learned that there are some things I should probably avoid. Some of my lesser dangerous experiences involved my fear of heights, I guess. I did my first drop-in at 12 feet when I was 13 years old, and I skated down a nine-stairs drop. It took me a few tries, and it hurt every time I missed. And that fear of falling – the fear of pain has its way of making you hesitate. So, I said “Aaggh! Fuck it! Just do it!” and eventually I landed it. THAT was a f*cking moment.
Except touching a beehive, or getting near a wasp’s nest. Unless there’s a pond nearby, and a flamethrower, I am never going near either one of those things. No way.
- “Don’t give up so damn fast”
Try your hardest. Because if you don’t try hard enough, or harder than your usual, then you won’t know if it can be done. Try until you can’t do It anymore; until you’re about to pass out or your body’s giving in, then yeah, chill out. There are times when I do give up, but only to try again another day. I get days when I just can’t seem to do the things I know I can do, and it’s infuriating. But I’ll try until I’ve reached my limit and can accept that it’s just not my day today. But at least I tried. Then, I’ll try again tomorrow.