The economic crisis has made a housewife out of my husband. Once he wore crisp suits and attended glamorous industry functions; now he wears a gray hoodie with an old pair of jeans and considers walking to the post office an event. His underwear is visible through a rip in the crotch of his jeans that has become so large it has nearly severed the leg from the waistband; I was shocked when I found out he regularly walks along our main road in them. He also wears flip-flops and socks, wedging the thong deep in the fabric, making his feet look like they belong to a ninja, and loudly protests that going to the grocery store is not a “fashion show.”
Up until a year ago, Mark, my husband, was the U.K. Sales Manager for a high-end fabric company. Before that, he ran his own fabric company which sold furnishing fabrics to swanky international hotel chains. He is not, by any stretch of the imagination, unskilled or unintelligent; he is an ambitious, extremely resourceful man, yet somehow he now finds himself unemployable.
The trouble started when the world economy faltered and fell. The first to be hit in a global financial crisis are “Fast Moving Consumer Goods,” FMCG for brevity, of which textiles are a part. Sales fell daily and, though he tried every trick in the book, none of Mark’s efforts made any difference to his Managing Director, an unrepentant elitist with anger problems and a thick, miserly vein. He bullied Mark from the get-go, shouting over him and speaking to him and his colleagues in condescending tones.
Their relationship gradually disintegrated and, though he remained polite and efficient, Mark knew his head was on the block. At the end of April 2009, Mark was called into the MD’s office where his performance was thoroughly criticized and he was given two options: He could either apply for voluntary dismissal or be subject to an emergency review which, as his MD succinctly put it, “wouldn’t go well for him.” Knowing the volatile nature of his MD, Mark had hidden a recording device in his front coat pocket before the meeting. Later that afternoon, Mark sent the recording to an attorney who smiled as he listened to it. By the end of May, Mark was out of a job, but richer by three months’ pay, a settlement grudgingly reached on the damning evidence recorded from a single conversation.
Mark and I went traveling over the summer, believing that the job market could only improve. When we came back to London in September, a dismal situation awaited: There were few jobs to be had, especially not within Mark’s niche profession. I found an admin job at an architectural firm which paid well and helped me get back into the groove of urban living: I made friends, learned new skills, joined the daily commute. For Mark, things were much harder. Months passed, the days filled with fruitless internet searches, job applications sent out and never answered, employment agencies calling to suggest jobs that sounded perfect then never calling back, interviews that went to the final stages before coming to nothing. So he sat at home, day after day, and slowly, so slowly that I don’t even know when it began, my husband became a heart-warming housewife.
I bought him a book on preserves for Christmas, which he hasn’t been able to put down.
Two days ago, he learned that a job he wanted had been given to someone else. When we spoke on the phone, he seemed strangely calm and mentioned being “determined to carry on.” When I got home that night, I saw the preserves book lying open on the couch and asked why he was still reading it. He turned to me, saying “I’m glad you asked” and explained his plan to sell chili jam door-to-door to supplement our income. My face felt numb as I listened to him verbally crunch the numbers, his proposed business plan outlining that he sell 50 jars of jam a day. When I rallied and said it would mean the loss of our weekends together, only one a month of which is free of commitments, he stated that he would only sell his jam during the week, to housewives. “No one is a housewife anymore.” I retorted, “Everyone works and, anyways, if it was so easy to make money this way, why doesn’t everyone do it?” He replied, “Well, I don’t see anyone trying to sell me chili jam during the day.”
Eventually, I agreed to support him and had even begun to consider the positive possibilities, but that was yesterday. Today when we spoke, he told me about his plan to get into teaching, quoting from a website, clearly geared towards selling teaching courses, that there is currently a deficit of teachers. He said, “I’ll do the teaching thing and sell jam on the side.” When I questioned where he’d get the free time to make and sell his jam, he calmly changed course and said, “Maybe we could move to the country and write.”
When I remember “professional Mark,” the only thing I miss, besides the financial support, is the confidence that having a job gave him. I don’t mind the shifting of ideals; I would enjoy a self-sufficient lifestyle in the country, but existing in a constant state of flux makes me edgy and I wish he would just make up his mind. So I search the web on my lunch hour, looking for jam recipes and government funding for over-thirty teaching applicants, hoping that next week won’t inspire a scheme to sell Tupperware or import Indian jewelry.
Tonight when I get home, we’ll enjoy a delicious curry Mark’s made from scratch while watching The Good Life, a British sitcom about a young couple living self-sufficiently in the London suburbs, along with a handful of cooking shows, in which the making of various jams will figure largely. After that, I’ll head to bed, ready to escape today’s lunatic epiphanies and, when I trip on the pile of odd-sized jars cluttered in the corners of our bedroom, I’ll want to blame the economic crisis for my current situation, but I can’t: This might have been his plan all along.