No need to explain what you are doing and why, just tell me how much it will cost.
You need a new CV joint for the drive shaft,'' the mechanic said. Or maybe it was a new CV shaft for the drive joint, or a new CV drive for … He explained the whole thing to me, even showing me an actual CV thingy. It looked like the end of a plunger that you might use to try to free your sink before sending for the plumber.
The explanation went something like this: the CV yoke is made of rubber which cracks after a while, due to heat and cold and rain and all the roundabouts in Canberra. Once it cracks, there is a danger that oil might be spewed all over the place and you could be driving without any oil in your drive shaft. (I may be a bit hazy on some of the technical details here, but you get the gist of it.)
This would necessitate the installing of a new drive shaft. ''That would cost $318 plus labour plus $18 oil plus GST.'' All those pluses. ''So you are faced with either $500 for a new drive shaft or $200 for a CV joint.''
I was brave enough to suggest that $200 was a bit much for a piece of rubber, but this only gave him an excuse for more explanations: there were rings to keep the joint in place and special oil in a gold-coloured sachet and, of course, labour costs. And there was GST, which might go up any day now, given Joe Hockey's tendency to make things up as he goes along. Actually in fairness, he didn't mention the GST, that was just my own paranoia.
Let me say that I am happy with my mechanic and have been taking my car to him for 10 years, so this is not really about cars at all. What I am writing about is the way everyone these days goes to great trouble to explain to you why they are taking your money.
Here's another example: you bring one of the kids to the orthodontist and after they have been examined, you are called in and invited to examine the child's mouth. It looks perfectly all right to you but a few sentences with words like ''overbite'' and ''crowding'' and all you want to do is get the poor child out of there - if you can only persuade her to loosen the grip she has on the side of the chair.
There follows a discussion on spacers and moulds and extractions and it is explained that the poor child has a small mouth - which, of course, is not her fault at all but her parents', since they provided the genes in the first place. The dreaded word ''braces'' finally comes up and you know you are in for it. Numb, you hear a figure of $5400 plus trimmings and you are given 24 months to pay.
Again, I'm not complaining about the money, just the idea that by telling you in great detail what they are doing, they assume (a) that it makes any sense and (b) that it may encourage you to take out a second mortgage. I would prefer, ''We have to do something about this poor child's mouth. Mumble, mumble, mumble, $5400.''
Doctors are the same. You go to your GP complaining of a sore leg and he sends you to a specialist. Specialists are people who have a postgraduate qualification in explaining things. ''The varicose veins are bad. And we have to consider that pin that was put in your lower leg after you tackled Geoff Didier in the first round in 1982. Mumble, osteo-mumble, venous flow, mumble, septicaemia.''
It turns out they used chicken wire or something back then, but now they have progressed to graphite or fibreglass or some material that was developed by NASA. Graphite reminds the specialist of golf and he complains bitterly about the price of golf clubs in this country and says he now buys his from the Pinehurst Country Club in Denver, Colorado.
''Would it cost more just to have the leg cut off?'' I ask him. They don't do irony in specialist school, so he takes me seriously and there follows a one-sided discussion on wooden legs and he tells me that the correct word is prosthesis and anyway wooden legs went out with Long John Silver; they use graphite or something else these days - which sets him off about NASA and golf again.
Sometimes, when I visit my car mechanic or dentist or doctor, I long for the old days of ''Mumble, mumble, mumble, that'll be $630. Pay on the way out.''
Anyway, that's what I think.
Frank O'Shea is a Melbourne writer.