Mudsock Heights

Mudsock Heights

No, it's not modern art -- it's the top of my new television's screen.

A Horror Story

By Dennis E. Powell | Posted at 11:22 AM

If I’d known that TCL televisions were disposable, I would have gotten something else two years ago when my 13-year-old flat screen died, but that’s a story for another day.

The nature of my work is such that a television is necessary, so when one Sunday around the beginning of December my TCL set, purchased July 3, 2019, lost part of its back-lighting, I needed to get a replacement because they can not be fixed for less than they’re worth.

It is to me a truism that controls far too much of our country’s retail stream, so absent a dramatic price difference I thought I’d get the replacement television from someone else. I gave my business. This turned out to be not just a mistake but maddening, frustrating mistake that took hours of work over weeks to finally resolve.


Here’s what happened to my old television, a two-year-old TCL 4-series. The “dirty screen” test pattern is supposed to be a uniform white gray. Either a row or two of LEDs or else the chip that controls them has gone haywire, and it would cost more than the value of the TV to get it fixed. Everything is disposable now, it seems. (Credit: Dennis E. Powell)

Misery loves company, so let me share with you my tale of woe.

I ordered a new television, a reputedly better TCL, from December 8. The site assured me that delivery would come two days later, on December 10. There were conflicting indications as to whether a signature would be required, not that it mattered — the news is full of accounts of people stealing just-delivered items from people’s porches, so I would need to be home for the delivery.

The first worry came when I saw that my new television had been entrusted to the once-believed-reliable Federal Express. Out of a dozen FedEx deliveries to my home over the last 17 years, exactly one, in July 2018, got delivered on time. Some never got delivered at all. I’d concluded the company was more “federal,” with the connotations that word has accumulated, than “express.” I’ve come to avoid companies that employ FedEx for that reason. Where I live, UPS has always gotten it right while FedEx seldom has. But now I had no choice.

My fear would be well founded.

The morning of December 10, the FedEx tracking email informed me that my television was on the truck for delivery that day. I stayed home as a result. At 5:27 p.m., another FedEx email: “Your delivery schedule has been updated to Saturday, 12/11/2021.” I go to Mass Saturday morning and go grocery shopping afterwards, so this was inconvenient, but I stayed home; I could go to a different Mass and the grocery store on Sunday. There was another email from the company assuring me that yes, it would be delivered Saturday. Except, of course, that at 3:45 p.m. Saturday I got yet another FedEx communication: “Your delivery schedule has been updated to Tuesday, 12/14/2021.” This made me cross, even more so after I checked the FedEx tracking website and saw that it was now scheduled not for Tuesday but for Sunday, December 12. All the various updates said that my package was aboard the truck. So on Sunday I watched Mass on the half of my television that was working and ate what was left of my pre-pandemic supplies. Guess what didn’t arrive.

Early the afternoon of Monday, December 13, the Fed Ex vehicle, an unmarked rented white van, pulled into my driveway. It was the one day the company hadn’t said the thing would be delivered and it was pure luck that I was home.

Look. I understand that these are trying times. If I’d gotten email saying that due to whatever the shipment would take six days instead of two, I would have cheerfully accepted it — as long as the time they then gave for delivery was when they would actually deliver the thing.

End of story? Ha!

The television inside the big flat box was broken.

I do not mean that it didn’t work, but that the screen was actually broken. There was a golfball-sized semicircle of smashed glass in the middle of the top edge, with cracks radiating outward. The protective plastic over the screen was all that kept the thing together. I was not especially surprised; FedEx had assured me that the teevee had been bouncing around in its trucks — “out for delivery” — for each of the last four days. The edges and corners of the shiny box had all been worn off.

My impression was now that FedEx was treating customers with contempt. I’d soon learn that also treats customers with contempt. It can be attributed to, take your pick, incompetence or dishonesty.

I carefully repacked the television set and got online with Walmart. I hoped for a speedy replacement and was promised one. This was after navigating a “chat” system in which there’s no clear delineation between autoresponses and actual persons on the other end. To wit:

Walmart: Good news! Our agent Francis has joined the conversation.

Me: My 55-inch TCL Roku TV, Model 55S531. order number [redacted by me], finally arrived today. And the screen is broken.

Francis: Hi, nice to chat with you! I’m Francis. I hope you are having a fantastic day. In order to provide you the best customer service may you please tell me more information about the main concern?

After a few minutes of back-and-forth, during which time “Francis” emailed me a return label (that was embedded in the message in a way that made printing it possible only after I had made a screenshot and resized and printed that) Francis assured me that “When the store has your product, the reshipment will begin.” and that it would be quick: “I can see on my system it may take one day.”

I thought that inasmuch as I’d been delivered a broken television, they might have FedEx pick up the return and be quick about replacing it. “In this case, i [sic] can escalate your issue and ask someone to pick it up, but i cannot guarantee that they will, i am sorry,” chatted “Francis.”

It was late in the day, so I took the repackaged broken television to the FedEx office myself, a 30-mile trip, the next morning, Tuesday, December 14. They would still have time to get my replacement to me by week’s end, right? Ha! again.

On the evening of Thursday, December 16, I saw on the FedEx tracking site that Walmart had received the return, but there wasn’t a peep from Walmart, which was of concern. So I dived back in to the website to make inquiry. Here’s an excerpt from my “chat” with “Ashik”:

Ashik: I see that the original item was delivered at return center today. It would take more 2 weeks to get the replacement item delivered to you.

Me: TWO WEEKS???????

Ashik: It may get shipped within 2-3 days. And once the item is shipped we can check the exact date of the delivery. If possible wait for 2-3 days and check if the item is getting shipped or not. Or else we can go ahead and cancel the order. As a token of apology I can issue a discount of 5%

Me: Thanks, but the price has already been reduced on your site by 10 percent.

Ashik: I see.

Me: How long will it take to issue a refund so I can get it from Amazon, as I should have in the first place?

Ashik: Official time frame is 10 business days, but usually you get the refund sooner.

With fading hope that the great and mighty Walmart was not the world center of incompetence, I asked if a supervisor were available. And in due course:

Chelmel Deeksha: Hello, I’m Chelmel Deeksha, supervisor to Ashik. . . . I’ve checked the order details and see that the original item was delivered at the return center, so I request you to please allow 5-7 days to deliver your order.

Me: Wow. It was two weeks five minutes ago. Now, let's whittle that down to tomorrow, Saturday at the latest.

Chelmel Deeksha: If you want the cancel the replacement order, then I’ll raise a cancellation request and the amount will be reflect back to your account within 7-10 business days.

Me: Fine. Cancel the order. I'll get it somewhere else and Walmart won't have me to deal with in the future.

Chelmel Deeksha: I’ve successfully placed a cancellation request, you’ll receive the confirmation E-mail within 24-48 hours.

Me: Whatever. I await my refund.

Chelmel Deeksha: Not to worry, you’ll receive the refund within 7-10 business days or less.

I commenced to await. Then I awaited some more. When on Monday of this week, December 27, there was no sign of a refund in my account, I went back to, Heaven help me,, I was treated to the kindly offices of one “Antony”:

Walmart: Good news! Our agent Antony has joined the conversation.

Me: Order # [redacted by me] arrived late, with its screen broken. I returned it, and you received it Dec. 16. I requested a refund. I have received no refund. Where's my money?

Antony: Hi there, it will be my pleasure to assist you. This is Antony. Our apologies for any inconvenience this may cause. I work with these cases, so be sure that you are in good hands. Please, give me two minutes while I check your order.

Me. Fine.

Antony: Thank you so much for waiting, let me tell you I was checking this order and there is not the refund in process, I really apologize for this inconvenience, in this case, I’m going to escalate this case to our special team who will be able to process a full refund. They will contact you within 48 hours by email with the details of your refund. I’m sending this information, I need two minutes please . . . No worries, you will receive this refund as soon as possible, let me tell you I’ve escalated this case to our special team, they will contact you within 48 hours by email. Do you have any question about it?

Me: No worries on your end but more than $500 worries on mine. I'm not interested in being contacted, I'm interested in getting my refund — now.

So. The refund had never been put into the system. Apparently instead when they canceled the order, “cancel” meant “You’ll get nothing but we’ll keep your money.” Though I heard no voices, the language used had an accent, not dissimilar to one found in emails of “official” documents from far-away governments in which one is informed he has inherited $10,000,000 and all he needs to do to receive it is provide name, date of birth, and Social Security and credit card numbers.

I’ve learned a few things about dealing with, the first of which is that as with many companies’ “support,” their chat people do not seem to be located in our hemisphere, and this can and often does hinder communication. The second is that when someone from says “no worries,” it’s time to worry. I’ve spent so much time on this by now that they should pay me to accept a television set from them.


Here’s the whole screen of the FedEx-delivered replacement television, a few seconds after it had been turned on for the first time. The “protective” plastic covering the screen shielded the damage from view until the thing was fired up. (Credit: Dennis E. Powell)

I’ve also learned that when dealing with online vendors, it’s crucial to save everything, including transcripts of “chats.” They may not be of use in dealing with the company, but they’re important documentation should a third party become involved. For instance, when Antony typed the magic words “no worries,” (meaning “Worry! Worry as though your life depends on it!”) I opened a complaint with PayPal, through whom the payment was made. Should push come to shove, I have this whole stupid mess recorded contemporaneously, in writing and screenshots. I uploaded the chat log when making the complaint to PayPal, and mirabile dictu this came from PayPal less than three hours later: “We reviewed the case you filed on December 27, 2021 and have decided in your favor. We've issued a refund of $[redacted by me] to you.” It was followed a few minutes later by a refund notice from Walmart. I cannot know whether it was my PayPal complaint or my “chat” with Antony that was the catalyst, but if I had to bet, my money would be on PayPal.

It’s all especially sad to me because I’m one of those who had kindly thoughts about Walmart. My mom was in high school with Sam Walton, and when I was a little kid I’d see ads on channel 13 in Jeff City for something called “Wal-Mart Discount City,” so I’d always thought of it as a local company that made good. And it was worthwhile, I thought, to help fight the approaching monopoly of Amazon. But I’ll tell you what: I’ve had scores of orders with Amazon over the years. The only bad experience that comes to mind was several years ago, when a computer power supply I desperately needed was simply canceled, no explanation. I phoned Amazon headquarters, and they overnighted me the power supply, no extra cost. I’ve had the occasional return, and there has never been a problem.

So it was Amazon who now received my television order; it will be here the first of the week, and I was able to get a more expensive model for a dollar more.

Sorry, Walmart. I tried. I think I more than tried. And the experience was such that I’d never recommend to anyone except somebody I didn’t like.

Don’t get me started on FedEx.

Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large at Open for Business. Powell was a reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio, where he has (mostly) recovered. You can reach him at

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