If there's a better word than "rictus," I don't know it.

A couple of days ago Henry and I were making our way into our apartment building when we ran into one of our upstairs neighbors. We don’t know this woman very well. She doesn’t really speak English. We see her maybe once every few months when we’re entering or exiting our apartment. She and her family are always very sweet to us, exclaiming over the baby, etc.

So on this day, she opened the door for me as I tore several muscles trying to lug Henry’s stroller up the stairs, and she shouted, “I have present!” and skipped up the stairs to her apartment. Dear god, I thought. She’s given us some things for Henry before, and none of it was anything we could use. Of course it’s nice that she’s giving Henry gifts, but we have a square-footage-challenged apartment, and the last thing we need is more clutter. We’re perfectly capable of collecting our own junk, thank you—we don’t need someone else’s.

And then she came down the stairs. And she was holding--oh, people. How I wish you could have seen. She was holding an enormous plastic swan.

Not only was it enormous. And plastic. But it was black with filth. This was one dirty, dirty swan.

“Happy Easter!” she shouted (she kind of shouts everything, actually) and plonked this thing down in front of me. And, oh god. It had stuff inside it.

Highlights of the enclosed items: a wrinkled, dirty kite featuring some kind of green sea monster. A moldering pre-teen girl’s bathing suit. An unidentifiable animal made of glued-together pom-poms, wearing a chef’s hat, with a tag on it that reads “Buono Appetito!” A small, chipped, plastic seal dressed as a clown, a ball balanced on its nose. A red tambourine with a decal on it featuring some ‘70s-fashioned rocking teens (floating above their heads are the words “Super Action Sound Band!” I love this, actually. Whatever grisly fate awaits the rest of these items, the tambourine's staying). And, finally, blue fuzzy slippers (covered in brown stains) with misshapen Cookie-Monster heads attached to the toes. It’s clearly not the authentic Cookie Monster (I call him “Biscuit Beast.” He lives on “Tahini Avenue.”). His mouths are agape in a rictus of agony.

All of these items, I should mention, reek of...something. Mothballs, maybe, or death. It's not clear to me.

She presented us with the trash-filled grimy swan and then got down on one knee and shrieked at Henry, “Give me hug!” He ran away, screaming. Well, wouldn’t you? This is unusual behavior for Henry, who usually bats his eyelashes at even the kookiest, most garbage-festooned street people, but even he was not able to overlook her particular brand of crazy. “He’s a little tired,” I said, and she said, “I give candy!” and before I even knew it she had grabbed his hand and put something in it. Luckily he was too terrified to hold onto the mystery item, and it fell to the ground. It was a plastic-wrapped hard candy, the size of a large grape—a watermelon-flavored hard candy with gum inside it, to be exact. Is she trying to kill my kid? How did her son live past 3? And how do you throw away a giant plastic swan without your (possibly insane, probably homicidal) upstairs neighbor noticing?