The barker's name was Little John, and he stood in front of the door to Le Paree, a Bourbon Street nightspot which advertises an orgy as its principal attraction. To attract attention and to lure customers inside to pay high prices for weak drinks, the door was open wide.
Inside, intense red lights illuminated a stage, where several nearly naked men and women romped through scenes of simulated sex. They played to a nearly empty house.
This scene is typical of the lack of activity in this week before Mardi Gras -- a period that is usually the most bustling time of year here and one that spawns, according to the Chamber of Commerce, $250 million in business.
But this year, the poice have struck, and leaders of parade organizations in New Orleans have called off their processions. However, several have moved to parade in the suburbs, and local officials are bravely predicting that crowds still will turn out in the French Quarter Tuesday (Mardi Gras) to drink and carouse.
Not Little John, who said, "With the strike, it's all winos and bums around here."
But Mimi Griffith, a congressional aide from New Orleans, said, "You can't kill Mardi Gras. It'd be like trying to kill Christmas. You can't do it."
However, what should be the celebration before the 40 somber days of Lent this year looks like a wake.
There was a chance that the strike could have been ended Thursday night, but the Teamsters-affiliated police union loudly voted down what the city calls its final offer. Details of that proposal were not made public, but Joe Valenti, a Teamsters official from Detroit who has been participating in negotiations, said it included only $25 more per year per man for clothing allowance.
One striker, as he left the meeting, said, "Nobody is going back for $25."
"I am very disappointed," said police union President Vincent J. Bruno, "but not very surprised."
The police union countered with its own "final proposal," which included calls for amnesty for strikers and for a raise in monthly base pay from $997 to $1,099. In that document, the union claimed that current base pay is not only below the level of other southern cities but also below the $14,561 paid to New Orleans bus drivers after two years.
City negotiators later today offered blanket amnesty to the striking policemen.
Both sides are continuing to meet with a federal mediator.
This walkout, which began Feb. 16, is the second police strike in the city's history. The first was called Feb. 9, and it ended 42 hours later, after Mayor Ernest N. Morial agreed to recognize the union as the police force's bargaining agent and to reinstate benefits that had been eliminated. Other issues were to be worked out during a seven-day period.
Such an agreement was not reached, so the union voted Feb. 16 to strike again.
In the absence of police, National Guardsmen and state troopers have helped those policemen who stayed on the job, but parades cannot roll in New Orleans because these relief officers are not equipped to deal with the unique situations inherent in parade crowds, said Maj. Gen. O. J. Daigle Jr., Louisiana's adjutant general.
Without parades to entice people onto New Orleans streets, such thoroughfares, which are generally packed with happy, noisy crowds during the week before Mardi Gras, have been empty and eerily silent.
The absence of parades and these developments have put a sad mask over what should be the jolliest time of year here:
Leaders of parade-staging organizations canceled all processions in New Orleans.
Striking policemen have begun to picket the city's Sanitation Department stations, and the Teamsters-affiliated employes of that department have been told by their boss to stay home for their own safety. Garbage collections have stopped.
Civil District Court Judge George Connolly Jr. today refused to ban police picket lines set up earlier this week outside city dumps. He did, however, limit the numbr of pickets to two.
Police have set up pickets at firestations, but the head of the firefighters' union, an AFL-CIO affiliate, has told his men to cross the line. The firefighters' union contract with the city expires March 2.
Would-be merrymakers have canceled their hotel reservations, even though representatives of hotels and tourist organizations have stressed that there will be activities on Bourbon Street and parades in the suburbs. The Bourbon Street Merchants Association has sued the police union for $30 million in losses claimed during the strike.
Police, who are supposed to enforce the law, have shown no inclination to obey two court orders to return to work. Their union leaders may be subject to as much as six months in jail if they are found guilty of contempt of court.
The commander of one police district dropped dead on the job Wednesday. Police Superintendent James C. Parsons said he suffered a heart attack that was brought on by the long hours he had to work because of the strike.
Increasing numbers of national guardsmen and state troopers continued to pour into the city to supplement police who have continued to work and to protect whatever revelers congregate Tuesday in the French Quarter.
Police spokesmen refused to be specific on the amount of guardsmen and troopers expected in town for extra Mardi Gras security. But, according to Parsons, 365 members of the 1,514-person New Orleans Police Department still are on duty, and 352 troopers and 650 guardsmen have been working with them.
Both sides are continuing to meet with the federal mediator.
Earlier this week, Bruno had said, "If the talks break down, cave 'em in, wreck the city. We're not giving in. We're adamant."