How does one know that civilization has returned to a city that has been all but submerged for weeks? A city where, just last week, corpses littered the streets and starving people were still stranded in waterlogged houses?

Why, when the strippers come back to town, of course!

Or at least when one stripper bravely makes her way back to one club. That was the story this morning in both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. Ace reporters Scott Gold and Rick Lyman, respectively, tracked down one Britni Carrubea (or is it Carrubba?), who, depending on the account, was wearing either “nothing but a thong, thigh-high stockings and a weary smile” (Lyman) or “knee socks, a nose ring and not much else” (Gold). (Apparently so stunned were Lyman and Gold by her attire, or lack of it, that they couldn’t agree on the spelling of Britni’s last name.)

As the stories have it, Carrubea/Carrubba found her way back to the stage after first fleeing to Lafayette, a couple of hours west of the city, then returning to her New Orleans neighborhood to help search the waterfront for bodies. Or, as Lyman put it, “Word came that the club was reopening and that she should peel off her waders and get back on stage. New Orleans needed her.”

So she made her way to the Dj Vu club (one of a chain of clubs partly owned by Hustler publisher Larry Flynt.) And like a lone survivor on a desert isle, rubbing sticks together to make fire, Carrubea/Carrubba began giving private dances to building contractors, policemen and National Guardsmen who dropped by to watch her swing from a pole in the evenings at the club’s Champagne Lounge.

Jon Olmstead, general manager of the club also managed to lure back some other strippers (“Britni, Leah, Baylee and … I can’t remember the other one’s name,” Olmstead told Gold). Predictably, the club’s operator sees this development as much more than just naked women sitting on the laps of dirty construction workers. “They’re here to be a part of the reconstruction,” he said of his dancers.

A whimsical story like this, as we all know, is a minefield of potential purple prose, even for the most expert of reporters. Here’s Lyman describing Frank Sperry, a cement contractor from Florida: “… he pulled slowly on a Coors Light and watched a glorious string bean of a dancer wiggle her tattoos.” Or Gold describing Carrubea/Carrubba’s Katrina ordeal: “She was separated from her family. Her home was destroyed. But by Monday night, she had figured that if she didn’t get back to work, then the storm had won.” And, by God, Britni is no shrinking violet, willing to allow the storm to win.

Indeed, the last word should go to Carrubea/Carrubba, who shares Lyman/Gold’s perception of the monumental significance of her reunion with her beloved pole: “People need some enjoyment. I think all the looting and everything would have been stopped if people had things like this to do the whole time. This, right here, is doing a lot of good for a lot of people.”

It’s enough to make even a hardened journalist sniffle and wipe away a little tear. Or to leap to his laptop and file to the home office.

Gal Beckerman

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Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.