It’s hard to imagine anyone driving to Orchids of Asia for a massage, let alone being driven there in a luxury automobile from a luxury home in a ritzy town 30 minutes away. It’s a drab, faded, unimpressive-looking place, with sun-bleached signage, in a shopping center that offers no obvious lure for the Rolls Royce set. You don’t happen upon it. If you are looking for massage in the area, there must be 20 places with better aesthetics, better locations, better reputations, and better menus, all within a half-hour drive. It’s not the sort of place massage knowers are looking for, not while it offers no impressive-sounding or custom modalities on the menu. It is not the sort of place where good massage therapists go to work. As it happens, I know a little bit about this, as my wife has owned and operated her own day spa for going on 15 years. New and tougher compensation models are sweeping the industry, thanks to exploding chains offering cheap membership programs; salaries are pointed in the wrong direction. Good massage therapists who do not work for themselves go from seeking higher commission rates to seeking higher menu prices. Good massage therapists do not work at places where an overwhelmingly male clientele overwhelmingly buys $59 half-hour massages, as late as 11:30 at night.
But a parking lot doesn’t need to be full of deep-tissue clients in order to be full; it just needs people who want what’s being sold inside. And on Friday afternoon, shortly after the Bob Kraft news broke, it’s full of people seeking, more than anything else, a memorable photograph. The area in front of Orchids is so clogged with gawkers taking smartphone photos and videos that car traffic backs up along the curb. For the most part, no one is honking—virtually every car that passes has at least one person taking video out of an open window. The rare drivers there to do actual business generally seem too confused by the crowd of onlookers to notice why the line isn’t moving; the one time a horn is heard, it comes from a man who is impatient about pulling his SUV in front of Orchids, so that he can pause and take his own video.
The conversation on the shaded sidewalk in front of Orchids is all about Bob Kraft. A local reporter grabs anyone passing by for a quote or perspective. She tells me people have been trickling by for selfies and Instagram videos since the morning, before Kraft’s name was even in it, but that the crowd has grown noticeably since the morning press conference. An NBC Boston reporter grabs a grandmotherly woman with a heavy New England accent, who tells her she’s here on vacation and is inclined to give Kraft the benefit of the doubt, because he’s “a good man” who has done so much for Boston and for “the National Football League.” A photographer coaxes a triumphant barefoot man in a Giants t-shirt into shouting “Go New York Post” for a brief cell phone video. A beaming elderly fellow is saying “Perverted Patriots!” over and over again, because, he explains, soon the phrase is going to be “a thing.”
A young Asian woman watches from the darkened doorway of a not-yet-open Thai restaurant next door, next to a crude handwritten sign, taped to the glass, that says “No Solicitation.” Technicians at an adjacent nail salon take turns leaning out into the air, watching the crowd grow, each one grinning either knowingly or quizzically. A woman in large sunglasses who came along for the show nevertheless calls her teenage daughter away from the Orchids doorway, cautioning that she doesn’t want her “in all that.” A business owner, leaning on a nearby column, gossips with the mom, telling her that police canvassed Jupiter Square and advised all the owners and staff on how to avoid saying anything to assembled media. He tells her his wife is crying. Immediately I wonder if she’s a Patriots fan—it’s whole seconds before I remember that there’s something to care about here beyond the illicit sexual predilections of a billionaire. Everything here is Kraft.
There’s an orange 8.5 x 11 sign taped to Orchids of Asia’s door that says “DANGER” and advises that the “unit is unsafe,” dated February 19. Mostly everyone’s curiosity stops there, or with the giant logo decal on an adjacent window. A woman is concerned that the sunlight on the glass will be too bright for her to properly photoshop an image of Kraft’s head onto one of the figures depicted. A young man eagerly shows me an image he made: Tom Brady’s face beneath a head of flowing blond hair, with a caption suggesting this is a photo of Kraft’s “masseuse.” A man grabs the door handle with two hands and pulls on it, cheesing heavily for his friend’s cell phone photo. Another man, wearing what he claims is an authentic Red Sox World Series ring, declines to give his name to a sullen cameraperson, but is happy to pose for at least half a dozen photographers, split pretty evenly between amateurs and pros. All of this happens in front of the Orchids front door. Nobody much bothers to look inside. The reason to be here isn’t discovery, or even simple voyeurism. It’s the pursuit of virality.
From outside, the Orchids lobby is hard to make out—there is quite a lot of photo-killing glare on the windows, after all—but what can be seen of the inside is spartan without being insulting. There’s a TV mounted over a desk, showing what appears to be a scroll of the service menu. There are brochures piled up in mounted plastic holders affixed to the front of the desk; the walls are white and clean, and there appear to be a handful of cheap-looking but clean plastic and metal chairs arrayed around the waiting area. The interior utterly lacks the serene vibe of a high-end day spa, but certainly there’s nothing to be seen from the sidewalk to suggest that back there, behind one or the other of those interior doors, there are cots for sleeping, and dressers for personal effects—bleak evidence of what police described as human trafficking.
The orange sign on the door suggests the business might’ve been closed for nothing more scandalous than rats, or an electrical problem. The boasts and giggles and endless “ball deflation” jokes echoing around out front all suggest that the sex trade alleged to have taken place within is mostly a story of victimless mutual horniness; the atmosphere is overwhelmingly this rules. There is actual applause when the Giants fan poses with his fingers pointed at the overhead Orchids sign. A photographer prompts him to “shout out the Giants” and of course he obliges. The crowd eats it up.
A Patriots fan circles the parking lot in a large pickup truck, blaring “Bad Boy For Life”—we ain’t going nowhere, we ain’t going nowhere—for everyone to hear. It’s the third time he’s made this circuit in 20 minutes, blaring the same song, seeking the same attention. Half an hour earlier he and his bro took turns filming Instagram videos of each other eating pizza and discussing Bob Kraft, in front of the Orchids window decal. Fifteen minutes before that he posed in front of the Orchids door in his Patriots hat and t-shirt, holding up a replica Super Bowl ring. In between he smirked at a young reporter sporting a spring training press ID and described the whole sordid thing as “not news.” He’d already been there an hour.