They're just wild about Mahir

Mix Beatlemania with Ricky Martin fever and you have -- Mahir? The Net's newest countercelebrity pays a visit to the City by the Bay

Nearly 1,000 people crowded into the lobby of a South of Market office building in San Francisco Wednesday night, hoping for the chance to meet their newly crowned Internet idol, Mahir Cagri, otherwise known as "The Turkish Guy."

Mahir's personal home page, featuring photos and personal information about the Izmir, Turkey, native, somehow hit a nerve among Web surfers over the past few months.

His URL shot around the Internet in October and November, quickly spawning Mahir's own fan club -- and even a number of knock-off sites.

In an effort to capitalise on Mahir's overnight celebrity, San Francisco Internet company eTour invited him to visit the United States. His visit began earlier this week in New York City with an appearance on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" and a small party at a New York disco club. But the real event occurred Wednesday night here in San Francisco, when some 830 people showed up at a "Meet Mahir" party.

"You're so used to seeing this guy plastered all over the Internet, it's almost like meeting a movie star," said Darian Patchin, director of business development for eTour. "Then you find out he's actually a really nice, super-sincere person."

Mahir's arrival at Wednesday's event prompted partygoers to break out in a chant of "Mahir! Mahir!" with many people holding signs reading "We kiss you," a popular Mahir-ism. The atmosphere conjured up images of Beatlemania and a Ricky Martin concert all rolled together, with a touch of sarcasm.

It was as if Silicon Valley stood up collectively to exert its power and say, "Look what we can do, we can make anybody famous. Even some unknown guy from Turkey."

The freelance journalist and part-time teacher appears to be readily embracing his newfound popularity, spending the entire evening hiding his eyes behind the traditional celebrity garb of reflective sunglasses.

In an online journal entry from the day before the party appearance, Mahir wrote, "San Francisco should be ready. I kiss every woman's lips and every man's face."

In addition to a great deal of kissing, while at the party Mahir also made an impromptu performance on his favorite musical instrument, the accordion.

Mahir had difficulty explaining his sudden popularity. "I have no idea," said the 37-year-old in broken English. "I love it."

After symbolically receiving the "key to cyberspace," Mahir encouraged everyone to "work together for peace, friendship and love." "He is the first celebrity of the Internet," said party-goer Mark Swanson of Pharsight.

Venture capitalist Meryl Schreibstein described the Mahir phenomenon a little less gently. "I thought it was the funniest thing I'd ever heard. It's very kitschy. It's so over the edge, so San Francisco," she said.

Mahir's tour of America will continue through next week. After spending the weekend sightseeing in San Francisco, he will make a brief visit to Los Angeles before heading home to Turkey, where he plans to tell his friends all about his adventures.

And how will he sum up his celebrity tour?

Said Mahir: "Very good, very good."