The Nose thought he was prepared for this war. He thought that by now his convictions would be as solid as Ashford & Simpson. But even though he'd joined the marchers on March 15, when the Tomahawks started flying last Wednesday night he found himself hoping that Bush's plan to bomb Iraq into democracy would work.

Needing some perspective, the Nose pulled into the first beer joint he saw and, being in an unfamiliar part of Beaverton, ended up at the Elks Lodge on Southwest 104th Avenue. He was greeted in the entrance by what's billed as the first-ever Vietnam Veterans' memorial in the nation.

He was greeted at the door by Bob, a Vietnam Vet who explained that the Elks are a fraternal organization, not a public tavern. But, after a bit of cajoling, he ushered the Nose into the non-members' lounge, where, over the blare of CNN, he rounded up some friends.

"I hate war, but we have to liberate these people," said Bob, the most outspoken veteran in the group. "Diplomacy is overdone: Our president has done all he can."

Jim, the lodge's "Elk of the Year," agreed: "We know Saddam is supporting terrorism, so let's stop it before it happens. I want the Iraqi people to live like we do, free."

But another Jim wasn't so sure. "I think it's important to question out leadership," he said, "and right now George Bush is the figurehead on the pirate ship of state. I support the troops, but unfortunately it's those clean-cut American kids who will have to pay the price for Bush's decisions."

After more talk and supplies from the bar, the Nose bid his farewell. Elk-of-the-Year Jim escorted him to the door, pausing by the memorial where the names of a previous generation of "clean-cut American kids" are etched into the concave marble finish.

On the way home, the Nose grabbed a cup of coffee at the Starbucks on Northwest 23rd Avenue, where a young man sporting a black leather coat and blue bandanna sat drinking a grande caramel mocha. So, the Nose asked, what did he think about the bombs being dropped in Iraq?

"They should have been dropped 12 years ago," said the Bulgarian immigrant, who gave his name only as Kosta. "We're dealing with people in dirty nightshirts who want to go to the 12th century and take us with them. The history of their prophet Mohammed is one of rape, pillage and pedophilia. They should have been nuked Sept. 12. You can't allow men in dirty nightshirts to jerk you around. If you are a superpower, act like it."

Finding this pep talk less than reassuring, the Nose decided to call it a night. The next morning, driving up Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, he popped in to Geneva's Shear Perfection, where a knot of men was in seemingly animated discussion.

He stuck his head in and was treated to a welcome worthy of the Elks, and as lively a conversation.

"We've given Saddam enough time," said Chad, a 23-year-old finance specialist in for a trim. "He's got ties to al Qaeda. It's inevitable that we'll either do this now or later."

But in this tiny corner of Portland, such certainty was in short supply.

"I am behind my president, you know what I'm saying, because, man, he got us in this and I hope he can get us out," said Charles. "Our people are over there, and we gotta have their back."

But the 30-year-old had his doubts. "If this had anything to do with 9/11, we'd be after bin Laden. And North Korea, what's up with that? This is going to affect Americans, too. Things are only going to get worse."

Harold, a 53-year-old engineer, nodded in agreement. "We have all these domestic problems--schools, medical care, homelessness, high unemployment--and we're spending all this money to get rid of Saddam?" he said. "The Iraqis never did anything to me."

Harold shook his head--which, the Nose decided, is probably an appropriate response, after all.

The Nose would like to thank Nate Berne and Lauren Dake for their assistance with this column.