The Memorial Day weekend signals the beginning of another summer season of graduation parties, family picnics, and reunions. With things so politically contentious, finding chit-chat topics that will not cause a fist fight is of paramount importance. Plus, you don't want to get trapped into an hour-long harangue about Uncle Zelmo's goiter. So, as a public service, I offer a range of safety-first topics that may help you stear clear of physical or mental discomfort. 


This will be a big travel weekend. According to AAA, 1.2 million Michiganders are expected to drive fifty miles or more. Another 60,000 will travel by air. The misery of travelling by air is always a good topic, so throw this into the mix. Things are about to get worse due to something called “seat pinch” in the airline business. 


“Prepare to be even less comfortable on your next flight. American Airlines is adding more seats onto some of its planes. To cram in the extra seating, the distance between rows will shrink: Legroom will be reduced from 31 inches to 30 inches in most of the economy section, and unfortunate passengers in three rows will get only 29 inches of space to stretch out.” A recent editorial cartoon suggested those air masks that drop down in case of emergency should be replaced with boxing gloves. Not too far fetched when you think about it. (


Speaking of air travel, here's a question for you to ask people. If a baby is born on an international flight, what nationality is the baby? It's not cut and dried. “The nationality of the child is dependent on which airline the birth occurs, where it occurs and the nationality of the parents.” Different countries treat births differently. Sometimes it's the nationality of the parents that determines the nationality of the baby. However, in some cases, the nationality of the airline can become the nationality of the baby. So, American parents flying on a foreign based airline could wind up with a baby who is not American. (


This is a popular weekend for graduation parties. The sports pages of the Cadillac News have recently featured many student athletes who have signed to play a sport at the college level. In that regard, here's a bit of information that might spark a discussion. Should high school athletes focus on one sport or play multiple sports?


“According to Tracking Football’s research, 30 of the 32 players picked in the first round of the NFL Draft played multiple sports in high school. Each of the top 20 picks played at least two high school sports, while 14 of the 32 taken were three-sport athletes. (


Add this: “A study from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health came to the startling conclusion that high school athletes who specialize in a single sport sustain lower-body injuries at much higher rates than athletes who compete in multiple sports. Specialized athletes sustained 60 percent more new lower-extremity injuries during the study than athletes who did not specialize.” (


Well, if all else fails in the search for a safe discussion topic, everyone is always interested in money. “According to a MetLife U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study, 35 percent of people live paycheck to paycheck.” (


This brings us to an amusing question. If you saw a coin on the sidewalk, how much does that coin have to be worth in order for you to reach down and pick it up? Would you reach for a mere penny? A nickel or dime? Studies show that most average people will reach for nothing less than a quarter. 


But what about someone really rich? What would the worth of the cash on the cement have to be to make it worth their while to pick up? What is the equivalent of a quarter for someone like, for instance, Bill Gates? 


With this in mind,  American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has done some calculations. “In order to have the relatively same amount of money on the street that it would be worthwhile to him, Bill Gates would have to stumble across $45,000 on the ground.” (


Well then, What if Gates dropped a $100 bill on the ground. Is it worth his time to pick it up? “With a worth of $72 billion, a six percent rate of return would earn Gates roughly $114.16 per second he is alive, making it a poor investment for him to bother picking up a $100 bill if he dropped it.”


How rich is Bill Gates? “If he gave everyone on Earth $10 this Christmas, he’d still have $2.26 billion left. If Bill Gates were a country, he would be the 37th richest country on earth.” (


Those are pretty big numbers, but small numbers can also lead to a discussion. How about 16 minutes and 55 seconds? According to a TD Bank survey, that's the time it takes the average worker to change into their pajamas after getting home. How long does it take you to jump into your jammies? 


While you are at work, do you go out for lunch? According to a Visa lunch-spending survey, if you went out three less times per week you'd save $143 per month  ($1,716) per year. (


Finally, if you are going to travel away from home this weekend how to secure your property might be a concern. To be sure, you could invest in an expensive home security system. On the other hand, getting a killer squirrel could be an option. 


A guy in Idaho did just that. You see, he raised the little guy as a pet and while he was away a burglar broke in not aware that the squirrel was on guard. The ferocious fuzzball chased the would-be thief from the premises. Later, when police captured the criminal he told officers: “The darn thing kept attacking me and wouldn't stop until I left.” 



Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at and