By Margie Smith Holt
West Side Rag told you last month about Grammar Guru Ellen Jovin’s run-in with the MTA. Now the dispute is getting political.
New York State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, who represents the Upper West Side, is calling on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to allow Jovin — creator of the Grammar Table, Upper West Sider, and Hoylman-Sigal’s constituent — to continue dispensing grammar advice inside the subway station at West 72nd Street and Broadway.
“I like to think of myself as someone who appreciates good grammar, and what she’s performing is a public service — on her own time,” said Hoylman-Sigal, who says he learned about Jovin’s plight from the Rag.
Jovin’s been a regular in the neighborhood for the past five years, cheerfully answering grammar questions from behind her 20” x 48” folding table. She prefers to set up her grammar counseling operation in Verdi Park just outside the 72nd Street subway station, but when the weather turned colder and darker last month, she moved inside, paid her fare, and set up where those entering and exiting the subway could see her. But, according to Jovin, an MTA worker called the police, who showed up and told her she had to leave.
“The MTA was a little heavy-handed in the way they dismissed her from the premises,” said Hoylman-Sigal.
Plus, he says, they’re wrong. He believes the MTA’s own rules give Jovin the right to be there, as long as she’s not too close to a station booth or blocking the flow of traffic.
“This seems like something we can work out,” he added.
The MTA did not immediately respond to West Side Rag’s request for comment. The story will be updated when a response is received.
Update: Thursday, 2:50 p.m. WSR received the following statement from MTA Spokesperson Joana Flores: “We are exploring options that would allow this educator to continue to serve the public in a safe and appropriate manner within the rules.”
Jovin, meanwhile, has kept calm and carried on. Since her expulsion she’s returned to the scene of the crime at Verdi Square multiple times — setting up outside. When it got cold this week, she and her table hung out inside the subway station in Times Square, another of her regular stops for spreading the word about grammar. And her husband, filmmaker Brandt Johnson, has been busy submitting Rebel with a Clause, his new documentary about her, to film festivals.
If you see humor in this whole Grammar Police v. Real Police brouhaha, you’re not alone.
Jovin will be a special guest at the “Ruthless Comedy Hour” holiday show at Stand Up NY on West 78th Street next week (December 5) where, a source tells West Side Rag, topics mined for laughs will include grammar quizzes, stories about subway rules, and even the Rag’s famous comments (and commenters).
Joking aside, Jovin says she appreciates that Hoylman-Sigal’s appeal also highlights the subway’s role as an NYC gathering place.
“[W]hile the presence of Ms. Jovin is at a minimum permitted by MTA Rules,” he writes in his letter to MTA President Richard Davey, “it also provides the very ‘eyes on the street’ that make public spaces safer, livelier, and more welcoming.”
“It made me feel nice that he said that,” Jovin told the Rag.
Jovin says she’d love to be able to return to the 72nd Street station, but if she can’t, she’ll just go somewhere else. (Any venues want to host? Email her at email@example.com.)
She has job security. That debate over the Oxford comma isn’t likely to end anytime soon.
For the record, Hoylman-Sigal, who was a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford in England, is not a fan.
“My staff is opposed to my opposition to the Oxford comma,” he said. “My staff is telling me I’ve been wrong for the last 40 years.
“And I went to Oxford. What the hell!”
(Despite his opposition, West Side Rag editors noted that the serial comma, also known as the Oxford comma, was used in the senator’s letter to the MTA.)
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In the past, the Rag ran a column loosely called, Why the West Side?, in which famous people — local and international — explained why they choose to live in this neighborhood. Ellen Jovin was one of those interviewed in 2018, and you can read more about her personal history here. And watch for the return of Why the West Side? in the new year — by the original columnist! Click here for another sample.
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